Appples and Oranges Part II

In my previous post I discussed how to compare funeral service charges. This entry will discuss how to properly compare casket costs. As with the General Price List (see previous post) funeral homes are required to provide consumers with a Casket Price List. But, unlike the General Price List, funeral homes do not have to give their casket price list to anyone for them to keep. Funeral homes only have to show it to people before they make their selection. The Casket Price List must have caskets listed in descending order of price; they must be numbered; they must have the casket name, description, and manufacturer. They should be segregated as to type of casket, such as wood, metal, all wood, or a combination of materials. The Casket Price List is designed so a person can find a particular casket on the list without assistance from the funeral director. With a Casket Price List a person can select a casket based on their own criteria, whether it’s price, construction material, or personal esthetics.

Elsewhere on my website: www.chesedvemet.com  I detail the differences in caskets, so I won’t repeat that discussion here. I will only say that caskets are usually made from either wood, metal, or a combination of the two. When trying to compare casket costs, it’s imperative that you compare exact caskets. Comparing a “wood casket” to another “wood casket” simply isn’t enough. You must compare the species of wood, the thickness of the wood, the interior materials, and the quality of construction. For instance, comparing a pine casket to a solid plank mahogany casket is comparing apples to oranges. Similarly, trying to compare the cost of a 20 gauge non-protective metal casket to a 16 gauge protective metal casket is like comparing a minimum Chevy to a fully equipped Cadillac.

Listed on a funeral home’s General Price List the price range of the funeral home’s caskets must be listed. (I offer caskets ranging in price from $495 to $5595 and my General Price List is posted on my website (www.chesedvemet.com). There are relatively few casket manufacturers and distributors, so chances are your local funeral homes are getting their caskets from the same places. Even if they don’t carry the exact casket as their competitors, it’s still relatively easy to price compare...if you’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Once you decide on the type of casket you want, whether it’s a wood, a metal, or an all wood constructed casket, all funeral homes should have a comparative casket. For instance, if funeral home “A” has a casket called, the “Star,” which is described as an 18 gauge protective metal with a velvet interior, funeral home “B” might not carry the “star,” but I’m sure they have an 18 gauge protective metal casket with a velvet interior, only they call it the “Mojave.” It may or may not be the same color, but I’m sure it will be close. So, it’s important to compare exact types of caskets to one another in order to accurate price shop for a casket.

It is always easier to compare funeral prices before they’re needed. Don’t hesitate to call a few funeral homes to compare their full service charges as well as their casket prices. Just make sure you compare the total “bottom line” costs before making a selection of a funeral director. There are intangible considerations that may cause you to choose a slightly more expensive funeral home. These considerations are what’s known as “added values” and may include the type and location of facilities of the funeral home, how you “feel” you’re being treated as a potential client, and the recommendations of family and friends who have used a particular funeral director in the past.

You shouldn’t buy an apple when you really want an orange!

Apples and Oranges- Part 1

We all do it. We do it online, in the newspapers, or simply by making some phone calls. I’m talking about comparison shopping. We especially do it when we plan to make an expensive purchase. It’s easy to compare the cost of a television, a washing machine, a digital camera, and of course, an automobile. We comparison shop when we purchase a house. We simply don’t buy the first thing we see without checking for a better price.

People are becoming more educated consumers, and an educated consumer makes healthier choices. With the economic recession in full swing, it’s even more important to use our limited resources to our best advantage. But, how do we comparison shop for a funeral? Because a funeral is a complex compendium of services and merchandise, and because there’s usually a deep emotional factor involved, “funeral shopping” isn’t something the average person looks forward to doing. Believe it or not, comparing funeral prices isn’t as complicated as it might seem at first.

Let’s begin with a little history and an overview of the funeral industry and how prices were set. Prior to 1984, the majority of funeral homes priced their services and facilities as part of the price of the casket. So, a single price included everything that the funeral homes supplied in terms of services, personnel, automotive equipment, and the casket. Since it was an “all included” pricing structure, families couldn’t reduce the charges by eliminating elements that they didn’t need or want.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission began regulating how funeral homes established their fees. No longer could funeral homes have a “one price” fee as part of the cost of the casket. Funeral homes now have to itemize all of their services, facilities, equipment, and merchandise. The fees must be printed in what is called a General Price List, and must be offered to every person who asks for it, asks about charges, or comes in to the funeral home to arrange a funeral. So, you would think that this would make comparing funeral prices easier, right? Well it can, but it can also make things more confusing for a family, especially if they are arranging a funeral for a loved one who has just died. I will be posting additional blogs dealing with different aspects of comparing funeral prices, but for now, I want to concentrate on being able to compare the costs for the “service” portion of the funeral.

Part of the Funeral Service Rule of the Federal Trade Commission states that funeral homes can have only one (1) “non-declinable service charge.” This means that in addition to their “service charge,” there will separate charges for using the funeral home for a visitation or funeral, the removal of the deceased from the place of death, the hearse to the cemetery, preparation of the remains, and the funeral home staff to carry out the wishes of the family. The cost of the casket, burial vault, grave marker, acknowledgment cards, clothing, and any other merchandise that is selected will all be additional. There will also be what’s known as “cash advance” items. These include things such as, cemetery charges, clergy honoraria, newspaper notices, certified copies of the death certificate, and any other items the family asks the funeral to “advance” the payment of on their behalf.

It’s important when comparing funeral costs to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges. If a person calls a funeral home and asks, “How much is your service charge,” the price they are quoted may not be the total cost for all of the services the family will need or want in connection with the funeral they are planning. It’s not illegal to answer the question by only quoting the “service charge.” It’s just not very accurate, or in my opinion, very ethical. By quoting only the “service charge” that funeral home will appear to be less expensive than the funeral home who responds by quoting the full charges for a funeral. For example, my “service charge” at Chesed v’Emet is $895. But the total cost for the arranging, conducting, supervising, funeral directors and assistants, the removal from the place of death, the hearse to the cemetery, washing, dressing, refrigeration, and casketing of the remains, totals $2945. (My current General Price List is posted on my website: www.chesedvemet.com.)

When calling a funeral home for their prices, make sure you get the total costs of all the services and facilities (such as embalming or the use of the chapel for service or visitation), including the automotive equipment, so that when you call a different funeral home, you will have a baseline for comparison. Since funeral homes can charge whatever they want for their services and facilities, some items at one funeral home might be more or less than at another funeral home. It’s the bottom line total for the same services and facilities is what matters.

It’s a matter of comparing apples to apples.

The next entry will deal with learning how to compare casket prices.

Veterans Beware

For months now there has been a national t.v. campaign by the world’s largest funeral conglomerate targeting our veterans. Their message is that two thirds of veterans don’t know what their V.A. burial benefits are. I don’t know if that figure is accurate, but what I do know is that it is their attempt to have veterans contact them to learn more. This company attempts to set an appointment to “explain” the benefits and then tries to sell them a pre-need funeral policy. It seems to me that they, like so many of our politicians, are playing on the fears of our brave veterans. The truth is that understanding the benefits that are available to honorably discharged veterans are neither complicated nor difficult to determine. I have on my website downloaded for you to see, the current benefits and qualifications for burial benefits. Please feel free to check these benefits out for yourself. Basically, an honorably discharged veteran is entitled to a flag for the casket, burial in a National cemetery, an honor guard at the service, and a grave marker or headstone. Additional cash benefits are available, but only when certain conditions apply. If, after reviewing your benefits on my website you have specific questions, please feel free to call me at: 847.577.0856 and I will try to answer them, without cost or obligation. For further information, you can go to my website: www.chesedvemet.com or: www.va.gov. Don’t allow a national advertising campaign make you think your benefits are too complicated for you to understand on your own.

The Power of the Kaddish

I would like to share with you a piece I wrote in 1998, shortly after my brother's death. Mike was 51 years old and suffered terribly for a number of years. I hope you find some comfort in the following.

Many of us who have recited the Kaddish for a loved one knows the comfort and support it offers. In our liturgy we are told that for generations, the Kaddish has been a source of support to the mourner. When it is recited at a funeral or at Shabbat services, most mourners become emotional at its recitation, especially when it’s for the first time. But, for many, and myself included, the Kaddish is nothing more than a prayer said in a foreign language which offers no solace, no support, and in fact, causes more sadness, a sense of aloneness, and leaves us feeling empty.

As a funeral director for more than 25 years, I have been involved with more than 20,000 Jewish funerals and have recited the Kaddish innumerable times for relatives as well as for others, and am now in the sixth month of saying Kaddish for my brother, Michael, Z”L. Recently, my rabbi began offering mourners the opportunity to rise during services at the time of Kaddish recitation when their loved one’s name is read so that those present can offer their condolences to them and to families who are either in their early stages of mourning or who are observing a Yahrzeit. For me, this has been one of the nicest things about attending weekly Shabbat services. More than giving fellow congregants an opportunity to engage me in conversation about my recent loss, it gives me an opportunity to reach out, from my grief, to those who are also newly bereaved, and it is that action which brings me comfort, rather than comfort from reciting Kaddish simply because I’m supposed to.

The familiar expression, sorrow shared is sorrow diminished, is true. At a recent Shabbat service, almost fifty percent of the congregation was standing before everyone else rose to say Kaddish. To me that was an incredible number of people who came to services and were probably in need of a kind word or an expression of sympathy. (And who knows how many others attended services who weren’t saying Kaddish but were struggling with something that could have been made easier because they shared it with a caring individual?)  I know that when I have the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of comforting the mourner, whether in the course of my profession or personally at Temple, I feel good. I feel like I make a difference to someone; that because I showed up, I was able to make someone, if only for a moment, feel they are understood, accepted, and given a chance to talk about their pain.

I am not about to abandon our ancient tradition of reciting Kaddish and I hope that those who are faced with a similar need don’t abandon it either. With the passage of the weeks and months since my brother’s funeral, it has gotten easier for me to deal with his death. Maybe it’s because I joined the House of Israel and recited Kaddish for him. Maybe it’s because so many wonderful congregants have shared with me their love and friendship. Maybe it’s because it’s normal for the intense pain to ease with time. Maybe it’s because my family have been so supportive of me in my bereavement that has allowed me to put into perspective my brother’s short life and death. More than likely it’s a combination of all the above and more, which I may not even be aware of. What I do know is that the comfort I feel is not solely from reciting a centuries old Aramaic prayer, but because I recite it in the presence of the congregation. In doing so, I am made aware of those people around me who need a kind word and a gesture of understanding. I realize I am not alone and I am not the only one who is struggling, and who needs a little TLC. It forces me to come out of my darkness and reach out to someone, a stranger maybe, and lend them a much needed shoulder on which to cry. I think that is the wisdom the ancient Rabbis had when they say that the Kaddish is to be said in the presence of the congregation.

I look forward to being at services and to be present for those whose burden is sorrow and who need the fellowship of the Jewish community to help them through a difficult time. You have been there for me in my time of need, (as well as in my times of joy) and I pray that I am blessed with the opportunity of giving to others that which was given to me: Acceptance, Understanding, Love, and sense of belonging.

Welcome

Welcome to the Chesed v'Emet website. Chesed v'Emet is Hebrew for "kindness and truth," which is what I believe each family deserves when they are tasked with arranging a funeral for a loved one. It's my hope that you will find this site helpful to you and your loved ones, even if I wasn't privileged to have served you. Please take some time to look at the features we've provided to help make you a more educated funeral consumer. I welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions, and I am always ready to listen. As time goes by, I will be posting things which I think will be interesting and helpful to you. Perfection isn't always possible to achieve, but my goal is come as close to perfection as possible when I am called upon to serve a family. Whether it's arranging a funeral or providing psychotherapy services, it's your needs, not mine, that are of primary concern.