By Jean T.D. Bandler
We appreciate those funeral homes that responded to our price list requests, but remain puzzled that most ignored our letters, apparently willing to keep their charges a secret. We are also surprised that several homes reported the price lists "were unavailable" or provided incomplete "estimates". We are thankful for the hard work of many FCA volunteers who helped bring our total to over 60%. All lists were read for FTC violations here at our Connecticut office and by our Vermont experts.
The General Price Lists (GPLs) receive a mixed report, with some fine features, some areas of improvement, some items which "need work" and many poor features and failures.
No Honor Roll Candidates: No funeral home or cremation service made the honor roll with excellent compliance with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and reasonable (for Connecticut) prices. Funeral homes, often those run by large corporate chains, with 100% FTC compliance had exorbitant charges, which our readers deemed "astronomical" and "outrageous". Establishments with moderate prices all had some FTC problems and errors, both minor and major.
Gold Stars for Good Features:
- The explicit notation, by one funeral home, that the shelter charge applied only after the first four days;
- The FTC pamphlet Funerals: A Consumer Guide sent by some;
- The clear statement of one funeral establishment, that alternate and cremation containers were suitable for burial.
Good Progress in Some Areas:
- The elimination by many homes of hidden, illegal casketing handling fees when a casket is purchased elsewhere;
- The use of required FTC disclosures on embalming ("not necessary, may choose cremation or direct burial") and on Professional Service (covers planning, overhead,) by significantly more funeral homes;
- The clear statements, by more funeral homes, on whether or not crematory and medical examiner's charges are included in cremation price.
Failing Marks for Illegal Pricing Tricks:
- The effort by several establishments to insert a new, hidden and illegal casketing fee, (from $115 to $500) if an alternate container is used; The continuing practice of some funeral homes to use an illegal casketing fee when a casket is purchased elsewhere;
- The continued use by some of extra, illegal charges (taking the body to the crematorium, getting death certificates).
Bad grades for Misleading Assumptions:
- Implying that shelter charges begin at the first day rather than after the accepted three or four days;
- Implying that sanitary charges are required if there is no embalming; these charges can reach or exceed embalming fees.
Failing Grades for Illegal Omissions:
- Some price lists omit required services, as the cost of a graveside service with staff and equipment;
- A number omit the price range of cremation and immediate burial;
- Some omit the required listing of alternate containers under direct burial and cremation;
- Others fail to describe the composition of these containers.
Low Grades for Extra (Sometimes Illegal) Verbiage:
- Some still insist that the basic professional fee covers the funeral director's work during a funeral or memorial service;
- A few funeral homes continue to describe the erroneous health benefits of embalming;
- Several funeral homes claim their caskets and vaults are "protective"; others declaim that any goods purchased from a third party "must meet all state and cemetery/crematory requirements".
- Many charge the same for a memorial service as a funeral; in a few cases a memorial costs more than a funeral;
- Some now charge the same or more for receiving a body, as forwarding a body, despite the fact that there is no embalming or paperwork involved;
- Touted savings on "packages" often fail any frugality test, add some perhaps unwanted products (bookmarks) and sometimes significantly increase costs.
Principal's Office for Bad Conduct and Citizenship:
- Making money by an automatic imposition of high additional embalming fees for organ donation (ranging from $200 to $400) is a poor way to recognize a humanitarian gift of life;
- Using rude, intimidating language specifically directed at cremation and immediate burial ("payment in full at time of arrangements", "done at our convenience without ceremony or family participation") is disrespectful to personal choice.
Interesting Price List Prose (and our editorial questions)
- Only embalmed bodies will be dressed. (Others are just business casual?)
- We offer a classic cremation package. (Like the Vikings?)
- Basic fee includes compliance with mandated infectious waste management, employee safety regulations, FTC and OSHA rules? (They charge us to obey the law?)
- Lowest cost casket - non-protective, no interior?. (That black hole coffin ?)
- Cremation fees cover...cremation if relevant. (What's the fee if not relevant?)
by Stuart E. Rapp
When I walked into the kitchen from some errands in mid-morning, my wife held up a scribbled message while talking quietly but urgently on the phone. "Danny was killed in an auto accident early this morning near Frederick, Maryland" it read. My second son was calling about the sudden death of his older brother. Certain as death is to us all, probably nothing else can deliver its numbing shock. That fact is what can make our FCA services so valuable, at the very time when we are the least emotionally prepared, no matter how "ready" we planned to be.
Arriving at my son's home near Washington, DC, before midnight, I managed a few minutes alone with newly-widowed Julie, apart from our extended family. We both sensed what difference a few minutes of planning would make in the rest of our time together.
And indeed it did. Julie had already largely decided that she preferred cremation to other practices, and a family-based memorial gathering rather than a funeral home or traditional church-based funeral. I told her of the resources I had discovered through my membership in FCA of CT, and that, if she wished, I could explore them here for possible sources of help. She readily agreed.
By next morning, we had found the "yellow pages" entry for the FCA affiliate in her area. I left a message, identifying myself as a FCA member and Board member in Connecticut. We received a helpful callback from the emergency contact and learned from him about a well-reputed cremation service and a nearby church with appropriate facilities.
The cremation service responded to Julie's call, visited her in person and patiently explained their services and options. Julie asked them to handle the securing and disposition of Danny's body, which they did, in cooperation with a local crematorium. The service also supplied all legal documentation and personal delivery of the ashes in a plain but durable container. This enabled Julie to share the scattering of the ashes with closest family members.
The cremation service met all these needs with promptness, courtesy and reasonable cost. The use of these services - and those of the religious facility and leadership - resulted in expenses more modest than comparable functions of a standard funeral establishment. Naturally, these choices vary depending on family preferences and requirements at time of death.
As luck would have it - and there was some luck involved - a helpful minister was available to lead the memorial service, and the church welcomed us into their large fellowship space for a beautiful and memorable celebration of Danny's life by family, co-workers and close friends. First, a gathering time enabled far-flung family and friends to greet and share their grief. In the background was a photo montage; a long video loop, prepared by closest co-workers, used Danny's favorite music as the sound track and showed images from various family albums from Danny's birth to the present.
The minister represented the non-doctrinal part of the religious spectrum, so that the service concentrated on spontaneous words of love and recollection from those closest to Danny. These concluded with a simple and beautiful appreciation of his father by son Nathan, the most moving words of all. The minister surrounded these "last tender offices of faith and love" by readings from the Scriptures and concluding prayers. An informal time with refreshments followed for those who could remain.
The luck I mentioned had to do with the dovetailing of availability and time in this case, which nothing can guarantee. The FCA affiliate, however, fully lived up to its own guarantee. It helped us cope with the experience of death at reasonable cost, while enabling the family to maintain its own dignity and that of the one who had died. I now realize, more deeply than before, why membership in FCA is such a valuable asset in our end-of-life planning.
by Craigg McRae
On May 12, 2004 my son Tom had a car accident which left him brain dead with no hope of recovery. After 18 hours of agony watching him kept alive on various machines and having numerous tests to see if there was any brain activity at all, Tom's mother and I gave permission for the hospital to declare him dead. He was 16 and had received his driver's license only four months before. While I was in favor of organ donation, for sentimental reasons his mother was not. What turned the decision around was the fact that Tom had volunteered his organs to be donated when he received his driver's license. This in no way obligated us, but it was comforting to know that Tom had considered this possibility before his death. He had told a friend he would sign up but, of course, never expected the gift to be used.
While Tom's lungs, spleen, and liver were not eligible for donation due to injuries sustained in the crash, he did donate both kidneys, his heart, his eyes, and much skin for burn grafting. Tom's left kidney was transplanted into a 49 year old married mother of two daughters who had end stage renal disease. Tom's right kidney was transplanted into a 33 year old married father who had been receiving dialysis treatments for nine years. Tom's heart was transplanted into a 30 year old mother of two small children.
The fact that parts of Tom are helping many others helps make this tragedy bearable. He was a great kid with a zest for life. While God controls these events, I know that His taking of Tom at such a young age was to see how we react and what acts of love we initiate as a result. Tom's soul is intact and the memories of him stay alive in our hearts and minds forever.
I strongly encourage everyone to seriously consider organ donation because of the lasting gifts it brings - gifts of life to the recipients and gifts of love to the bereaved.