• Lisa Potter

Do it yourself funerals - Tacky or Meaningful?

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Do you actually have any idea what it will cost you personally to organise and pay for a funeral? Have you ever considered this or researched this yet? We’re always hearing those annoying ads telling us to pre-pay our own funeral to remove the burden from our family, and apparently it costs less than a cup of coffee a day ……(don't fall for funeral insurance, research that thoroughly!)

Do you know that burial is significantly more costly than a cremation? Do you know the additional cost of a headstone, grave plots and ashes internment? Do you know all of the inclusions in a typical funeral service?

Do you know that the funeral industry (pretty much dominated and owned by one overarching monopoly company that markets several brands) has a significant mark up on their inclusions, such as coffins, caskets and floral arrangements?

Do you know that many of the funeral inclusions – flowers; car services; venue; catering; coffin, celebrant – you could source and provide yourself?

Do you know that you are not legally obliged to engage the services of a funeral home or funeral director, that you could complete all aspects of the post death process yourself? There are a couple of tricky areas to navigate, but being forearmed with the knowledge, understanding these things in advance, you could successfully navigate them also, ie possibly requiring access to mortuary refrigeration for the practical needs of the body (although cool beds and adequate cooling methods can be implemented at home); finding someone prepared to sell you a coffin (or alternately making your own in advance); and liaising directly with the crematorium, who espouse a strong policy of only dealing with funeral directors.

Don’t get me started on what is routinely charged in comparison to what it would realistically cost to organise it all yourself. A simple google search on funeral cost comparisons will provide you with the answer to the standard cost of a funeral today. I’m not saying the funeral industry are crooks – not at all, many people I have interacted with in the death care industry are professional, compassionate and thoroughly dedicated to their jobs. But, at the end of the day – they are running a business, albeit a highly profitable business with a monopoly on owning the funeral homes/brands, the crematoriums, chapels, cemeteries and access to coffin manufacturers.

The death industry is the provision of a service that will never run out of clientele, most people are understandably novices when it comes to arranging a funeral and one company monopolises the market – therefore able to set their own prices, mark up inclusions and utilise their own suppliers. We are uneducated enough to think that this is our only option and allow ourselves to be guided and directed entirely by the death care industry.

I totally get that when a loved one dies, close family members and friends are unlikely to have the emotional faculties to take on organising an event. They will be shocked, overwhelmed, emotional, vulnerable and looking to someone else who is knowledgeable and capable to get it sorted in a timely fashion.

The reality is, the only real costs are for the cremation or burial itself, the doctors certificate, death certificate, coffin and possibly use of the funeral homes refrigeration. All the rest – we could do ourselves. This applies of course to a fairly standard death, not necessarily one with challenging parameters, eg unexpected death, accident or crime resulting in coroners.

So, why do we wait until the inevitable happens? Why not contemplate the possibility of our loved ones death, or our own, when we are in a strong and emotionally stable time of our life? At this point could we not have conversations with our family members to determine their wants and their expectations for their final farewell? Do we want to be faced with a sizeable debt or bill that we haven't allowed for?

Could we not consider making our own flower arrangements from the garden, or using something different like a display of shells and driftwood from the beach? Could we not consider holding the funeral or memorial service at home, or on a friends’ property – in a venue that is intimate, safe and familiar. A place where you won’t be charged for the privilege or expected to be in and out within a set time frame? A place where we could take the family pet, or have children attending without worrying about their behaviour.

Could we arrange to have a viewing at home, where we, the family, wash and dress our loved one? Can we source, or make or simply choose the most inexpensive coffin, because its really only viewed for such a short period of time.

The possibilities are endless and unless we are brave enough to consider them now, we will most likely allow ourselves to be guided and supported by the traditional industry that will leave you on average $6 – 8,000 out of pocket (more for a burial).

I know it is not about money, it’s not about being a scrooge and penny pinching – some people have no issue with the grandest of caskets and the largest floral arrangements. To me, it is about meaning making – is the venue, the surrounds, the items on display representative, truly, of your loved one. Will you or your family gain greater connection and significance by being INVOLVED in the process – by hand decorating the coffin, by picking flowers from your garden, by playing live music, by assisting to lovingly wash and dress your loved one, by having the time (without extra charges) to have a meaningful service?

Some of these considerations are confronting, I know – but I have had many conversations with others who have told me their experience of farewelling their family member has left them feeling removed, disconnected, rail-roaded into decisions and ultimately with an unsatisfying dent in their bank balance.

Something to think about. Preferably in advance.

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