Let’s clear the air. I have been writing this blog for more than a year, often talking about how the funeral industry is falling apart and people are finding value in other services. I want it to be a clear that when I say “funeral industry” I mean the corporate conglomerates that took over the funeral world back in the 60s and 70s.
There is a huge difference between the local and corporate operations. My experience in the “industry” started after a few years in a family business. While I was doing my schooling, I worked part-time at a family business in Lowell, MA. In the family business, I saw a funeral director who cared about serving his neighbor and friends. He went to church with them; he served in rotary and was on the local school board. When I took my first job with a corporate funeral home, things were quite different.
I worked about 60-80 hours a week. I saw 3-4 families a day and embalmed at least that many later the same day. I never came to know any of those families. I was working for Lowen; the company had come to the Cape in the late 80s. They bought a group of 11 funeral homes, which was more than half of all the funeral business on Cape Cod at the time. Everything was about the money. On the days I didn’t make arrangements with families, I was conducting services for families someone else had met days before.
When I came to Vermont things were much different. I joined the company Keystone; work was enjoyable again. Money was a factor but was not the be-all and end-all. We needed to get paid but we would not turn anyone away. As time went on Keystone, whose owners has previously worked for SCI, started to change. They were now being traded on the Toronto stock exchange. Keystone now had stock holders. Money and spending were of ought most importance. Rumors within the company said that Keystone was getting ready to sell to SCI. This had happened while I worked at Lowen. We were squeezed at the end, trying to make the company as attractive as possible to SCI. Lowen and Keystone had been quietly consumed by SCI.
Business is business. SCI is governed by stockholders. Stockholders only care about the bottom line. SCI continues to show record profits and grow by buying small clusters of family owned businesses.
There are many local funeral homes who still believe in doing the right thing. Here in Vermont and across the country there are family-owned businesses who are not interested in huge profits. They are interested in serving their neighbors and friends. We all need to get paid for what we do, but the continued price gouging by corporate entities makes all funeral businesses look like thieves.
Shop local. Know your options. Know who you are doing business with and be an educated consumer. Corporate funeral companies want you to know nothing when you walk in their door. That is why I started Williams River services.
Call me if you have any questions. 802-353-0021.
Tag Archives: direct cremation
I found this article in The Huffington Post. The article points out again and again that funeral homes might not be the best place to get what you need as far as end of life services go.
The article tells of a family with 2 very sick children and there experience with home funerals. Caroline was the first to pass.
“We had taken care of Caroline her whole life,” recalls Alison, whose other daughter, Kate, has the same disease and will also have a home funeral. “Why would we give her to someone else once she died?”
Mom makes a valid point. 200 hundred years ago this was not a choice but necessity. The family was well prepared when the death occurred. Its evident they did their homework and researched all of their options.
The rest of the article talks about how some states have made it hard or impossible to take any of the end of life services away from the funeral professional. Closest case in point is our neighbor New York. New York is one of the few states that requires a funeral director to be present or to sign off on nearly every part of after-death care. Medical examiners and coroners have to turn over bodies to funeral directors, and the law says an undertaker has to personally oversee each funeral. Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New Jersey also have similar rules. New Hampshire has a law that says no one but a New Hampshire licensed funeral director can sign a death certificate. Is it just me or is that just crazy?
“Until the Civil War, death was largely a home matter and home funerals were the norm. It was common at the time for unembalmed bodies to be put in simple caskets and buried in cemeteries that weren’t treated with pesticides. (It’s a growing trend today, known as “green burial.”) Historians say that our culture’s approach to death in the pre-Civil War years had much to be praised.”
We should have the ability to care for our dead, if possible. Laws shouldn’t be written in favor of the funeral industry. I realize I’m a funeral director and this seems ironic… but I think people need to know their options. Ultimately, the final good-byes will be more meaningful and you won’t have the chance to do it twice.
I think I forgot how to do this…..
It has been a few weeks since I have blogged here. I have spent the last week in Fluville. You remember Fluville. Located between the Muscle Ache Mountains and Dry Heave Lake. It was a tuff one this year but I’m still here. I hope that you don’t have to take the trip, but if you do, rest and push the fluids.
Back to business. From what I am reading this will be must see TV…..
CNBC’s “Death: It’s a Living” Premieres on Thursday, January 31st at 9pm ET/PT and from the many clips promoting the show on Youtube it appears that the funeral profession is going to be portrayed as a group of greedy money grabbers…again.
If you get a chance give it a look.
As I continue to do research for my book, I find mind-boggling facts. I also am finding that there are some incredible stories of how people get to the point of thinking about their final arrangements.
This is a six-minute trailer about a man who is planning his death due to cancer. As the time draws near he weighs his options and chooses a natural earth burial. He points out that cremation is not an option for him due to the fact that it causes pollution and is not 100% natural. His plans are natural, green, and extremely well planned out. He likes the idea he has control over what is going to happen in the end. He calls it the ultimate gift, which he can give back to the earth.
He has a friend build a casket from a recycled chicken coop. He even goes so far as to try it out to make sure he fits. He will be laid to rest in a burial preserve intentionally designed to be sustainable. As you can see in the video, the preserve is breathtaking.
The video points out that there are two kinds of burial services going on in America today. The first is the traditional funeral home burial with embalming, visitation, etc., etc. The second is a green burial, chosen by the folks who are willing to do what ever it takes to honor the dead without any of the trappings of conventional funerals. “Ninety-seven percent of the world has found a way to have natural burials without embalming.” He points out “and nobody is dropping dead from attending visitations or helping care for the dead.”
I feel it is a well-crafted myth (the need for embalming and conventional visitation hours etc., etc.) that the funeral industry has brain washed consumers to think. In the movie, it is refreshing to see someone embrace their mortality and exercise their choices. These folks have been planning this over a period of months. Much time and research have gone into their end of life decisions.
If this is something that interests you, please start planning now. Remember: natural, green funerals are easy, inexpensive and can be more meaningful to families.
Great short clip about the industry change. Green burial stories that will make you think why have we been doing this in a funeral home?
This is a letter I have sent to local nursing facilities, senior centers, senior housing, and others who I think may benefit from my experience in the funeral industry over the last 20 years. If you have an organization that needs a speaker or a group of friends who have talked about end of life planning and are not sure what to do next, call me. I would love to help start the conversation.
I have the good fortune of being involved in a number of projects; I like wearing different hats. This effort is particularly dear to my heart.
Last week, I sat with 25 folks who were interested in making final arrangements without the help of a funeral home. We met at The Huber Building in Springfield. It was a spirited group that enjoyed my candor, enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject. After a short presentation, I answered questions for over an hour — every question imaginable on everything from funerary laws, cremation process, and embalming. Their appreciation was heartwarming.
After having done this presentation a few times, I realize that I am providing a real service to all of these families who are not certain where to begin and are uncomfortable going to a funeral home.
I would like to offer my expertise on End of Life Services at your facility, clients, and staff. I have run these meetings with as few as 3 and as many as 50 attendants.
I would be honored to meet your staff and clients and answer any questions they have during this type of informal meeting. Please let me know if I can give you more information.
Poor business decisions, we have all made them. Whether it is your business, or a company you work for, we have all made poor decisions, which cost businesses down the road. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
Small businesses have a real struggle getting things up and running to keep them going day-to-day. WRCS has made it through its first year. I am proud of what we have accomplished… and I’m surprised. Here we are despite the terrible economy and the fact that I am competing against a huge corporation with bottomless pockets. They also have a local recognition (which I helped build over the last 12 years.) The question becomes how long will someone hold on to a losing business?
While working at the corporate funeral homes we never made a profit. Early on, from what I could see, it was a viable small business that supported its owner, his family and employees in comfort. After the business was acquired by a corporate funeral chain, things went downhill. The problem is not with the employees. The business did not fit the formula of the corporation. There the layers of management are never-ending. The more people working, the more money needed to pay them. These are not the folks answering the door and helping you in a terrible time. These managers are 3 deep and 6 high and are being paid as corporate staff, not like your local staff.
The money to support all of these managers comes from the customers. The money that keeps a huge corporate machine running is yours. The fact that these corporate funeral homes are the most expensive, not just in Vermont but also all over the country, is a testament that some corporate funeral homes are taking advantage of people every day. Your neighbors, your friends, and your family have paid too much for services and merchandise at your ‘local” funeral home. The difference in prices between local funeral business and corporate entity’s is huge in most markets. Locally, these corporate funeral homes are $1,000s of dollars more than any local family owned business.
The question now is why a multi-billion dollar would company hold on to losing business. A business that has lost money from the first day they bought it. This is a company with stockholders. (I wonder if a stockholder would be happy with their experience at our local facilities.) Do the stock holders know that there money is being wasted every day? Do they know that there facilities are falling down and families are being charged more than any funeral business in the state? I think if history holds true, there is not going to be any major improvements in these facilities. It is also evident that their prices are going up. The crazy thing is, regardless of the facilities, service, or price: someone has to pay for all those managers and a home office in Houston.
This first year at WRCS has been challenging. I have made some difficult business decisions and don’t regret any of them. Time will tell if they were good decisions or poor ones. I feel comfortable knowing that I have the flexibility to provide excellent service at a fraction of the cost of my competition. Surviving my first year has made me think I made a good decision starting WRCS. I look forward to my second year of assisting my community, with local services and fair prices, and over the next decade…. at which point, I will look back and see all of the decisions I have made. Twenty-twenty.
One of my favorite movies by Tim Burton is “Beatle Juice”. Tim Burton is a talented Hollywood outsider. If you’re not familiar with his work some of his movies include “Edward Scissorhands” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” “Corpse Bride” and “Big Fish.” Burton’s new animated feature, “Frankenweenie” will be released by Walt Disney on October 5. Here is the trailer. This will be an instant hit.
Found a blog by THE FAMILY PLOT BLOG: FUNERAL PLANNING FOR THOSE WHO DON’T PLAN TO DIE. I follow this blog and always like their point of view. “Tim Burton Says Plan Your Funeral.” Read the blog here.
When I was younger, I was a closet fan of “gangsta” rap: Ice T, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, etc. The music worked for me. It was my motivator when I went to the gym. On a lot of these albums, the artist includes a shout-out track. Amid, big beats and loud guitars, the rapper thanks all the folks who helped him on the album. WRCS is celebrating it’s one year anniversary and its ‘bout time to give some shout-outs.
INSERT MUSIC HERE (think kick-ass bass drum and the rhythmic ting of the high hat. 3 and 2 and 1…….)
Southeaster Vermont Community Action. These folks offer TONS of services. SEVCA’s Micro Business / Asset Development Program has been a huge asset. At moments of uncertainty, they pushed me forward.
Springfield Regional Development Corporation. I have worked with the Springfield office for the last 6 years. Great group of folks. They have helped with everything from writing a business plan to financing. Debra Boudrieau was especially helpful.
Eric Velto and Massucco Law were recommended to me through the radio station at which I work, WOOL.FM Radio. Eric has been very helpful. Also a shout out to Attn. James Young of Londonderry VT. Both of you are great at what you do. You are true professionals.
The Vermont Small Business Development Center. Training, Advice, and Resources. Enough said.
Tristan McKenna Owner of Cheshire Family Funeral Homes and Tri State Crematory of Keene, Troy NH, many thanks. You are a gentleman and a true professional. There is not a funeral director in the state of Vermont who would talk to me. Tristan took the time to talk to me and without that I wouldn’t be here at all. Tristan and his associate John have been very professional and helpful. (If you need any type of mortuary services in the Keene area, this is the man to see.)
The Vermont Secretary of State Office has also been very professional and helpful. I have talked to just about everybody in that office at one time or another and have always been treated well. Special thanks to Dan Vincent of the investigation/inspection office. The man knows his job. Firm but fair. Thanks.
The Vermont Department of Labor has been very helpful in some wage and hour issues I have had with my former employer. After talking to the leadership team at the federal level, they are continuing the fight on my behalf.
Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis has been an excellent resource and her management team in Washington, Boston, and Vermont has helped me on a number of issues. They have not rested and I appreciate that.
The Office of Professional Regulations has helped with everything from the on set to present day. I have had a huge amount of work with this office. Starting a new kind of death care business has been a sort of discovery process for OPR and myself. We got though it! Everyone has been super helpful.
Aaron at Tribute Artistry Monuments has been very easy to work with. This man is very talented! If you need any kind of monument services, this is the gentleman to visit. He will even help you pick a stone off your own property and personalize just for you.
Joe Coon, aka “Bill 2″. Joe knocked on the door and said “You need any help?” He has been with me ever since. Thank you Joe.
Paul Clipper is the latest staff added and he has been a big help already. Very happy that Paul is gonna be here and help us out.
Jana Bryan. I cannot thank Jana enough. She is my rock. Personally, she has gone above and beyond in every way that a true friend would. When I stumble, she reaches out to help me along. When I fall she picks me up and dusts me off and points me in the right direction. Professionally, she has been there whenever I have needed her. “what can I do to help?” I have heard those words from a lot of people in my life but Jana backs them up with action. She would do anything for me. And she has. I love you Jana.
What’s next? Of course I will continue to work to grow Williams River Services. It has been a year and yes we are still here. I will continue to work with all the organizations any many more that are important to me personally and professionally.
During the last few months I have been thinking about writing a book – the perspective of a funeral service advocate. Working title is “Do you want fries with that? The dumbing down of the American funeral.” What do you think?
It started with our Bill of Rights. Our fore fathers put aside “rights” to which every individual is entitled. I’m sure you’ve also heard of a patient’s Bill of Rights. Much more recently, congress put together a traveler’s Bill of Rights. Interesting stuff.
“A mourner’s Bill of Rights” was put together by the godfather of the death and dying industry, Dr. Alan Wolfelt. I don’t think it’s necessary for Congress to vote on this. But much like our fore fathers understood the basics for protecting individual human rights, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is qualified to outline and describe what is needed for the mourner. You can find it posted on his “Center for Life” Facebook Page (…yes, mourners may find comfort in Facebook.)
Greif is so unique but you don’t have to feel alone. Others have gone before you, in their own way; this outline helps to put things in perspective. These are the things you are entitled to during your own journey. This set of “rights” is comforting and states that while there is no correct road to travel, falling back and reliving feelings are the norm.
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
I really think this is a great list. It is important for the mourner but it is also helpful for everyone, at any time. There is always someone in your community mourning the loss of a loved one. Mourners are in your family. Mourners are among your friends. You have, will, and possibly could be mourning now. No matter who you are, it is worth looking at these rights and taking time to understand them.
Our Bill of Rights is for everyone, all the time. Really though, maybe Congress should take the time to adopt this. “Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today? It wouldn’t even get out of committee.” – F. Lee Bailey