In the course of working on this week's story about Katrina Spade and her Urban Death Project—which proposes a third way between burial and cremation: composting—I talked to several funeral directors who said their industry is bizarre in its wild price differences.
As Nora Menkin, director of the People's Memorial funerary co-op explained in the article, many funeral homes have been able to act with pricing impunity because the living have an aversion to talking about death. "They're businesses," she says. "They make money off people not asking questions. They exist outside the normal rules of supply and demand. They tell people what to pay, and then they pay it."
To prove it, the People's Memorial has just released its 2014 survey of funerary prices in Washington—and they're all over the place, with cremation costs varying by 700 percent and burial prices varying over 400 percent.
The difference between the two is striking as well—you'd think cremation, a simpler operation with fewer variables, would have more consistent pricing.
From the report:
The average cost for direct cremation in the state is $1,173 and ranges from $490 to $3,390
The average price of direct burial is $2,195, with prices ranging from $895 to $4,090.
A complete funeral service with embalming, viewing, services and basic casket averages $3,785, as low as $1,900 and as high as $8,465.
"The study," it concludes, "reinforces the importance of consumers shopping around and planning ahead."
Think it's too early to plan ahead? Tell that to Chanel Reynolds, a mother of two whose husband José was hit by a car and killed while riding his bike in 2009. Her own experience with unpreparedness led her to found Get Your Shit Together, a site that helps people sort out the things it's good to do before they die—the practical version of a bucket list.
And if you live in Seattle, you're in luck. With people like Chanel and Nora and Katrina, you're living in one of the most vibrant and innovative funerary scenes in the country.