The Commercial Appeal

Funeral advocates ready for questions

- By Josh Slocum

Do you fear the reaper? Have I got a plan for you!

Come to Saturday’s meeting of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Mid-South. It starts at 2 p.m. at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Germantown.

The FCA is a nonprofit organizati­on that does for funeral purchases what Consumer Reports magazine does for everything else. I bet you didn’t know we existed. I’ll also bet you’re not planning to die.

Lots of folks who call us for advice aren’t really planning to die, either. They talk about death in the subjunctiv­e: “Well, I don’t need your services today, but if anything should ever happen to me ... .” It is my solemn duty to inform you that death is not an optional lifestyle choice that may not be right for you (ask your doctor).

Americans spend some $15 billion a year on funerals, cremations and cemetery space; it’s one of the largest purchases most households will make. But unlike every other important purchase, most of us go into it sleepwalki­ng. We don’t plan for it in our budgets, and we don’t shop around to compare services and price.

I know, I know: You go to XYZ funeral home because that’s what “your family does.” Would you buy a house, a car, or even a new kitchen this way?

Funerals can be simple or elaborate — burial, or cremation, or body donation; calling hours and a viewing, or a memorial service at church. Want to go out “green?” You can do that, too, by skipping the embalming and the polished metal casket.

There are as many choices for a final send-off as you could want, but to arrange a service that fits your taste and your budget, you have to know your options. That’s what FCA is for.

More stuff I bet you don’t know:

A simple cremation at a funeral home in or around Memphis ranges from $600 to $4,445 (you read that right).

A no-frills burial (no casket, and not including cemetery costs) goes for $595 to $4,570.

A full-service “traditiona­l” funeral ranges from around $2,000 to more than $12,000

You don’t even have to use a funeral home, if you want to bury your own like

our ancestors did not so long ago.

In short, what you don’t know can cost you. And I’m not talking just money. Most people leave it to the funeral director to know what’s an “appropriat­e” service (again, would you do this with a car dealer?). So our send-offs are cookie-cutter. Is that the best way to remember all the unique people in our families when it’s time to say goodbye?

I don’t think so, and I don’t think most folks do either. Having been to funerals fancy, frugal and in-between, it’s clear that there’s no one “proper” way to bury the dead. We learn at mother’s knee that money can’t buy love, and that carries through right to the end. My grandmothe­r’s funeral in 1992 was the standard velvet-draped affair where we all filed past the casket as guests told us little white lies. “She looks so natural.” No, she didn’t.

That was the costly part. But the meaningful part, the part we have fond memories about, happened afterward at Aunt Mary Ellen’s house. The kids made food in the kitchen while the grownups drank grandma’s favorite cocktail (the horrid sloe-gin fizz) in her honor while rememberin­g what a scandalous cheat she was at gin rummy. Standing next to my cousin Kelly making piles of tuna-peamacaron­i salad with equal parts sniffling and giggling was the best grief therapy money couldn’t buy.

If you’re ready to tackle the last taboo, come join us on Saturday. The vol- unteers at FCA of the MidSouth will be there with their area price survey (which is worth its weight in gold). Bring your questions about death and funerals — especially those you think aren’t “appropriat­e” to ask — and I’ll give you answers.

Believe it or not, you’ll have a good time. If it weren’t a free event, I’d guarantee you double your money back if you don’t agree that we put the fun back in funerals! Josh Slocum is executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. Follow him on Twitter #eFuneral, visit, or call 802-865-8300.

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