SPECIAL REPORT: Aging in Amerca - Funeral directors
stand ready for trying times
by Kelly Feser Eells
"All in the Family" paved the way for realistic,
even "shock" television, the era of politically correct
speech took root with shows like "The Addams Family."
When, for example, was the last time you heard someone say, "the
undertaker was very attentive to the entire family's needs?"
Morticians and undertakers became "funeral directors,"
although not out of any sensitivity on the parts of those in
the profession. Prospective funeral directors are still majoring
in mortuary, not funeral, science, attending mortuary, not funeral,
colleges. They are, perhaps more than professionals in any other
field, concerned with the feelings of others.
The last 10 years have seen a great many innovations in the funeral
service industry. Children are attending more funerals than at
any other time in the last 50 years, and funeral homes are responding
by seeking ways to become more kid-friendly. Some funeral homes,
especially in the smaller communities, host remembrance programs
for bereaved families during the holiday season. Others are becoming
specialized community resource centers, offering books about
dying, grief, widowhood, etc., or providing education and resource
referrals to funeral service students and interns about this
historically high-stress-level profession.
Chester Perry, who manages Ojai's Clausen Funeral Home, realizes
that, for the most part, people are not happy to see him. Still,
he feels connected to the community in a vital and meaningful
"I've met just about every local family at one time or another,"
he said, agreeing that, while it is not his preferred way of
meeting people, "Life's a journey."
Clausen's accommodates nearly every kind of request and has conducted
services in every faith - "B'Hai, Buddhism, Catholicism,
Muslim ... they've all been pretty evenly represented,"
said Perry. No services of any kind ("direct or immediate
burial") are sometimes requested, "but not too often."
With this request, "I pick the body up, from the house,
office, anywhere." The deceased is dressed in a doeskin-like
material and buried in a wood composite casket. At the low end
of the price scale, direct burials cost $1,664.50.
An "all service" funeral, which includes limousine,
hearse, visitation (viewing), chapel and graveside services,
guestbook and burial, costs $3,043. "Caskets (which are
individually selected) start at $600 and go all the way up to
$26,000." The average, or more commonly selected, casket,
however, is made of medium, 20-gauge steel and is priced at approximately
While Nordhoff Cemetery has no burial plots for sale, "It
is still selling cremation" sites. For those selecting cremation,
"removal of the body, crematory fee, and a plastic urn"
As James Baldwin said, "The price one pays for pursuing
a calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly (practical) side."