On Monday, the day after Dan passed away, I was still in shock. My amazing sister drove up from South Carolina on a moment’s notice to help me cope with things, and I would have been absolutely and utterly lost without her. Even now, looking back, I’m shocked to think how much of a fog I was in.
In the midst of all of this, the prosaic issues of death and burial still had to be dealt with. I spoke with the assistant county coroner, and she asked which funeral home we wanted to use. I had no idea. The chaplain at the hospital had provided me with a booklet of information that had a list of funeral homes in it, but I had no idea which to choose. In the end, I went with the one that was closest to the hospital because I had driven back and forth past it over the previous four weeks. One saving grace was that Dan’s mother already had a burial plot available at a nearby cemetery, so that was one less thing to worry about.
Four years ago, when we were about to leave on a cruise, we wrote down our advance directives so there would be record of our wishes in the event anything untoward happened. This was fortunate, since it was because of this that I knew what Dan’s wishes were: a simple burial, no funeral, no embalming, but throw a party in his memory. At least I could provide firm answers when the funeral director asked what we had in mind when I first spoke with him over the phone. We arranged to meet at 5 PM on Monday to discuss details.
I arrived at 5 PM, followed shortly thereafter by Dan’s mother. I should say here that Ma is an amazing person, an incredibly kind woman who has welcomed me into their family with open arms, and I love her very much for that. My feeling about all of these arrangements was that, while necessary, they were not for my benefit but for the benefit of Dan’s family. I had said my goodbyes the day before and would again in a few months at the memorial party. Even so, I was going to do my damnedest to make sure that everything Dan’s mother wanted, she got. The negotiations with the funeral director were a little odd because he pointedly looked to me for all decisions, which is appropriate since as Dan’s legally married husband I was the one legally responsible. I was happy to defer to Ma, though. I could see that if our relationship were less cordial this could have been an excruciating experience.
The discussion with the funeral director made my head spin. Because hey, the best time to be negotiating these details is when you’re in complete and utter shock, right? I had naively assumed that because Dan’s wishes were simple, this would be a quick and relatively inexpensive event. I was mistaken. We spent the better part of an hour and a half hashing over every single detail, with the funeral director preparing a quotation as we spoke in a way that unfortunately reminded me very much a car salesman might do so. As we talked, the numbers spiraled upwards. Transport of the body. Washing, preparation, and makeup (with additional cost due to autopsy). Viewing versus full funeral. Ceremony at the graveside or not. Use of the hearse. All of this came to $4,480.
Next: Silly me, I had assumed that it would be possible to place a body into a biodegradable casket and within months the body be returned to nature. No, the cemetery requires that the casket be placed in a concrete vault. There’s a charge for the vault. At this point, biodegradability is moot. The least expensive caskets are sheet metal, and even those are several thousand dollars. Wood caskets are even more expensive. We walked into the funeral home’s showroom (!) and chose a nice dark-blue metal casket that was $3,100.
Then there were the various ancillary charges: cemetery charge for opening and closing the grave. Installation of the vault. Permits to dig the grave. Charges for death certificates. Obituaries ($325 for one newspaper, $175 for another). All of this came to $2,361. With additional charges, taxes, and fees, the final bill was a little over $11,000. At the end of all of this I signed off on the estimated bill, still very much in a daze and not quite sure where the money would be coming from. (The final quotation is shown above. The full “menu” of costs is shown below.)
There is a slight bit of good in all this news, at least. Dan had life insurance through his employer for four times his annual salary. The life insurance company moved with astonishing alacrity, and had the disbursement check in my hands a week after Dan’s passing. As part of their services, they subcontract with another company that will handle a lot of the details that we dealt with face-to-face at the funeral home. If I had known about that I could have spared us some of this unpleasant process. When I did call this subcontractor they immediately took over the process (with my blessing) and I never had to be involved in any exchange of funds after that. They took the payment directly from the life insurance company, which was deducted from the disbursement.
I will admit that this has been hard to write, but I think it’s important. I don’t write this to complain or to tell some lurid story, but to educate. I would ask everyone who reads this: DO NOT BE SURPRISED BY THE COSTS AND ARRANGEMENTS OF DEATH. Make preparations, please. Do not leave your loved ones to try to figure this out in the midst of their shock. We had no idea what was involved, or what we might encounter. If even one person heeds this advice, this will have been worth it.’
As for advance directives, if you don’t know where to start this is a useful form that you can fill out. You may also want to check around for one specific to your state. I thank you and your loved ones will thank you.
Edit to add: Some may look at this and say, “Man, you got ripped off!” That may or may not be the case, and it’s water under the bridge at this point. What does matter is that even at half of these prices, you want to be prepared for the sequence of events to come, and the financial shock involved.