Funeral home directors wear many hats.
“The funeral director advises, listens, helps with grief and bereavement,” said Cedric Burnam of Burnam & Son Mortuary. “They are tribute planners and take care of legal documents.”
Funeral home directors have to be good listeners, said Bill Hardy Jr. of Hardy & Son Funeral Homes.
“A lot of times families are in such turmoil. I just let them talk,” he said. “You can’t listen enough. Communication is really a big thing in service.”
The National Funeral Directors Association website at nfda.org says the national average cost of an adult funeral in 2009 – not including cemetery, monument or marker costs or miscellaneous cash advance charges, such as for flowers or obituaries – was $6,650. Add the cost of a vault and the cost rises to $7,755.
As members of the NFDA, “we have to follow a strict code of ethics,” Burnam said.
Because of those costs, Hardy and Burnam stress the need for people to preplan their funerals. Some things to consider include selecting a cemetery lot, Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits, burial allowance, headstone or marker, death pension, burial flag, flowers and charitable donations, religious ceremonies, military and fraternal tributes and music.
“As men and women, we make plans for our future, but we fail to plan funeral services. If you don’t do that, you don’t have a complete financial plan. Some people put it in a will, but a will is read after the fact,” Burnam said. “People should talk about it to make sure their wishes are carried out and make it easier on the family. When you’re going through bereavement, you wouldn’t have to do things based on emotion. It’s the ultimate gift of love to your family members.”
“When you pre-arrange, your family is not under all that emotional stress,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to make that decision right on the spot. Now is the time to talk to people about what you want.”
Preplanning helps people make the time to get informed, Burnam said.
“Visit and call the funeral home,” he said. “Ask a friend if they used the funeral home.”
Prepaying for the funeral also helps, Burnam said. There are various ways to pay, including insurance, a regulated trust, which is usually set up at a bank, savings, or a certificate of deposit account that is payable on death.
“Do you have to do it? No you don’t. Would you be wise to do it? Yes,” he said. “It would take the financial burden off the family.”
One of the first steps in planning a funeral, whether planning ahead or not, is to find a reputable funeral director.
“If you use a discount provider, anyone can make the arrangement,” Burnam said.
The families should also choose whether they want cremation, burial or entombment.
“People sometimes call and ask, ‘How much is it to cremate?’ ” Burnam said. “There are three dispositions. They need to know the different funeral choices.”
Once they get the information, the families decide what to do.
“It depends on how far they want to take it. Most families know what they want to spend,” Hardy said. “Sometimes the sight of the caskets overwhelms them, but we try not to overwhelm them.”
Burnam tells families the type of services available, which includes merchandise – caskets, vaults and memorial stationary, and incidentals, including the cost of the plot and flowers. The national average for the cost of incidentals is $1,500, said Burnam, quoting the NFDA. When making arrangements it’s smart to take a close family member or friend.
“We encourage that,” he said. “Include your family or close friends. Get their input on it.”
The funeral home can help the families handle various documents and insurance. The planners should find out if their contract is guaranteed, Burnam said.
“Know if it’s transferable just in case you need to move to another location,” he said.
Funeral directors not only help the family set a time for the funeral and gather information for obituaries, but also try to get a mental picture of what the deceased was like.
“We try to incorporate that in the funeral service – life videos, picture boards, anything to help them get through this tough time,” Hardy said. “It’s the little things that matter the most. Service, service, service – that’s what my parents taught me.”
Many families follow the tradition of having visitation one night and the funeral the next day, Hardy said.
“The family comes in an hour prior to the funeral to have private time or in case they want to make changes,” he said.
The grieving process isn’t over just because the funeral is done. Hardy & Son gives information about recommended counselors, and Burnam & Son has online services.
“Funerals are for the living, not for the deceased,” Hardy said. “It gives the public a chance to come in and express their love for the family.”