Category Archives: funeral

The Who is Who in Death Care

Deathcare is a Multibillion Dollar Industry – Who are the Big Players?

The United States Center for Disease Control reports that 2,712,630 people died in 2015, about an average year by all accounts. And several national reports indicate that the family and friends of those people spent a total of more than $15 billion that year on funerals, cremation, burial and other products and services of the “death care” industry (sometimes referred to by industry insiders as simply “death” or even “big death.”)

Deathcare, clearly, is a big (and growing) industry. And, like any major US industry, it has its share (some insiders might even argue more than its share) of insider politics that ultimately affect everyone who attends a funeral or even read an obituary in any given year. The industry even has a few folks whose full time job is simply to keep up with all of that politics.

Given the emotional nature of death care – and the large amount of money the average US family spends for a funeral (anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 depending on the study) – plenty of “Average Joe” consumers join the political fray each year, becoming involved in the consumer advocate side of the death care after encountering distress when planning a loved one’s memorial service. For these new comers – and for folks just wanting to make sure they are getting the best possible prices and services out of the industry – the industry can be an overwhelming maze. This guide to the major players in each of the industry’s political sectors will help demystify the maze.

The Who is Who in Death Care – read it all.

What are Funeral Necessities?

It is often the case that a family of a loved one who has passed away finds itself thrust into the stressful scenario of planning a funeral service (and even a burial or cremation too) with little or no advance notice. Though one would expect this to happen mostly in cases in which a family member passes away very quickly at a very young age, it can also happen in cases in which an elderly person dies without leaving any instructions for what he or she expect the family to arrange for his or her funeral and burial. In these situations, the family members who are charged with arranging the services are likely to find themselves wondering what, exactly, are funeral necessities. In other words, which of the myriad of products and services that are available from most any funeral home, cemetery or memorial products retailers are considered essential.

Though the answer to such a question can be elusive in this day in which those who have lost a loved one have many more options than one might ever have thought possible, it is an important one to consider nevertheless. No matter the answer, it has the potential to save a family thousands of dollars off the cost of a funeral service or memorial ceremony for their loved one, and it can save the family members a lot of emotional discomfort as well.

The short answer to that question is that there are not necessarily any funeral necessities. A funeral or burial service for a deceased family member can, simply put, be as simple or as elaborate as a family requires. While there are some standard features that many funeral and burial services have in common, these are, by no means, required, and they can be utilized (or even modified) as needed to help a family remember its loved one in exactly the manner that is required to promote the deceased’s spirit and legacy for the ages.

Deceased’s Intentions (and Legacy) are Top Priority

The most important thing for families to consider when trying to determine the funeral necessities that will be required for their needs is to first assess the intentions of the deceased himself. What sort of funeral would he or she want to have, is a good question to ask oneself. And such a question may even be the spark for a very emotionally healing and helpful family session about the plans just before the first meeting with a funeral director or cemetery sales person. Such an important discussion is vital to have before any planning can take place in a healthy and dignified manner, and many families often choose to have this session under the auspices of a church and the leadership of a pastor. In fact, many churches in today’s world have this as their automatic procedure from the moment a death in the church family occurs. The physical family of the deceased, in this case, does not have to organize the meeting. In fact, it is often the case that no one has to organize it. Rather, the church is often set up to kick right into gear – often with an entire committee ready to get right to work on the memorial service from the moment the news breaks about the death – with an elaborate set of plans and traditions in which a family can partake.

The important thing to remember about all this is that the funeral and burial traditions that may be practiced are supposed to be in honor of the individual who has died. Families should never be bashful about insisting that the deceased’s wishes remain at the forefront and that the funeral service be, in large part, a reflection of his or her personality. Church leaders should be asked to incorporate the religious practices into the overall workings of the service, but there should never be any question that the family member whose life is being honored should be at the heart of the proceedings.

Typical Elements of a Funeral

All that said, many families will still want some guidelines by which to organize their funeral service, and so we offer this list of what many consider to be funeral necessities: though, of course, we are careful to mention that families should feel free to modify this list as they see fit to best suit the needs of their loved one that is to be remembered and honored.

First, of course, is the viewing ceremony, in which a body is prepared and presented for public viewing and mourners are encouraged to stand before the casket and pay their final respects – even if that means only a silent, contemplative few moments with the body.

Next there is the funeral ceremony itself, the formal service – usually led by a member of the clergy at a church that was important to the deceased. This period typically includes the playing of some musical pieces and also a few words of remembrance from friends and family of the deceased. It is often the case the clergy member is invited to deliver a short sermon that is in support of the deceased’s life, but that is not a necessity. The pastor’s role can usually be limited to a few generic, brief remarks about life, death, and the hereafter. Families should be careful to not let the pastor overstep his or her role in the service.

After the funeral service, a family will often invite the attendees to travel to the actual grave site for another brief service in which a pastor delivers his or her final remarks. In this case the pastor is usually the only speaker, and he or she typically addresses a few words of condolences to the immediate family that is usually seated on the first row underneath a temporary shelter that is set up in a grave yard. Cemetery staff members are typically stationed nearby, though never in a spot in which they play a central role in the ceremony, to quickly begin the burial very shortly after the burial ceremony has ended. In most cases, the staff members will invite friends and family who wish to view the lowering of the casket into the grave and the burial itself. This can be a difficult thing for many people to witness, so it is common that there are no takers to this invitation. Family members should never be worried that their acceptance or denial of this offer should be considered inappropriate in any way. As with all other aspects of a traditional funeral, there are no right or wrong ways to respond to the traditions we list here. Funeral necessities are, strictly, a function of what the family, friends and other mourners need in order to process the grief they are likely experiencing over the loss of a loved one in a healthy, productive manner.

Followed by the grave side service the final funeral necessity is usually the reception that is hosted by friends of the immediate family members. This informal gathering – usually at either the church where the funeral service was held, in a funeral home reception area, or perhaps at the home of a friend – is intended to be a time of fellowship and even good cheer. Stories of the deceased’s life are typically encouraged, and a good, tasty meal is typically made available. It is often the case that the pastor at a funeral service will invite friends and family to come forth randomly to express their thoughts and emotions about the person being honored at the funeral, and, if the line of those who wish to speak becomes too long, encourage the speakers to continue sharing their stories during the reception. In more than one funeral service, the reception at the end has taken on an up-beat tone, which may be a strange thing to say about a memorial ceremony that is intended to help mourners grieve their loss. But life can be ironic sometimes, and, families should not be prone to be concerned if the reception turns into a full-fledged hour or so of laughs and smiles. Laughter, after all, is always a necessity of life. It turns out it can be a necessity of funerals, too – one of the most important funeral necessities, in fact.

Order Only The Services You Need

The final funeral necessity that families probably need to consider when planning the memorial service for a loved one is one of practicality. No one should ever feel ashamed to tell a funeral director, cemetery sales person, or even a pastor, “no.” It is often the case that the temptation will be for those who are serving a grieving family to offer goods, services and plans that are simply too much and not in keeping with the memorial needs of the deceased. Since many of these extra additions to a memorial service can end up costing many extra dollars, the final word on funeral necessities should be simply this: frugality is always good.

funeral home urns

Are Funeral Directors too Pushy?

Are Funeral Directors too Pushy?

Funeral directors are often a maligned group, accused of greed, insensitivity and questionable ethics. Just type “pushy funeral director” into any search engine, and you will certainly be treated to dozens of stories written by funeral home clients who believe they have been cheated, lied to, misled or otherwise abused by a funeral director in charge of final arrangements for a loved one. In fact, many a funeral consumer group in the United States has been formed by disgruntled souls disenchanted by an experience with a funeral home their family hired. And entire laws have been pass by Congress (and many state legislatures) intended to protect consumers from abuses that funeral directors have shown themselves to be prone to in previous decades.
While it is certainly true that not all funeral directors practice questionable ethics and heavy pressure sales tactics, evidence is sufficient for consumers to beware. And funeral directors who are resistant to precautions of wary clients are probably best avoided. This article summarizes some of the problems customers have reported with funeral directors, offers a few tips for how to know when your funeral director is a bad one, and provides some advice for how to get help if your director comes across as being too pushy.

Stories Abound

More than one internet reviewer has said a trip to a funeral home feels much like going to a car lot. Funeral directors have been known to show their clients their most expensive caskets first and offer the least expensive varieties as an after thought, almost as if to say, “Oh, you might also consider this style too, but, actually, no one else ever buys those” even though consumer statistics regularly report that, when it comes to caskets, families tend to prefer the no-frills variety. Funeral directors, or other sales reprentatives working for funeral homes, will often argue against this trend by reminding a family member, “you want only the best in honor of your loved one, correct.”
Likewise, some funeral directors have been reported to be very suspicious of customers who insist on purchasing goods such as cremation urns, headstones and caskets from other retailers – often at a fraction of the cost the funeral home would charge. “We take our commitment to quality very seriously,” is a common line for funeral directors to use when trying to justify their higher prices. Careful consumers will often discover that the product they see on display (or advertises in a catalog) at a funeral home is the exact same product that a non-funeral home retailer offers for hundreds of dollars less. In other words, there is often no difference in quality. The only difference is the retail price. Customers would do well to remember that they always have a legal right to purchase their funeral goods from any source, and they may not be discouraged or charged a special service fee by their funeral director for doing so. Funeral directors have a vested interest in keeping customer ignorant about their legal rights on this matter, and families should be prepared for even the most congenial of them to do so.

What Funeral Directors are Supposed To Do

A funeral director is required by federal law to be very upfront about his or her charges for the services he provides and products he sells. All business activity in a funeral home centers around a federally mandated “General Price List” that shows exactly what services the funeral directors provide and the prices charged. Before any work can legally begin on a loved one’s arrangements, funeral directors are required by law to obtain a family member’s signature on a contract clearly stating what services are to be delivered and what payments will be made. Any funeral director who proceeds on a case (say, for example, after being called by an outside party such as a nursing home, hospital or even pastor) without this required contract may very well be breaking federal law and, at the least, should be treated with suspicion.
Customers should keep in mind that funeral directors have been known to offer illegal commissions (aka kickbacks) to nurses, clergymen, and others who often have need to call for a funeral director on behalf of their clients. Such dubious agreements are certainly not in keeping with a grieving family’s best interest and care should be taken to assure that your funeral director is not partaking in such practices. If a funeral director arrives at a death to which he has not been called by a family member, the best course of action for a family to take is to simply dismiss him from the case immediately and call another funeral director. You may also wish to inquire as to who called the first director, as it is clear this was likely an attempt to collect an illegal commission. Funeral directors should always wait for a family to call them to action.

How to Get Help When Dealing With a Pushy Funeral Director

In today’s technologically-crazed world, the first reaction of many people who have dealt with a funeral director they believe is too push is to simply tell their story, immediately, via Facebook or Twitter. This is likely a mistake. Since a death in a family is usually an emotionally trying time, minor disagreements or miscommunications can potentially flare into significant battles that only lead to more heart ache for all involved.
The best recourse to take when working with a pushy funeral director is to simply hire a new director. This must be done quickly into the process of arranging a funeral, or a memorial service may end up being delayed.
If circumstances make hiring a new director impractical, consulting a lawyer is often the next step that family’s pursue. But this also can lead to more trouble (and expense) than is necessary. Consumers should always remember that plenty of funeral consumer groups in almost every state have the experience and resources to help resolve just about any dispute one may have with a funeral director. Another great source of help is the company that makes or sells any product that a funeral director may be discouraging you from buying for your funeral. A quick call to a third-party retailer’s customer service office explaining one’s story of trying to do business with a pushy funeral director will often result in a firm-but-polite call to the funeral home that will help smooth things along for the grieving family.
In summary, families who are searching for a funeral director to lead their loved-one’s memorial service should take solace in knowing that pushiness is not a universal trait among funeral directors. But they should be ready to take defensive action should they encounter it during these trying times.

Funeral Cremation Urns

What To Look For In A Cremation Urn

What To Look For In A Cremation Urn

As cremation becomes more and more popular across the United States, cremation urns are becoming a more and more common sight across the nation. But many urns of today are a far cry from the traditional “Grecian” style (though, to be sure, that style is still readily available and popular). The large selection of urns available through retailers today can prove overwhelming, a consumer guide is necessary. This article aims to answer the question that often proves to be surprisingly complicated: “Which urn should I choose for my loved one.”
Uses for an Urn

The first thing to consider when searching for a cremation urn is where it will likely end up. Urns intended to be buried or permanently stored, out of sight, in a columbarium need not necessarily be as sophisticated or complex as an urn that will be displayed in a home or some other public place. Plenty of simple, stylishly sophisticated, and relatively inexpensive urns can found in most any retailer’s collection that will be entirely suitable for brief display at a memorial ceremony followed by permanent transfer to a burial site or columbarium. These are probably the best choice if an urn is not intended to be on permanent display (whether public or private). And, while a decision to purchase one of these types of urns narrow’s one’s options considerably, there is still typically a sufficiently large number to choose from to assure that your loved one’s personality is adequately represented, and honored, by the choice.
Likewise, if an urn will likely end up on a special shelf – whether it be in a home or a public place – most any retailer will have a surprising number of artistic options that will capture and represent your loved one’s memory perfectly. From religious scenes to tributes to one’s favorite sport, the memorial products industry has an almost overwhelming number of options for beautiful urns that will carry anyone’s legacy forth, gracefully through the ages in just about any indoor setting.

Urn Size

The next thing to consider as you search for a cremation urn is the size. Urns today can be categorized in three ways according to their size: Keepsake Urns, Individual Urns, Companion Urns.
Keepsake urns are the smallest size and are intended to hold only a small portion of a person’s cremation remains. (Small is a relative term, of course. Some keepsake urns are large enough to hold up to a about a third of the ashes, and others will hold only, say, a teaspoon or so.) Individual urns are probably the most common. As their name implies, they are designed to hold all of the cremation remains of a single individual. And, finally, companion urns are large enough to hold the remains of two people, such as a husband and wife. (Companion urns are, further available in two main styles: divided or combined. Divided urns are designed with the intention that the two people’s remains will be stored in separate compartments. Combined urns, on the other hand, have one large compartment in which the urns of both people are combined together.)
Many urn styles are available in all three sizes, but, then again, many are not. Consumers are advised to check with their retailer about the availability of an urn they may see listed in one size category but would like to buy in a different size. It is often available directly from a manufacturer in a publicized size.

Styles and Materials

Once you have determined the use and size of your urn, it is time to begin considering your many options for style and material. The key to this step of selecting an urn is to not rule out any option too early. At any retailer’s website, you will likely come across hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of urns to choose from, and it’s best to spend a little time pursuing as many as you can before making a decision.
Urns are available in wood, marble, granite, glass, silver, bronze, clay and, in the case of biodegradable urns, even cloth. (And that’s just the start of the list of materials from which urns are made today.) And each of these materials has its own unique properties that affect the artistic features of the urn you will select.

Personalization Options

Many, if not most, urns available from the memorial products industry today can be outfitted with features that personalize the piece to suite the loved one it memorializes. Metal plaques can be attached to many urns announcing the name and important dates of the deceased and, in some cases, a personalized message can be engraved directly onto the surface of the urn itself. And, in still other cases, urns can be individually crafted by an artist following explicit instructions from the purchaser. In the case of glass urns, some manufacturers even offer a service whereby a family submits a small portion of the cremation remains which are then hand blown into the piece itself by the artist.
Personalization Options are available on far more urns that a consumer may realize, and, while they do add to the cost of the urn, the amount is rarely a prohibitive factor. Inquiring from one’s urn retailer about personalization options is usually a worthwhile endeavor.


This consideration we list last, but, for many wanting to remember their loved ones, it is the most important. It is important to remember that there is no shame or dishonor in being a frugal shopper for a cremation urn, and it should be pointed out that cremation urns are often some of the most reasonably priced memorial products available today. (Especially when compared to headstones and caskets.)
Prices literally range from less than $100 to more than $4,000. The least expensive urns are those stylist pieces that are most suitable for brief display at a funeral followed by burial or storage out of sight. And the most expensive urns are those that involve considerable artistic skill to create. Prices are also based on the quality – and sturdiness – of materials. Biodegradable cloth urns are typically among the least expensive available, and they are much less expensive, by far, than their bronze, or even hard wood, counterparts.
If you follow these guidelines as you search for the best urn for your loved one, it is certain that you will not go wrong in your final choice.