Going underground the DIY way

21:14, Aug 30 2014
Gail McJorrow
FUNERAL WHISPERER: Gail McJorrow wants to promote a DIY funeral revolution.

Wellington's Gail McJorrow awaits the day coffins will be sold in home improvement stores in New Zealand, just as they are in Walmart and Costco stores in the US.

McJorrow is a self-styled "funeral whisperer", doing her bit to promote a DIY funeral revolution.

She said New Zealanders are favouring an increasingly DIY approach to funerals, which can also be much easier on the wallet.

To aid people in preparing their own funeral - and managing the cost of it - McJorrow has created Bettersendoff.co.nz (BSO), which she hopes will provide a one-stop shop for people wanting ideas on how to personalise a funeral and still save money.

The website also helps people shop around and compare prices online for products and services.

It is the first website that allows consumers to compare funeral home prices for a "direct cremation" as the process of having a loved one picked up by funeral directors, cremated and returned as ashes is called. Relatives can then scatter the ashes at a celebration at a time that suits family and friends.


"The lowest price is $1795 and the highest $5000, a difference of almost $3000, so it pays to shop around," McJorrow said.

The site also links to direct coffin sales, something McJorrow says not all New Zealand coffin-makers dare do, for fear of being blackballed by the funeral industry.

"I feel it is only a matter of time before coffins and other funeral items become a mainstream stock item in retail stores over here," she said.

As well as fully burial-ready coffins, McJorrow is promoting flat-pack coffins, but she insists she is not against the funeral homes. Most people don't feel up to a full DIY funeral, she said.

But what is emerging is a model where the funeral home, or business, does 20 per cent of the work - taking the body, cremating it and returning it - and the family do the other 80 per cent.

This other 80 per cent involves organising the send-off, setting the venue, getting all the right people invited, getting whatever printing needs doing, and organising the food and drink.

Full DIY funerals are unlikely because few of us dare to think about death before it arrives, let alone work out how to have ourselves or a loved one buried.

"Most people will only have to organise one or two funerals in their lives, and unless they have done some research they will not have a clue what is involved, and will usually ring their nearest funeral home," McJorrow said.

"I'm just trying to de-institutionalise death and give the power back," she said.

There are no national costings for the average funeral, but figures of around $9000 or $10,000 are sometimes bandied about.

Around 70 per cent of New Zealanders now choose cremation, a trend in part driven by increases in cemetery costs.

Sunday Star Times