Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Funeral Rule

I am sure that everyone has heard the story of a poor little lady who lost her husband and when making arrangements at the local funeral home was talked into a funeral and casket that she really couldn’t afford. She was convinced that she wanted the very best for her dearly departed and encouraged to purchase a funeral package and casket way beyond her means.

Invariably, most of these stories are either not true or are dramatically exaggerated. Most funeral directors provide a high quality service and do their utmost to provide the support needed within the constraints of the grief stricken customer. Like any other business, however, there are always a few “bad apples on the tree” who sully the reputation of those who are honest and reputable. Because of these few bad characters, the Federal Trade Commission initiated the Funeral Rule in 1984.

Let’s take a moment and look at what the Funeral Rule provides on behalf of the consumer. It was created to make sure that the interests of the consumer were protected at a time when he or she is grief stricken and therefore likely to be most vulnerable to a smooth sales pitch.

Now I have to admit that as a former businessman I have personally never been a big fan of stringent rules and regulations that often stymie initiative and stifle business efficiency, but I can see some real value to the Funeral Rule. When people are grieving they are often not thinking as clearly as they might under other circumstances. Fearful of the future, they often just want to get the situation resolved so that they can try and find some inner peace.

The Funeral Rule requires a number of actions by the funeral industry that are designed to insure consumers are fully aware of what their options are and what those options cost. Four particular requirements are especially noteworthy and deserve attention. They include the requirement to provide a service price list, pricing for caskets, a provision precluding casket purchase as a requirement for other services, and funeral provider inspections with corrective actions needed for violations. Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

+ Services price list. The rule mandates that before starting discussion with funeral planners and service providers, the customer requesting information must be provided with the detailed price list of services available. The idea here is to insure that the person who has suffered the loss of a loved one fully understands the financial side of any agreement reached.

+ Casket pricing. Similar to above, caskets are not to be shown to the customer until the casket price list has first been provided. This accomplishes a similar result as above; the customer will know the costs before viewing the many options which can range from quite basic to highly ornate. This is one area where many people create financial problems for themselves because, of course, we all want the very best for our departed loved one. The key here is to make sure that any decision made is well understood.

+ Services tied to casket purchase. The rule also forbids a provider from requiring casket purchase from that provider as a condition of service. The customer has the right to procure a casket from any vendor he likes without negating his use of a particular funeral home or service provider.

+ Inspections and corrective actions. Finally, the Funeral Rule has established a methodology for reviewing compliance by funeral service organizations and subsequent financial penalties for serious violations. Under this provision, the FTC has agents who are assigned to spot check funeral industry providers with no advance notice required. While only a small percentage of active vendors are inspected on a given year, the idea is to keep them honest and transparent in their business practices, thereby protecting the consumer at a time when he or she is usually facing a highly emotional decision. Significant violations found subject the vendor to corrective action which normally includes entry into the Funeral Rule Offenders Program, a three year program to insure future compliance. Failure to enter the program may results in a lawsuit being filed by the FTC with potential civil law penalties of up to sixteen thousand dollars for non-compliance.

Since the program was started in 1984, over 427 out of 2700 violators have entered and successfully completed the program. In the last year, 27 violators have been found out of 123 which have been inspected. Of the 27, all but one has entered the program with that one still being reviewed. This most recent year’s inspection process has resulted in 18% of providers inspected being found in non-compliance. It is important to note, however, that since this is a small percentage of active providers, the result certainly does not show that violations are widespread in the industry. It does mean, however, that for those few that do violate accepted procedures, a change in the way they do business is necessary.

I would like to make one more point about individual responsibility that I think is important and will greatly assist anyone dealing with funeral planning. This particularly applies to the individual who is actually the subject of the service, each of us who at some later date will be laid to rest or cremated. Take the time to do some advance planning for your own finale. Any decisions you make yourself will make it easier on those left behind as well as the funeral professionals whose services will be needed. They want to provide what you want at the price you want and no one knows better than you yourself what that might be.

Even if you choose not to do this, it is at least a good idea to have someone designated, preferably a good, trusted friend as opposed to a family member, to assist your significant other in meeting and dealing with funeral professionals at the time of need. This will insure that an unbiased and clear-thinking mind is available to provide counsel on the details. It removes a lot of pressure from a grieving soul.

While the Funeral Rule provides some sound guidelines to avoid problems, remember that the overwhelming preponderance of funeral professionals do a wonderful job with a caring touch. Their long term business success depends on their honor and integrity and they guard it religiously. Also remember that the final decision rests with the one left behind and therefore it is important to insure that they know what is wanted and what to expect in this stressful time that all must face someday. No one else can ultimately be responsible for making the decisions needed. Being prepared in advance will be of invaluable help.

I hope this is helpful in the event that you must personally deal with this tough situation. God bless us all; give each of us the strength to do the right thing in these delicate matters and may God always bless America.
Prepared by:

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


The Grief of a Military Man

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the second in a series on the impact of grief on different categories of people and situations. Today’s discussion: The military man called back home from overseas service by the death of his wife and son.

As the Army Sergeant returned to base camp upon completion of a night patrol, he was met by his company commander and his platoon leader. They joined him in the mess tent for a cup of coffee and gently told him they had just received the terrible news from the Red Cross that his wife and youngest son had been killed in a car accident. His platoon leader accompanied him to his hut to retrieve his personal gear prior to immediate return home.

Stepping on board the helicopter for transport to the area Air Force Base for his flight back to the States he felt numb and lost. How was he going to be able to take care of this by himself? How could he raise his older boy and continue his military career and his overseas assignment? He had tough decisions to make and stressful days ahead upon arrival back home.

Life is full of tough days with many twists and turns and none can be much more difficult than this.


During my stateside assignment at the end of the Vietnam War I served as a Survivor Assistance Officer for over a dozen families. I handled a number of different challenges which were not expected at the time of the assignment and each required a unique approach. These included escorting a widow with major physical disabilities through the bureaucratic channels to apply for benefits, dealing with grieving parents who wanted nothing to do with me or the Army and even reaching a satisfactory arrangement with a man of the cloth who refused to allow the American flag on a casket in his sanctuary.

Each of these situations required patience, tact, and prayer to find a way to get the job done, yet none matched the challenge of a father in uniform losing the ones he loves back home. And in the case of the sergeant, since he is the actual survivor, many of the services such as those I rendered are his responsibility alone.

This soldier in a highly stressful and life threatening environment faces an almost insurmountable burden when the death of the person closest to him is added to his concerns. He is away from home, carrying out a combat mission demanding his utmost attention to the here and now. Suddenly, the one thing that is constant for him and gives him hope, his family, has been shattered.

He now must quickly make arrangements for a funeral, figure out how he will care for his son and also determine what the future will hold for his military career plans. All of these pressures being applied at once can easily push his emotions beyond the limits. It will take courage, faith and love and a lot of emotional support to overcome this situation. He needs caring and supportive people to stand with him.

The first thing he faces is emotionally the most difficult but probably resolved the most readily. He must show strength and courage while reuniting with his remaining son, quickly make plans for the funeral and conduct himself with the dignity and honor expected of a military man. Once these have been accomplished and he has faced the reality of his loss first hand, he has a couple of critical decisions to make which will have a major impact on his life and that of his son.

The first decision involves the care and upbringing of his son. As a combat soldier, his emergency leave is normally not more than thirty days in length. He has to determine if there is someone who can take care of his son while he finishes his tour. Is there a close relative such as an aunt or uncle or grandparents who can care for the boy in his absence? If not, there is one other option possible.

The Army has a provision for the compassionate reassignment of a soldier back to a stateside unit if no other option is available. The only problem with this from a career perspective is that when an overseas assignment is cut short it frequently brings up questions before career review boards and can have an adverse impact on promotions and assignments. The Army is after all a combat force and its soldiers must be ready to respond to all challenges thrown their way. For this reason, many soldiers requiring a compassionate reassignment end their military service on completion of their current enlistment contract.

As if this isn’t difficult enough, all actions must be resolved within the thirty day time frame so that the soldier can return to his active military responsibilities at the end of the leave. If his home is in an area near necessary support facilities and services it is easy to get things done but if it is in a remote location, accomplishing all tasks can be problematic due to time and travel requirements.

Additionally, the location of his home also impacts the likelihood of his neighbors understanding his plight. Living in a community with a heavily military components means that most people pitch in. If he lives in an area without many military families, his neighbors are less likely to know him well or to be as understanding.

All of these factors play a role in what he is going through and the ease with which he can get through his grief and immediate issues. This is where friends and good people can step in and help. If you know of a case like this, your compassion and caring for your fellow man in his time of grief and suffering will be invaluable and will be remembered.

Sometimes it is being a friend and just being there and other times it is running an errand or lending a helping hand. Whatever it is, we should be proud and feel privileged to serve our military friends in their time of personal need. It‘s the least we can do for those who serve us proudly and it will make you feel like you have really done something special because you have.

Isn’t helping your fellow man something expected of us? Can any time be more critical to help someone than during grief over a tragic loss? Think about it. The answer should be obvious.
Written by:

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


Written Tributes and Memorials

Imagine that you are a fifty year old woman and you die suddenly from the rupture of an undiagnosed aneurism. As a devout Christian you are at peace and experiencing the transition of your life from its physical to its spiritual form. Before being called up to Heaven, you are given a moment to watch your body being worked on by medical practitioners before being officially declared dead.

Although you are joyous contemplating eternal life above, you have a final moment of anguish about your former earthbound life as you witness your husband of twenty-five years and your children grieving over your now lifeless body. If only you had left behind a plan for how you wanted your life to be remembered. It would have eliminated questions and concerns about the important final rites and the resultant stress this will add to an already emotionally charged time of sadness.

You say your final silent goodbye and are on your way knowing that you could have done something when you were still alive to make things much easier for them.

Situations like this happen daily and if you are a believer like me you know that when earthly life is done you will go to a much better place. If you haven’t planned for how you want to be celebrated and remembered by those left behind, you have left them with an enormous burden that could have been planned for in advance. It is both a large problem and an important subject which we could devote many pages and hours to, but for today I want to focus on only one aspect of planning for that final day: the obituary and written tribute or memorial. In the weeks ahead we will take up other aspects of the things that need to be done.

The written documents depicting your life at death are critically important since they play a central role in recording for posterity how you are remembered and the memories that you will leave behind. No one knows your history better than you and if you don’t play an active part in putting your life down on paper your family will be left in a situation much like the opening scene earlier described. Is this a fair task to leave them with at a time when they are grief-stricken and often not thinking clearly?

I know that many don’t like to think about their final preparations. We humans have a tendency to want to avoid things that we don’t want to think about and our own mortality is frequently one of those things. Being actively involved in the preparation of your tribute, however, not only shows caring for your family, it also can provide an excellent source document of family history and pride for generations to come.

Think of it this way. You take the time to evaluate your life, reviewing your experiences and your accomplishments and put them down on paper. It presents a wonderful representation of who you are and what you have done in life and when passed on to family it provides a great addition to the family heritage archives. Your spouse and children may already know much of this, but if not recorded it gets lost over time and through succeeding generations. Wouldn’t it be nice for your grandchildren and later generations to know their heritage?

Many people opt to complete the job themselves, and while this is the best approach from the standpoint of having the writer fully knowledgeable on the subject, it can face some roadblocks. One is the tendency of most people not to want to “toot their own horn” and really cover all accomplishments of which to be proud. Another is our natural tendency to procrastinate; many people start with good intentions and then just put it to the side, never to be completed.

Some of us also don’t like to write so in that case it’s better to get someone else to do the writing for you. You still will need to make a comprehensive outline of what you want covered and find someone you are comfortable with portraying your life on paper. The only pitfall with this approach is that some of us are very private and don’t like those close to us to be the ones detailing our background. It just depends on your personality and style.

Another option would be to commission an organization like Shared Sorrows to prepare your professional tribute. They have professional writers like me who do this type of work routinely and can quickly settle on an approach for your life after an interview via telephone. Being detached from you personally, this allows for a completely dispassionate narrative to be developed with a professional flair. In a short time, your tribute will be provided to you for review and modification, thereby insuring that your life is presented the way you want. It can’t be easier and it is surprising affordable and will be ready for publication on site when the need arises.

If you’ve had to place an obituary recently you know that the cost can be prohibitive, ranging generally from six hundred dollars and up depending on the metropolitan market involved. The active publication time is also quite short before it is archived, usually two or three days. Pulling up obituary archives from a newspaper site later can be very difficult.

Contrast this to the Shared Sorrows approach. The memorial is displayed on their website with easy access for friends and family at any time. The document can also be used as the basis for a newspaper notice if you wish and it stays on line with Shared Sorrows for as long as you wish. Furthermore, the cost of developing it and displaying it is pennies on the dollar compared to the competitive news media market.

Making it easy, making it right, making it visible and making it affordable are all combined in this process. Whether or not this is the way you want to go with memorialization is entirely up to you, but you owe it to yourself to at least check it out. After all, you’re already on the website. And regardless of what you decide to do or not do, I hope our discussion today will be of assistance to you in planning ahead in this important area. Saving your family added grief at a time of grief is certainly the right thing to do.

Thank you for taking the time to visit with me today and God bless you one and all. Be happy, be safe and remember that whatever you do, our God is always with you.

Written by:
James Dick