ARIZONA AVENUE — I list off my favorite songs, colors and my hobbies. I proceed to fill out the information on my family history and then jot down my preferred funeral home.
Recently I visited the Gates, Kingsley & Gates Moeller Murphy Funeral Directors, an affiliate of the national group Dignity Memorial located on Arizona Avenue, to pre-need plan my funeral services, thereby taking advantage of the financial and emotional benefits that come with being prepared — despite my inherent fear entering a funeral home.
Jeffrey Baker, the funeral home’s manager, commended me for coming in to pre-plan the days after my death though he recognized that my 20-year-old presence is uncommon for such a process.
Denise Westerfield, communications manager of the separate Catholic Mortuaries group, said that personal funeral planning is typically not on the top 10 list of the average 20-year old.
I agree that my mortality is not a major concern in my day-to-day life. Yet even if I were in a state of diminishing quality of life, Robert Ashley, a UCLA-Santa Monica Bay physician who published a book on end of life planning, noted that families still leave funeral planning to at-need situations, unable to fully acknowledge their relatives’ impending death.
“They’re not seeing the person in front of them, they’re seeing someone from the past,” Ashley said.
It was only after Baker walked me through the pre-planning process — at most taking up two hours of my time — that I realized what I would be missing out if I left my funeral arrangements in the care of family members.
After Baker completed the first mandatory step of providing me with the California state consumer guide, which dictates requirements for funeral and cemetery services, he showed me a general price list as required by the Federal Trade Commission to be discussed before any talk about pre-need plans.
I learned that, in general, traditional casket burials cost twice as much as cremation, the most basic direct options coming in at about $4,000 and $2,000 respectively. Should I go with the Dignity Memorial Legacy Funeral Service package — the priciest option complete with catering, personalized memory books and a selection of stainless steel or wood caskets — I’d be looking at approximately $16,000.
While the four-five figure sums sound daunting now, Baker prefaced the general price list with the fact that due to inflation a $2,000 simple cremation service now may end up costing $10,000 in the next 40 years. In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association reported that in 2000 the average cost of a traditional casket funeral service was $5,180, compared to the $6,560 price tag just nine years later.
With the given market conditions for traditional casket funerals, it’s no surprise that 72 percent of Baker’s clients go for the cremation option — my own choice. The Cremation Association of North America stated that in 2011 the U.S. cremation rate was at 42 percent; a statistic expected to become 49 percent in 2016.
Baker noted that more families are placing the cremated remains in a cemetery to give loved ones a place they can go to mourn without the need of a casket. He added that a possible reason for cremation’s rise in popularity is the Catholic Church’s shifted stance on the practice.
The church has long forbidden or frowned upon cremation. A January 2012 newsletter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, stated that while the church still prefers the burial of the body to cremation in order to better reflect on the mystery of life and death and the resurrection of the dead, it does allow the practice under the Order of Christian Funerals’ Appendix on Cremation. Generally the body should still be intact for the funeral mass, though there can be exceptions for ashy remains.
With my Catholic soul less likely to be damned for choosing cremation, I felt at piece choosing a relatively less expensive method of disposal. The opportunity to lessen the burden on surviving family members, both financially and emotionally having everything decided for them, is another key advantage to pre-need planning.
After going through the price list and making a selection (in my case a direct cremation option), Baker had me start filling out a personal planning guide where I was able to write down key facts about myself, my finances, even my remaining online profiles, to help my family coordinate a memorial service that best spoke to my life and interests.
Ashley, the physician, found that 70 percent of terminally ill patients wish they could die at home, but often 80 percent of them meet their end in a hospital or nursing home. He said that with early conversations among family members and other loved ones, final wishes can be met more often.
Baker added that should I choose to keep my pre-need arrangements hidden from my loved ones, the funeral home keeps a copy of the plans and is able to track down my family after my passing to inform them of my decisions — including the details of what I would want my memorial service to look like.
Westerfield noted that families can find themselves stressing out over trying to best represent their loved ones in a memorial service — something early planning can alleviate.
While a walk through the funeral home’s casket and urn models still provoked an uneasy feeling in me, after going through the pre-funeral planning process with Baker, I felt better knowing that down the road I would be ready to face the inevitable.