Funeral Industry Unjustly Criticized?

The funeral service industry seems to have gotten a lot of negative press over the past few years. However, it may just be a handful of bad providers and unfortunate incidents that are bruising the industry’s reputation as a whole. The Federal Trade Commission recently released their report on the top national consumer complaints for 2013, and once again, complaints against the funeral industry are very far down on the list.

Identity theft tops the list with the most complaints – with 290,056 or 14% of the 1.1 million complaints received by the FTC. Debt collection, banks and lenders, imposter scams, telephone and mobile services, sweepstakes and lottery, auto-related, shop-at-home/catalog sales, television and electronic media, and advance payment for credit services rounded out the top 10 categories of complaints. Funeral complaints amounted to less than 1% of all complaints in 2013, which is slightly less than the previous year.

Grief or Depression?

There are many shared characteristics between grief and depression, so how do you know the difference? Feelings of sadness and depression are a fundamental part of grief, but grief itself is not considered a medical disorder. Most professionals would say depression associated with mourning is a “typical” reaction to loss, provided it is doesn’t hang around too long. Although, the challenge is that there is no way to define a normal period of mourning, as it varies from person to person.

Grief and depression both include sadness, poor appetite, weight loss, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. However, it seems that grief is typically trigger related – meaning that a person could feel normal under some circumstances, but certain triggers such as holidays or memories could bring those feelings to the surface again and perhaps even more strongly. Depression on the other hand, is typically more persistent and unrelenting on a person, providing little-to-no relief from their symptoms.

Other indicators that it is depression and not simply grief are: having hallucinations, feelings of worthlessness or of guilt not related to the loved one’s death, thoughts of death themselves, inability to be comforted, confused speech, and difficulty carrying out daily activities. If a person has been exhibiting these symptoms – or any of the symptoms mentioned above – for longer than two months after the loss, than it may be time to seek a professional opinion.

Dying to Give Back to our Earth?

Today is Earth Day, a global celebration of our planet. You are likely going to hear a lot of talk about the environment and see a lot about people’s efforts via social networks. Perhaps some of those discussions will address the green burial movement. Green burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact – helping to address the issues of conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.

Our firms are the only funeral service providers that are certified by the Green Burial Council in New Hampshire.  For those that are serious about environmental impact, and perhaps are in an area that has no approved green burial providers nearby, the Green Burial Council suggests you use their four-part green burial guide to help you understand what options are available, what you can do, and what you should look out for. The guide can be found here: http://www.greenburialcouncil.org/assets/Whatyoucando.pdf

Grief Etiquette

With so much of our socializing occurring virtually, naturally it’s becoming commonplace to grieve and mourn online as well. Online tributes to those who have passed flood social media networking pages, as well as memorial and funeral websites. Word of someone’s passing typically spreads very quickly and a network of grievers and supporters form online immediately. By sharing grief over the Internet, people feel as if they’re being listened to and that they’re not alone. This overwhelming support one receives can provide solace. However, if not handled properly, it can also provide angst for the mourning. It seems that not everyone is aware of the proper decorum when it comes to grieving online. I figured that it might be helpful to clarify what precautions should be taken when choosing to grieve and support others online.

1) Think twice before you create a memorial for someone on a memorial website. Be sure to validate the website’s credibility first, and read existing posts on the site before posting your own. When you do create a memorial page, do not answer any messages from people you don’t know, as unfortunately there are people out there who will prey on those that are vulnerable.

2) Don’t announce the passing of someone until you know for certain that immediate family and close friends are already aware. There is nothing worse than finding out that a loved one has passed via second hand information – especially from a social media site.
3) When posting on a social media page, be cognizant of who may reading this and how your words may be interpreted or will affect them. Be respectful of their family and friends and ensure that your reminiscing or personal grief is appropriate.

4) Once the death has become public knowledge and the details about funeral services have been established, you can share via Facebook, Twitter, etc., and also by email and or text if appropriate. However, refrain from creating an Evite, as they may easily be missed by recipients, or someone can be omitted and it could cause issues.

5) Keep things positive! Don’t post any negative comments about the deceased, their family and friends, or anyone else that is mourning their loss. Regardless of whether you liked the person that passed, or disagree with a comment from someone else, or the way someone is grieving – keep your negative remarks to yourself. You are just creating more distress for those that are grieving.

Private Funerals Streamed Online

If you lost a loved one, and were unable to attend the funeral due to distance or health reasons, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to “be there” to pay your respects to the deceased, even if you couldn’t be there physically? It certainly isn’t a substitute for being there in person, but if you have no other options, perhaps it is better than not being witness to their final send off at all. In this technology-driven society, it seems web streaming of funerals was inevitable.

An entrepreneur in Ireland recently launched a new website, to stream funeral services to family and friends via a private, password-protected site. In Ireland or the United Kingdom, this is the first service of its kind. Although the technology has been around for over a decade, it has been slow to catch on. Here in the United States, there are various software companies who have created programs to help funeral homes cater to bereaved families, and with immigrant populations on the rise, this is a trend that we expect to continue to grow. Each of our firms are equipped with this software, allowing our clients to share funeral services online with distant family and friends if they choose, via a professional and discreet service, respecting the sensitivity of the circumstances.

Connecting Death to Life – Green Funerals

An increasing number of earth-conscientious Americans are looking at how they can make their funerals and afterlife more planet-friendly. For those who strive to help preserve the environment, green funerals and green burials are an innovative way to do just that, while also providing a more meaningful end of life. A green funeral (also known as a natural funeral, eco-funeral or environmentally-friendly funeral) is generally any end-of-life ritual that provides the least amount of harm possible to the environment. No embalming fluid is used and no concrete vaults. Burial of the body is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket, and can be done in a conventional modern cemetery, in a green cemetery, or a natural burial ground that uses eco-friendly methods. In a green burial, graves are dug by hand and concrete vaults or grave liners are not used. Green cemeteries do not use pesticides or herbicides, and promote growth of native trees, flowers and shrubs, bringing birds and wildlife into the area and contributing to the ecosystem.

Although this is a growing trend, it seems that – in general – New England is slow to adopt it. Here in New Hampshire, our firms are the only funeral service providers that are certified by the Green Burial Council. Vermont has only one ‘green’ funeral home, while Massachusetts has two. Although our firms work with smaller cemeteries that offer eco-friendly burials, there is only one cemetery in all of New England that is certified by the Green Burial Council. Recently, Boston.com interviewed our President, Buddy Phaneuf, in regards to this issue. To read the article, visit http://www.boston.com/news/green-funeral-offerings.

Funeral Procession Etiquette

In this fast paced world that we live in – with drivers that are all too often in a hurry or worse, are distracted – I thought that I would provide this reminder of proper etiquette when you encounter a funeral procession.

First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings. Distracted driving is the biggest culprit of car accidents, but also for disregarding a funeral procession. Second, be respectful. Once the lead car has entered an intersection or made a turn, all cars in the procession have the right of way, regardless of the color of everyone else’s traffic lights. Never cut into or cut off a procession, as this is not only disrespectful, it is illegal. Allow each and every car to continue through before you resume. All vehicles in the procession should be marked with a funeral flag and/or have their headlights, tail lights and hazards on. The last vehicle may have two or more flags on it.

Lastly, do not attempt to pass a funeral procession on a two lane roadway and refrain from honking at them.  Remember, the procession of a loved one to their final resting place should be a sign of respect for the deceased, so please be patient.

Latest Funeral Scam

There is yet another scam for grieving families to be cautious of, and this one is masked as an opportunity for families to help settle debts for a deceased loved one. Scam artists do their research to find people who have recently passed, and then devise a portfolio of fake debts that they look to grieving families to settle. You may see invoices from credit collection agencies come in, but never let the threat of a collection agency scare you into paying a bill that you have validated. Always research the source of debt to confirm it’s legitimate before making any payments. If you utilized hospice care, your loved one will have had a hospice social worker assigned to help sort through finances and most should be taken care of prior to their death. And if not, ask your funeral home if they can help (our firms do), or if they can recommend someone that can help. Don’t hesitate to consult with experts or trusted sources in these times of need, because unfortunately there are individuals that try to take advantage of families in a very vulnerable state, and you can never be too careful.

Bereavement Airfare

Bereavement fares are meant to offer customers travel options when faced with a last-minute emergency. Although it seems that the number of airlines that offer special fares to passengers who are booking last-minute flights due to a relative’s death is dwindling. Last week American Airlines announced that it would no longer offer bereavement fares. The change is a result of the airline’s merger with US Airways, which does not offer such fares.  Up until now, American Airlines would extend special fares to passengers who were booking last-minute flights due to a relative’s death. However, they are still allowing customers to buy changeable and refundable tickets, and will waive the fee to apply future reservations to a last-minute flight.

As far as I am aware of, United Airlines does offer a bereavement discount of 5% on the lowest rate when the ticket is purchased.  Other than that, I don’t know of any other airlines that are directly offering a special fare for grieving passengers. But does it matter?  In most cases, the minimal savings one would receive with these “discounted” fares isn’t worth the added inconvenience, as booking usually needs to happen on the phone and proof of death or illness as well kinship is required.   Discount travel sites may claim to offer bereavement fares that range from 10-75% off full fare prices, but their policies are typically based on airline’s policies, which means that there aren’t very many that carry them at all – and if they do, they usually end up being more than a sale ticket.

The Truth About Hospice

So often I realize there are a lot of misconceptions about what hospice care is and what it provides to a terminally-ill person and their loved ones.  First and foremost, hospice isn’t actually a place; it’s a type of care. Therefore hospice care is provided wherever the patient may be, or wants to be. It can be utilized in their home, a nursing home, assisted living facility, hospital, or in a hospice home. Hospice is for anyone with a life-limiting illness – not just the elderly.

Hospice homes aren’t a place where one goes when there’s nothing more a doctor can do. They are a place where hospice professionals help terminally-ill patients make the best of every minute that they have left. It’s not about getting ready to die. It’s about living the best possible life right up until the very last day. This may mean that the patient plays cards, listens to their favorite music, eats their favorites foods and goes to a casino, golfing, or to family functions. Whatever means the most to them, if it is possible, hospice workers will make it happen.

Another common misconception is that families won’t have the opportunity to care for their loved one if hospice care is being utilized. However, family members are encouraged, trained and supported by hospice professionals to care for their loved ones, and these professionals are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help family and friends care for their loved ones. Hospice doesn’t take control from the patient or their family. Instead, hospice workers keep patients aware of their options and keep them in full control of decision-making regarding their end-of-life care.