After five generations, you might think they had “seen it all.” But Chris and Peggy Porter still find families can come up with new twists when it comes to funeral services.
Great-great Grandfather Bryan Porter founded Porter’s Funeral Service in a three-story building on Main Street in 1869. In 1984, Christopher H. Porter represented the fifth generation and the family business is now in Kensington at 111 Chamberlain Highway. Together with his wife, Peggy, they have seen a lot of changes over the years.
“Peggy and I both consider this more of a ministry than a business,” said Chris Porter. “Highly regulated, but it’s a ministry.”
Peggy Porter explained, “Traditions [hardly] exist anymore. Everybody orchestrates their own funeral – just like a wedding. There are certain things that you follow, but it used to be that we could expect calling hours of 2-4, 7-9; you know, the old way with the service in the morning. But now people want to encapsulate it because it isn’t the same spirituality among many young people as there was in the 50’s anymore. While they don’t go to a church in many cases, yet they are spiritual. They just don’t join an organized religion. If they know that their deceased family member wanted to go to a church, then they will do it. But as you have seen in the newspapers of late, many congregations are blending, there’s not as much church attendance in some communities, and the old ethnic habits are watering down. There’s no longer the traditional ‘Irish funeral’ or ‘Italian funeral’. It’s just not the same ways.”
Peggy continued, “We’ve had motorcycles in our chapel. We even had a truck, because people wanted to bring in what the person did in life. There’s more of a celebratory aspect to funerals now.”
Examples include having the deceased dressed in a golf shit rather than a suit and tie or requesting callers to wear bright clothing instead of somber black. Asked if they saw this as possibly a healthier way to deal with the loss, Peggy replied, “It can put a more human aspect to the event.”
Chris Porter saw the changes from a regional perspective. “People have constantly commented that they only get together for weddings and funerals. And weddings started changing back in the 60’s and got very creative. Funerals have also started to get more creative as the years go on. New England, being as conservative as it is, is probably behind what you might see in Oklahoma or out in the west somewhere.”
Peggy gave examples of this. “Out in California, they are even utilizing old bank buildings with drive in windows. They put the caskets in that window and you can drive through during calling hours and a chute comes out for a card. Vans are getting to be used as hearses in this state. You don’t see hearses going to a house or hospital very often now. It’s just not cost effective and it is also intrusive when a hearse pulls up in a neighborhood.”
Asked about the costs involved at a time when families are fragile, Peggy explained, “We’re also seeing more and more young people [under 65] die. It’s frightening and you certainly don’t want a family that has 3 or 4 children spending ten to twelve thousand dollars on a funeral when they need money for college and so on. Many times they are doing things based on guilt. We try to talk them out of it.”
One of the biggest problems they see currently is assumptions many families have with cremation. Cremation is just a form of final disposition and has nothing to do with the funeral. You still may have calling hours, a church, embalming, makeup and the casket.
The trade commission states that funeral directors cannot even start talking to a family member about a funeral until they show them a price list. There are three parts to costs: the staff involved, the merchandise (casket and such), and the “cash advances” that go to pay for clergy, cemeteries or any other organizations involved. The cost of putting obituaries in the regional papers is often shocking to people as it alone can easily run many hundreds of dollars. Approximately half of funeral homes require 50 percent of the expected costs to be deposited up front. Porter’s policy is that the billing is due 30 days after the funeral.
Asked what they do when the family is simply overwhelmed, Chris replied, “I have actually had families say to me ‘I don’t want to make any more choices. I’m done!’ They are overwhelmed, yet the trade commission requires that funeral directors have to say certain things anyway. It’s a difficult process. Each case is different.”
Even with the best circumstances, arranging a funeral can be overwhelming. So much is happening so fast, so many decisions have to be made that people are often afraid to slow down or relinquish what few remnants of control they think they still have over the events. This is where the Porter’s concept of ministry plays in. They strive to treat each situation as if they are part of their own family.
As Chris Porter put it, “To me, there is no bigger compliment than when people come to me and they are under so much stress and strain, they come and lay their lives out and put their trust in me.”