Selling Solace

Selling Solace

“One Size Fits All” Funerals?

Most people don’t know what their loved ones want when they die, most people don’t ever have that conversation. Although my parents were both terminally ill and we had ten years to plan their funerals, I didn’t step into a funeral home until after they had already passed. At that time I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted I would have been willing to pay any price to show the world that my parents were loved. If they had wanted to be buried in pure gold coffins lined with silk I would have found a way to finance it.


My experiences within the funeral industry have taught me that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to funeral services. It is important to discuss your wishes with loved ones; my parents’ courage in telling me that they did not want a traditional service is something I am grateful for. I have the satisfaction of knowing that their wishes were respected, and that has made the grieving process much easier. End-of-life ceremonies should reflect the life of the person being commemorated. For some, this means a traditional funeral and a wake; for my parents, who were both very private individuals, it meant no service or visitation, just for me to carry their ashes home in my arms.

A lot of people don’t realize how astronomical funeral services are, although my parents received only the most fundamental services I still spent the entire maximum Canada Pension Plan Death Benefit. The benefit maxes out at $2500, depending on how much and for how long the deceased has paid into the CPP, which is enough to cover paperwork and cremation, but not enough for services. I used to think that all Canadians were eligible for this benefit and was shocked to see that it only goes to those who have paid a significant amount into the CPP. What happens to the people who work many part-time jobs and don’t make significant CPP contributions? Or to those who die when they are young? Does the family have to incur the cost themselves?

When I explained to the funeral director that my parents did not want services because they felt that the associated costs were exorbitant the director offered me a payment plan. I didn’t need a payment plan; I needed for the services to be more affordable. The bulk of the money I spent, $695, was on meeting the funeral director just to sign the necessary documents. It cost $250 for the transfer of the bodies across the city from the hospital to the funeral home, and another $100 to transfer the bodies to the crematorium. I was charged $100 to prepare and shelter the remains, and also had to pay $275 for a reinforced cardboard container for them to be cremated in.

My parents were able to say their goodbyes while they were still living, many are not so lucky. End-of Life ceremonies are costly, but are often necessary to the grieving process, yet they do not have to be occasions of sadness. When my family was trying to decide what sorts of funeral arrangements to make, many people talked to us about celebrations of life and alternative funerals. One particularly hilarious conversation I had with my mother before she passed had to do with deciding who should be invited if she did have a funeral:

“I think we should make a guest list,” she said. “You girls will be there obviously. Colleen, Shar, Peggy. I don’t know about Phil. My brother Terry definitely not…”

“A guest list?” I asked. “Should I hire a bouncer too?” We laughed, both fans of black humour.

There are many options when it comes to end-of-life celebrations and what you choose really should reflect your wishes or the wishes of your dearly departed.I look at it as the last party I’ll ever throw; as such I intend to provide cocktails for my guests. A recent radio broadcast of the Morning Edition looked at the trend of people are turning away from typical rituals of death and trying to incorporate more personal expression into the ceremony.

If you or someone you love is confused about what service best reflects their beliefs regarding end-of-life rituals, a good place to start is The Simple Alternative, a counter to the conventional funeral home, offers some real suggestions for people whom are considering alternatives to the traditional place of worship or graveside service. They recommend the following locations for non-conventional services:

  • A favourite golf club
  • A Legion hall
  • A theatre
  • A Visitation Centre
  • Virtually any building that has the facilities to accommodate a service, with or without a reception, as long as the owners are amenable

The journey of death is as individual and personal as the one of life; each person grieves in their own way. It is my hope that choosing the proper service for your loved one will help you to go forward with as much peace as possible. There are many helpful articles that can help if you or someone you know is having difficulty coping after a loss. Please comment on your experiences within the funeral industry, or if you have been to an alternative funeral and wish to tell us about it.


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