Costing the dead

Charles Cowling

I think we all buy into the notion that capitalism is a species of altruism, only more caring. So it comes as no surprise to discover that Sun Life Direct, vendor of financial services to the over 50s, cares like mad about us—all of us, not just on-the-way-out over 50s.

They’ve just commissioned research from Mintel which shows that funeral costs are rising (gasp) (nothing else is?) and that most people do not make provision for their funerals, either financially or by sketching out the sort of farewell they’d like. The’ve notified the newspapers of this by sending them a helpful press release.

Time was when journalists used to get off their backsides and find out what was really going on. Now they squash them into office chairs, wait for the press releases to roll in, pick out the ones they like, overcook them a bit and send them out looking like news. So it is that Rebecca Smithers in today’s Guardian writes about funeral costs “soaring” (aaarrgh!!) and informs us that even “Environmentally friendly funerals are, perhaps surprisingly, more expensive than traditional burials because of the expense of custom-made wicker caskets.”

Tcha!

She goes on to tell us what Mark Howes, caring managing director of Sun Life, thinks about this:

“As funeral prices are predicted to increase, it’s important that people think about putting the right provisions in place. Sharing your funeral preferences with loved ones can be particularly emotional and understandably this is a topic most of us would prefer not to talk about. But organising a funeral can be extremely stressful and painful, without the added worry of not being able to cover the costs.”

It’s anxiety raising stuff. Oh my god (headless chicken impression) can Sun Life help me?!

Yes, they can. They can sell me a pay-now-die-later funeral plan. Phew! And, best of all, I will be able to go into that good night knowing that my mortal remains will be borne to their final resting place by … … Co-operative Bloody Funeralcare.

It’s a devilish plan!

Instead of regurgitating her press release with hyperbolic colour added, Ms Smithers might have served her readers better by stripping away some of the secrets and lies surrounding these funeral plans and the methods used to sell them. She might have discovered that the NAFD rumbles itself in this matter. It recommends Perfect Choice plans to its membership as

“the perfect tool for your business … Designed FOR funeral directors BY working funeral directors.”

Er, not much customer focus there.

Ms Smithers might even have made the discovery that, for an undertaker, a funeral plan buys tomorrow’s customer today. And that what’s lending stridency to their sales pitch is that there’s an ugly, bloody turf war going on out there. The big conglomerates, Dignity and Effcare, are selling pre-need plans at a rate which threatens, come the near future, to throttle the life out of the independents.

People have been making provision for their funerals since time immemorial. What they have never done is prescribe how their families will feel about their deaths. But Golden Charter has a way of addressing this:

“Consideration for others is the most frequent reason for buying a Golden Charter funeral plan. With Golden Charter you know that your loved ones will be spared some of the burden of bereavement.”

Oh yeah?

No, this is just another fine way of disconnecting grievers from farewelling their dead in the way they’d wish.

“You’ll have specified every detail of the funeral in advance, selected the funeral director and made provision for the costs.”

Not all the costs, actually, not by any means. And so far as my own demise is concerned, choice of funeral director is 100% a matter for those who kindly take it upon themselves to dispose of me. I won’t care. I’ll be dead.

Whatever goods and chattels I bequeath to my heirs, a funeral plan will not be one of them.

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