Funeral and Cemetery Expenses in Charlotte, NC – Lack of Competition Drives Up Prices

July 18, 2009

An excellent article appeared in the Charlotte Observer.  Unfortunately, the news isn’t good for Charlotte area residents as it shows what can happen when Competition is reduced.  The article appears below…

When Service Corp. International, the nation’s largest funeral-home chain, bought its biggest competitor in 2006, it took a commanding stake in the Charlotte market and promised to provide quality services and reasonable prices. But three years later, a new survey shows what consumer advocates at the time feared: Charlotte funeral prices have risen, making the city the most expensive in which to be buried or cremated. According to a June survey by Everest Funeral, a research company that works with consumers and life-insurance companies, average funerals in Charlotte cost $5,500, while cremations average $2,821.

The figure for funerals is $1,600 more than the South Atlantic average and $1,500 more than the national average, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Some local independent funeral directors blame the high prices on Service Corp., a Houston-based company that owns more than 1,300 funeral homes nationwide, including 60 percent of the homes in Charlotte.

“It’s called controlling the market, and I hate to say that it’s working,” said Tito Truesdale, co-owner of Rosadale Funeral Parlor, an independent home on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte that competes with Service Corp.

Shawn Strickland, Service Corp.’s market manager for the Charlotte area, says he doesn’t believe the results of the survey because he thinks that funerals in big cities such as New York and Washington cost far more than in Charlotte. He said Service Corp. offers a wide range of prices but that the basic price for a funeral is determined by the cost of that home’s overhead.

“It’s such a subjective question, because it really depends on the family and what they want to see happen,” he said. “We don’t have pricing any much different than anyone else does.”

The president of the local chapter of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group that works to educate consumers about funeral-service options, said Service Corp.’s hold on the Charlotte market easily makes the city the priciest for funeral services.

“I hate that Charlotte is at the top of the list, but I don’t doubt it one bit,” said Mary Brack. The Funeral Consumers Alliance doesn’t have a survey that compares funeral pricing in different cities, but Brack said she’s known for a while that Charlotte had to be one of the most expensive.

Local Service Corp. funeral-home owners offer a variety of explanations for Charlotte’s top ranking. They said cemetery costs and property taxes are rising, and that the move toward less-expensive cremations is forcing up traditional-funeral prices to maintain revenue.

Funeral pricing varies, but experts said smaller, independent companies tend to be less expensive than larger chains because they have less corporate overhead and don’t have to pay dividends to shareholders.

Price shopping

When Mamie Stowe knew she was going lose her husband, Eugene, after his two-year battle with cancer, she almost dreaded the funeral-planning process more than his passing. Stowe wanted to honor him with a church service. But she was afraid of being gouged by a funeral home that wanted to be paid upfront and paid a lot.

After Stowe called around in June for quotes that were “ridiculous” and too expensive, a social worker helped her find T.H. Robertson, owner of a private funeral and cremation practice by the same name. Robertson is able to cut overhead costs by meeting customers in their houses instead of requiring them to come to a funeral home.

Robertson said his prices, starting at $3,295 for funerals and $1,295 for cremations, are lower than Service Corp.’s.

The average price of a Charlotte funeral with Service Corp. has risen 10.5 percent to about $6,300 from about $5,700 in 2006, another Everest survey indicates. Nationally, Service Corp. funerals cost $5,097, which is about $1,200 less than the company’s Charlotte prices, according to the company’s most recent federal earnings reports.

When Service Corp. bought Alderwoods Group Inc. in 2006, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission forced it to sell one of the five Charlotte funeral homes it had acquired. The FTC’s decision reduced Service Corp.’s share of the Charlotte-Gastonia-Monroe market to 44 percent from 62 percent and attempted to prevent the merger from raising funeral prices. But Service Corp. still owns six out of 10 Charlotte funeral homes, and prices have climbed in the years since the merger.

Nationally, Service Corp. controls only 7.8 percent of the funeral industry, with 1,302 funeral homes and 369 cemeteries. The company has its largest presence in Charlotte, owning Harry & Bryant Funeral Home, Forest Lawn West Funeral and Cremation Service, all of the McEwen Funeral Service locations and Wilson Funeral and Cremation Service.

“Charlotte is unique,” said Mark Duffey, president and chief executive of Everest. “Usually you don’t see that level of consolidation, which is what makes (funerals) so expensive there.”

Everest is a national research company that helps clients to compare funeral prices and create a customized funeral service with the home of their choice. Consumers pay $495 for unlimited access to Everest specialists and research data or get help from the company as a life insurance benefit through their employers. The survey is based on a six-month national study that looked at basic funeral prices of homes in a 10-mile radius of each city.

Brandon Cook, manager of Service Corp.-owned Forest Lawn Funeral Home said Charlotte’s high taxes and cost of living escalate the area funeral-home prices. But that still doesn’t explain why Charlotte ranks first on the list of most expensive cities for funerals while major cities with comparable or higher costs of living rank significantly lower – Washington is 12th, New York is 15th and Houston is 20th.

Service Corp. funeral managers also point to Charlotte’s high cremation percentage – 30 percent of Charlotte’s deceased are cremated – as the reason for escalating burial costs. Cremations appeal to people everywhere because they’re cheaper, said Cook, but they are particularly popular in Charlotte because of its transient population.

“If people want to be here only for a brief amount of time, they will be able to take their loved ones with them when they move,” Cook said. The shift from high-cost burials to cremations threatens revenue for the funeral industry, which can force overhead prices to go up. But that doesn’t explain why Charlotte outranks all other cities for funeral expenses because cremations have been on the rise nationwide, attributing for 37 percent of the industry.

Financially squeezed families that are going ahead with burial plans are opting for less formal services. That means cutting out limousine rides, purchasing less ornate caskets and in some cases putting off tombstone purchases, funeral industry experts say.

Antitrust accusations

Service Corp. has run into antitrust accusations before. In 2005, the Funeral Consumers Alliance filed a class-action suit against Service Corp. and other major players in the death-care industry. The suit alleged the companies conspired to overcharge customers on caskets by suppressing competition. While not dismissed, the case has not gone forward.

In 1999, Service Corp. faced charges from the New York state attorney general that the company was dominating the Jewish funeral home business there and hurting consumers by raising funeral prices. Service Corp. settled out of court, agreeing to sell three of its Jewish funeral homes and pay the state $1.2 million for the investigation.

Service Corp. also received civil-investigation demands in 2005 and 2006 from the Maryland attorney general about alleged anticompetitive practices in the funeral industry there.

Barak Richman, a professor at Duke University School of Law, said restrictions are put on monopolies because they can pose harm to market competition.

“When all services in a market are dominated by a single provider, output goes down and prices go up,” he said. “But if a monopolist charges higher prices, that should theoretically allow other people to enter the market and provide services at a lower cost.”

Strickland said Service Corp. does not have a monopoly of the Charlotte area and has continued to meet the needs of residents during their times of grief.

“I don’t want to see you come in when you’ve had a death and have to spend a lot of money,” he said. “We can customize the service to fit any budget.”

By: Cameron Steele cameronsteele@charlotteobserver.com

Do you think that ownership of major funeral and/or cemetery providers in your area has hampered competition?  COMMENTS WELCOME!


Burr Oak Cemetery Investigation – Babyland Now Included!

July 10, 2009

As part of our continuing coverage CNN now reports that an infant burial section called “Babyland” is now part of the investigation.  The article from CNN is reproduced here:

A Cook County cemetery where hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold has been declared a crime scene, meaning that relatives of people believed buried there will not be allowed to visit for several days, an official said Friday.

Family members and police gather outside the Burr Oak Cemetery office in Alsip, Illinois, on Wednesday.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to invite people in, to raise expectations and then crash them,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart told reporters in a news conference held at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. He pleaded for patience, saying he hoped to reopen the 150-acre cemetery to the public in five to seven days.

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Dart said the scope of the investigation has broadened to include “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery intended for children.

“A lot of women came up to me and asked for help with Babyland,” he said. “To a person, every one I talked to could not find any of their children in Babyland.”

A large number of grave sites “are completely missing,” he said, adding that he had received more than 5,000 telephone inquiries and 1,700 e-mails about the matter since the investigation began.

As many as half of the complaints were about missing headstones, 25 to 30 percent were about loved ones who had been relocated, he said.

He cited the experience of one family looking for 10 relatives buried there. “They couldn’t find anybody,” he said.

In addition, in some cases there are no records of burials having taken place, despite relatives’ insistence that they did, he said. In other cases, records have been altered, destroyed or found in people’s houses, he said.

“Our office has to investigate over 5,000 grave sites due to the vast amounts of inquiries from grieving family members,” he said.

Dart said he himself walked through the cemetery on Friday and what he saw was disturbing. “I found bones out there,” he said. “I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can’t find them.”

Some people told him that an entire area that used to have gravestones facing in one direction now has them facing in another direction, he said.

“This is getting bigger,” he said. “We don’t have an end in sight … more people have not found relatives than have found them.”

More than 2,000 families have descended on the cemetery since authorities uncovered what they say was a scheme to resell the plots, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash.

Four people face felony charges for their alleged involvement.

He had said earlier this week that the number of disturbed graves was around 300, but said Friday that number was sure to rise.

One family arrived on Thursday to bury a woman in a plot they had purchased and found the plot was already occupied, he said.

Authorities also discovered Emmett Till’s original casket in a dilapidated garage on the cemetery grounds. The casket had been replaced by a new one after Till’s body was exhumed in 2005.

“There was wildlife living inside of it,” Dart said of the old casket, found in the corner of a garage filled with lawn care equipment and other “piles of things.”

Till was killed in August 1955 in Mississippi after the 14-year-old reportedly whistled at a white woman.

His body was exhumed 50 years later as part of a renewed investigation into his death. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was reburied in a different casket.

Thousands of people had viewed Till’s body in the original casket in Chicago shortly after he was killed, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the news conference.

“His mother had the gut and grit to say that ‘I want America to see what they did to my baby’s body,'” Jackson said about Till, whose body was mutilated.

“More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again,” he said.

“Emmett Till’s lynching redefined emotions in our culture in very fundamental ways. So to see his casket in this state of desecration and neglect is very painful.”

Cemetery groundskeepers told investigators that Till’s grave was not among those disturbed in the alleged resale scheme, Dart said earlier this week.

Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers, have each been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from six to 30 years, authorities said.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. The public defender’s office in Cook County said it had represented the three others at the bond hearing but could not provide a statement for them.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, along with Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners, who said they suspected “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart said earlier this week.

He said the owners are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam.

More to come and comments are welcome!


Chicago Cemetery Workers Face Felony Charges for Digging Up and Reselling Graves at Burr Oak Cemetery – This Was No Last Resting Place

July 10, 2009

Four people face felony charges after authorities discovered that hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago, Illinois, authorities said Thursday. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the four would resell the plots in Burr Oak Cemetery in burr_oak_cemetery_88915412Alsip, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash. “This was not done in a very, very delicate way, folks,” he told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

“They would excavate a grave and would proceed to dump the remains wherever they found a place to do it in the back of the cemetery. This was not moving graves; this was not replacing graves; this was dumping of them.”

In some cases, graves were stacked on top of each other, they “literally pounded the other one down,” Dart said. In all about 300 graves may have been dug up in the cemetery, he said.

Authorities identified those charged as Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers.

Each has been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from 6 to 30 years, Anita Alvarez, Cook County state’s attorney, said at the news conference.

Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. “Somebody is apparently making false accusations against my client,” he said. “She’s maintaining her innocence.”

The Cook County state attorney’s office said the other three charged were being represented by the public defender’s office, and a message left at that office was not immediately returned.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Towns and $200,000 for the other three, Alvarez said. None had posted bail by late afternoon Thursday, the sheriff’s department said.

It was not immediately known if the four had legal counsel.

Authorities began investigating the cemetery — where, among others, lynching victim Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buried — about six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners who had concerns about possible “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart told CNN earlier this week.

“This crime, it’s a whole new dimension,” Alvarez said. Authorities also suspect that Towns pretended to set up a memorial fund for Till and pocketed the funds, Dart said.

He told CNN that groundskeepers, who have not been implicated in the scheme, have said that the grave of Till — whose 1955 lynching at age 14 helped spark the civil rights movement — has not been disturbed.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was also at the news conference, noted the high-profile names of some of those buried in the cemetery, but said, “everybody here is special, and every family has special needs and special hurt, special grief.”

Most of the excavations occurred in back lots, where the plots were older and not frequently visited, Dart said earlier this week. However, other plots may have been disturbed, as well.

The cemetery’s current owners, who could not be reached by CNN for comment, have operated it for more than five years but are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam, Dart said.

He said the workers may have doctored records to cover their tracks and noted that the cemetery holds all the records of who is buried and where.

“There’s virtually no regulations whatsoever (for cemeteries),” Dart said. “Most all of the documents and everything are housed here.”

Investigators are trying to determine the scope of the alleged scheme and plan to use thermal-imaging devices to further examine other graves to see if they have been tampered with, Dart said.

The FBI, forensic scientists and local funeral directors have been called in to help in the investigation, he said.

“I don’t even know what to tell you about the heartbreaking stories that I’ve been hearing from people, crying hysterically that they’re going through the burial for the second time today,” he said.

“And they’re looking for answers and we’re sitting there telling them, ‘This is going to be very difficult,” he said. “We’re trying to bring closure, but it’s going to take a long time to do that.”

Source: CNN.com and ConnectingDirectors.com


Funeral Funding Using Insurance Assignments Made Easy – Funeral Homes Should Not Be Banks!

May 21, 2009

While the focus of Funeral News is to report on death-care related events, we consider our sponsor to be an important asset in the advancement of our cause.  As such, we have asked American Funeral Financial to provide this guest article to our readers.  The following was provided by the fine folks at American Funeral Financial, LLC.

afflogoYou just received a first call.  The family is facing something that, for them, is unusual and, in many cases, unexpected – the death of a loved one.   Not only are they dealing with the emotion of their loss, but are soon to be faced with the costs associated with paying for – what for most is one of the most expensive single purchases of their life.

As funeral directors and/or death care providers the family comes to expect, especially in this day and age, expert service.  What the family may be unprepared for is the immediate need for payment for the goods and services that funeral professionals provide.  On the other hand, unless the family can pay with cash, a valid check or major credit card – you, the funeral service provider, are relegated to becoming a bank.

Times have changed and so have expectations.  Assume for a moment that you were to receive your paycheck on Friday and today is Tuesday.  Could you go to Walmart and purchase groceries with the promise of payment from your check on Friday?  Could secure a cell phone from Verizon with the promise of payment in the future?  The obvious answer to these, or similar questions, is a resounding – NO!  It is no longer reasonable to assume that funeral service providers should be forced to wait for their funds considering the difficulty that many face with insurance assignments today.

Due to the rising costs of goods and services, more and more funeral homes and cemeteries are requiring payment in full prior to providing funeral services getcashnow-newor making the interment.  With the economy today, we find more and more families are relying on insurance as the funding vehicle to pay for those services.  Unfortunately, it can take weeks or even months for the insurance company to pay the claim to the beneficiary or funeral home.  In addition, the paperwork associated with funeral financing via an insurance assignment is becoming more complicated and time consuming, taking valuable time away from doing what you do best – serving families.

American Funeral Financial has created an industry leading proprietary system that takes the burden off of you and your staff and makes the process of funeral funding through insurance assignments easy.

  • No longer do you have to verify the insurance assignment with the insurance company – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to due the burdensome paperwork – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to have experience waiting for your funds – American Funeral Financial pays you the next day following verification.

The process is simple.  Once you have signed on with American Funeral Financial – Your Funeral Funding Experts – you’ll have access to our simple web-based entry system.  Working with the American Funeral Financial web system is easy.  Sign in and in less than 10 minutes you will have the paperwork done and the verification process begun.  American Funeral Financial does the verification for you.  Once you have been notified that the assignment can be done, you will have the beneficiary sign the paperwork (that we prepared for you on the web) and we will fund your services.  It is that simple!  Fees to AFF are competitive and come directly from the policy assignment proceeds so funeral homes and cemeteries are paid their full fee for services rendered.  There is no cost to the funeral home or cemetery.

No waiting for your funds, no hassle, no problems!  American Funeral Financial is a full service firm that is run by professionals with years of experience in the death-care industry.  AFF knows what you need when you need it.

But there’s more!  American Funeral Financial knows that you need your money for services rendered.  You do not need to be the bank!  Likewise, so do the beneficiaries.  Therefore, as part of the process – when your firm has signed up with American Funeral Financial – the funeral funding experts – the beneficiaries of the life insurance policies being assigned are eligible to have advanced to them the remainder of the policy to take care of any short term funding needs that they may have personally.  That’s right – you are paid and they get the funds advanced to them for the remaining part of the policy (assuming they want a personal cash advance).

Our team working for your team when you need it the most – because the cash you have today can have a profound effect on the success of your business tomorrow!


Funerals – High Costs, Add-On’s and Your Last Chance To Be A Big Spender! Is The New York Times Article Accurate?

April 21, 2009

It’s always interesting to read about funeral perceptions and where the industry / profession is headed.  A New York Times article written by Gabrielle Glaser addresses that very issue.  The question is – based on what we are hearing – how much truth is there to the idea that folks are spending the same or more for their funerals – since it’s the last thing they can do for their loved one?nytlogo152x23

Let’s take a look at sections from the article and perhaps you can comment with your thoughts.

EVEN in these hard times, Peter Moloney, a funeral director, believes that people should have what they want.

The funeral industry is offering customized products — including urns with a theme.

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select  19death4-190wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

“You have to give people something special,” says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. “If you’re not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today.”

Now it is true that Long Island may not be main street America, but it is interesting to ponder if those who live outside of the more affluent areas of our country feel the same when it comes to add-on’s and personalization with added costs.  Prior to the economic downturn, there was evidence that personalization and memorial add-on’s were helpful in increasing the average traditional funeral.  The effect of which was, for most firms, a way to stabilize their revenue loss from increasing cremation.  The NY Times article goes on to say:

Even in a tough economy, of course, people in the funeral business have something that executives in many other industries don’t: a guaranteed, and expanding, pool of customers.

“The honest-to-goodness truth of the matter is that everybody does die,” says Arvin Starrett, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association and the owner of Starrett Funeral Home in Paris, Tex.

Revenue in the American funeral industry will grow 1.2 percent this year, to $20.7 billion, estimates Toon van Beeck, a senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, the research firm. That’s down from a 2 percent gain last year — but, hey, it’s still growth when companies in other industries are reporting double-digit losses.

Americans may be living longer than ever, but the reality of a graying nation is stark. The annual death rate of about 2.5 million has been rising about 1 percent a year, and is expected to spike in the early 2020s as older baby boomers reach their mid-70s.

A NEW DIRECTION?

Many firms are reporting an increase in cremation that placing accelerating pressure on their traditional revenue stream making it harder to support the large facility required for traditional funerals and the debt load associated with those buildings.  On average cremation is one-third or less the cost of a traditional funeral and is becoming increasing popular as evidenced by the inclusion of popular movies like the “Bucket List.”

“It’s rather amazing the death care references made in that movie,” states American Funeral Financial VP Chuck Gallagher – formerally a sales VP with Stewart Enterprises.  “Not only was cremation embraced with ease, but both characters romanced the idea that their remains could be placed on a mountain far from where any family member could visit or remember.  For that matter, their remains were placed in a ‘Chock Full of Nuts’ container.”

The Times article goes on to state:

Some insiders suggest that the business could be headed for a restructuring as radical as that sweeping through the music or newspaper industries, especially as baby boomers approach their final act.

The same generation that questioned convention in sex, birth and marriage will probably do the same in death care, says Char Barrett, 48, a funeral director in Seattle and the owner of A Sacred Moment, a business that helps families prepare the bodies of loved ones at home. For a home funeral, she charges $1,450 to $2,595.

“It’s your funeral, your choice — and the industry needs to recognize that,” Ms. Barrett says. “Or it can stay in the box, and drive itself out of business.”

A PREFERENCE for cremation is already transforming the funeral industry in the United States. Cremations will account for a projected 38 percent of all deaths this year, compared with 26 percent in 2000, according to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry group based in Chicago.

And if you care a little bit less about ceremony, and are ready to allow your body to go up in smoke, then all of the trappings of traditional funerals matter less as well — like fancy caskets, says Jerry Sullivan, a second-generation funeral director in Chicago.

“Back in the day, families might spend $10,000, $12,000 on a solid African mahogany casket, have an all-out wake and such,” he says. “Those days are over.”

Today, many funeral directors offer hardwood or metal rental coffins for a short period before cremation, Mr. Sullivan says. He charges roughly $1,000 to rent a hardwood casket for a daylong viewing; a body is placed in a combustible container of cardboard or soft wood, and inserted into the rental coffin lined with fabric.

“We were early adapters,” says Mr. Sullivan, who has rented coffins since 1976. “You want to stay alive in this business, you anticipate your customer’s needs.”

For those who are budget-minded, but don’t want to rent, they can buy coffins at Costco, which offers a selection from $924.99 to $2,999.99.

The Times article (you can read the full article here) is full of ideas that are catching on in various markets and circles.  The following questions remain:

  1. Are families spending the same amount or more for funerals today as compared to two years ago?
  2. How significantly is cremation rising in your market?
  3. Are low cost alternative – Costco – affecting your business?
  4. Do you think as Baby Boomers age and die their generation will radically change the market place for funeral goods and services.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.


Grave Expectations – Meredith Vieira’s Comments on a Today Show Interview…

April 15, 2009

Funny what one little book can do to change a life.  Sue Bailey and Carmen Flowers, with their new book: GRAVE EXPECTATIONS are doing just that.  grave-expectations-bookTheir website states:

It was on the drive home from a deadly funeral that we began to toy with the idea of writing this book. Once we got home, and drank enough champagne, we made the commitment to write it.

Life is such a rich, complicated, joyous, mysterious wild ride. Everyone has stories to tell and lessons to pass on, and what better way to do that than when you’re alive? It was your life; your funeral is the one time you can do and say absolutely whatever you want.

As of this writing, there is no alternative to dying. (You can be cryogenically frozen, but we wouldn’t call that life.) Since there’s no getting out of it, why not go ahead and plan your fantasy going “away” party? Is it just us or have you been seeing too many, “She’s not dead… she’s just away” bereavement cards? Of course you can’t really be too upset since according to the card she’s coming back.

We were destined to write a book about planning one’s own funeral. Between us, we have personally experienced three weddings, two divorces (all Carmen) and five suicides of close family members. We’ve nursed four relatives and friends through deaths due to cancer. We’ve survived cancer (Sue) and meningitis (Carmen) and if all that is not enough, we are both orphans. In spite of these experiences, or because of them, we do not fear death at all . . . we appreciate life that much more.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR FUNERAL (or whatever you wish to call it)?

As the population ages and the Baby Boomers come to realize that they have fewer Christmases ahead than they’ve had behind, we all begin to think (from time to time) about our mortality and how we might be remembered by those who are left behind.  Considering the publicity that this book has received, it seems clear that this is on the mind of many, and those who do the interviews are not immune.

Meredith Vieira had these questions on her mind as well.  Here are her comments from her blog:

This morning we did a segment on planning your own funeral, which was inspired by a new book “Grave Expectations.” It was written by two ladies who, after attending one too many funerals that lacked any personal warmth, decided (over one too many glasses of champagne) that people need to change the way they feel about death.

Who better to handle funeral arrangements than the dearly departed…before they go? I know this sounds morbid, but I’ve decided it makes a lot of sense. And it takes the burden off loved ones left behind, allowing them the chance to grieve and celebrate the person who has died without worrying about the funeral arrangements.

In preparing for the segment, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own farewell. I know I would prefer a party atmosphere with 60’s music (heavy on the Beatles) and lots of Toasted Head Chardonnay. I would want my family and friends to share funny stories along with some sentimental ones. For example, it’s fine to bring up the time I walked half a block with my skirt tucked inside my panty hose after using a public bathroom…but counter it with the time I saved a man who was choking on a chicken bone (ok…maybe that didn’t really happen, but it’s my funeral so I’m allowed to take a few liberties).

I also like the idea of a “green funeral.” even though the thought of a cardboard casket would take some getting used to. Actually, I haven’t decided what to do with my body and it’s become a bone of contention with my husband, Richard, since he thinks I’m going first (romantic, huh?). I’m claustrophobic, so the idea of being in a box, even one that disintegrates, makes me sweat.
And the whole notion of being cremated leaves me cold. My husband keeps saying, “You won’t feel anything,” but how does he know? And according to his game plan, I’m the one who will find out first!

I have considered giving my body to a medical school, but Richard says the students will prop me up, put a party hat on me, and take a lot of goofy pictures. I like a good party as much as the next gal, but his warning has given me pause. Just the same, I know I have to deal with the inevitable. And I hope you start to ponder your hereafter, too. If nothing else, it will remind you how precious life is.  Just drink a few too many glasses of champagne first.  So long, for now…

To Sue and Carmen – CONGRATULATIONS on your new book.  For those who are interested click here to purchase your copy.

To our readers – feel free to comment on just how you would like to be remembered.  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

Read the rest of this entry »


Green Burial – News Coming Out of Texas. Land Conservation and Burial Combined – A Novel Idea!

April 15, 2009

The Parks and Wildlife Department in Texas plans to become the first government agency in the U.S. to let families lay cremated remains in protected forests for a fee to help the state buy more land for conservation.

Texas will cater to people concerned about environmental impacts of the “death-care industry,” Ted Hollingsworth, the agency’s director of land lens1295546_mountain_springs_sunsetconservation, said in an interview.

“If tens of thousands of people want to take advantage of this opportunity annually, it could easily double the rate at which we’re adding lands to state parks,” Hollingsworth said.

In a Bloomberg article Joe Sehee, Executive Director of the Green Burial Council, had comments that the $12 billion-a-year U.S. funeral industry will need a makeover to meet new demand for back-to-Earth burials and low- energy, low-emission cremations. Customers are now curious about products from biodegradable embalming fluid to caskets made of recycled cardboard.

Consumers are forcing changes on the industry, Sehee said. He expects to have advised cemetery and funeral associations on eco-burials in more than half of the 50 U.S. states by year-end.

“A year ago we had a dozen providers in our network,” Sehee said in an interview. “We have more than 300 now. What’s changed in a year is people see this as an opportunity.”

Champion Company of Springfield, Ohio, will introduce a non-toxic biodegradable embalming fluid this month that provides “reasonable temporary preservation,” said James Bedino, head of research and development. The product, Enigma, challenges the industry’s use of toxic formaldehyde, steel caskets and concrete vaults, all meant to prevent decay.

Cremation, already seen as a more environmental option than a traditional burial, is getting even greener, said Paul Rahill, president of the cremation 00000581division of Matthews International Corp., a casket supplier. Pittsburgh-based Matthews this summer will introduce its newest model of a recycled cardboard casket. The product avoids the use of virgin hardwood, weighs half as much as a wood casket and costs 75 percent less. Cremations in the U.S., which account for 37 percent of burials, are rising by 1 percent a year, Rahill said.

“Their choices have been pretty limited in the past,” Rahill said in an interview. “I can do a cherry paper veneer that looks almost like a cherry hardwood casket.”

Matthews has also developed computer-controlled heat sensors that make cremation furnaces up to 40 percent more energy-efficient. The company later this year plans to install the first bio-cremation system in the U.S. that will use hot water, pressure and an alkali chemical instead of combustion.

“One of our biggest markets is what we call ‘mantle people,’” Ziadie said in an interview. “Cremated remains that are sitting on the mantle with loved ones. They may be there for years. The family may be looking for closure.”

Texas officials are completing a contract with the Green Burial Council to let funeral directors charge a fee for scattering cremated remains in state parks. Part of the revenue will help Texas buy land for conservation.

Green burials represent a small but growing portion of the $12 billion spent annually in the U.S. on funeral and burial services, said Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association. In a 2007 survey by AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group for people 50 and older, 21 percent said they were interested in green burials. That number jumped to 43 percent in a 2008 survey, Sehee said.

Given a choice would you prefer a “Green Burial” for a deceased family member of yours?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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