Funeral Industry News

No, I Cannot Sell You a Funeral Today For Some Tomorrow

August 21, 2009

No, I Cannot Sell You a Funeral Today For Some Tomorrow

Recently I considered applying for a pre-need position when it became available. I considered it very briefly before deciding that I could not sell a funeral today for some tomorrow. I thought about the facts ? I know a lot about funeral and memorial services. I know about personalization and how to create a funeral that reflects the person who died as well as the people who are left behind, the bereaved. I am aware of the legal ramifications of pre-planning as it applies to the executor?s decision to carry out the wishes of the now deceased as they are specified in the arrangement. I know the laws concerning embalming and disposal. I am even able to explain the procedure of embalming as well as cremation. In my mind I do not see a difference between going to the cemetery for a committal service and going to the crematorium to perform the very same ritual for the deceased. I have taken the time to learn about not only my own cultural response to death but that of many other cultures. As well, I am tuned into the social changes which are impacting on our decisions concerning funerary ritual and disposal. So, why didn?t I jump at the opportunity to become a pre-planner, to sell funerals and memorials to people with the insight to look ahead and recognize the stressors placed on every family? Clearly it would be an opportunity in which I could educate any number of people about our deathways and the choices which are currently available to them.

The answer is far more complicated than the simple and most obvious one ? that I do not want to sell funerals or memorials to anyone. Jessica Mitford (1963, 1998) and Tony Walter (1990, 1996) have argued that the only people who benefit from pre-arranging and pre-paying is the funeral industry. More specifically they argue that the funeral home where the arrangements have been made benefits because they have decreased the market share with each arrangement made. In fact, Mitford goes out of her way to negate the positive good which these choices might have for the bereaved. I believe that both Mitford and Walter fail to understand the emotional stressors which are alleviated when funerals are pre-arranged and pre-paid. Furthermore, they express concern about the security of the monies which are paid by individuals into funds. In Canada, funeral homes do not retain control over the money which is being invested in funeral home services. Money which is invested is contributed either to a trust fund which is monitored by a bank or to an insurance policy. In either instance, the money is guaranteed because it is controlled by government regulation which ensures that it accumulates interest and remains securely invested. This does not appear to be the case in the United States where recent preneed scams have been reported and millions of dollars have been lost. I would like to say that I am surprised, but I am not. The history of the two funeral industries is quite different from their inception to their regulation. That is a topic for another day!

Back to the matter of why I cannot sell you a funeral today for some tomorrow. I struggle with the concept of selling funerals and memorials rather than assisting individuals to make good choices about how they want their body to be cared for, the type of service they desire or do not desire, the music, poetry which reflects their life, who they wish to lead the service and where, not to forget the stationary packages. Perhaps it is semantics to discriminate between selling and assisting or facilitating someone else?s choice in these matters. It is petty, I know. I struggle that sales persons are hired to cinch the deal, make the sale or however you want to phrase the transaction. Planning a funeral requires insight, and lots of it. There is more to planning than choosing a package which details the type of casket, the type of service, the type of stationary. Planning a funeral in advance requires the same kind of detail as planning one at need. The big difference is that time is on our family?s side in advance planning. I cannot rush people to make a choice which will ultimately define who they were. I want to give them information and choices, lots of choices every step of the way. Furthermore, I want to give them time ? time to think, to process all the information we are sharing, to ask questions, to consider whether they want to personalize and how, to talk with their family about their decisions, to consult a member of the clergy about using the chapel or using the church, to identify areas of concern. I want to gather as much information as I can about each individual who sits with me and talks about end life planning so that when the time comes, the funeral director will have extensive notes prior to meeting with the bereaved. I want the person who is working with families to know whether the funeral home has an organ, a sound system, available clergy members of all denominations. I want the preplanner to know what it takes to organize and facilitate a funeral in regards to staff and vehicles so they can answer questions. I want pre-planners to have the inside information that funeral directors share with the bereaved. I want them to be on salary not on commission so they do not have to hustle to make sales to survive. I want them to be knowledgeable about the products which they are helping individuals to choose.

I have an inside vision of what pre-arranging should entail. I cannot sell you a funeral today for some tomorrow because I will not be rushed and I will not rush anyone who cares enough about protecting their loved ones from the additional stressors of a death to be rushed. If we want excellence in pre-arranging, we must first demand it from ourselves and then pass it on to the individuals we deal with. Mitford saw the pitfalls but she focuses on the wrong aspect. In the industry, we have access to information, to countless suppliers and new ideas. The sooner we tap into this and begin sharing with our families the better. We need to protect our families from the scams by finding ways to safeguard their investments. We need to see pre-need as something other than a sale which will ensure a funeral home?s future. When we do this, we will regain a measure of dignity which has been lost by the funeral industry through preneed scandals.