14 Things You Might Have Missed During “Death: It’s a Living”

February 3, 2013

Article By: Krystal Penrose, FuneralOne

Premiering on January 31st on CNBC, “Death: It’s a Living” brought all kinds of attention to the funeral profession… both good and bad.

If you didn’t get the chance to watch it… or even if you did, here are 14 things you might have missed:

1. A cartoon with a deeper meaning


The beginning of the show kicked off with this narration:

“Like the cartoon bird ,we never know when our day will come. So we laugh it off. But whether by TNT or simply old age, sooner or later we’re all going to be strumming that golden harp.”

This was an interesting introduction to a show about death. It reconfirms the idea that as a profession, we’ve contributed to the general public’s fear of death. As Lajos Szabo says, “talking in euphemisms as if the topic is too terrible to talk about directly. has been our profession’s attempt to “keep the pain away” from our families.


2. Creepy background music

Cue the morbid, slow, depressing music… and let’s learn everything we didn’t know about the funeral profession! What is it with people pinning us as creepy and morbid? We’re people, too!

3. I burry you!

This was just hilarious. Need I say anything else?

Death: Its A Living

4. Money hungry?

The subtle mentions of money throughout the show caught my attention, what about yours?

“Death:It’s a Living” asks the audience several times: “Is this industry more interested in mourning or money” and “Is the death care industry about life and loss… or supply and demand?”. Mathisen also didn’t keep any secrets when it came to the pricing for every death ritual shown at the funeral home specifically… often emphasizing how expensive each was.

But did he pin us as money hungry business men waiting for you to die? Not necessarily. Read my next point to hear me out…

Death:It's a Living

5. The perspective of a funeral director

“We’ve had to make a better case than ever to families that there’s value to the services we provide”
– John Moran, CEO of Moran & McConaty Funeral Home

NEVER, and I mean NEVER have I seen a true portrayal of a funeral director on TV. No one really takes the time to sit down with a funeral director and find out what’s on their mind and why they do what they do.

Through talking to the CEO of Horan & McConaty, funeral consumers learn that they have some creative options for their end of life, that a funeral doesn’t always have to be sad, and most importantly.. that there is value in this service we as a profession provide.


5. Public vs. private

The inevitable battle between the “big guys” and the “mom and pops” has always existed, but “Death: It’s a Living” showed an interesting perspective with 2 very different opinions.

Josh Slocum from Funeral Consumers Alliance, also known as the “critic” in the show, described corporations as worrying about their shareholders more than their families.

On the other side, NFDA Secretary, Bob Arrington, said that while the corporations do have shareholders to worry about, the level of service is unaffected. He continued to explain that families’ level of service depends on the individual funeral director working with the family.

Which opinion did you believe?

Death:It's a LivingDeath:It's a Living

6.The genius move of the Cremation Society of Illinois

The Cremation Society of Illinois took a visit to the Senior Lifestyle Expo during the show, bringing us along for the ride. The cremation booth – ironically placed between booths with shoes, exercise equipment and Wii games – is a genius idea.

Marketing specialist, Katie Sullivan, describes their presence at the expo as a great pitch when she says “They may not have to worry about it today, but eventually they have to.”

Which brings me to my next point…

Death: It's A Living

7. The free cremation raffle

Whether you think it’s tacky or smart, raffling off a free cremation with a bunch of old people was pretty humorous. My favorite part about it? Katie tells the person who wins that she won’t make her use it right away. Am I the only one who caught that, and laughed loudly?


8. The ambiance of Horan & McConaty Funeral Home

Even Tyler Mathisen admits that when he walks into the Moran & McConaty Funeral Home, he feels like he’s in the Hilton on a business trip. Horan & McConaty isn’t your average funeral parlor… in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Their funeral home is complete with a cremation garden, full-service catering, reception halls and even acrobatics. The only thing missing from Moran & McConaty to make it a REAL celebration of life is a bar, which ironically, the CEO has plans for in the near future.

The key takeaway? It’s all about the experience, not the the merchandise. We need to start thinking like event planners, not salesmen.

Death: It's a LivingDeath: It's a Living

9. Viewing the body: for grief or profits?

“Embalming is the cornerstone of our profession…It’s about a cultural and ethical code to emphasize a very profitable way of dealing with grieving families.” 
– Josh Scolum, Funeral Consumers Alliance

The funeral consumer is expected to make a decision in this key part of the show: is viewing their loved one REALLY good for them… or is it just a profit-driven ritual our profession has invented?

As funeral professionals, we see viewing the body as a form of grief therapy. In fact, we hear about people who experience difficulty during their grief everyday because they never got the closure from viewing their loved one.

But let’s think about it from the other side, with some help from critic Josh Slocum. He says that viewing the body is not only a key driver in the profession’s profits… it’s wrong. “I don’t agree. [grief] is individual… there’s no universal way to cope with grief,” said Slocum.

If you were the consumer… whose side would you choose?

10. Location, location, location!

Did anyone notice the way Maple Grove Cemetery’s employees were portrayed? At some points I wondered if I was watching a documentary on the funeral profession or the real-estate industry. Thankfully, though, they also gave the general public a glimpse of the importance Maple Grove places on community involvement, which leads me into my next point…


11. A multi-purpose cemetery

While Maple Grove Cemetery knows their days in business are numbered (30-40 years is their estimate), they’ve still tried to turn their cemetery into a place where the community can visit for any occasion. They host movie screenings, historical tours, and even Halloween parties.

Whether they make money from those events or not… there’s something to be said about the creative approach Maple Grove Cemetery is taking to remain profitable and relevant to today’s families.

Death:It's a Living

12. Morticians gone wild!

Some people were offended by the party-esque vibe of NFDA, but I was actually happy to see that. With all of the bad stereotypes we’re pinned with (including the ones in Death:It’s a Living), it was nice for the general public to be able to see another side of us… the fun side!

Death: It's a Living

13. funeralOne made the cut!

Some of the funeralOne team members got to be movie stars for about 2 minutes… it was fun! And let’s be honest, you can’t deny our CEO’s infectious passion to change what the world thinks of funerals, can ya?

joe joachim

14. “Dare to be different”

And, just in case you missed the conclusion of the special:

“There are 2.5 million deaths.. each one an occasion for grieving, a cause for constellation, but also an opportunity for a  business to grow, an innovation to be launched, and money to be made. Death… it’s a living.”

My final thoughts

I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity for the funeral profession than this show. Everything – good and bad – was brought out of the closet last night and I expect nothing but good to come out of it.

“Death: It’s a Living” has a lesson for everyone. Traditionalists learned to think outside-the-box. Consumers learned how valuable a celebration of life can be. Progressives learned a few new ideas to add to their “to-do” list.

And what did I learn? That as long as we can get people thinking about their end of life… well, that should be good enough for me.

What did you think about “Death: It’s a Living”? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Krystal_Penrose_LtBlueABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Krystal Penrose is the content marketer and funeralOne blog manager. As content marketer, her role is to research the changing needs of today’s families, and present them to funeral professionals through educational content. Krystal also engages with thought leaders in the industry to help create an  online community for funeral professionals across the country. funeralOne’s solutions include:website designaftercareeCommerce, and personalization software.



ConnectingDirectors.com is the leading online daily publication for funeral professionals with a reader base of over 45,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the profession. With ConnectingDirectors.com we have created a global community through an online platform allowing funeral professionals to Stay Current. Stay Informed and Stay Elite.

You may be interested

FTC Releases Results of Undercover Funeral Rule Investigation… 4 Regions Bombed
Funeral Industry News
Funeral Industry News

FTC Releases Results of Undercover Funeral Rule Investigation… 4 Regions Bombed

Justin Crowe - June 18, 2018

The FTC has released its report detailing the results of its undercover Funeral Rule investigation for 2017. Last year, the…

Funeral Industry News
Funeral Industry News


CDFuneralNews - June 18, 2018

It's a barn burner... The Commander is moving his Command Post!!! Besides the Commander on the move, the boys speak…

FrontRunner Professional Announces Expansion of Development Team
Frontrunner Professional
Frontrunner Professional

FrontRunner Professional Announces Expansion of Development Team

CDFuneralNews - June 18, 2018

Today FrontRunner Professional announced a significant expansion to their programming and development team with the addition of Greg Daye and…