The Latest Trends in Death and Dying

June 30, 2011
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Experts have been predicting a “death boom” – a direct result of the 1950s baby boom – for several years. Now that people are living longer, this boom has yet to happen. But it’s only a matter of time, and when it does, the funeral industry is ready and waiting, including author and funeral director Robert Webster.

Webster has been a funeral director for more than 30 years. He’s seen and heard it all. He’s seen genitalia tattooed with the striped pattern of a barbershop pole and buried a man in his beloved pick-up truck. He’s seen so many strange things that Webster told The Current host Anna-Maria Tremonti that “nothing surprises me any more.”

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These amusing anecdotes make up the bulk of Webster’s new book, Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?: Field Notes from a Funeral Director. But it’s also a thoughtful meditation on how the funeral business has changed over the years.

Funerals used to be multi-day affairs. Nowadays they’re often not even an hour long. Webster says this change isn’t due to families becoming less sentimental. Rather, it’s becoming more difficult to pay for multi-day affairs and more difficult to get time off work to attend funerals.

Another economic-based trend Webster sees is the rise in cremation. Three decades ago, he explained, “it used to be that those who chose cremation were the higher educated and the wealthy.” But now everyone on a tight budget is looking at cremation as a viable alternative.

However, if you’re still into getting a casket and being buried in a cemetery, you have nothing to worry about. In fact, your options for your casket are greater than ever in price, colour, style and size. The rising rate of obesity has resulted in a new market and casket-makers have rushed to meet the demand. “”When I first started in the funeral business, an oversized casket was a rarity,” Webster said. “Now, there’s so many big people that the casket companies have started a separate line called ‘Dimensions.'”

Despite all these changes and the financial ups and downs, Webster is confident that the funeral business will be booming for years to come. He is a businessman, but he also believes in the service he’s providing for families. He regards a funeral as an opportunity for the bereaved to come together and grieve, and to celebrate a life lived. Webster remembers seeing the thoughtfulness and patience a funeral company put into caring for his mother when she passed away. Her body was ravaged from fighting cancer for several years, but none of that was evident when her family buried her.

“She looked beautiful and it made me feel a lot better,” Webster said. “I don’t think I’m alone in that thought.”

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