The Conversation: How to Talk to the Bereaved

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By Aliza Moorji
Photos by Tatiana Sanchez and Amaris Castillo

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Schaefer provides a separate room for Muslim funerals.

The first thing that Pat Marmo asks the bereaved is to tell him about the deceased. Then he asks about the funeral.

Marmo is manager of Schaefer Funeral Home in Bay Ridge. He has been in the funeral business since 1991. He took a few minutes to take us through the singularly intimate conversation that takes place between strangers when someone dies – the conversation with those who have just suffered a loss, and someone whose job it is the guide them.

“The last thing the public wants to do,” he says, “is shop for a casket.”

And that’s why he works backwards. The conversation will lead to inquiring whether or not the family would like a burial or a cremation. If the decision is a cremation, Marmo asks about having a viewing along with a religious service. But if the family chooses burial, he asks if they have a family plot. If not, he arranges to purchase a grave, even before he raises the question of the casket.

Talking money is part of Marmo’s job. He gives the family an array of options and price ranges depending on their budget.

“I don’t care if they don’t have any money,” he said. “I figure something out for them. I’m not going to turn them away. Nobody walks out the door if they don’t have any money.”

Cremation, he explains, is more cost effective than a burial. Nearby crematories like Greenwood Cemetery can charge about $400, including a chapel service. But, burials in this cemetery are on the expensive side, costing between $15,000 to $20,000 for a grave and an opening. The opening itself will cost $1,675. Prices also depend on where the grave is located in the cemetery. Marmo also gives them the option of burying at Forest Green Memorial Park, located in New Jersey. The graves only have small, flat plaques with an epitaph.

If there is to be a viewing, Marmo encourages embalming, a process, he says, that is more sanitary.

Finally, the conversation turns to the casket. In difficult economic times, Marmo says, the growing trend is to rent a casket to “shave off money.”

A rental casket has a corrugated or cardboard insert, with a lid and a sanitary mattress. The box is pulled out of the casket at the time of burial or cremation. The cost is $550 – as opposed to buying a casket for $3,500.

“Some families believe in ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” Marmo said. “Some families are raised to believe to have a concrete box because they don’t want the casket touching the soil. They look for metals that are more protective because their goal is to protect the body from the elements.”

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