The economic uncertainty of the last 18 months is causing mourning families to significantly cut costs when burying loved ones.
Sources within the local funeral arrangement business have revealed that many are reverting to the ‘paupers’ burials’ instead of spending tens of thousands on flashy imported caskets, elaborate services and other expensive trappings usually associated with the services of thanksgiving.
President of the Barbados Association of Funeral Directors, Ian Griffith explained that many are making the difficult decision to purchase low-end ‘face hole’ coffins. The mid-range ‘flat top’ caskets of the 1960s and 70s are also making a strong comeback, he said.
“You know that Barbados is a society where we are very proud people and sometimes society puts pressure on families and it has been difficult,” Griffith, who is Managing Director of Earl’s Funeral Home told Barbados TODAY.
“Before, people wouldn’t opt for a face hole coffin because some family members or friends would pressure the families and say ‘can’t you do better than that? You can’t put mummy in that thing’. They don’t want a coffin because a coffin was seen to be what you would call a pauper’s burial.
“So in some ways, people have been a little bit strained to make those decisions, but some people are actually very understanding of the situation, would look at it from a realistic point of view and make the choice to say ‘this is the financial position that we’re in’ and they’re quite fine with it. More and more, people are understanding the position that we are in as a whole,” the funeral director added.
The ‘face hole’ coffins, which were extremely common decades ago are particularly useful at private viewings for persons who died while infected with COVID-19, as their funerary box must be sealed according to the existing protocols. And in many cases, the more expensive caskets are only being bought to honour specific instructions from the deceased before they passed.
Restrictions on the numbers allowed at services have meant that families are able to cut costs on the printing of hymn sheets, posting obituary notices and booking churches. But for those opting to stream the services of loved ones for the benefit of absent family and friends, the cutbacks have done little to offset the cost.
He explained that ever since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, clients, particularly those in the hospitality sector have been citing job losses as a major hindrance to spending as they once would on the funerals of their loved ones.
“Persons having the number of working days cut and in some cases not having work and only depending on National Insurance payments, of course, that is going to affect their finances. So if the unfortunate situation comes they have to rethink how much money they are going to be spending on a funeral,” said Griffith.
On the flip side, local casket builders are benefiting from the shift away from imported caskets as well as increasing challenges with international shipping.
“This has been on the increase, so that if you can’t get the overseas caskets you can get a little upgrade to the flat top where it can be spray painted in any colour that you would want. So most funeral homes in Barbados are offering those varieties in caskets right now,” Griffith explained.
As for the funeral directors, the financial impact of the pandemic is said to be quite similar to other businesses with increasing costs for sanitising products and Covid-19 protective equipment, among others.
“There is a cost to those measures, but I don’t think any funeral home in Barbados would have been passing that cost on to families, because again, it is not something that we are in control of but it is something that we think we must do to help control the spread of COVID-19,” the association president concluded.