Author Archives: Sydney Robin Archer

Prepaid Funerals?

As I was driving through Georgia scanning radio stations, I heard Clark Howard’s characteristic voice come belting through my speakers. I almost let the radio keep scanning, but I heard the word funeral. As morbid as that is, this class has attuned me to news of anything pertaining to death. Clark Howard received a call from a woman in her late fifties. She wanted his advice on prepaying for a funeral. Prepaid visa gift cards are normal, prepaid cell phones have had their time, but prepaid funerals? It sounded like a good idea to me. People pre plan funerals so why not pay for them ahead of time as well? If you have the means, you plan on leaving your children with enough money to cover your funeral expenses, so why not pick everything out ahead of time, pay for it, and save everyone the hassle? Three reasons:

1. Mobility

As Americans are living longer and traveling is becoming more accessible, families often scatter across the country and sometimes the globe. People typically start prepaying for funerals around the age of 50, but it is becoming increasingly more likely that the place you live now may not be the place you end up at the end of life. Many prepaid funerals will not transfer your funds to another funeral home, nor will they give you a complete refund.

2. Changes in End-of-Life Wishes

Between prepaying for a funeral and the actual time of death, a person’s end of life wishes may change. For example, more and more people are opting for cremations. However, if you prepaid for a funeral and chose to change your plans, the money will most likely not be refunded.

3. The Shady Funeral Director

With prepaid funeral plans there are no guarantees to protect your money from being stolen. Some funeral directors can take advantage of customers.

Many people opt for a Pay on Death Savings account instead of a prepaid funeral. A Pay on Death savings account is an account that will be cashed out to a beneficiary at the time of death. In the end, the pros and cons are yours to weigh, just as your funeral arrangements are yours to make.


The Ways We Grieve

My research topic for our final paper is how people express grief and undergo the mourning process on Facebook. While I have been thinking about this subject it has heightened my awareness to how humans in general cope with grief and the idea of dying. We have cultural, social, political, and emotional (and many other) ways of approaching death. There are different ways we talk about death before it happens and different ways we talk about death after it happens. We plan and prepare then we grieve and memorialize. One incident has come on my radar recently that I would like to discuss in the context of the flexibility of ritualization.

Messages in a Bottle


On the anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Bounty, the survivors gathered to memorialize two friends who passed away. A year earlier, the HMS Bounty sailed into Hurricane Sandy. The old boat didn’t stand a chance. It was tossed and turned until it eventually sunk. The Captain and a rookie sailor passed away. Friends gathered to send messages to those they had lost. The rookie sailor, Claudene Christian, had promised Jessica Hewitt that they would send messages in a bottle during the passage. It seemed appropriate to all to send their love by a message in a bottle. They wrote apologies and missives and send their messages out to sea. They even weighted the bottles down with iron shackles because “it is the only way the message would get to them”.

We attach our grief to things to give it more meaning. The plain idea of writing a message to someone who has passed away and then making sure it sinks so it can reach them is utterly absurd, but put in a cultural and emotional context it provides a necessary level of closure for the survivors. The idea of a message in a bottle is fitting not only for how death entered their lives but also it had been established as a personal connection. The Captain’s body was never found so it is a comforting idea for the crew to send a message to their Captain’s final resting place.

While others would get together at a loved one’s favorite place or gather around a gravestone, these friends and family came to the ocean to pay their respects. In the context of these particular deaths the flexibility of ritual allows for mourners to experience grief in such an individualized way. The ocean provides a physical space for the mourners to express their grief in a way that feels tangible. This instance reveals the flexibility in the structure of grieving in America.

Seeing it Coming

CNN health highlights the tragic case of Karen and Jim Garner. Jim was diagnosed three years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 48. Now, after having to leave his job and move home, Jim struggles through the day fighting to complete everyday tasks. The father of two laments that he is only good for doing household chores. His wife Karen agrees. As horrible as that sounds the financial, emotional, and physical burden on caregivers is excessive, especially when the caregiver is a relative.

When Jim lost his job, Karen needed to return to work full time. Despite the security of a full time job, Karen earns less than half of what Jim did. She also has not started paying for caregiving for Jim. She is currently his full time caregiver as he retains enough cognitive ability to be left alone. However, his mental state will eventually deteriorate to the point that full time care, not covered by insurance, is a necessity.  Not only is there no subsidy for Jim’s future care, there is no way to replace the loss of his financial contribution. A patient in healthy condition otherwise could live decades after diagnosis. How can a family of four living on one salary provide full time care on top of daily expenses?

Caregiving is also extremely emotionally taxing. As each day progresses, so does the disease. For the caregiver, and in Karen’s situation, the spouse, it is horrific to watch the daily deterioration of your loved one. Karen laments that her children ages 9 and 12 will never know the great father Jim was. Jim is also increasingly distant with the children. While physically he is there, his wife and children may have already emotionally lost him. It is difficult for Karen face Jim’s impending deterioration and death, but the emotional burden has clipped her once optimistic attitude into one that would rather the family just got it over with quickly.

Once Jim deteriorates enough, he will require full time physical care. These burdens often fall on spouses and children who give care after the hired help has left. Here are some caregiver burden statistics:

This problem of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia will only get worse. With an increasing and aging population, these diseases are expected to affect 115 million people by 2050 and the costs for patients in the US alone will rise to $1.2 trillion. How can we care for our ailing population AND their caregivers? Are we in fact creating a new emotionally and financially ailing population of caregivers?