Hard data from the 1990s showed that beginning about now, our healthcare system would be in crisis because baby boomers would be retiring and living longer than previous retirees. The new retirees would be expecting to draw Social Security and use Medicare for many more years than originally anticipated.
The fact is that healthcare, Social Security and Medicare were predicted to be in crisis, regardless of who occupied the White House. It was called “age wave” rhetoric back then. Now, a lack of clarity about the facts has created, for many, soul weariness and emotional disengagement from healthcare issues.
But one thing hasn’t changed since the 1990s: People still die every day and have to be buried. Funerals happen. But is anyone considering the high cost of funerals? I would like to divert some of the rhetoric away from the high cost of healthcare to the high cost of funerals.
October’s AARP Bulletin has an article titled, “The High Cost of Dying.” I was aware that cremations were rising, but I was not aware of “do-it-yourself” and “green” funerals. I even have a friend who recently had the grave of her deceased mother reopened and had her father laid to rest with her mother in the same grave. I would guess each state has its own regulations for such activity.
If enough consumers took advantage of the alternatives to the high cost of funerals, the funeral industry would have several options.
The industry could offer more reasonably priced services. It could also lobby state legislators to change regulations about funerals, which would make “do-it-yourself” and “green” funerals illegal.
Some funeral homes participate in indigent or welfare funerals, and states and municipalities have a wide variety of measures for indigent funerals. Will we soon be seeing a demand for publicly funded funerals as the economic environment tightens for so many?
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It is difficult to grasp the rhetoric of the healthcare debate, but we can still grasp the fact that folk die and need to be buried. As such, caskets can now be ordered from Costco and Amazon. Wooden self-assembly kits are also available.
As congregations explore the new challenges of congregational care ministries, could they explore ways to assist with funerals – in addition to offering a space for the memorial services?
Is it out of the realm of possibility that congregational care teams could emerge to actually build or assemble low-cost caskets? Could care teams become sensitive to the need for “real” funeral assistance and help with a do-it-yourself funeral? Could congregations make land available for a potter’s field?
The church is thought to be the one institution that can take you from the womb to the tomb. Religious institutions carried healthcare for years but started abdicating and defaulting to government and business entities some time ago. Even Blue Cross Blue Shield originated out of a religious institution.
It may be too late for the church to reclaim a meaningful role in healthcare. But what are the possibilities of the church becoming more involved in funeral care than just providing casseroles and a building? It could be a sobering experience for youth to work alongside elder members who are skilled in woodworking to construct wooden caskets and deliver them to points of need.
If the church abdicates burial and tomb care teams, would we come to regret the entanglements of a publicly funded burial system? What could the qualifications for publicly funded funerals become?
Sanctity of human life is about care from the womb to the tomb, and our times beg for more church involvement in the complete journey.
Sybil Smith, a registered nurse, lives in Lyman, S.C., and is an independent consultant for ministries of health.