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  • Liz Dunnebacke

Final Expenses: Adding Insult to Injury

Kendra (right) and Lisa Richardson meet to discuss the funeral home pricing they've researched for Kim Richardson's burial.

Kendra Richardson was already juggling a lot when she lost her mother the week before Thanksgiving. Kim Richardson, 55, had been living with her daughter and four grandchildren in the Columbia Parc residential community. She was a pillar of the family and played a central role in the care of the grandchildren, while Kendra received regular dialysis treatment. No one in the family was prepared for the devastating blow when Kendra found her mother collapsed in the bathroom in the early morning hours of November 20th. She was so distraught her teenage daughter, Kaliyah, had to call 911 for her, and they waited in vain as the EMT’s tried to revive Ms. Richardson. "I was laying next to her, hugging and kissing her and begging her to come back." Kim Richardson was pronounced dead and taken by the Coroner's Office.

When she had regained some composure, Kendra called her grandmother, Kim’s mother, who lives nearby, along with Kim’s sister, Lisa, to give them the news. Lisa immediately pitched in to help her niece with the many logistics which follow a death. Once Kim’s body was taken away, they began to call around to funeral homes to make arrangements. They explained that there was no money set aside for final expenses, and the funeral homes, who are accustomed to this type of call, offered the most basic of services: direct cremation, at a discount. However, even if Kendra chooses direct cremation, skipping visitation, memorial, and a cemetery burial, she would be looking at a minimum of $2,000 in expense, more than she happens to have.

Like most Americans, Kendra and Lisa were wholly unprepared for the loss of their loved one. In addition to the myriad details to be seen to at the time of death - phone contracts to be cancelled, utility bills to be transferred, etc. - funeral arrangements and expenses can be complicated and prohibitively expensive. The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that fewer than 20% of Americans plan and pre-pay their funeral expenses. And so it falls to family members like Kendra and Lisa, still reeling from grief, and already overwhelmed by logistics, to somehow quickly produce thousands of dollars to have their loved one’s body laid to rest.

Like many have done before, at their time of need, the Richardsons were able to turn to their community to help them raise money for a burial. Kaliyah immediately went to work putting together a GoFundMe site to raise funds for her Grandmother’s funeral expenses and the family has raised $1,025 to date, from friends and extended family. Crowdfunding final expenses has a long and storied history in the United States and in other countries as well. In New Orleans, the many Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs still provide this service for their members, and many of them are direct descendants of the benevolent societies of the 19th century, which were formed to provide exactly this kind of support to the African American community.

Kim Richardson is still with the New Orleans Coroner’s office, awaiting her final disposition. The family is working hard to raise the funds to make arrangements with a funeral home, before the 30 day mark, when the Coroner’s office would take possession of the remains for a “pauper’s burial” with no family involvement. Time is running out for the Richardson family to raise the remaining money they need to bury their loved one.

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