Do You Know Your Rights?

Unfortunately not everyone in the funeral business is truly working to help and serve people in their time of need.  Most are good and honest people, but the sad truth is that there are some funeral directors that will simply try to swindle money out of people when they are vulnerable.  That’s why The Funeral Rulewas created in 1984 by the Federal Trade Commission, to protect consumers from these disgraceful funeral directors.  Currently, The Funeral Rule essentially only applies to funeral homes, therefore consumers who purchase funeral or final disposition goods or services from other third-party sellers are not protected. Luckily, there is a bill with the House of Representative to revise the rule to include all for-profit sellers of funeral or final disposition services or merchandise. I fully back this proposed legislation, as it would help to protect consumers from fraudulent and misleading practices.

All consumers should be familiar with this rule, so that you can be fully aware of what your rights are. For example, you have the right to choose only the services and merchandise you want or need, and to pay only for those you select – whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The Rule also allows you to compare prices among funeral homes.  This is just to name a couple.  I strongly urge all consumers to read a full explanation of your rights under The Funeral Rule, by visiting https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule.

So You Don’t Want to Die?

Well that’s no shocker, right? People don’t want to die. However, we all know that it is inevitable for each and every one of us. We don’t know how or when our time will come, but we do know that it eventually will. It could be tomorrow, next month, next year, or 30 years from now. So, why then is it that death is something that most people very fervently do not want to talk about? It seems to scare people to the point that they ultimately refuse to address the subject. I see this unwillingness to consider death quite often, particularly in our social media efforts, where our Facebook advertisements receive comments from people such as “they are not ready” and this is “unwelcomed” or even “inappropriate.” It amazes me how many people are truly appalled at the idea that they will someday perish and perhaps they should put plans in place now to save their loved ones the burden later.

This aversion to discuss death and dire circumstances poses many issues when they eventually occur – especially if it is a situation where you suddenly cannot speak for yourself and make decisions for yourself. If you haven’t created a living will, power of attorney, or at least started the discussion about your wishes should you become incapacitated, then you leave your loved ones in a tough position. Living wills and power of attorneys were created in response to the increasing prevalence of sophisticated medical technology, and the fact that 25%-55% of deaths in the U.S. occur in health care facilities. Most people (70%-95%) would rather refuse aggressive medical treatment than have their lives medically prolonged in futile or other poor prognosis states. Without a plan in place for what your preference is, your final days could be painfully prolonged, expensive for those you are leaving behind, and emotionally burdensome to both you and your family. Then there is the other issue of funeral arrangements, which when not planned in advance and pre-paid or insured, is another stressful burden to place on your loved ones during an already difficult time.

I strongly urge people to think about their final wishes, to get in place a living will and a power of attorney, and have these conversations with their spouses and/or loved ones, so that they know what to expect when the time comes. If you are an adult and your aging parents have yet to have this discussion with you, perhaps you should start the discussion for them? Maybe they have already made these plans and just not told you – but maybe they haven’t – and either way, you should know what their final wishes are. This is never an easy conversation, but you will feel much better once the subject has been brought out in the open. You can find some helpful tips for initiating the conversation here: http://dyingmatters.org/page/talking-about-dying.

One-Ply or Two? The Toilet Paper at a Funeral Home Can Tell You a Lot

As a consumer, there is a great deal to consider when shopping for a funeral home to service you and your family. You want to make sure that you are not only working with caring individuals that will treat you and your loved one with dignity and respect, but you want to make sure you are getting a good value, and not being taken advantage of in your time of need. You should be working with a funeral director and firm that you are comfortable with and that operates with very high standards and ethics. Someone that is serious about protecting you and your best interests, and is committed to helping you achieve your vision.

Bereaved families need to beware of funeral directors who will try to sell them more than they actually need and try to cut corners. It is best to shop around and/or pre-plan arrangements, so you or your family members aren’t too vulnerable to overspending. Ask plenty of questions so that you are educated and aware of what is required, and what perhaps you are not obligated to purchase. By law, a funeral provider needs to provide you with a price list. Be sure that this price list is straight-forward and that you have a copy that you can take with you or that you can access their prices online. You should also be asking questions about their processes and procedures. For example, if you are opting for cremation, you would want to know if they own their own facilities where the cremation takes place, or if they subcontract the cremation out to a third party – which means your loved one would be brought to an alternate facility where they would have little control over the crematory’s operating procedures or who performs the cremation. If you are grieving, bring a friend of other family member with you to help you sort through your options.

Unfortunately, there are some funeral directors and firms out there that simply do not operate under the highest of standards and cut corners, shedding a negative light on the rest of the industry. If you are shopping around for a funeral home to service your family, and aren’t sure if they are the best fit, a simple (albeit strange) test can tell you a lot about the firm that you are considering. Upon your initial visit to the funeral home, visit their bathroom first. If they are using one-ply toilet paper, it’s safe to assume that they will cut corners wherever possible and it’s best not to take that chance.

There are plenty of businesses that offer stellar services from the day they open their doors – and some that manage to operate for years despite a history of substandard service. However, a funeral home that’s been in business for a long time is more likely to provide dependable service and a list of clients you could consult with if you so choose. Be sure to exercise due diligence to ensure you are working with an upstanding firm.

Sympathy Gifts – Provide Comfort to the Grieving

The desire to ease another’s pain is a human trait, yet we are never taught the art of condolence. Until we have our own experience with grief, we can’t even guess the turmoil one’s heart will go through when someone they love dies. And although we can sympathize with them, we do not actually know how difficult and heart wrenching their loss is for them. What do you say? Or should you say nothing at all? When someone is experiencing intense grief, heartfelt thoughts and condolences can often fall on deaf ears or be misunderstood. Depending on your relationship with the person, sometimes the best thing that you can do is to simply show your support with a card, flowers, or a sympathy gift.

Although we seem to always feel a sense of urgency to send something upon hearing the sad news, remember that even if a card or gift is received after the funeral service, it can be very comforting. Especially since at this point, the flowers, phone calls and cards start to dwindle – making it the hardest time for those who are grieving, as their loss is fully realized. Your thoughtfulness and timing will be very much appreciated.

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.