In a small town in Nebraska where I grew up; there was only one funeral home and it was family-owned. I had never heard of a corporate-owned funeral home until early 2000 and many people still today are unaware of the differences. The views expressed here are for informational and educational purposes. They are based on my own personal experiences as an Independent Certified Funeral Celebrant, Ceremony Leader and Officiant. And also as a client when a family member or friend passes away OR being present as an advocate for families when they are making funeral arrangements.
Family Owned (FO)– Usually answer the phone personally 24/7.
Corporate Owned (CO)– Impersonal answering service outside of M-F business hours.
FO – Most likely you will work directly with the owner/Funeral Director who will handle all the arrangements with you.
CO – May work with multiple people. Family Service Counselor, Funeral Director, Funeral Associate, Pre-Need Specialist – too many titles to list. You may make arrangements with one person then, (without notice) may be handed off to a different person on the day of your loved one’s funeral.
FO – You choose the date/time and location of the Memorial or Celebration of Life. Typically, no upcharge for evenings or weekends.
CO – Three times are offered M-F and Services are back-to-back. Employees often feel hurried and pressured, families may be rushed to leave before the next people start arriving. Weekends could be an upcharge of $600 or more.
FO – Expect to work with possibly family members and qualified, professional, caring personnel.
CO – Frequent turnover in personnel. Some are inexperienced and unprofessional straight out of mortuary school.
FO – Upfront with reasonable pricing, honest, ethical and compassionate. Will come to your home if you prefer. They listen to what you want and do not have a canned sales pitch.
CO – Upsell times ten. I felt like “just another number” and they were ready to get on to the next “sale”.
When my mother-in-law was in Hospice we arranged to meet in advance with the funeral home in Nebraska. She had already purchased her burial plot 35 years ago. Since that time, the family owned funeral home was bought out by a corporation. I called and asked to speak with a Funeral Director to arrange her services in advance of her passing. When we arrived for our appointment, we were ushered into what is called a “Family Meeting Room”. To my surprise, we were not meeting with a Funeral Director as requested, we were meeting with a Family Services Counselor. He immediately launched into a Power Point Presentation and had a canned script that he has used over and over. He repeatedly tried to “sell” us on their services which was completely unnecessary. We were not shopping around. He reminded me of a politician and spoke negatively about other funeral providers in the area. We were quick to make decisions and should not have been there for over two agonizing hours. We wrote a check for the full amount. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone.
A week after that awful arrangement meeting, my mother-in-law passed away. We called the funeral home immediately and they were too busy to schedule a time for her Memorial. Yes, even though we had already paid for it! Two days after her death, they finally called us back. The only option was a Saturday and we were required to pay the weekend upcharge of $600.
In the midst of grief, it is heartbreaking to make these kinds of decisions. I expect funeral professionals to genuinely care, listen and provide guidance. No one wants to hear a sales pitch or feel like they are in a used car lot buying a car. No two families are the same, no two deaths are alike. Each one is unique. Comparing my mother-in-law with anyone else’s or telling me about other families is not even remotely helpful.
Under Resources on my website, there is listing of some of the Best Funeral and Cremation Providers in Colorado. I recommend them knowing that you will be treated with respect, kindness and heartfelt compassion during a difficult time of grieving and loss.
Anita Larson is a Ceremony Leader and Officiant who blogs about her experiences with Celebrations of Life. Providing uncommon ideas and encouraging her readers to "Think Outside the Coffin®" when planning a Fabulous Farewell.