Many years ago, before I had to help plan two funerals, I had a series of funny postcards framed and hung on my bathroom wall. They were great conversation starters when guests would come over for dinner. One of the postcards is pictured above and I got it out of a book called, The Revenge of the Son of the World's Tackiest Postcards. I think it's appropriate for this post because two major family deaths in the last five years has giving me the opinion that funerals and funeral directors are often lacking tact.
The fact that funerals are big business is never well concealed from family members planning a service. It's sort of like going to buy a new car when you're broke and desperate for transportation.
You get the hard sell on seemingly endless upgrades.
The worst part is the false sense of sympathy. I'm sure that there are genuine people in the business, but I've not met one of them.
My mom had a pre-need set up for her burial at Forest Lawn Glendale. It was set and the only thing that I was talked into upgrading was the urn. I don't know why I bothered when she was going to be interred with it, but the salesman talked me into it. I didn't get talked into upgrading anything else, including paying to witness the cremation or paying to watch her niche opened.
When trying to pitch these upgrades, the salesman attempted the sway me with "Don't you want to make sure that your mother is the one being put into the wall?". I told him that I was confident they would do their job without needing my supervision. Then he tried another tactic, asking me if i would feel closure if I skipped having a service at Forest Lawn.
I wish that my mom had been there, so that I could have asked her if we could move her somewhere nicer. I really didn't like the staff at Forest Lawn and although the grounds are always clean, the place just feels fake and creepy. It's weird that they have music piped in and a museum with a gift shop.
Several times many years ago, Forest Lawn reps approached me in the parking lot of Costco ( located very close to Forest Lawn) trying to give a pre-need sales pitch. I'm all for pre-needs and planning ahead, but I don't appreciate getting blindsided by an unsolicited aggressive sales pitch while loading groceries.
A few months ago, I helped my aunt plan my uncle's memorial service. He also had a pre-need, but through the Trident society. I wasn't at their house when the sales rep from Trident came over, but I did communicate with a rep several times after my uncle's death and I drove down with my aunt to Trident's San Diego office to pick up my uncle's remains.
Trident provides a basic service and didn't try to up-sell us. However, there was a lot of miscommunication and awkward moments when we picked up my uncle. When they filled out their pre-needs, Trident provided my aunt and uncle each with a box containing a basic urn and a cheesy special memories keepsake book. My aunt didn't care for the book and dumped it. When the reps from the coroners department picked up my uncle's body, they took the urn. It turns out that we were supposed to have kept the urn and brought it with us when picking up my uncle at the Trident office.
We got the low down on how pour the remains into a new urn ourselves, before the guy just went into the back and claimed that he found the original one in the back and poured my uncle in for us. He brought out the urn neatly concealed in a box and placed into a convenient Trident tote-bag.
I did appreciate that Trident wasn't located at or affiliated with a cemetery. They were located in a scummy mini mall and mercifully lacked a urn showroom. It felt down to earth.
Trident made all of the arrangements to have my uncle, a Navy veteran, buried at Riverside National Cemetery. Riverside National did a great job and was very efficient. Military volunteers gave him a proper burial that was simple and respectful.
The other side of funeral planning is the actual service. With my mom and uncle, we opted for a more upbeat luncheon, rather than a formal service. Either way you go, it seems like memorial planning is the dark sister to wedding planning.
There are hall fees, catering, table arrangements, slide shows, toasts...
Prior to deciding to go festive at Don Jose's in Tustin, we checked out Saddleback Chapel. Aside from the overwhelming stench of potpourri in the lobby, there is nothing wrong with the actual location. It's pretty and has tons of flowers. The girl that was helping us was nice, but we realized that it wasn't what we invisioned.
As we were leaving, we were intercepted by an older male rep, who tried to close us on the deal. He stepped in when the nice girl helping us didn't close us. He pried for information on the deceased and made my aunt start to cry. He was very aggressive in trying to get us to choose Saddleback and that ultimately pushed us further away from picking the location. It was awful.
We went to a local Italian restaurant where the owner tried to sway us to hold the luncheon at her place by pretending to have known my uncle. She acted like a psychic making broad statements about my uncle that could have applied to any older man. Phony.
I am very well aware that death is a big cash cow. However, it seems like decency should dictate that loved ones planning a funeral should never be made aware of that side of the business. Yes, large sums of money are going to be exchanged, but there needs to be real sensitivity.
I recently applied for a job via Monster and I guess since I went on the site my information got out there and I have been inundated with job offers for jobs that I do not want. One of them is a cemetery that has contacted me repeatedly to show up for a group interview to be a sales person. They hire people to sell, rather than to provide a service.
This is the problem with the industry and unfortunately, they have no incentive to change. They have the greatest benefit in being as aggressive and emotionally manipulative as possible to get a grieving family to spend the maximum amount of money. It's a one time big purchase and they need to milk it.