Shopping for a funeral when you don’t need one is better than when you do need one. With the luxury of time, you can get the best deal possible. It’s a fascinating shopping trip. My friend Gary, the one who doesn’t want a fuss when he dies, went with me on shopping excursions to several local funeral homes. He wanted a cheap, simple, pre-paid cremation, so everything would be taken care of when the time came. Yet, his plain request had a $750 price variation between providers for essentially the same services.
We found funeral directors can have a great sense of humor, when there’s no death imminent. When someone has recently died, or is about to die, the conversation has an appropriately somber tone. While meeting with one funeral director in an upscale funeral establishment, Gary and I were having a jolly conversation about cremated remains and the wide variety of disposal methods one can pursue with cremains, as they are called.
While we were talking and laughing, another funeral director came and quietly closed the door to the conference room we occupied. It turned out a bereaved family was sitting in the lobby right next to the room, and our light-hearted banter stood in stark contrast to their grief. I imagined the conversation those folks would have was not going to be remotely as pleasant as ours.
Another reason to shop around early: you realize the range of information needed for making final arrangements and can calmly collect that data without pressure. The details needed to complete a death certificate for a family member are not usually common knowledge. Quick, rattle off a spouse, parent, or sibling’s Social Security number or place of birth!
Glenn Taylor, president of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, an association of locally-owned funeral homes, grew up in the business. He recommends finding a provider with whom you feel comfortable having an engaged and open conversation, as well as shopping for price. “Pre-arrangement is free. It doesn’t cost a dime to create a road map for your family and put your wishes and dislikes on file,” says Taylor. “If a funeral home is running a pre-need program and they’re not willing to talk to you about just a pre-arrangement without funding, you’re in the wrong place.”
Taylor says pre-arranging also enables the family to make the funeral or memorial service more personalized and meaningful. “If your first dealing with a funeral home is when the death occurs, it’s more difficult to provide a unique experience that clearly reflects the life, the attitude, the perspective of that person. It’s not that the funeral director can’t do it – we can. But often the family is not in an emotional position to provide us with the information we need to make that happen,” he explains.
It helps for families to visit funeral homes with an idea of what they do and do not want. Increasingly, more families are asking for elements that personalize the experience, although some ask with hesitation. “I’m often surprised by the things that families ask if they can do which, to us, are just routine. I think they think there’s a funeral police somewhere,” says Taylor. “It is not about what the neighbors think. It is about what has meaning for you.”
“There’s nothing we like any better than a family that comes to us and says, ‘We want to do something different,’ because we can do it,” Taylor says. Taylor is a fourth-generation funeral director with Glenn Funeral Home in Owensboro, Kentucky. His grandmother, whom he described as “the typical white-haired, genteel Southern lady” was also a funeral director who knew the value of meeting the needs of families. She may have been among the original providers of personalized funerals. Whenever she was asked about doing something a bit different, he said her response was often, “If it’s not illegal and not too immoral, we can do it.”