Last week I wrote about the sympathy I have for the funeral director. They had a tough job balancing the truth with making a living and providing a good service for his or her customers. I fear my sympathy has been short lived. Last week, Funeral Consumer’s Alliance published its findings regarding prices for funerals in different cities across the country and called upon funeral homes to post their General Price Lists on their websites. Funeral directors often say their business is unlike any other business. They would be right. They deal with consumers, on one of the most stressful days of their lives. They deal with clients who are often steeped in grief and pain. The clients are often people who would rather be anywhere else besides a funeral home or cemetery and wish the process they must face would be over so they can recover a bit. It is because the funeral industry is unlike any other industry that we need to protect customers. Frankly, we could use a few more regulations. When you deal with a venerable population, you need to work with them with openness and straight talk. If needs be we need to regulate what that looks like, to protect consumers.
I have read responses from funeral directors regarding the idea put forward by the FCA and Josh Slocum concerning placing GPLs (General Price Lists) on websites. Some comments made my head spin. Some sounded so stereotypical that I wondered. When funeral directors equate themselves with doctors and lawyers, I wonder if they really know what they are saying. In no way do I belittle the work of a funeral director or those who care for the dead. I do not. Care for the dead and those who mourn them is a highly respectable vocation, but becoming a funeral director does not require the same level of education or depth of knowledge. The technical terms doctors and lawyers have to know and breathe are a far cry from what is required from a funeral director. They are not the only professionals in the care for the dead. Hospice nurses, death doulas, chaplains, pastors of every variety are also educated to deal with the dead and some also on the care for the body after death. Funeral directors are not the only show in town, even if you live in a state that requires you to hire them.
A few funeral directors were concerned that the consumer would not understand the industry jargon used in the GPL or claimed that often a conversation was needed to explain the term of the GPL. I have a wild idea. Why not make the GPL understandable? Why not explain such terms as basic service fee? The basic service fee could be explained as the price you pay for their overhead and such. Maybe then the average consumer would scratch his or her head and wonder why the salon they go to does not have one of those fees. Why do we not pay for a basic service fee in addition to the service we pay for when we go to the doctor or lawyer? I never understood why the industry does not take the opportunity to include such things as death certificates as complimentary. Folks always like getting something for free even when we know the cost is covered in some other way on the bill. I think it would be lovely to have a glossary or a lexicon on a GPL so that all customers can understand what it is they are paying for. Maybe then they will see through the shroud of mystery of the death care industry.
Some funeral directors feel that price shoppers are like those who pick fast food over a fine restaurant. I have heard things like that more than once. I get that people are proud of their work. I get that there are people who want an over-the-top funeral with all the fancy trimmings. I get that sometimes a funeral is like an opulent party. I am fine with people who want these things and those who wish to provide these things for a fee to these wonderful people. I am not ok with an industry that does not allow for care to be given to those with little means. When we have 10 states in the union that requires its citizenry to hire a funeral director at some point in the end of life memorial process, I have to wonder. I wonder if the industry is running scared and that it knows its days are numbered. They put pressure on a state’s legislation body and the funeral directors end up with compulsory customers. Every citizen becomes a customer because we all die some day. For those funeral directors that work in states with compulsory laws for the citizenry like this, know that you have a de facto monopoly. When states adopt laws that inhibit competition and freedom, we all lose. Many must shop with an eye on the bottom line. I am appalled at sentiments designed to make folks feel inferior because they are interested in the bottom-line. What people do with their own money or how they want to shop is their own business, not the business of the funeral director. With increasing prices in the conventional industry, some families cannot care for their loved ones in a way they would like. Some turn to crowdfunding. Some go into debt. Some must leave their loved ones bodies in a county morgue. While that might sit well with some people, I think a better choice would be to allow for a variety of pricing and service providers.
When I see and hear comments such as these, I think that the industry has lost touch with the changing market place. While some claw and scratch for the way things were, more and more people take a good look at the way the industry functions. Some funeral homes are making a change. Some providers truly do want to serve the people who come to them for help. Some do not put their own concept of what makes a good funeral first and listen to the customer seated before them. Take the time to shop around and find a funeral director or death doula that can work for you.