The Final Cost: Preplanning end of life; making it easier on family

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - The conversation of death and dying is never easy.

Example casket at Parke's Magic Valley Funeral Homes (KMVT image/Elenee Dao)

"What a lot of people don’t understand is that a funeral is a life event. We are planning a major life event in three to five days in under the most extreme duress," said Mike Parke, the funeral director for Parke's Magic Valley Funeral Homes.

Some may have the notion that funeral directors are out to get them and their money, and that's all they care about. Parke said that's not the case for them.

"Are funerals expensive? Yes. People’s values have changed however," he said. "When I started doing this 30 something years ago, people cared about their loved ones. Today, I’ve become a glorified garbage man. That’s what people look as it as."

When people walk through their doors, they expect a high cost. He said he just helped a family have to plan for their son's funeral.

"They wanted cremation, they wanted a memorial service, they wanted a niche at the cemetery," he said. "Their whole funeral is less than $5,000. They expected to pay around $12,000. And that was shocking to them. They didn’t expect that at all."

He said for his funeral home, their full burial funeral in a casket costs $5,000 to $7,000.

"It doesn’t include the cemetery. There’s a big difference in cemeteries," he said. KMVT will be referring to cemeteries in another story later this week.

But the cost of a funeral and memorial service varies from person to person.

"You can go to McDonald's and get a hamburger, for $1.50. It’s going to come in a paper bag wrapped in a paper. You can go to Shari’s for a hamburger $6 and you’re going to get a cloth napkin and a plastic cup or, you can go to Jakers for a hamburger for $15. It’s a hamburger," he said. "It’s going to fill your belly, but it’s a difference in quality level of service in merchandise in everything."

There is a difference between choosing a casket or cremation. Parke said he's seen more people go for cremating as it could cost less.

"Well, yes. If you’re comparing it apples to apples. On our price list, if you have a full service funeral versus a full service cremation, and you’re not talking about going to the cemetery, the cost of the cremation is actually $300 more, because that’s the crematory fee," he explained.

If someone wants to bury an urn, then that will cost more.

"You’re still buying a grave, you have to open and close it even if it’s a smaller one. Your cemetery likely is going to require a vault, even if it’s a smaller one, it's going to be a little less expensive," he said. "If you compare no service, if you’re comparing a traditional funeral to a direct cremation with no service and no viewing, is it substantially less, absolutely."

Parke said when someone preplans their own funeral, that person who plans it wants to spend less than what their family would pay.

"They want less services for themselves because they don't want people to muss or fuss over them," he said.

He said that funerals are for the living and not the dead.

"When people plan for themselves, they think if they limit it they're going to make it easier for their family, that's not necessarily true. Funerals are an event," he said. "Death is a process and if we deny any of the steps along that process we're denying our right to grieve."

Eileen Pyron lost her husband just almost nine months ago.

"We knew each other three days before we were married... Everyone told my parents it wouldn't last a year," she said.

July 31 would have marked 64 years she would've been married to Bill, her husband.

"Bill was a military man and a family man," she said of her late husband. "He loved his children more than I can say. He generally just loved life."

Bill passed away on Dec. 7.

"It's getting better each day, but there's times where it gets to you," she said of her grief.

But, she did have the chance to say goodbye, and plan for his death.

"He passed away of cancer and he had CLL for 25 years, which is chronic lymphatic leukemia and then it turned very aggressive the last month that he was alive," Pyron said.

During these months, they were able to plan exactly what he wanted when that time came.

"We had pretty much been ready. We had discussed it many times," she said.

When he did pass, Eileen went back to Parke's Funeral Home and decided to preplan her own funeral.

"I wanted everything to be taken care of. With my children being all over the country, it would've been difficult for them and they pretty much knew what we wanted and what I wanted, but I took care of it to make sure that they didn't have to worry about it," Pyron said.

Pyron said she was lucky that they had the time together to figure out what he wanted and to let their children know too.

But not everyone gets that time.

"Be ready for anything, because anything can happen at any time and any day," she said. "Don't put anything off. If you haven’t made any arrangements yet, then by all means talk to your spouse and your children and find out what it is they want, write it down somewhere and make sure your children know where it’s at so they don’t have a problem when they’re faced with the funeral of their parents."

Preplanning can take that burden off the children and help lessen the cost.

"I think you should talk to your family about what your memorial requests are because likely if you pass without your family knowing, that is when they’re going to overspend," he said.

Parke added that people will spend more money to compensate the guilt they might have for not spending more time with that family member.

"Everyone has their would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. I wish I went and seen mom more. I wish I spent more time with dad and I didn’t and, so I'm feeling guilty and so the one way I'm going to stop feeling guilty is I'm going to buy the best casket or the best urn out there," he said. "Does that make any sense? Absolutely not. It’s not going to buy away their grief, i'ts not going to make it easier. If anything it's going to compound it."

Parke said when someone compares a funeral to anything else, it could cost substantially lower.

"I'm planning a wedding for my daughter and trust me. No, a funeral is not expensive compared to a wedding, compared to the birth of a child," he said.

Yes, talking about death and all the documents and papers leading up to it could be a really, really tough conversation — but one that is necessary.

"The kindest gift you can give your family is to set your arrangements up ahead of time. Let them know they come in at that vulnerable point and they don’t know what to expect when they walk in the door. They don’t know what to do and they usually don’t know what it costs and it's overwhelming," he said.

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