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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

When death takes a holiday

When my father made out his will, he requested to be cremated. My brother and I asked what he’d like us to do with the ashes. Dad said he couldn’t care less. When we pressed him, he replied, “That’ll be your problem, not mine. You can toss me down the incinerator if you like. I’ve got enough problems. I’m dead!”

My dad was ahead of his time.

From coast to coast, and particularly in New York City, funeral homes are shutting their doors in record numbers. According to Crain’s New York Business, there’s been a 44 percent decline in the number of funeral homes in the metropolitan area since 1990.

How did this happen? Aren’t death and taxes inevitable? Yes, but people are living longer, and, like my dad, often don’t want to be buried or even have a traditional funeral.

The cost of the average funeral is about $8,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Cremation costs less than half, about $4,000. In 1999, the cremation rate was about 25 percent. By 2014, that percentage was up to 47 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

Another factor driving funeral homes into the ground is gentrification, which has shot NYC real estate prices through the roof. It’s hard for funeral home directors steadily losing business to refuse multimillion-dollar offers for their property — particularly when their kids are not keen on taking over the family business.

Meanwhile, medical advances have led to people living longer. Life expectancy in NYC is 81 years. Good for us, bad for business. “Thank God for medical technology,” Joe Aievoli, who owns four funeral homes in Brooklyn, told Crain’s. “But let’s just say it’s not exactly funeral-home friendly.”

With religion on the wane and families on the move, it’s harder to get relatives together for a big, elaborate funeral. Many are choosing more personalized ways to celebrate the lives of their loved ones.

When my father, who loved going to Brighton Beach, passed away a while back, we took another look at the will. In the corner, in longhand, was written, “to ease the anxieties of my sons, throw me in the ocean.”

So we did. Rest in peace, Dad.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at


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