Last rites or last rights?

My nephew was getting married — everyone in our family was thrilled — we love his wife, love him and love that they found each other.

The wedding was in Texas — Mom and Dad live in Atlanta. Mom is extremely ill and cannot travel. Dad had just gotten out of the hospital and he could not travel. Our big fear — what if one died the weekend of the wedding?

My brother and I called several funeral homes to discuss options. We also consulted friends and my brother’s priest. During the course of this journey we discovered that family owned, multi-generational funeral homes tend to be more gentle and understanding. They listen to what you want and explain what you need. There are several here in Miami — the oldest is Van Orsdel which took care of Eddie Rickenbacher and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

Most of us hate the idea of “visiting the funeral home.” The idea of death and its finality brings discomfort. In this particular case Mom and Dad are both alive and we were there for selfish reasons — not wanting a wedding interrupted by death. Yet, as I write this, it was the smartest decision we ever made (more on that later).

There is nothing inexpensive about the simplest of funerals. The entire “funeral experience” has changed. It used to be 30 percent of the deceased were cremated and 70 percent buried. Today, it’s the opposite, The average cremation costs in Miami are $2,000. Then you need an ash container (beginning at $100.). Caskets range from $3.000 up and add to that the burial plot, the actual burial and the memorial service. Bare bones funeral cost is about $6,000. And then there is the celebration of life, shiva, wake — which, arguably is the most important part of this process.

The first decision is the manner of “the goodbye” — cremation or a burial? This brings me to insurance policies for burials. There are policies that cost from $50 to $100 a month which will pay out enough to cover the cost of the funeral and burial. It’s all a question of how much you want to pay. I know many of us on Key Biscayne think we have the money to bury a loved one but do you really have $7,000 to $15,000 sitting around for a burial?

Once that decision is made, it is time for the legalities. Each state is different but all require notarized signatures. An example — although I am my Mother’s Power of Attorney (POA) for everything — my father had to sign the document allowing her cremation. However, Dad is not the person who signs for his own cremation — that was my brother and me as mother is non compos mentis (not of right mind).

Lastly, the choice of the receptacle or casket — another big financial hit — or not, depending on what you choose. Today, many funeral homes offer rental caskets (a variety of pricing) for the memorial/viewing or church service of the family member who will be cremated. A new trend is “cremation viewing” — in other words you can watch your loved one enter the cremator.

My brother and I went through this entire experience together. My advice — do not do this alone — no matter how lovely the people at the home there is an emotional toll. Having another person with you is calming.

We now have everything in place so when “it” happens we will not be making decisions with heavy hearts or guilty minds. And, the icing on the cake — my Father asked me what arrangements we had made for his death. I told him that he and Mom will be cremated and after both have died (and I used that word) we were flying their ashes to Fort Worth, TX (Dad’s a Texas boy). There we will do a memorial service at their church and a party at Riviera Country Club. Dad loved the idea! Rites and rights — done!

Frances Reaves, Esq., a graduate of the University of Miami Law School, spent 10 years as a litigator/lobbyist. Today, she Is an accomplished business woman who, when her parents could no longer take care of themselves, learned the ins and outs of senior care (or the lack thereof). She founded Parent Your Parents to assist seniors and their children through the myriad pitfalls and options of “senior care” in the 21st Century. If you have any questions or comments contact Frances at

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