Cheryl Grossman and her husband used to laugh together about all the "rigmarole" that most funeral services involved. So when he died suddenly in October 1997, Cheryl knew that he would want the arrangements to be simple. Grossman, with a friend to support her, went to a funeral home to arrange a direct cremation. The funeral director kept "upselling"—pressing her to consider more expensive alternatives.
"Had I not had a friend who went with me, and had I not had a firm resolve, I probably would have signed anything," she says. "To be manipulated in that way at that time was one of the most obscene things I’d ever experienced."
Cheryl Grossman’s funeral home encounter is a common one. Not so common is how she took her experience to church—and how her church embraced it. Cheryl’s Catholic parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Austin, Texas, has offered a diverse array of practical and pastoral supports to the grieving for some time. Last year Grossman and two other parishioners helped create a death and funeral resource booklet that gathers information on all applicable parish ministries and other area resources in a convenient portable form. It includes specific information on affordable funeral options, planning sheets, and step-by-step advice for those dealing with a death in the family (see "Reclaiming Our Rites," p. 33).
Such a booklet is a simple, straightforward thing, but not every church would know how to welcome it. Most American Christians, including clergy, are almost as comfortable talking about the practical, concrete details of funerals as they are talking about the practical, concrete details of sex. In other words, the topic doesn’t come up much. And unlike sex, funeral planning isn’t a hot topic outside of church either.