Tag Archive | Memorial Society

Affordable Funerals Part II: Down by the riverside

Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich

Funeral arrangements and memorial services can be meaningful, healing experiences even when costs are kept low. Membership in an affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Alliance can help families cope with their loss while keeping both stress and expense at a minimum. I wrote this article a year ago for the fall newsletter of the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region:

 Down by the Riverside: A Personal Account of Loss and Healing

In late August, my son-in-law died unexpectedly at the age of 42, leaving behind my daughter and two young granddaughters. Although I’ve been Administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region for several years, I’ve never before had so vivid and personal a reminder of the value of the Memorial Society and of its parent organization, the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Another Affiliate Helps Out

My son-in-law had done no advance funeral planning. The family lived in Woodstock, just over an hour from our home but outside the range of the providers the Memorial Society contracts with. We brought our daughter and the girls up to stay with us immediately, and got to work making arrangements the next morning. I found my copy of the FCA list of chapters and called the number for the Mid-Hudson Memorial Society in Poughkeepsie.

A volunteer answered the phone on the third ring and gave me the name of their participating provider in Kingston. I called, got his answering service, and he called me back within 10 minutes. He was extremely helpful and informative. We had everything arranged in under an hour, an enormous relief for my daughter and the children, as well as for his aging parents, who were too shattered to deal with the situation long-distance.

Two weeks later we had a simple but beautiful memorial service by the Hudson at a public park. We were able to reserve the pavilion free of charge, and since the family had chosen cremation, there was no need for a funeral director to be involved by this point.

A Warm Gray Day by the Hudson

The day was perfect — gray and drizzly but warm, and over 100 people came. My husband presided, and my daughter and the nine-year-old granddaughter scattered some of the ashes in the Hudson while my husband spoke about how the ashes would make their way downstream past Nyack, where our son-in-law grew up, and New York City, where they had lived. Just then a great blue heron flew downriver.

The entire experience has convinced me more than ever what an important service the FCA and its chapters provide, and how meaningful and healing a memorial service can be when planned entirely by family and friends.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year, almost to the day, since that memorial service. My daughter and granddaughters have proven amazingly strong and resilient, and they’ve moved on with their lives. Last month Stacey became a first-time home buyer, and they’ve moved into a beautiful little brick house in West Hurley, right near Woodstock. The girls can continue in the same school system, with the same friends and the marvelously creative teachers and vibrant musical program you’d expect of a school in Woodstock. And there’s ample room for this grandma to stay over, both to pitch in with childcare and to partake of the local art and music scene down there. Maybe one of these Saturday nights I’ll even treat myself to a ticket to Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. The former drummer for The Band holds these weekly shindigs at his home studio, and all sorts of musical luminaries are apt to stop by.

But I digress – a perfect example of how easy it is to drift off-topic rather than discuss death and dying. In Monday’s post, I’ll conclude this series with a discussion of some specifics about exactly how people can save money on after-death services by becoming involved with the Memorial Society or another affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. In the meantime, I’d welcome your comments and questions – maybe I can address them in my next post. For now, I’m off to the Hudson on another warm gray September day, to enjoy Albany’s free jazz festival – down by the riverside.

Planning affordable funerals – difficult topic, worthwhile cause

Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich

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.

To learn more about the Memorial Society, go to www.funerals.org/affiliates/albany.htm or e-mail me at memsoc1@nycap.rr.com.  

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.