Fu­ner­als put pres­sure on

Central Leader - - OPINION -

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.

Oc­to­ber –

Novem­ber 2009

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