Dear Diamond to Mixed Emotions

By Diamond | Oct 06, 2016

Dear Diamond,

I have two family members who are expected to die within the next year due to severe health problems from some very poor choices they made in their younger years, i.e.drugs, alcohol. They are a married couple who have been living hand to mouth their whole lives. They have a couple of grown children who hardly ever contact their parents because they are frustrated with and disappointed in them. They have never had help from their parents and they struggle to make ends meet without a dime to spare.

The problem is this — when they pass away, how do we do a funeral? Who pays for it and how much is it? None of us in the family have any money. What we have set aside is for our own kids. Somebody told me that it costs thousands to bury someone. Neither of these relatives have long to live. Any advice for us on what to do for two upcoming deaths?

— Mixed-emotions


Dear Mixed-Emotions,

For whatever reasons your family members lived the lives they’ve led, they are people who need compassion and a decent final arrangement. While withholding judgment might be difficult, it is important. You can bet that they didn’t necessarily “choose” their life; addiction and other outside factors had a big part in that choice. The absolute last thing they probably ever thought of doing was paying for their funerals. Most people don’t want to think about or talk about it even in good health. But it’s the time to do it. One of the best things that you can do for your family is pre-plan so they are not side-swiped with the added burden of burial expenses on top of grief.

There are several options for funerals and burials, but almost all of the choices will cost money. It’s important to be open with the funeral director about the finances of your family in order to help you to make the appropriate decisions. Funeral homes are usually small businesses who are totally dependent on prompt payments from the people who turn to them for services.

The average traditional funeral costs between $7,500 and $8,500 and can go much higher depending on what you choose for a burial service and burial merchandise. There are ‘packages’ available which may include visitation at the funeral parlor, a memorial service, permits, embalming, the hearse, the casket, the newspaper obituary, among other things.

This doesn’t include a cemetery plot. Not all cemetery lots are the same price. Some are currently $300 for a single grave and $350 for a two grave cremation lot in the cremains garden. Families can contact the cemetery association to purchase lots there, or, if it’s a town regulated cemetery, the town office. It should be noted that all veterans are entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery with a grave marker.

Caskets are made of metal, wood, particle board, cardboard, re-cycled newspapers(!) and even wicker. Some people make their own. You are not required to buy it from the funeral parlor that you use. Wal-Mart and Costco sell caskets with the cost being from $855 to $4,000. Costco won’t ship to Maine for some reason, so you’d have to pick it up in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. The Wal-Mart prices weren’t all that much lower than the funeral home prices, so consider the convenience of buying it right from the funeral home. You may rent a ceremonial casket for the service if you choose cremation afterward, but that is still pricey.

A basic cremation is roughly $1000. A cremation with basic services of the funeral director still starts at roughly $2,415. Urns may be bought elsewhere, as well as the funeral home. You may hold the service in a park, a church, a hall or any free or low-cost venue. The ashes may be kept, scattered, or buried, or a small amount of the ashes could be placed into a specialty locket to wear around one’s neck.

When scattering ashes, the general rule is to stay at least 100 yards from any trail, body of water, or historic site. We are all asked not to scatter ashes from Mt. Katahdin. If you want to scatter them at Acadia National Park or any other National or State Park, a permit (available online) is required but there is no charge for it.

Another way to bury the dead is called a “Green Burial”. There are 2 ‘Green Cemeteries” or ‘eco-cemeteries' in Maine — in Limington and in Orrington. A green burial means that the deceased is cared for with the least environmental impact as possible. There is no embalming and only natural resources may be used for a casket or shroud such as linen, bamboo, wicker and wood. No ornate grave stones; only a natural stone marker, a tree or a shrub. Burial on private land is allowed in many places, as long as the requirements are met which include a certain amount of deeded land for the burying plot, registering the exact burial site with the town, and a maintained right-of-way to the spot. This all needs to be planned out way ahead of time. A website to look at is:

The absolute least expensive way for burial is donating one’s body to science, but requirements must be met for acceptance. It must be arranged way before death and it is a decision that is not made by anyone other than the person volunteering themselves for study. The College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine has a body donation program. Medical study can take from 1-4 years and then the cremated remains are then returned to the family or buried in the cemetery at University of New England. There are medical conditions that can prevent acceptance into the program and those details can be found on the website:

There is nothing wrong with asking family members and friends to help defray costs. These days you can create a crowd-funding site such as ‘Go Fund Me’ or ‘Give Forward' where you set up a memorial donation website. In the obituary notice, you may note that “in lieu of flowers, donations would be appreciated to help with the burial expenses." Most people are willing to give up the price of some entertainment or the cost of a carton of cigarettes to lend a hand.

You are wise to think of these things now while there is time to plan with the rest of your family. No one likes to talk about this, but it is a reality. Someday you'll all be glad you did.

With grace and peace,


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