Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Old Neighborhood and the Cost of Dying

Once upon a time in America, every neighborhood had its very own butcher shop, barber and beauty parlor (as my grandmother used to call it), at least one saloon, a mom and pop grocery store, and an undertaker.  When you wanted a chicken, turkey, or pot roast, you went to Joe's Butcher Shop.  You went to Joe's Store to get the veggies to go along with what you bought at the butcher shop.  When you needed a haircut, or mom wanted a perm to look good for that special occasion, you visited Joe's barbershop/Josephine's beauty parlor.  And Joe's Place, the local watering hole, was the place to stop after a hard day's work, or when you and mom wanted to go out on a Saturday night.  When you needed to bury your dearly departed with dignity and respect, Joe the Undertaker was there for you.  So much has changed.

In our march of progress, much of the above has been either radically changed or eliminated.  Mega-stores have replaced neighborhood shopping.  Unisex salons have replaced the barbershop and beauty parlor.  Hell, most of the neighborhood watering holes have been replaced by chain-style bar and grills located in the 'burbs (how much easier it was to stagger home on a Saturday night when "home" was very close, and driving an automobile was not even a considered option - you had two feet and home was just down the street).  And then we had Joe the Undertaker.

The Undertaker was as much a part of the neighborhood as the bar and grill; he too, has been replaced.  Bending to "political correctness" or maybe "progress," the label undertaker is no longer used.  Today, the preferred term is "Funeral Director."  And along with the label change came the "care change."  The very personal care given by the local undertaker gave way to the very impersonal care corporations dole out.  Corporations you say?  Yes dear heart, corporations.

In North America, there are four corporations that have eaten up a large portion of private funeral homes and cemeteries.  And, they all have plans for expansion; death is big business and business is booming.

Two of these corporations are based in Houston Texas; the third in New Orleans, and the fourth in Tampa Florida.  Do not be confused.  These corporate entities move with all the stealth of a deployed Navy Seal Team.  When they buy, there is little or no public public notice of the sale.  The old, local and in many cases, "family name on the door" does not change.  The original family/owner/operators stay on for a few years to assure a smooth transition within the community.  And know this:  the new owners, the corporation's managers, are well schooled schmoozers when it comes to public relations.  After they have brow-beaten you for every dollar they can get and you sign on the dotted line, do not expect a lot of "service after the sale."  But, hell, don't take it personally.  After all, it's just business here in the USA.  It's almost like buying a new car from a national dealership.  But, as of this post, not all is lost.

These four after-death merchants have yet to suck up all the privately owned funeral homes and cemeteries.  However, it's really hard to figure out their total holdings without a look at their balance sheets; they are stealthy and not very forth coming.  Remember, they do retain on their acquired properties, the names of the previous owners.  So, if in need, just ask; they have to tell you.  And, as gruesome and as heartless as it may sound, shop around.  There still are many privately owned funeral homes and cemeteries remaining that can give you top-notch, personal care and service.  You may find a private funeral director that is sharp enough to show you the "corporate price" and their price.  Do not be shocked when you see that the little, private guy's fees are way less than the corporate's.

That said, it's obvious that yesteryear is long gone; that's why it's referred to as yesterday.  Progress had brought changes; now death is a growth industry.  But you and your deceased loved ones do not have to be robbed of your dignity and cash.  Keep your eyes and ears open open.

                                               Copyright @2013 Terry Unger   


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