The death of a loved one brings with it an overwhelming number of decisions – especially if there has been no pre-planning. The truth is, the majority of people in our culture have not even had the important discussion of what they want done with their remains, leaving a lot of questions and planning on the shoulders of loved ones, to be managed at a time when they are incredibly vulnerable. It is tempting in such moments to give a funeral home, planner, or similar organization carte blanche, just telling them to do whatever is necessary, to make it nice, and you will worry about the money later. When later comes, though, you will likely have sticker shock. Funerals can cost upward of $10,000 – but they don’t have to. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which you can protect yourself:
- Plan! If you aren’t handling a loss now, this is the time to talk with loved ones. We always think there will be more time – I’ve heard people speak of individuals in their 90s saying, “We always thought we had more time to talk about such things…” We never know when our number will be called. Have the important conversations with loved ones now. Let them know your preferences. Ask them theirs. Perhaps even take the next step and make it formal. Check out our book “Death Notes” for some ideas and conversation starters, or check out a Salon Mort event, where people gather to talk about death, not in a morbid way, but in a way that helps us accept our own mortality. Not only does it help us have those important discussions, it also can make one feel more alive to have talked openly about what is traditionally taboo and fear.
- Work With a Death Doula: Death Doulas work with healthy and terminally ill individuals, to help them understand options regarding end-of-life care, the handling of remains and services and memorials, as well as what different protections can be put into place to ensure your wishes are carried out as fully as possible.
- Understand Your Options: There are many options, from traditional funeral, to embalming (or not), home burial (where allowed), natural burial (where allowed), direct burial, cremation, direct cremation, and many more. You also have other options in terms of what is purchased and used, as well as ways in which you can memorialize someone. There is a wide range of cost within most of these options, as well.
- Acknowledge You are Grieving and Vulnerable: Too often we think we are ok, and handling things just fine. The truth is, you are handling things just fine, even when you aren’t – because that is grief. It is messy, it is chaotic, and it is raw. That said, even if we can call that fine, because it is as it should be, it doesn’t mean you aren’t vulnerable, or that you are in a position to make the best decisions, especially when it comes to making choices for your loved one’s remains. Acknowledge that grief can make one vulnerable, and be prepared to ask for help from trusted individuals who have no connection to your loved one.
- Work with a Mourning Doula: When thinking in that fog that leaves you vulnerable, having someone by your side who understands the industry and options, as well as common up-sells and ways in which to reduce costs, can potentially save you a small fortune, while also ensuring that you are more likely to achieve a service that actually fits what you would have wanted. You don’t want to be one of those people who walk into a funeral and feel the deceased never would have wanted this, right? Getting the right, non-biased, emotionally un-related individual in place to support you can go a long way in helping you best advocate for yourself and your dead. Yes, a friend can play this role, but they won’t know the ins and outs the way your Mourning Doula will, and – you have an emotional attachment to your friends – you may not receive ideas or suggestions from them in the same way you would from a third party. (this is the same reason why we discourage our Mourning and Death Doulas from working professionally with their own family and friends)
- Do Take a Moment to Review Cost: I know this is difficult. I know you are possibly overwhelmed with grief, and nothing is too good for your lost one, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, though, your loved one is gone. The truth is that our funerals are more for the living. Sure they acknowledge the life lived and celebrate those times, and honor the individual we are saying goodbye to. However, they have now moved on – and all of those things, acknowledging and celebrating their life and honoring them – can be done without breaking the bank, or having to mortgage your home, or sell your first-born. Letting the funeral director or planner know that you DO care how much things cost, and perhaps even what your maximum budget is can go a long way to preventing sticker shock. Get it in writing.
- Take Time for You: I know you may feel like all you are doing is taking time for you as you fall into grief, unless you are instead throwing yourself into planning and talking with others. Whatever it is that you can do to best handle things, DO IT. Make sure you take a few moments to just breathe. Try to eat – I know it will be hard. And – it is ok to go into your grief, to experience it. There are stages of grief to move through – you must move through all of them. You can try to stuff it back inside, but it will only come out in some other way, when you are least ready for it. Make time for whatever you need. If you feel you need help or someone to support you, reach out.
You will make it through. It may not feel like it at the moment, but you will. However, taking a few steps to protect yourself will make it more likely that you make it through without taking on enough debt to keep you working 3 jobs for the next 5 years (no joke, I’ve seen it happen!).