Thinking twice about the cost of a burial

By Argyro Nicolaou
Published on July 11, 2010
The Cyprus Mail

THE RECESSION has made people think twice about how much they are prepared to spend on a loved-one’s burial, funeral home directors have said.

A funeral can range in cost from 700 euro to 5000 euro, depending on the funeral home and types of services, with prices of coffins ranging from 150 euro to a startling 2,500 euro.

“Most people have always gone for the intermediate prices,” says Lenia Philippidou of the Ayios Petros funeral home. The difference now is that people are more likely to select the cheaper options from the mid-price range.

“It used to be that people would spend around 850 euro on a coffin, whereas now the majority opts for those that cost around 450 euro,” said Philippidou.

“I have been in this industry for 17 years, and where people used not to mind about the cost of, let’s say, their father’s funeral, they are now much more careful,” said Michalis Kyriakou, owner of Paradise Social Services, a funeral home based in Paphos. “The crisis has created problems in our area of business just as it has in everything else.”

Over the years, services provided by funeral homes have increased to include the tasks traditionally carried out by the deceased’s family, such as flower arrangements, the organisation of memorial services and the placing of newspaper announcements. The recession has not, as yet, meant that families trying to save money have returned to the days of organising much of the funeral themselves.

“Thirty years ago people used to organise funerals on their own,” says Andri Christofidou at the Archangel Funeral Services office in Limassol. “Nowadays we provide all kinds of services: taking care of the dead, transporting the body, organising wakes.”

Funeral homes even provide the koliva (a traditional wheat dish) for memorial services, a custom traditionally undertaken by family members of the deceased. “People are more indifferent now. They don’t want to know about the specific procedures,” said Philippidou.

According to Philippidou, however, prices have approximately only doubled in the 30-year period during which the funeral home has been active. “All other prices have gone up so much – our services have not experienced the same kind of price rise,” she said.

Some funeral homes choose to tackle the financial consequences of the crisis by providing funeral packages at set prices. A price is agreed upon for the whole procedure, which can include three to five services of the client’s choice.

Basic services include the transport, dressing and casketing of the dead. Other services provided include flower arrangements, embalming and transporting bodies to other countries.

“Packages are cheaper,” said Nana Kochisthvilli, an employee at Paradise Social Services. “People are not charged for the services individually and this benefits them. When clients opt for a package, for example, price differences between various types of coffins are reduced.”

The cost of dying does not end at the funeral home, however. Purchasing burial space is another costly matter.

According to Andreas Karagiorgis, Cemetery Affairs Officer of the Nicosia Municipality, there exist four categories of graves, ranging from Category D graves which are free and Category A graves which cost 1,708 euros.

For people intending to have a lavish funeral service, complete with a rosewood coffin (2,500 euros) and a grave in a prime location (Category A – 1,708 euros), there is no maximum cost. Add to the mix a marble monument (700 to 1,500 euros), and the price you pay for dying can shoot up to 9,000 euros.

The price range is vast and gives clients various options. Taking the cheapest funeral package, at 600-700 euro, and adding the cost of the cheapest grave at 598 euro, no option can cost less than 1,300 euro.

The government provides a funeral grant for some but as this does not exceed 720 euro, it does not cover the costs of even the simplest funeral.

Though they might never be out of business due to the nature of their jobs, funeral homes are also faced with other problems besides the financial crisis.

“There is a need for a legislation that will define what being a professional funeral director or mortician is,” says Kyriakou. “Nowadays, many undertakers or priests that are unqualified in the field carry out funerals at lower prices, but what sort of quality do these people offer to the public? We are professionals, well-trained to do our job that demands sensitivity and caring for our clients, and our business suffers from the existence of these impostors.”