Funeral directors report an increase in cremations

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – As the economy worsens, people are cutting expenses in a variety of ways: buying generic products, using a lower-grade gasoline or limiting their dining out.
The recession has forced people to cut back spending in many other areas of their lives – and even deaths.
Funeral Director Billy Curl of Tupelo sees people scaling back on burial costs.
Curl, owner of Lee Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery, says more people are opting for cremation over traditional burial because of the price difference. At Lee Memorial, a basic traditional funeral with minimum casket costs $4,100. A cremation starts at $1,395.
“We are finding that, for us, the No. 1 reason people are going to cremation is cost,” said Curl. “People want to lift the financial burden off funeral costs. They are under the false assumption that a funeral costs $7,000, but that’s not true. You can be buried for much less in Mississippi.”
The National Funeral Directors Association shows the average national cost at $7,323.
Curl said Mississippi has the lowest rate of cremation in the country – 10 percent compared to about a 34 percent nationally.
Sammy Lansdale, general manager of Pegues Funeral Home, which handles cremations for funeral homes throughout the area, said he does think the economy is causing a slight increase in cremations.
“The economy definitely plays a small part in people choosing to cremate,” Lansdale said. “People are looking for ways to cut costs and that may be an option. Cremation is relatively new to the South, but we are seeing them.”
Even though he admits to seeing more cremations these days, Steve Holland, funeral director at Holland-Harris Funeral Directors, says he’s not sure if the economy is the cause of it.
“I do see the trend increasing, but I think it has more to do with a change in the generation than the economy,” said Holland. “I’m not saying the economy isn’t playing a part in it, but people of my generation don’t value the traditional funeral like generations past.
“People now don’t want to have to go through everything that comes with a traditional funeral. You have to deal with visitation, burial and those sorts of things. With cremation some of those things can be cut out.”
Oxford Crematory owner Glenn Coleman agrees with Holland, saying he sees the increase in cremation but is not ready to say it’s because of the economy.
Bob Fells, spokesman for the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Home Association, says the increase in cremations isn’t just about price.
“Polls have shown that cost saving is one of many reasons people opt for cremation,” said Fells. “Some of it is religious beliefs, some is preference and several other factors.”
Two years before the economy soured, Cedric Garvin and his family had their grandmother cremated. He said his family’s decision to cremate was mostly financial but there were other factors.
“When she died it was a situation where everyone decided it would be cheaper to just have her cremated instead of going through the burial plot purchasing and other things,” said Garvin. “She had been sick for a while and we had plenty of time to say our goodbyes, so it wasn’t necessary to have an open casket ceremony.”
Fells said only 25 percent of funeral consumers are price-driven, the other 75 percent are value-driven.
Even with the money people save by going the cremation route, he said it’s usually spent on other expenses.
“People will buy the nice urns, lots of flowers, a fancy obituary and other things that the extra money will take up,” Fells said. “People don’t want to waste money, but some things in a funeral just have value to people and money isn’t an option.”
Curl knows how important it is for families to save money during tough economic times, but he also knows how important it is for them to be able to pay their final respects to their loved ones. So he offers a cremation-plus package where families can have a traditional funeral with visitation and a full funeral service, followed by the cremation.
This option starts at $3,200, nearly $1,000 less than the minimum burial package.
“We know people want to say good-bye and see their loved ones for the last time, and we know they still want to save the money,” said Curl. “So with the cremation-plus package, everyone’s needs are met.”
A simple wooden casket is used for cremation-plus packages. The body is cremated immediately after the funeral service and the remains are given to the family.
What to do with the remains is another decision that has to be made. It’s also one that can elevate the price. Curl said a lot of people want to take the ashes with them, but not everyone goes that route.
“Some people want to bury the remains and for that they have to pay for the opening and closing of the grave,” he said. “Some people prefer to have their loved one’s remains placed in a mausoleum and that costs extra. And some people just want to keep them at their homes or spread them in different places.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.