Death doesn’t come cheap

Costs to con­sider when plan­ning a fu­neral


As if los­ing a loved one wasn’t hard enough.

The fi­nal tab for the fu­neral can come as yet another shock, es­pe­cially if the death is un­ex­pected.

Of­ten, there’s too lit­tle time - not to men­tion emo­tional energy - to ne­go­ti­ate, re­search or shop around.

“I think of­ten what throws fam­i­lies is be­ing bom­barded with so many de­ci­sions to make. You’re griev­ing. You’re very up­set,’’ said Sara Mars­den, who, along with her hus­band, runs DFS Me­mo­ri­als Net­work.

DFS Me­mo­ri­als aims to con­nect the re­cently be­reaved with fam­ily-run, low-cost fu­neral and cre­ma­tion providers in the U.S. and Canada. The guid­ance is free, while busi­nesses pay to be­come mem­bers and ad­ver­tise on the site.

Mars­den, who could be de­scribed as a fu­neral con­sul­tant of sorts, also of­fers ad­vice over the phone and makes in­quiries on be­half of peo­ple too over­whelmed to make ar­range­ments.

Many mourn­ers will pay more than they need to out of guilt, as though opt­ing for the cheaper casket some­how means they loved grandpa less, she said.

Dur­ing a meet­ing at the fu­neral home, it’s also tough to say no to add-ons like me­mo­rial books and DVD tributes.

“I think it’s al­ways re­ally good ad­vice, if pos­si­ble, to take some­body along to any kind of meet­ing with a fu­neral home who’s maybe not as emo­tion­ally tied to the sit­u­a­tion,’’ she said.

There are op­tions to pre­pay or at least pre­plan for a fu­neral, so that rel­a­tives aren’t on the hook for thou­sands in fu­neral ex­penses when the time comes. But for many, talk­ing frankly about death is still seen as a “taboo,’’ said Mars­den.

Diann Rowat, with Al­ter­na­tives Fu­neral and Cre­ma­tion Ser­vices, said the tough­est cases are when there’s a sud­den death and the fam­ily has no idea what the de­parted would have wanted.

Al­ter­na­tives, works dif­fer­ently than tra­di­tional fu­neral homes.

In or­der to make the process less in­tim­i­dat­ing, fu­neral di­rec­tors go to clients’ homes, where cas­kets or urns are picked from a cat­a­logue. Al­ter­na­tives doesn’t have its own chapels, but in­stead or­ga­nizes ser­vices in venues like churches and com­mu­nity halls. Rowat and her team of­ten work with lo­cal florists and cater­ers fa­mil­iar to the fam­ily.

“If you give a fam­ily good choices, they’ll make good de­ci­sions and at the end of the day that fam­ily will re­turn to you the next time they have a death,’’ said Rowat, who was a nurse be­fore get­ting into the fu­neral busi­ness.

Cre­ma­tion is a more eco­nom­i­cal op­tion than a burial - four fig­ures ver­sus five fig­ures, gen­er­ally speak­ing.

At Al­ter­na­tives, cus­tomers aren’t obliged to buy an urn if they opt for cre­ma­tion.

“I’ve placed ashes in ev­ery­thing from an­tique cigar boxes to fish­ing tackle boxes to cow­boy boots to grandma’s cookie jar,’’ said Rowat.

The cost of buri­als can range widely. Plots can run into the thou­sands, and some ceme­ter­ies re­quire cas­kets be placed in ce­ment lin­ers rather than di­rectly into the earth, fur­ther adding to the pric­etag. The cas­kets them­selves can range from hun­dreds of dol­lars to thou­sands. And then there are the grave mark­ers.

Rowat said it’s im­por­tant to fol­low your in­stincts and not give in to pres­sure dur­ing a vul­ner­a­ble time.

“If you en­ter into a fa­cil­ity and you are not com­fort­able, you don’t have to stay. You have ev­ery right to be able to say, ‘ You know what? We as a fam­ily need to go home and talk about this a lit­tle bit more.’’’

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