Today I’m donning a different hat and adopting a different persona – that of Administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, Inc. We’re an affiliate of the national Funeral Consumers Alliance, the leading advocacy organization for consumers of funeral services – and sooner or later, this means everybody. Death and funeral arrangements aren’t at the top of people’s to-do lists. Accordingly, many of us fail to plan adequately, and when death strikes unexpectedly, the sudden stress leads us to spend far more than necessary.
This summer, America’s reluctance to confront the difficult topics of death and dying has been front and center in the vehement attacks on proposed health care reform. The notion of funding consultations between physicians and their patients about end-of-life issues has triggered mass hysteria with talk of death panels and pulling the plug on grandma. Discussion of funerals and after-death services is apt to provoke even greater avoidance and denial.
Also this summer, our society has wallowed in the media overload surrounding two high profile deaths, memorial services and funerals – those of Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy. Like millions of others, I was riveted by the television coverage, first of Jackson’s moving memorial service with its magnificent musical performances and orations, and then by the somber and dignified services for Kenndy in a rain-swept Boston church and then at Arlington National Cemetery. Both events were lavish affairs, and we were treated to endless views of the splendid coffins – gold, in Jackson’s case – the floral tributes, and the black limos in the funeral corteges.
Few Americans have that kind of fortune to spend. Many want simple but dignified funerals, but they’re often too embarrassed or ill-informed to ask for them. I’ve spoken at many senior centers and residences, including some for people on Medicaid with very limited incomes, and most people there expect to pay a minimum of five or six thousand dollars for an average funeral. Often that’s been the going rate for their friends and relatives, so they assume that’s what they’ll have to spend, when in fact a dignified funeral and burial can cost thousands less.
Helping people become informed funeral consumers and educating them about their options are major goals of the Memorial Society. We also contract with funeral homes throughout the Capital District to offer affordable rates to our members. Although we’ve been in existence since 1964 and have a membership of over 1,000, we’re still a well kept secret. I’m planning to help change that by spreading the word online. Within a month, I plan to have a Memorial Society blog up and running. I think I’ll use the same WordPress theme I’m using here – the bridge over the autumnal stream is as apropos for a funeral consumers organization as it is for my mystery novels.
I became Administrator for this non-profit, non-denominational organization several years ago at the invitation of then-President Therese Broderick, a fine poet who comments here occasionally. At the time I was looking for a little part-time job to help pad my retirement income a bit, but I found much more than that. How much more, I’ll describe in my next post, when I write about how the Memorial Society helped us cope with an unexpected death in our own family.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance website, www.funerals.org, is a wonderful resource for information on funeral issues. For those not in the Albany area, it also includes a directory of affiliates nationwide and in Canada.