Funerals put pressure on
As in all things, families must cut their cloth to suit their wallet but when it comes to funerals it can be hard to resist overspending.
There are two levels of pressure to cope with: Those created by the norms of your family or community and those experienced in dealing with the funeral director.
The first is probably the toughest to resist.
Communities can impose unrealistic expectations on families, expectations that lead to spending money that would be better spent on the living, and worse, result in lingering debts.
On this front Pakeha New Zealand seems to have it easier than Maori and Pasifika communities.
It has become much less judgmental over death rites.
Families aim for heartfelt affairs which reflect the lives of their dead loved ones, rather than feeling bound by costly tradition.
When I go, a no-frills cremation followed by a wake-style gathering and ashes scattering on a beach or in a garden will do me fine.
But Pakeha New Zealand isn’t immune to the pressure either and as the Law Commission pointed out last year in a report on possible law reforms purchasing a funeral was not a normal transaction.
People are grieving. They don’t know what the going rates are for different kinds of funerals.
They fear being seen as pennypinching, even worrying that the funeral director might see them as grudging and mean.
The Law Commission is pushing for funeral directors to be transparent on their pricing, calling for laws to make them display them on websites, so shopping around is easier. I’m all for transparency. It isn’t hard for funeral directors to publish their menu of charges and funeral directors tell me things are heading that way anyway so a new law may well not be needed.
But in talking to funeral directors, one thing is clear.
While your family, friends and community may judge you on your choices for a loved one, funeral directors won’t be.
As third generation funeral director Stephen Dils from Dils Funerals and vice president of the Funeral Directors Association told me: ‘‘There is no judgment on our end. If someone wants to have the most elaborate funeral in the world, or the least elaborate, so be it.’’
And if you can’t believe that, blame your choices on the dead.
As Mary Melville from J Weir & Co says, there are code words you can use. ‘‘ My father was not a showy person.’’ ‘‘ Mum wouldn’t have wanted a lot of fuss.’’ ‘‘ Uncle John was always very careful with his money, and he wouldn’t want anything too elaborate.’’
Such statements establish a foundation for the coming conversation which can’t be challenged.
They make it easier to ask what the full range of options are for things like caskets which can add a lot to the final bill.
Dils also pointed out something remarkable about the recent history of funerals in New Zealand.
The lack of regulation that’s got us into so much trouble in some areas (leaky buildings, for example) has resulted in people being able to do death their own way, compared to more buttoneddown countries like Britain.
DIY elements to funerals like back garden wakes, ashes scatterings at the beach and nonreligious celebrants were all adopted here before many other bits of the world.
Let’s use that freedom and have funerals we can afford which don’t leave the living going short because of the cost of farewelling the departed.