The recession is having another unforeseen consequence. Funeral directors report more and more people are making cheaper choices when choosing arrangements for their deceased.
“People are definitely opting for minimum services and merchandise,” says Jerome Daniel, the owner of Niswonger-Reynolds Funeral Home in Bend.
Customers are purchasing fewer flowers, less ornate headstones and urns, and having services at home or at a park rather than at a funeral home’s chapel, avoiding costs that can range from $1,000 to $3,100 for a cremation and $3,500 to $5,000 for a burial.
Beverly LaFollette says that her funeral home, LaFollette’s Chapel in Burns, has seen a “huge” increase in people choosing cremations, perhaps as much as 20%.
As the unwillingness or inability to pay for funeral services rises, so has the popularity of a quick and cheaper way to say goodbye: immediate disposition companies.
Immediate disposition companies will take the body from the family and either cremate or bury it immediately. They do not offer options for viewing, embalming, spaces for memorial services, or other services typically found at a funeral home. The price is typically under $1,000.
According to the Cemetery and Mortuary Board, the state regulatory agency for funeral homes and immediate disposition companies in Oregon, there are 194 funeral homes in the state and eight immediate disposition companies, the oldest of which was licensed in 2003.
John Gerbish, the owner of such a company, Affordable Funeral Alternatives in Gresham, says a direct cremation costs $585 and a direct burial (which comes with a casket) costs $895.
The lower cost makes immediate disposition cheaper than traditional burials or cremations, and funeral homes are feeling the impact.
“We are losing business to direct cremation societies because they are viewed as the more economic choice,” says Andrea White, owner of Mt. Scott Funeral Home in Portland. “People are going to be forced into that because they don’t have the funds available to do anything else,” says Cindy Hinton, the president of the Oregon Funeral Directors Association. Also, demand on the state’s indigent burial fund has grown as the economy has faltered, and the death filing fee was recently increased to help.
Hinton says that disposing of a family member so quickly, without viewing them for a final time, having no service or other traditional rituals, and going without what White calls “a personal touch,” will have effects on more than a person’s pocketbook.
“It is going to change the way we deal with death,” Hinton says.
“People are bypassing the grieving process,” says Erin Phelps, the owner of Omega Funeral and Cremation in Portland.
Gerbish doesn’t necessarily think that is the case, although he admits families are “probably short-cutting the whole process.”