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Sharon Hunter - February 2022

Tips for a funeral that’s low on price but big on heart

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As if arranging a funeral wasn’t aleady hard enough, for many it comes with tremendous financial pressure. Grief and loss is compounded by stress on how to meet a bill of several thousands of dollars.

Adding insult to injury, spending lots of money won’t necessarily deliver something special. So often, funerals all look much the same. It can leave people with deep feelings of regret for what might have been.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A modestly priced funeral that is authentic and heartfelt is achievable if you step away from outdated traditions, and lean into some of the details yourself.

Here are some ideas on how to pull together a wonderful funeral that is light on the pocket, but big on heart.

  1. Compare funeral home prices. Like any other product or service, funeral homes prices vary. Shop around. Ask for specifics on what’s included to avoid being tripped up with extra charges. Corporate owned funeral homes frequently charge more than independents.

  2. Choose a simple casket. Take ego out of casket selection and you’ll save plenty. You don’t have to sacrifice style; there are some stunning plainer designs. As a bonus, you’ll find many well priced caskets are environmentally friendly. Save money and the planet.

  3. Avoid embalming. This practice uses chemicals to delay decomposition of the body. Few circumstances demand embalming in spite of what you might be told. At a cost of up to $800 it’s a big saving. Tick another great choice for mother earth.

  4. Cremate rather than bury. Disposal of the body is the third biggest cost after the funeral home service fee and casket purchase. Without the cost of internment, plot purchase and head stone selection, cremation is significantly cheaper.

  5. Don’t inter the ashes. Scatter them instead. Bury in a biodegradable urn in the garden or keep them in a stunning artisan vessel. If you already have the perfect container you won’t have to purchase anything. There is no rule that says you must buy something new.

After the big ticket items, it’s the small decisions that can add up. Give them a pass, or go DIY and have family and friends take the load. You’ll find you’ve given the funeral a beautiful home grown spin that the most expensive funeral can’t deliver and save upwards of $1,000.

Flowers: Replace a professional casket spray with something home grown. Gather long stems of flowers and foliage and tie together with a wide ribbon. Or give flowers a miss altogether and place personal items on the casket. A treasured guitar, golf clubs, fishing rod, homemade wreath. Save up to $500

Leading the Service. Anyone can legally lead a funeral. You might have a family member or friend perfect for this role. A funeral lead by someone who knew the deceased well delivers something extra special. Save up to $450

Order of Service: It’s not essential to have one if your paring back costs. Save on paper with an online honoring page instead, one that enables posts and tributes, heaps of photos and storytelling.

Lastly, a word about the post service gathering. When trying to keep costs in check this can be one of the first things to go. Don’t let it. People underestimate how important it is to simply be together when the service and formalities have finished. Break away from established practices and go DIY, or user pays. I promise you, people won’t mind chipping in. They’ll be happy to play a part, and grateful there was somewhere to be together after the service finishes.

Here are a few ideas:

GOING DIY

  1. A private residence doesn’t cost a thing. Friends or family may have somewhere fitting.

  2. Go for a pot luck dinner. Platters galore or a themed dinner.

  3. In the summer opt for a picnic. Choose a beach, park or backyard.

  4. Light up the barbeques. Ask people to bring something to cook and a salad. Delegate several to do the cooking.

  5. BYO beverages, particularly alcohol.

USER PAYS

  1. Arrange for a coffee cart, food truck or other mobile caterer. Those that want something to eat or drink can avail themselves to the extent they wish to.

  2. Go to a favourite local bar. Ask for a private room or area with bar service for those who wish to purchase drinks.

  3. Book a venue for a private dinner after the service. Let people know on the invitation that there will be a cost and ask for RSVP’s ahead of time.

"After the big ticket items, it’s the small decisions that can add up."

Here are two stories of funerals that did it a little differently (and a lot less expensively).

Zach's Great Goodbye

When Zach died, there were two important threads that underpinned his Great Goodbye. Family wanted to recognize his love of being on water and finish by gathering together at his favourite bar to say farewell. Zach wanted to be cremated, and his ashes scattered the following year by mates at his favourite places. In keeping with his wishes, family selected a simple pine casket with rope handles. His fishing rod and lucky hat were placed on top.

Zachs brother stained a piece of pine board and added dozens of small brass nails. Guests were asked to bring their favorite fishing lure or fly and hang it on the board in memory of Zach. After the service, which was lead by his Uncle, a bus transported guests to the pub. That’s when the stories, music and memories started. Long into the night they stayed together remembering Zach. Family shouted the first round, but thereafter people simply ordered their own. At some point pizzas arrived. Nobody remembers who ordered and paid for them. Zach’s memory is celebrated and cherished through his Great Goodbye honoring page. Friends and family post pictures of their latest big catch, letting him know he’s never far from their thoughts.

Evelyn's Great Goodbye

There was only ever going to be one place for Evelyn's Great Goodbye; her magnificent garden. It would be a bit of a sqeeze with all the guests, but then she always did like the place full to bursting. Family selected a natural seagrass casket in keeping with Evelyn’s wishes for a natural burial. Guests brought flowers from their own gardens, and pushed stem after stem into the woven sides and top. Soon the whole casket was covered. When there was no more room on the casket, flowers went into jugs, jars and vases. The previous two days everyone had gotten busy in their kitchens preparing food for a picnic lunch. Rented tables were covered in colourful cloths.

Evelyn’s oldest son welcomed everyone, and after giving his own eulogy, simply introduced the next speaker. Refreshments were served thoughout. As the day turned to dusk, out came the candles, and on went Evelyn’s favourite showtunes. Her grandchildren had created a one of a kind playlist. It was shared on her honoring page for everyone to download. The following day Evelyn’s casket was driven by her family to the burial grounds. They sung songs from Porgy and Bess as they went.

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