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Consumers go for cheaper burials

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Articles - February 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010

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.”



Marian Spadone
0 #1 short cutting grief?Marian Spadone 2010-02-04 22:58:20
Thanks for this article about what I find to be a somewhat alarming trend. It's sad to think of people believing they are unable to afford the kind of closure they may need when facing a death of someone they love. There is often another option though. In Oregon, as in nearly every state, a designated friend or family member has the right to act as a funeral director for someone they love who has died. In practical terms this means that a family can take on both the care of the body and filling out the death certificate. In terms of closure, this means that people can engage their spiritual beliefs and create a meaningful vigil or wake in the home or a place of their choosing. (church, community center, etc.) In Oregon, you have the right to transport a body home from the hospital or nursing facility. (you can verify this by a call to your local county medical examiner) Embalming is neither necessary nor required by law (except in rare cases) and a family can use dry ice to preserve a body long enough for a dignified home vigil. In addition, a simple inexpensive cardboard casket can be purchased at most funeral homes and family and friends can decorate or "personalize", in a surprisingly satisfying way. Of course this still leaves the cost of a burial plot plus the fee for opening and closing the grave, if a person chooses burial. Prices for plots vary widely so it's good to think ahead on this and do some research. If a family chooses cremation or even direct cremation, they can still do all of the above and perhaps save even further on some of the costs. Some funeral homes will work with people and offer a list of individually priced services that support home care of the dead. In addition, there is a growing network of people calling themselves Home Funeral Guides who have researched all of the above and can be available to support a family's legal rights to a home or family directed funeral. The bottom line is to think about all of this ahead of time, and talk about it with your family members. You can make informed choices about this, and you may find that doing so gives you a surprising sense of relief and confidence about facing death. And that can change the way you live your life.
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