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Canada: Only Good for the Living

Pertti T. Räty

canada is a wonderful country for living, but perhaps not so good for dying - unless you take measures to keep vultures at bay upon your demise.

Decades ago, a hitchhiker who had been working for a funeral home up north gave me some inside information on how these birds of prey operate. The pickings had been pretty slim at his isolated, poverty stricken location. They had been able to salvage only an odd pair of winter boots from unclaimed Native Canadians and sometimes bury two of them in one box while charging the welfare department for two.

Today's looting is more sophisticated - and much more lucrative. Funeral industry has gradually elevated funerals to the present level of excessive extravaganza by taking advantage of survivor guilt and remorse. Those shopping for funerals are made to feel that they are obliged to give a "fitting tribute" to the departed and that they are shortchanging their loved one if they don't buy the inflated funeral package - which has, unfortunately, become a norm.

As we know, this "fitting tribute" package includes the non-necessities like draining out your blood and pumping in a rot inhibitor - often referred to as embalming, the bulging of your cheeks by stuffing your mouth full of cotton and dressing you in a shirt and a suit (without pants) which are slit open at the back to get around your rigor mortis. The package also includes cosmetology, a gaudy casket, the use of a visitation room bursting with fake solemnity and an accompaniment by a pair of paid-to-look-morose attendants on your hearse ride to the graveyard.

The wholesale prices of caskets have been kept a "top secret" for decades but my research for this article shows that funeral homes typically charge from $1555.00 to $3900.00 for caskets for which they have paid only $388.00. This represents a mark up of 300% to 900%! And according to the Board of Funeral Services, the average funeral cost in Canada today is $5000.00. This is outrageous!

The reason why mortuaries and coffin mongers have been able to ratchet their prices up to usurious levels is that those who have died before us have failed to keep them in check. If you don't stipulate what is good enough for you by means of your Last Will and Testament, your loved ones in their compulsion not to shortchange you become helpless suckers of the unscrupulous mortuary business. To do my will, I borrowed a book Wills for Ontario (ISBN 1-55180-249-X) from the public library - I like dealing with lawyers just as much as I do with morticians. With the help of the book, you can easily write your own will. And in case of any ambiguities slip in, a learned, impartial probate judge will be glad to sort them out.

To bypass the nauseatingly rapacious funeral racket, I have instructed in my will that my two strapping sons personally place my dead body into a coffin - which I will have made myself - and bury me according to my instructions. Thus the fruit of my own loin will protect me from the black-suited funereal vultures. Ontario laws allow the burial of one's own family member without any involvement by morticians.

It is only natural to delay the morbid job of writing one's will but I'd recommend it at least to anyone older than fifty. In addition to making the life easier for your loved ones, it may give you a healthy impetus to rearrange your priorities. For example, you may decide not to bust your butt unnecessarily by building as lavish a retirement home for your truncated life expectancy as you may have dreamed of before.

While working on my will, I found great solace by playing Handel's Messiah where they sing, among other comforting verses: "... And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God ...". - In fact, I stipulated in my will that it be played at an opportune moment after I have shuffled off this mortal coil.

Pertti T. Räty is a professional engineer living in Toronto.

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