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Mail: PO Box 1919 / Boise ID 83701-1919
Protecting the consumer's right to choose alternatives for simplicity, dignity, and economy in funeral arrangements
News and information
Beyond the Obituary: Writing End-of-Life Stories
Laura Stavoe will present a workshop, "Beyond the Obituary: Writing End-of-Life Stories," Saturday, March 6, 10 am-1 pm, with an optional follow-up the evening of March 15. The workshop will be held online—you don't need to be in McCall to attend! It's free (suggested donation for the support of the McCall Arts & Humanities Council, $25), and offered with support from Idaho Humanities Council, as part of the Community Hub McCall's winter series, Looking Ahead, Conversations on Aging and Dying.
Laura Stavoe is an educator, writer, and personal memoirist who lives in Boise, and has taught writing for 30 years to writers of all ages in schools, colleges, and community arts organizations. Her blog, Tending to Endings, aims to build community and conversation around end-of-life matters.
Newsletter and Price Survey
Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Idaho
The Funeral Ethics Organization offers the pamphlet Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Idaho, summarizing your rights in making funeral arrangements, choices for disposition of remains, veteran and Social Security benefits, and the pros and cons of prepaying for a funeral. The PDF is available via that link at no charge.
No more Idaho Cemetarians
It doesn't sound like there ever were licensed Cemetarians, but now there won't be, for sure. With authorization to study occupational licensing and certification laws in the state, the executive and legislative branches cooperated to find 10 programs to eliminate (or merge with others). Cemetarians were at the top of the (alphabetical) cut list.
"The Idaho legislature established the Board of Cemeterians in 1989, however, in the past 3 decades, no members have been appointed to the board, nor have there been regulations for the industry. No licenses have been issued."
"None of this happened the way you think it did"
The cover story of the June 10, 2019 High Country News. "For years, the clients of a Colorado funeral home kept their loved ones' cremated remains. Then the FBI called."
A natural burial ground in Tennessee
NPR's Weekend Edition for March 11, 2018, featured a story on Larkspur Conservation in Sumner County, Tenn., offering "natural burials" in a 112 acre setting protected by a conservation easement through the Nature Conservancy. No embalming, no concrete vaults, no rows of tombstone and monuments, and no plastic flowers.
Shopping online isn't as easy as it should be
NYT "Your Money" item, Funeral Homes Slow to Put Prices Online refers to a new analysis from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America that showed only 1 in 6 funeral homes in small and midsize state capitals have their prices on their website. FCA of Idaho's latest survey shows 25 funeral homes with websites in the state, ten of which have their general price list (GPL) online; 13 funeral homes in the Treasure Valley (Boise, Garden City, Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell) have websites, and five have GPLs online.
Investigating the industry
NPR's Morning Edition did a two-part examination of the state of the Funeral Rule in early 2017: You Could Pay Thousands Less For A Funeral Just By Crossing The Street, and Despite Decades-Old Law, Funeral Prices Are Still Unclear. "A kind of strategic ambiguity about prices is part of the business model."
Death with Dignity?
The national Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America teamed up to report on SCI/Dignity Memorial's high prices and refusal to disclose them online.
Service Corporation International (SCI), with its principle brand of "Dignity Memorial" is the nation’s largest and fastest growing provider of funerals and other “death-care” products. Having absorbed several of the largest death-care services in the past decade, it now operates more than a thousand funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S. The FCA and CFA surveyed and compared the prices of 103 independent funeral homes and 35 SCI funeral homes in ten major metropolitan regions, and found SCI prices averaged 44 to almost 50% higher than independent businesses.
The full report from March, 2017, is available at funerals.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/3-6-17-Funeral-SCI_Report.pdf
Investigating the deathcare industry
NPR's All Things Considered ran a feature of their investigation into pricing and marketing in the funeral business: You Could Pay Thousands Less For A Funeral Just By Crossing The Street, and Despite Decades-Old Law, Funeral Prices Are Still Unclear. (February, 2017)
Funeral Directors' Happy Hour in D.C.
The 2017 National Funeral Directors Association's annual advocacy summit in Washington D.C. included "an evening at the Trump International Hotel alongside one of President Trump’s most steadfast allies, former House speaker Newt Gingrich," the Washington Post reported in late April.
"A happy-hour reception, a formal dinner and a keynote address by Gingrich were on the agenda for the gathering Thursday. Two tiers of tickets were sold: $99 for the reception or $200 for the entire event. Proceeds benefited the political action committee of the National Funeral Directors Association."
Funeral Industry Seeks Ways to Stay Relevant
As more Americans opt for cremations, funeral homes branch into ‘multisensory’ rooms, weddings and upscale services. The November, 2016 Wall Street Journal article requires a subscription. The funeral trade site ConnectingDirectors.com has a version of the story on their free site.
One chief executive of a group that owns 50 funeral homes and 9 cemeteries in 14 states says "we don't call it a funeral service; we call it a gathering."
Also on Connecting Directors, a look inside the the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association's 2017 convention from the "Disrupt Media" guy, who specializes in digital "storytelling for funeral companies.” WE DON’T SELL CONTENT, WE TELL YOUR STORY | FUNERAL Hustle Episode 006. The blurb tells us “This isn’t a smash and grab – we are all about driving leads and ROI for our clients, plain and simple. Listen to Ryan layout the plan and process we use with clients to drive over $20,000 a month in Preneed leads through results driven Facebook marketing.”
New Vatican Instruction: Cremation Allowed But Conditions Apply
The National Catholic Register reports on the document issued in response to an increase in the number of cremations and ideas "contrary to the faith" that have become widespread. (Oct. 2016)
The Outdated Funeral Rule
Consumer groups call on FTC to require online price disclosure. The national Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to revise the “Funeral Rule” so consumers can obtain vital price information on the Internet. A nationwide survey by FCA and CFA released last October revealed that very few funeral homes fully disclosed prices on line. (July, 2016)
Urban Death Project
Katie Herzog's got an idea that human composting will change death in the city, reducing the environmental and financial costs of the inevitable. (March, 2015)
Why Doctors Die Differently
Ken Murrary, M.D. and retired clinical assistant professor of family medicine at USC, describes how careers in medicine teach doctors the limits of treatment and the need to plan for the end. In a follow-up piece, the author provided specifics, and compelling arguments for considering the questions and documenting your wishes with an Advance Directive. (2012)
Ask a Mortician
Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with mortician Caitlin Doughty, author of the memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory, and founder of The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists. (Oct. 9, 2014)
In the truth is stranger than fiction dept., the Fort Worth funeral home that sold Lee Harvey Oswald's brother the coffin he was originally buried in took possession of it after he was exhumed in 1981... and sold it for $87,468 through a Los Angeles auction house. Robert Oswald, now 80, wants it destroyed. The funeral home says Oswald "relinquished his legal claim by making it a 'gift' to his dead brother..." and so finders, keepers?! (December, 2014)
Another way things can go wrong at a funeral
This story ran in the Miami Herald, but it's about a personal and family issue in Twin Falls, Idaho: Transgender woman dies suddenly, presented at funeral in open casket as a man. (November, 2014)
Funeral poses mimic life
It's not for every taste, but an idea that picked up steam in Puerto Rico in 2008 is catching on, with the enthusiasm of a New Orleans funeral director "thinking outside the box." Rite of the Sitting Dead: Funeral Poses Mimic Life (June, 2014)
Best and worst things to say to someone in grief
Among the resources at grief.com, suggestions for the best things to say to someone in grief (and what not to say).
From Boston's WBUR Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal:
"[I]n most states it's perfectly legal to care for your own dead. And, with new momentum to shatter longstanding taboos and stop tip-toeing around death — from "death with dignity" measures sweeping the country to projects promoting kitchen table "conversations" about our deepest end-of-life wishes — a re-energized DIY death movement is emerging." (Nov., 2013)
A funeral doesn't have to cost $10,000
FCA Executive Director Josh Slocum featured on LifeHacker: You Don't Have to Spend a Ton on a Funeral--Here's Why (May, 2013)
Don't put off "the talk" with your parents
From the New York Times "Your Money" section: The Talk You Didn't Have With Your Parents Could Cost You (May 24, 2013)
Discussing end-of-life care
Health care reporter Charles Ornstein found his thinking about end-of-life care challenged by his mother's death. (NPR, March 1, 2013)
The FCA's executive director Josh Slocum spoke in the 60 Minutes segment describing problems from a lack of regulation of cemeteries in this country that aired on May 20, 2012: Final resting place: Cemeteries lack oversight. More information and related links are on the FCA "Daily Dirge" blog.
Regulating the trade in caskets
How 38 Monks Took on the Funeral Cartel and Won, by Conor Friedersdorf, in The Atlantic. "Their victory in federal court means they can sell caskets without a license—and has implications for entrepreneurs all over the United States."
George Will offered further opinion (Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2012) about the history of restraint of trade, and the "dishing out [of] special economic benefits" as the 10th Circuit appeals court put it in 2004 (on the way to supporting state and local governments' prerogative).
Preneed funding facts by state
The Funeral Ethics Organization has compiled preneed funding facts specific to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We've added their pamphlet, Pre-paying for Your Funeral in Idaho, to our publications list.
Guide to cemetery purchases
The FCA's Consumers Guide to Cemetery Purchases is part of the Burial/Cemeteries section of the updated website.
Home funerals discussed on Talk of the Nation
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" had a discussion with Max Alexander, author of the March Smithsonian Magazine piece (below); Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead; and Glenn Taylor, owner of Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory in Kentucky, on April 30, 2009: In Home Funerals, Families Care For Their Dead.
Funeral business affected by recession too
Dana Milbank reports in the Washington Post that the funeral business is
not immune from recession:
Funeral Business Feeling Six Feet Under. The accompanying video from
the National Funeral Directors Association annual meeting is
not to be missed.
(April 1, 2009)
The satisfaction of a home funeral (Smithsonian Magazine)
When his father and father-in-law died within days of each other, author
Max Alexander learned a great deal about the funeral industry:
The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral.
(March, 2009 Smithsonian Magazine)
The Undertaking (and the lawsuit)
FRONTLINE's The Undertaking aired on Idaho Public TV on October 30, 2007 and can now be viewed via that link to the PBS website. The film "enters the world of Thomas Lynch, a writer, poet and undertaker whose family for three generations has cared for both the living and the dead in a small Michigan town. Through the intimate stories of families coming to terms with grief, mortality, and a funeral's rituals, it illuminates the heartbreak and beauty in the journey taken between the living and the dead when a loved one dies."
Mr. Lynch had his own response: he sued us! That conclusion of the story from our point of view was in the spring 2010 newsletter: The Thomas Lynch Affair.
Green funerals on Fresh Air
Terry Gross talked to author Mark Harris on Fresh Air, Jan. 22, 2007, on the topic of Environmentally Friendly Funerals. Harris is a former environmental columnist with the LA Times Syndicate, and author of the book Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.
Remembering the dear departed
Tom Chiarella's advice on How to Give a Eulogy, in the Sept. 2006 Esquire.
Baby boomers going out in style
It's My Funeral and I'll Serve Ice Cream if I Want To, by John Leland, in the July 20, 2006 New York Times.
"As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music—forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters."
Interesting statistic from the article: it says 2 million Americans each year are "buried" by funeral homes (I expect this includes those cremated), "at a price tag of $13 billion." That's $6,500, on average, nearly ten times the FCAI member price for minimal services from our cooperating mortuary.
Idaho casket makers featured
Bannock Pride casket-makers Marcia Racehorse-Robles and Dave Robles were featured in the summer 2006 Idaho Arts Quarterly from Boise Weekly. The story describes the efforts to reclaim traditional funeral practices, as well as their artistry.
Why didn't they embalm the Pope?
Slate's "Explainer" asks Why Didn't They Embalm the Pope? It doesn't provide an answer, but it does describe the basics of the process. (April, 2005)
You may be surprised to learn that the U.S. and Canada are the only countries in the world that routinely practice embalming these days. It's just a custom, and not required by law.
Autopsies increasingly rare
The New York Times Magazine article, Buried Answers by David Dobbs discusses the decrease in the rate of performing autopsies and the arguments for increasing the practice. Hospitals used to autopsy almost half of the people who died in their care. Now the rate is below 5%.
"(N)umerous studies over the last century have found that in 25 to 40 percent of cases in which an autopsy is done, it reveals an undiagnosed cause of death. Because of those errors, in 7 to 12 percent of the cases, treatment that might have been lifesaving wasn't prescribed. (In the other cases, the disease might have advanced beyond treatment or there might have been multiple causes of death.)" –Apr. 24, 2005