As a wise man once said, "when words aren't enough, have a ritual."
Faced with feelings of loss and grief, cultures around the world have come to recognize the funeral service as one of the best and very public ways to acknowledge not only a death - but to reaffirm that a life has been lived.
As a result, most people naturally want to pay great tribute to a loved one on their passing, and are not often willing to bargain hunt when it comes to costs.
However, as funeral consumer advocates often point out "getting fleeced is hardly a tribute", and there are ways to honor the deceased without their survivors going into long and protracted debt.
Basic tributes included in most modern funeral services may include the traditional funeral flowers (or in lieu of flowers a donation to a favorite charity); a memory table featuring photos and personal mementos of the deceased; and/or arranging for special funeral poems, songs, eulogies and bible readings.
Funeral music is another important part of most services which may simply entail playing the deceased's favorite song list or, in Christian services, working with (and paying for) organists and singers for a more religious musical program to accompany the service.
Typical funeral costs
Today, multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around the traditional funeral service, including businesses ranging from casket manufacturers and cremation services, to embalming chemical companies, cemetery associations, insurance agencies and florists.
As with any other service, it pays to shop around to find a funeral home that will work with you to provide a fitting funeral or memorial service within budget. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average price for a funeral in the US is $6,500. The true cost, however, can easily reach $10,000 or more when a burial plot, casket, and other costs are involved.
Consumer experts agree that possibly one of the best ways to curtail costs is by planning ahead or asking about a "pre need" plan available at a local funeral home.
Much like arranging living wills for end of life care, by personally controlling your own funeral costs you will save family or other survivors the burden of making decisions for you at a time of great emotional stress. You will also likely have more of a monetary legacy to leave behind, since funeral homes are usually bound by law to follow your your wishes to the letter.
Request help from clergy
For surviving families who face financial hardship, a request for help from clergy - to intervene on your behalf - becomes highly advisable. Most clergy appreciate the high costs that funerals usually incur on families and they might be able to work with a funeral director to help keep such costs under control.
Alternatively, cremation has become increasingly popular in recent years for those who feel it is a more natural process, or because of environmental concerns.
In addition, cremations are one of the less expensive services that can be performed - often at a quarter of the price of a traditional funeral.
Other rights that US individuals and their families have in respect to funeral services are available in the The Federal Trade Commission's Shopping for Funeral Services. More detailed how to's and advice for consumers are included in The Funeral Consumers Alliance's Four Step Funeral Planning.
Elsewhere around the Web, find a helpful funeral checklist to help you plan and organize expenses and other details upon the death of a loved one.
More information about funeral services and costs around the Web:
Funeral Wise - A complete guide to funeral costs, planning and funeral etiquette including suggestions for music, poems, and eulogies plus a searchable map of funeral homes and cemeteries worldwide.
How to Plan a Funeral - Check out step-by-step instructions including related articles on how to arrange a wake, plan a grave side ceremony, buy a burial plot or gravestone.
What You Should Know About Cremation - An extensive guide to cremation and how it works from the Cremation Society of Great Britain including a FAQ and related statistics, what happens at a typical ceremony, and forms of memorializing the ashes of the deceased.