The Hmong 18 Council of Minnesota will be hosting an event to get feedback from the Hmong community on June 3, 2017 at Community School of Excellence in St. Paul, MN. For more information, visit hmong18councilmn.org/wp/.
The conference is to discuss the Hmong funeral traditions and costs. Hmong funeral can cost between $15K to as much as $80K. Some of the funeral cost is based on family preferences to show their family status and some are based on the person's will. Base on these expectations, it can be a burden on the living family members.
Are Hmong funerals really that expensive? If you look at the funeral expenses, it looks scary and could be difficult to pay. However, at the funeral, many funeral visitors will donate money that eventually either meets or exceeds the cost of the funeral expenses. If you take the difference between the funeral expenses and funeral donations, the net cost of the funeral is about $5K to $10K. The donation is dependent on how well the deceased is known in the Hmong community and how many visitors attend the funeral. The average cost of American funerals are between $7K to $10K. As Hmong tradition goes, if after the funeral and you are left with some money, it is the blessing of the deceased.
The hardship and expenses comes before the funeral days. Hmong traditions, regardless of the traditional or church, have families and friends visits the deceased family until the day of the funeral. In Laos and Thailand, once the body of the deceased has been returned to the family, the funeral starts right away. Families and friends stays with the deceased's family every day for comfort and security as the body of the deceased is displayed in the family's house or somewhere on the property. This is a tradition that has been carried over to the US.
Families that have prepared ahead of time, such as buying life insurance or saving for funeral will handle the daily visit of families and friends better than those that are not prepared or have someone who die suddenly. When families and friends visits, the deceased family has to supply food, drinks and rental of other items to cover all the visitors. It is the pre-funeral expenses that can have a financial hardship for the family. During this waiting period for the funeral, it's not polite to turn away visitors. The longer the wait, the more costs the family has to endure until the funeral day.
Another issue is that there are limited number of funeral homes that can accommodate Hmong funerals. Most funeral homes have operating business hours and Hmong funeral tends to run 24 hours for 2 or 3 days. Hmong church funeral sometimes run for 24 hours and others will have open and close hours. During the funeral, there can be over hundreds of visitors going in and out. This would require a large parking spaces to accomendate all the funeral visitors. For example, at the Legacy funeral home in Maplewood, Minnesota. During peak hours on Saturday night, visitors are asked to park at a nearby school and the family members has to supply vehicles to shuttle visitors between the parking lot and funeral home. With a limited number of funeral homes, Hmong deceased can be kept at the morgue for weeks while waiting for a funeral home to be available. Along with the long wait, with the limited number of funeral homes, there is no market competition to drive prices down.
In order to cut the cost, Hmong traditions would need to be streamline in certain areas. Traditional Hmong funerals requires specific numbers of sacrificial animals to assist the deceased on their way to the afterlife. Cost of livestock has gone up in the past years that can easily run up the funeral cost. If the numbers of sacrificial animals and funeral days are reduced, it would help to minimize the cost. The question is, what can be streamlined in the funeral traditions and rituals? Can a set of standards be created for all funerals or is it up to the families to decide on how much they want to spend?