Monday, January 25, 2016

Balloon Wish

"The trouble is, you think you have time." 
- Buddha 
While working for years in hospice and related fields, I've noticed a change in focus. Dying is difficult and in the past, primary concerns had been pain management, understanding what to expect and saying goodbye. 

As if those need weren't enough, financial limitations have become the primary and overwhelming concern.

Most people I've worked with have a collection of medical bills that have already depleted savings not to mention the decimation of retirement funds by the economic collapse. They feel an enormous amount of guilt for leaving no financial legacy and they are concerned that their families will be left with a financial burden from the cost of care. 

An increase in funeral costs along with a decline in less expensive. pre-purchased funeral arrangements has left more grieving families dealing with the impossibility of paying for funeral arrangements. 

One indicator is the Make A Wish foundation. A small financial gift is sent with the intent that is is used for things like flying in family to say goodbye or purchasing equipment that will make care easier. However, in the past few years, the economy is so abysmal that the highest pre-death expectation is to keep the electric on for a few more months. 

I ran across a story that illustrates the situation. 

Renee Finney died from cancer a few days before Mother's Day. She was 42 and left behind three children ages 16, 18 and 25. Trying to come up with the $10,000 needed for burial, her children and friends held a Mother's Day bake sale and car wash. Still $8,000 short, Renee's friend Lena suggested the kids write goodbye notes to their mom and tie them to helium balloons 

The Monday after Mother's Day, the balloons were found 35 miles away by Yvette Melton. 

"I came into work with them and I said 'I have to find this family,' and my boss jumped on board. These letters had nothing to do with them asking for help, it was just three kids' thoughts to their mother. They had no intention of anyone finding it and they weren't asking for anything."

By that afternoon, she had collected $2,000 and called the mortuary who called the family. Melton also set up a Go Fund Me page and collected an additional $10,000 in nine hours. Go Fund Me ended up with $21,225. 

Renee's oldest daughter expressed gratitude for the family. "It's amazing. I don't even know what to say. When I try to tell Yvette how I feel, nothing is enough. I can't say enough. I can't thank her enough. There are no words to express the feeling that this is giving us. It's unreal."

It makes me immensely happy when things go well because more often than not they don't. 

The National Funeral Directors Association report the cost of an average funeral is somewhere between $9,000 and $12,000. That doesn’t include cemetery expenses such as burial space, a burial vault, the opening and closing of a grave, or a headstone. (Placing a headstone can cost twice as much as the actual plot.) When those costs are calculated, funerals run upwards of $27,000. 

The average cost for a cremation and memorial service is $1,650. 

Americans spent $2 billion on funeral costs in 1960 or an average of $1450 on every person who died that year.  

Indigent burial programs vary by states but generally involve an exhaustive search for relatives who, regardless of the history with the deceased, are legally responsible for funeral expenses. 

When determining financial eligibility for Medicaid health care, an exemption is made for a funeral policy valued up to $1,500. Social Security provides a payment of $255 for burial costs. 

There are several other costs to consider. Shipping a body by train or plane costs two to three times the rate of a ticketed passenger. 

The median cost for embalming is $700 and despite what some morticians claim, there are few laws requiring embalming. 

Gaskets or protective caskets cost the funeral home around $8 but increase the price of a casket by $800. Vaults also have a large markup and are not legally required for burial.

Mortuaries are not allowed to charge an additional fee if family purchases a casket or urn from another location and looking for options can save money. For example, one of the big box stores sells a $950 casket that is very similar to a $2,400 casket
at funeral homes. 

"Even in death do we serve life"

Body donation is becoming more popular and cadavers are used for scientific research beyond traditional medial school dissection. Vehicle crash testing, NASA space suit development and military evaluation of safety equipment all use human bodies. 

From a congressional committee in 1947 about the funeral industry:  

"[Mortuaries] are the most highly specialized racket in the world. It has no standard prices; whatever can be charged and gotten away with is the guiding rule. . . .  I could embalm a human body for forty cents and an elephant for $1.50. . . . Why, some of these bums charge a family $90 to bury a poor little baby in a casket that costs only $4.50."

#Hospice #DaethAndDying

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