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When Somebody Dies ... one step at a time

After a loved one dies, most people turn to a funeral home to handle all the arrangements.

We take care of everything, says Travis Hartzell of Perl Funeral Home in Medford. The funeral director is going to be the one who sees that everything goes smoothly.

Funeral directors are required by the state to have two years of college, perform a two-year internship and acquire board certification, Hartzell says.

For deaths that occur at home, a funeral director will come to the residence and make arrangements for moving the body. Arrangements will depend on whether the body is to be cremated, buried or transported out of the area.

For deaths at a hospital or elsewhere, a phone call to the funeral home will set the same procedure in motion.

— Hartzell says the director will secure copies of the death certificate, which are necessary for filing insurance claims and Social Security death benefits.

The director also will ask family members for statistical data on the deceased ' date of birth, location, family's name and more information for an obituary, he says.

Setting a budget helps determine funeral arrangements. Will there be a service? Cremation? Burial? Each scenario leads to more decisions.

Once we've kind of got a lot of the basics in place, if they need to talk about decisions, we do that, says Tim Simonsen of Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland.

Funeral directors suggest the bereaved take some time to absorb the fact their loved one has died before they make final plans for the body.

Grief and bereavement does not begin until we've accepted the death, says Simonsen. (Funerals) also allow family and friends to come alongside the immediate family to provide support.

Hartzell says funeral costs typically range from a low of &

36;1,000 for a simple cremation to an average cost of &

36;5,500 for a burial ' which buys the services of the funeral director and staff, the casket, an outer burial container and burial at a cemetery of choice.

The costs do not include a plot, flowers, music, photographs and the services of a pastor, rabbi or other leader, he says.

The pastor will come extra, says Hartzell. And not from the funeral home.

In Medford, &

36;12,000 has been the most expensive funeral Hartzell has planned. He once did a funeral in Dallas, Tex., that ended up costing more than &

36;60,000.

The casket alone was &

36;45,000, he says.

Different options help create a unique and successful funeral. Whether the service is formal or informal, there is room for creativity. Make sure the funeral is a personal reflection of the deceased, directors say.

The most important thing about a funeral is that the person's life is clearly reflected, says Simonsen.

But also ensure that the decisions make sense for the family, Hartzell advises.

If money is an issue, we direct them toward cremation, he says.

If cremation is not an option, Hartzell says he will try to find an affordable funeral.

Some people are very much against cremation, he says.

People are at their most vulnerable after suffering a loss. Many want to compensate by planning an elaborate and expensive funeral.

Hartzell says sometimes the manner of death can psychologically affect a family's decision-making when it comes to creating a funeral budget.

If it was a tragic death, they want the very best, Hartzell says. They want everything to be perfect.

Simonsen and Hartzell say the funeral industry is getting more and more regulated. This has helped control abuses, they say. Both agree, however, that it is beneficial to have at least one other family member or good friend on hand to make sure that costs don't spiral out of control for a grieving spouse or family member.

Hartzell says contacting the Better Business Bureau at may help with a company's reputation.

Every industry is going to have some people who will take advantage, Simonsen says. Pressure can be placed to sell things the family doesn't need.

benefitsto pre-planning

Travis Hartzell, funeral director of Perl Funeral Home in Medford, says he's seeing an increase in people pre-planning and pre-paying their own funerals.

Upwards of 65 percent of our clients are going with the pre-planned, says Hartzell.

The reasons are twofold, he says. Pre-planning takes the emotional burden off family members and pre-paying freezes funeral costs.

The average age of those pre-planning their funerals is between 70 and 80, he says. And the mood is not as somber as one might expect.

Their attitude is very easy to deal with, he says. They've known it is coming for awhile now. They've come to terms.