This article provides some good reasons to pre-plan a funeral, especially if you know burial in a cemetery is the preferred method of disposition. I wrote this story, titled “BEFORE Someone Dies – Some Preneed Thoughts,” which just came out in the March 2015 issue of Mortuary Management Magazine.
The Saturday before Christmas, a woman called me desperate for help. Her 86-year-old father had just died in the hospital. She and her mother were seeking a burial plot for him. He was Russian Orthodox, so cremation was out – he had to be buried.
The daughter and wife wanted a resting place with trees and grass and upright headstones. With those parameters, her choices were very limited in Albuquerque’s high desert climate. Most cemeteries in this town require flat-to-the-ground markers.
Add the stress of cemetery plot shopping over the weekend before a major holiday, plus the time pressure of having a dead body on your hands! There is a better way to handle this eventuality – preneed planning.
Let’s face it, funeral planning is way down on most people’s list of things to do. Sometimes, the best way to move recalcitrant parents along on preneed planning is for the younger generation to make their own arrangements first. That’s what my husband and I did.
We told his parents we were going plot shopping at Congregation Albert’s cemetery, and asked if they wanted to come along. Because we, the children, thought cemetery plot shopping was a perfectly normal thing to do, we lead by example. My in-laws came along, they saw how nice the cemetery was, and they bought their final resting places.
We secured four plots together and it was easy. When my father-in-law died in 2009, it was one less thing to worry about.
Another reason to buy cemetery plots sooner rather than later – if burial is preferred – is price inflation. Generally, real estate only gets more expensive.
My parents bought their burial plots in 1995. Dad purchased a preneed package that included two plots, the opening and closing costs and fees, grave liners, and a double wide marker for both plots. The total cash price in 1995 was $6,662.09, plus a finance charge of $2,096.60 for 60 monthly payments of $134.86.
In contrast, one of my uncles put off making his own arrangements. He vacillated between an unused plot inherited from his parents and a veteran’s free burial in a national cemetery. In 2013, the price for that one inherited burial plot, marker, and service fees was about $6,800. The price for burial in the same cemetery where my parents bought two plots and services in 1995 had more than doubled.
Even with the growing cremation rate, there will always be arrangements to make: deciding and funding some method of disposition, communicating the news to family and friends, and marking the death/celebrating the life with some sort of gathering.
At the humor-laden presentations I do on funeral planning issues, usually less than a third of the audience has preplanned. People are interested in the topic, especially when they know the presentation will be entertaining. Laughter releases endorphins into the bloodstream, helping people to relax about a stress-inducing topic.
Last year, Carroll-Lewellen Funeral Home in Longmont, Colorado sponsored Laughing in the Face of Death: Funny Films for Funeral Planning. In this upbeat talk, which runs from 60 to 90 minutes, I illustrate funeral planning issues with clips from comedy films and television programs, including Death at a Funeral, Undertaking Betty, The Big Lebowski and the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
At the funeral home, Carroll-Lewellen’s chapel was packed with 80 people. The public learned about this event through local newspaper articles, event promotion on Longmont’s cable access channel, and emails. It was a festive gathering. The funeral home staff wore T-shirts that read “I Want Your Body.” Popcorn, beverages and other snacks were served.
Preneed contact leads were collected through a drawing for a copy of my book and TV DVD series, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. The film clips in the presentation provoked laughter. Between each clip, I explained much-needed consumer information in a humorous way.
For those funeral directors who would like to see a DVD of this talk, please email a note to Gail [at] AGoodGoodbye.com. This approach can work for other funeral home businesses.
Yes, preneed funeral planning will rarely be at the top of most people’s to-do list. However, bringing some fun to the educational process can make it easier to help people see the light and make their arrangements before they’ve got a dead body on their hands.
Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, is a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality and funeral planning issues. She is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement by the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, she is also creator of Mortality Minute radio spots. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.