Many Americans are spending too much on unnecessary funeral expenses.
“The current American standard for funeral care, is in large part, a product of marketing. It is a sentimental, mass-produced, packaging of ‘traditions’ (many of which never were), aided by the general public’s ignorance of actual legal requirements,” wrote Julie Polter in the May-June 2000 Sojourners magazine.
The funeral industry in the United States is worth $25 billion annually. A grieving family can pay 400 percent or more over wholesale for a casket, according to the article.
Some funeral directors sell embalming as both desirable and necessary, place undue importance on a casket, and “seek to equate one’s love for the dead as directly proportional to dollars spent,” wrote Polter.
“The unscrupulous within the American funeral industry count on and exploit such ignorance and the vulnerability of the bereaved,” she wrote.
Clergy are often as unaware of funeral costs and as uncomfortable discussing funerals and burial arrangements as their church members are. Polter suggests being more open about death.
“Of all people, believers should know that, to bumpersticker it, Death Happens. The average person will be a mourner six or seven times in his or her life,” she wrote.
Recovering the cultural and spiritual experience of death would reclaim funerals from the commercial and provide “rich opportunities for creativity, ministry, community and deepened spirituality.”
“Whether you are behind the pulpit or in the pew, there are practical and spiritual benefits to attending the logistics, liturgy and legalities of death,” wrote Polter.
Polter suggests pastors can create “a unique justice ministry” for their churches by educating on funeral planning and consumer rights. She suggests printing “fact fliers” that detail reasonable costs for funerals, having a funeral-planning workshop and negotiating affordable funeral services.
“Bodily death is an inevitable transition–not much choice in the matter. What the living can decide is whether that transition is one controlled overwhelmingly by commerce and the extremes of grief or one guided and supported within the community of the faithful,” wrote Polter.
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