February Reading: Funeral Pricing, Death Cafes, and Unique Memorialization

Friday, February 17, 2017

After the Wide World of Sales and the articles that I found this month, the idea of 'options' emerged as a key thread. Diverse funeral offerings are in high demand. Unique funerals are in demand. With so many choices and possibilities, families want to know what is available, the price range, and the services that go along with it. They should understand the differences and feel completely informed about the how and the why, whether it's a traditional plot or blasting ashes into space. The ability to make complete and informed decisions carries even more weight than it may have in the past, because everyone's experience can potentially be heard. This won't come as a surprise to anyone, but as I continue to work on this project I am constantly reminded how much more visible our industry is now, and how many people are thinking about the issues we deal with day to day.

NPR & Funeral Home Pricing

In February, NPR ran a two-part investigative report into cremation costs and funeral home pricing information, which found, in their view, that funeral home home prices are still "unclear" and obtaining that information can be a challenge, especially for consumers who want to shop around. The individuals they spoke with, however, were trying to find services at need, which always adds a layer of complexity and emotion to the process.

The ICCFA Wireless Newsletter put it best - noting that all of the concerns discussed in the piece "had one element in common: there was no preplanning or prearrangement involved." There is a sense, especially in a piece that is driven by the consumer story, that misinformation and leverage are the operating guidelines and I think we all know that is not that case. I also think we know that no cemeteries are selling the actual, physical process of cremation as a differentiator - it's the funeral home, it's the service, it's the arrangements - the whole package that each home can provide. This idea that using the same crematory but charging a different price is misleading at best, but, especially with the access to information we have today, perception becomes reality a lot quicker than it used to.

Death Cafes & Monument Conservation

Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY used to be one of the largest tourist destinations in the entire country. It is historic, and massive, and thanks to their steady stream of public events, they continue to attract large crowds. In February, they hosted the second "Death Cafe," a salon style discussion around one theme: dying. It's a place to learn, ask questions, participate or simply sit there and listen. came across two more interesting programs they are running, one that is more of a community outreach thing and the other regarding the cemetery grounds themselves.

One thing that stood out was the mention of feeling anonymous and disconnected, especially in a place like New York, and many people "are unconnected to religious or civic institutions. 'We don't know funeral directors,' [Death Cafe facilitator Amy Cunningham] told Gothamist. 'We're roaming free and people are less sure about what's possible and what to do at the end of life.'" Absent a religious or spiritual advisor, what options do people have, and how can cemetery professionals try to step in to promote and nurture these conversations and experiences? Greenwood also recently just hired their first full-time conservator for their monuments and memorials. There is a great interview with Neela Wickremesinghe about their conservation studio and her upcoming projects over at Brownstoner.

Related Industry News

- In Kyoto, a cemetery is offering niche spaces for women who are either unmarried or do not want to buried at the husband's graves, as is traditional in Japan.

- A small coastal down in Northeast Japan is home to an unconnected telephone booth called the "Telephone of the Wind" where people can go to "call" and speak to their loved ones. This short documentary is quite moving.

- Relating to our blog last month, a bill just passed the Hawaiian Senate that will give terminally ill patients the option to access life-ending medications if they choose. Read more about that here.

- Pittsburgh Catholic ran an article called 'Ecology of burial: Choices reflect beliefs about afterlife', that takes a look at the practice of green burial through a religious perspective.