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Planning Ahead: Pre-funeral preparation and cremation on the rise

Carol Patch of DeKalb knows where she’s going after she dies – both Patch and her husband have prepaid for their funerals and will be interred in an urn garden at Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb.

“It was creepy looking at your own name on the marker, but it’s something I don’t have to worry about and my kids don’t have to worry about,” Patch said. “We prepaid and planned everything last fall.”

To learn more about what happens at a funeral home, Patch attended an open house event on Aug. 14 at Olson Funeral and Cremation Services, 1245 Somonauk St. in Sycamore.

“This is probably the only time I’ll be able to see what goes on at a funeral home,” Patch said. “Since the next time I’ll be at one I’ll be dead.”

Ila Billips of DeKalb also attended the event as a way to learn about the funeral process. Billips and her husband also prepaid for their funeral, which she said made her husband’s funeral easier when he died in 2013.

“He picked out what he wanted and I picked out what I wanted,” Billips said. “When he passed away, having everything planned and picked out made the entire process a whole lot easier. I didn’t want to burden my kids, and we have what we want and know that we have somewhere to go once we’re gone. It gives everyone time to grieve instead of picking out tombstones and cemetery plots.”

Pre-funeral planning is offered at all four local funeral homes: Anderson Funeral Home, 2011 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb; Butala Funeral Home, 1405 Dekalb Ave. in Sycamore; Finch Funeral Home, 310 Oak St. in DeKalb; and Olson Funeral Home Olson Funeral and Cremation Services, 1245 Somonauk St. in Sycamore.

Sam Finch, funeral director and owner of Finch Funeral Home, said he compares his job to a concierge at a hotel.

“We answer phones, place orders, do paperwork, write obituaries and update our website, but we also do everything involved with a funeral from embalming to cremation,” Finch said. “I’m a fourth-generation funeral director, and I saw what my dad did. I wanted to do that, too. We help people at the most difficult, worst, lowest time of their lives as peacefully and as successfully as we can.”

Michael Butala, funeral director and owner of Butala Funeral Home, said that almost every funeral home offers the same services and that choosing a funeral home often depends on the compassion of the provider.

“We all offer the same type of services, similar to choosing items off of a menu,” Butala said. “But me personally? I find it a bit of a religious calling, to be able to take care of someone that has died.”

Bruce Olson, funeral director and owner of Olson Funeral and Cremation Services, said the largest funeral trend is cremation.

“Not only is the cost less with cremation – about 60 percent the price of what a burial would cost – people are also choosing cremation for a more personalized option,” Olson said. “With cremation, you can choose to keep the remains in an urn, or you can scatter them in a location special to the deceased. However, there are laws and rules about where remains can be scattered.”

Another trend on the rise is green funerals. These are environment-conscious funerals with no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products, sustainable biodegradable clothing, shrouds or caskets, a natural burial and flat rocks, and plants or trees serving as grave markers. Green funerals are legal in all 50 states, but rules and regulations for dealing with human remains must be followed.

Over the next 18 years, the rate of cremation in the United States is projected to increase by nearly 30 percent according to the 2018 “Cremation and Burial Report,” released by the National Funeral Directors Association. The report states that the national cremation rate will reach nearly 80 percent – 2.8 million cremations per year – by 2035, based on a variety of factors including changing consumer preference, weakening religious prohibitions and environmental concerns.

According to the NFDA, in 2018, the national median cost of a funeral with viewing and a burial is $7,360, and with a vault is $8,755. The national median cost of a funeral with a viewing and a cremation is $6,260.

“There’s such a wide range in pricing and choices that it is almost impossible to form an average,” Finch said. “There are so many factors, such as different cemetery costs, obituaries and the number of death certificates. It’s hard to say there’s an average.”

Butala said that in addition to preparing funerals for the recently deceased, he averages five sit-down pre-need funeral planning meetings a week.

“There’s two things in life you can’t avoid: death and taxes, which is why it’s so important to sit down and talk to your family about final plans,” Butala said. “Create or update your will, talk to a lawyer for estate planning, have all of your affairs and assets organized.

“Make an appointment to stop by a funeral home and see what it is you and your family are looking for,” he said. “It’s important to make those decisions now before it’s too late.”

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