NPR’s Two-Part Report on the “Death Industry”: Is There a Bias?

The funeral business has been in the news a lot lately: the Texas governor is seeking to require burial or cremation of “fetal remains”; the Pope recently reminded us what Catholics should and should not do with deceased family members; and, NPR recently aired a two-part report on the “death industry.”

Part 1, “You Could Pay Thousands Less for a Funeral Just by Crossing the Street”

Part 2, “Despite Decades Old Law, Funeral Prices are Still Unclear”

While there was much that I agreed with in these reports, elements of the report were misleading, it painted funeral service, something very near and dear to me, with a very “broad brush,” and it focused on one community in Florida, which obviously does not represent the entire US.

My business, which I tend to 24/7, is not part of a “death care industry” that cranks out one-size-fits-all services. We certainly do not take any sort of “industrial” approach to serving families. Each family comes to us with unique needs, more unique than they likely realize. Our job is to understand these needs and cohesively fit them into one overall ceremony, one family at a time. There is nothing industrial about it.

While some funeral service providers undoubtedly do put “business” needs before the needs of their customers, there are also many family-owned funeral homes, such as mine, that place a higher value on the ethical treatment of the families we serve. I deal with families in the midst of loss, grief, confusion, and pain – my concern is tending to their needs and helping them find a path to healing, not padding my bottom line.

Excerpts taken from the published transcript of Part 1:

“Funeral homes often aren’t forthcoming about how much things cost.”

If you are comparing funeral home prices, ignore the package prices and look only at the itemized pricing.  The Federal Trade commission requires that the presentation of the itemized portion of the price list is uniform across the country specifically to make it easy to compare apples to apples (the prices won’t be the same from funeral home to funeral home, but the layout is).  Once you have some sense of the itemized fees, then look at the packages.  By law, if you visit a funeral home in person, one of the first things you should be offered right after a cup of coffee and a comfortable place to sit is the funeral home’s price list.

“While most funeral businesses have a website, most omit prices from the sites making it more difficult for families to compare prices or shop around.”

The reason I do not publish my prices online but will gladly talk your ear off about them if we are on the phone is because no two funerals are the same and no two family’s needs will be the same.  Only through a candid back and forth conversation can a comprehensive estimate be quoted.

“In communities around the country, it’s common to find wide swings in prices for funeral services.”

Throughout the report, the terms “cremation” and “funeral” are used interchangeably. A funeral and a cremation are not the same thing. They are in fact, two separate services with their own separate prices.  A funeral is a public ceremony attended by family members and friends. Cremation is what happens after the services.

“The cremations are all the same, but some will cost much more than others, depending on where the consumer made the arrangements, and which of the company’s brand names appears on the invoice.”

Actually, cremations aren’t all the same.  In fact, I am working with my state representative, Sarah Davis, to expand the definition of cremation here in Texas to include a chemical application, not just incineration. This is already allowed in 13 other states.  Also, when a family asks, “how much is cremation?” the price they are being quoted includes the entire process, from transporting the deceased from the hospital, through any services the family requested and the cremation itself, to returning the deceased to the care of the family.

“One thing storefront and larger funeral homes have in common is an upselling strategy.”

Not true. Not all funeral homes treat an arrangement meeting with a family as a “sales” opportunity. In my business, we are serving the needs of the families who come to us.

I agree 100% that many funeral service providers need to abandon the old ways of working with families, and in fact, some of us have. Families seek clarity in their state of confusion, and they are entitled to it. Pricing does influence the decision making process but it is not the whole story, and reports such as this one from NPR need to reflect that.