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A Unique Industry. In American culture the subject of death has always been avoided, except by the funeral industry. The industry specializes in insulating their customers- -the relatives of people who die–from the unpleasantness of death. For the funeral home, death is an everyday occurrence; for the client, it is a sudden shock. People rarely plan for funerals and burials even when someone is slow in dying. Under such circumstances, the funeral industry has the decided advantage over the consumer.

Funerals are expensive, many times unnecessarily so. Grieving survivors of the dead person often purchase needless items. There are so many funeral homes, however, that you can and should shop around for the right prices and services. Special funeral packages will always cost more. Remember that if you are planning a funeral, the less money you spend the more that will be left over for the survivors. It’s better to show respect for the dead person by leaving the survivors with the money they need than by giving it to the funeral home. The dead person can’t tell the difference.

Wakes and Funeral Services. Some traditions, notably the Roman Catholic, call for a “wake,” a period of time where the body may be viewed before the funeral. If you attend a wake or funeral, first sign the guest book, speak briefly with the family, express condolences, then leave. Wear either black or very conservative clothing. After the funeral, it is polite to send a “sympathy card,” even nicer to write a short personal letter. It is common to send flowers to a funeral with a short sympathy note, though some families ask for a donation to a charity in place of flowers.

Planning for the Inevitable. Since we will all be dead people at one time or another, it pays to think of our loved ones and create specific written instructions on the funeral arrangements we want; the simpler the better. Cremation, a path chosen for about 15% of those who die, is the simplest way to deal with a dead body.

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