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The Problem is Not Cremation…

Article By: Alan Creedy, FuneralHomeConsulting.org

...The problem is cowardice!!

There, it's been said. Plain and simple:  We have been unwilling to stand up for what we believe and now we are not sure we believe it any more. After all how long can you get beat up and still try to stand?  So, instead of taking a stand we assume the "Bunny Rabbit" Position: we blame them.  Society is going downhill.  It's not our fault.  If they just understood... We are victims of society's decline.  And there it is... in a nutshell...we have come to see ourselves as victims.

Why do funeral professionals spend so much time fighting among themselves and never fighting for themselves? Why is so much time spent on fence building only to find ourselves fenced out instead of in? Why is so much emotional energy spent on not-losing-a-call and nonespent on getting 5 more calls? Why so much antipathy among funeral directors and cemeterians? Why, so much anger toward the public "who doesn't understand us" and no attempt to stand up for ourselves?  Why obsess about the handful of families who don't appreciate us like we would like while we ignore the dozens of families who sincerely appreciate how we have helped them?  We have become "approval junkies!"

Everywhere I go I find funeral directors burned out, frustrated and in emotional pain.  But I don't find many who are willing to take responsibility and take a stand.  We are confused and belittled by the growing rejection we feel when people "opt out".  But, I have come to believe that we are only telling stories to ourselves that we have never verified.  Stories that help us explain what is happening to us.  Stories that position us as victims and explain away our responsibility to fight for ourselves.  These made-up stories, unfortunately, are self destructive and, worse yet, self fulfilling.   We wonder why society seems to be rejecting, more and more, what we believe in and what we do for a living. Yet, who are we allowing to tell our story?  We are so addicted to our "Mr. Nice Guy" image and so afraid of offending just one person that we allow people like Jessica Mitford and Lisa Carlson and a plethora of ill informed journalists to tell our story for us.  In fact, I have come to believe we no longer know what our story is.   Adding insult to injury, our behavior suggests that we agree with the stories our enemies (YES, they are enemies) are promoting and we must, in fact, be the type of people they say we are.

For more than thirty years funeral directors have told me that they are uncomfortable telling strangers what they do for a living so they "euphamize" their responses to hide their vocation.  "it gets awkward,"they say.  Or, "people don't like to talk about it."  I have come to believe it is they who are awkward about it.  I am personally proud to be associated with this profession.  I believe we make a real contribution to society.  So, when people ask me what I do I don't tell them I am a CPA or I am a Funeral Home Consultant.  I tell them I am in the funeral industry.  In all these years that disclosure has never once resulted in awkwardness or discomfort. Many of my local friends have no idea what my true background is.  They assume I am a funeral director.  You know what?  That's OK with me.  In fact, in almost every instance the individual who asks me what I do engages conversationally with questions or stories and frequently those close by get involved.  My conclusion: PEOPLE HAVE QUESTIONS, THEY WANT TO KNOW MORE.

In the Christian World there is something called "Apologetics".  I have often thought that an unfortunate word.  It connotes that we are apologizing for the faith.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A Christian Apologist is someone who DEFENDS THE FAITH.  They stand strong and they stand up.  If you want a debate they will take you on.  Where are the Funeral Apologists?

Many years ago I was exposed to a statement that literally changed my life:

"You are where you are...because that is where you want to be!"

What that means to me is that we, alone, are responsible for impacting our lives.  No one can afford to be a victim.  Yes, I recognize there is comfort in a victim mentality.  But there sure isn't any hope in it.  If you look closely at our critics you will find they are either opportunists or they are bullies and frequently both.   You can tell this because the support they offer for their opinions (and they are rarely more than opinions) is too often anecdotal.  More important, they almost exclusively focus on attacking character.  It is well known among debating circles that when an opponent attacks your character it means they have no substantive support for their position.

The average sale in our profession has been in steady decline in terms of real dollars since 1997.  Today's profit margins are literally half what they were 30 years ago and if we calculated profits over time in terms of "real" dollars it would be fractional.  WAKE UP! If you think people will like you because you are their doormat (which they don't) they will like you a whole lot less when you are a public failure.  Your livelihood is in jeopardy.  Your wife and your family's livelihood is in jeopardy.  What do you want?  Platitudes? Website pictures of your overbuilt facility?  A new hearse?  The false comfort of a victim mentality?  Or.... would you rather see the sales curve stop going down and start going up?

Call to Action: Let's stop fighting among ourselves and start fighting for ourselves.

Next Week: Some steps that will take us there.  I become a Funeral Apologist

Alan Creedy

In addition to the weekly Creedy Commentary, I frequently contribute to industry trade journals and speak at trade conventions.Among my affiliations outside the DeathCare industry are The Center For Creative Leadership, The Performance Institute and Human Synergistics.
I believe in giving back and so was recently honored to serve as Chairman of the Funeral Service Foundation.

  • Mike

    In the words of the greatest Motown Rocker of the past century, Mr. Bob Seger….”Hell, I’ve known that for ten years!”
    Kudos to Mr. Creedy he has hit the nail on the head. 

  • Lindas

    Preach it brother! I could not agree with you more, Alan!

  • Jcanine

    Alan is right on…wish more people would listen to him…actually, I think some of the younger funeral directors are listening and—trying to change things…every funeral director should be the death care expert in his/her community…Dr. Canine

  • Loweringdevice

    I’ve been around this business for 60 years now and believe me 60 years ago these funeral homes were great profitable operations if one could handle the confinement and the occasional maggots. Back then no talked much about funeral service and after the first call was achieved we could scam a few more bucks out of the bereaved with the sealed casket hoax.

    I believe the more people learn about the dead body business the less they desire a traditional service. Just take a quick check of the rapid increase in cremation with scattering. Pay little attention to this guy. My advice is lay low and keep your mouth shut!

    • Scott McLaren

      You want to know what is really wrong with the funeral industry? Just read the above post from loweringdevice. 

      Some guys should just fold up their tent and go home and leave the future of the business to those that want to change the negative image that he helped create and now boasts about. Loweringdevice should follow his own advice about laying low and keeping his mouth shut. His time has passed and he seems very bitter and angry.  

      Keep going Creedy!

  • Neil Sobel

    I love it. I agree completely with your statement of “don’t euphamize your job title…I am proud to be apart of the funeral industry.” I have never once lied or bent the truth on what I do for a living if someone asks. If they dont want to talk about it then I wont say anymore. But you are right, people have questions and honestly it makes them feel better about being around me, about understanding the industry. Also it provides a calm that says, “this is natural. It happens to everyone, and when it does, it will be ok.” When a family says they want to do cremation, I don’t argue with them. I do however provide them other options. “What if we do a full traditional service followed by cremation.” They still get their wishes of being able to take the “person” home with them, but it also gives the opportunity to other family members and friends to say their final goodbyes. We should not be ashamed of what we do. If we project calm, and confidence, that is what our families will see.

    Neil J. Sobel FDR #3343, AE #13387
    Dopkins Funeral Chapel FD #518
    Dinuba, Ca

  • Tom P

    I’ve said it many times: Alan Creedy is a genius.

  • I enjoyed your article Alan! When I get a little time in the next day or so I will post my observations and 2 cents on this subject. 

  • It must start with a belief that what you do matters.  Is being a funeral director ust about selling caskets and vaults?  Or do we provide a service that is not only needed, but is essential to a family’s ability to begin a healthy recovery?  If you live in an area that has relatively low cremation, then you have an opportunity to shape the market as it evolves toward more cremation.  If, on the other hand, you live in an area that has been geared toward direct cremation, then you must develop a system to discuss options and the importance of saying goodbye to a person’s body.  You will not change everyone’s mind, but for those who choose to have a service, who take the time to stop and acknowledge a death, you will have made a difference.  It doesn’t have to cost $10K or even $20K.  But the service you are uniquely qualified to provide IS worth something. 

  • BT Hathaway

    I’ve never been one to euphamize my work (well maybe when I was on Match.com for a time, but that’s another story with a very happy ending). I’m a fourth generation funeral director and proud of that heritage. People know what I do and of course they assume I have a recession-proof business and lots of money, but as any funeral director really knows neither of these things is necessarily true.

    From what I can see, our society is in the midst of a great sea change in preference from burial to cremation and so far I can’t see that the funeral director deserves much of the blame. Social structures have shifted and according to some research I have read, as much as 80% of the population these days does not confide in anyone outside their immediate family. If true, then how can we expect every family to invite strangers in for visitation at a time of grief and despair? If true, they will feel less and less comfortable with putting themselves on show for the neighbors, and none of that is our fault as funeral directors.

    Beyond that, we have gotten paid handsomely for our very real expertise in the gentle and graceful handling of human remains contained and carried to the cemetery in elaborate boxes. Take away the box (and all the logistical challenges which go with it), take away the burial and we find ourselves with a much less proprietary job to do.  When dealing with a casket, it may be necessary to have a special building and special equipment which are hard to duplicate at short notice for the vast majority of consumers. That’s why we have been able to make so much money.

    But transition to an urn and all of a sudden we must compete with back yards and state parks and restaurants and many other outlets for memorials and gatherings that do not cost the family money, and that do not require much logistical expertise. You can’t charge as much for memorial services because there isn’t very much to do. That part is kind of simple to figure out if we stop taking ourselves quite so seriously.

    Does this mean that funeral directors should disappear? No. We still meet an important need for society even if our role is diminished. But because our role is diminished and our industry income is clipped, there will be fewer of us in the years to come.

    I think it sad to acknowledge these realities and I hope to be one of the last ones standing, but I also realize that in succeeding at that goal I will have to be one of *few* not the many who remain. The economics will only sustain a certain number of funeral homes or else every one of us must starve.

    BT Hathaway

    • BT, you speak the truth clearly. It is all very simple and mathematical. Take away the body and the box and our income is cut by at least 40%. So for us to survive we will need more volume, less staff, less overhead, and a building that is designed around people gathering and sharing stories. Transitioning to that will tough for many. Buildings designed for handling the body and the box located in older neighborhoods do not easily covert to open, airy gathering spaces that serve food and show videos.

      I respect Alan immensely but do not agree with him on this one. No amount of educating the public or passionately telling our story will turn the public opinion around. They have already made their decision with their feet and their pocketbooks. We must embrace what they are telling us and learn to live on less income per call.

      I agree with BT that there will fewer funeral homes in the future and I too plan on being one of the survivors.

      • Colin Firth

        Yes Dale. I would bet that you are going to be one of the survivors, because you offer the families more options than others by going the extra distance with your Life Story program. 

        You haven’t just stood still and just complained about the changes facing your business, you have adapted and tried new ideas. Innovative concepts like Life Story and others will make the difference for families and also the long-term success of their businesses, but it is going to take a new attitude and a desire to change. Nothing is going to bring back the “good old days” and everyone accepts the fact that cremation is not going to go away, but as a veteran business owner who has been involved in another radically evolving industry (newspaper publishing) I know that every little bit of innovation can help the bottom line, but it takes creativity and a whole new attitude to be a change agent in your own market. Thinking beyond and outside the box (sorry for the overused pun) is what it takes in any business that faces a fundamental shift in the desires of customers. The funeral business is no different in this respect.I think that Alan’s message is correct to get out in front of the new funeral consumer and be a part of the change instead of just complaining and doing nothing as they drive by and leave you in their rearview mirror.

        I look forward to Alan’s follow-up column next week where he will explain some steps that may help funeral professionals adapt to the challenges.

      • BT Hathaway


        I saw the following article which talks about the huge losses that newspapers have experienced in the shift from print to internet. Estimates now say that for every dollar gained online a newspaper loses 10 dollars.


        Overall we are facing the same sort of problem. A “technology” in this case cremation, changes the business model dramatically and we all have to scramble to make it work.

        And just like the newspapers can’t talk people into grabbing a print edition when they can get what they need elsewhere, we have a similar issue in funeral service.


        • Dale Clock

          In a way, a handful of  funeral homes have already done this. I started a separate lower cost cremation service a little over 3 years ago and it did over 100 calls in 2011 with no advertising, just word of mouth. Yes it took calls from my main business but we also started capturing a new market (kind of like craig’s list did). McQueen’s did this in Florida and so did Horan’s in Colorado. That’s the only growing portion of the funeral industry. But they don’t talk about this in the trade magazines, they continue to focus on the trying to convince the public the value of they way we used to do it. We need to think like the small car manufacturers did in the 60’s and 70’s. They made cheap cars for a market that only wanted 4 wheels and an engine to get them where they needed to go. Once they captured that section of the market then they started to add in the neat stuff that made the people happier and ended up leaving the big car makers in the dust. Can we draw a parallel here??

  • I have said it before and for one last time I will say it again. People are cheap !!! They do not want to spend money. On top of that, they don’t want to deal with death, it’s distasteful, dirty, depressing and they want it go away FAST !! Period. So they opt for direct cremation, no or quick viewing pfffft done and gone. What they do not know is statistically over 50% of them will experience at least moderate problems 2-5 years down the road. Why? They missed the biggest step in the natural process of grieving. Spending time with the deceased, acknowledging that a death occured, and celebrating the life of the person who died. Dont take my word for it. Look into APA publications, talk to psychologists, and other medical professionals. Our job? TELL THEM. How? MAKE THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE !! Seriously, when I do a site for someone I link credible articles and books and publications that address this issue. It is  not you guys, it’s the way society thinks now. They just need to be educated. Have whoever does your web site do an extra page and make this information available. There are publications printed in short form you can have available in your funeral home, in the arrangement area, on your site, dont be afraid to go out in public, make yourself available as a speaker and talk about it.  I guarantee you won’t regret it and your families will thank you for educating them.


  • Colin Firth

    I commented on Alan’s post on his website, a resource which everyone who cares about the future of the industry should subscribe to…. http://funeralhomeconsulting.org/   

    I said that every funeral director should print this message out and keep it on their desk as a reminder. After re-reading again here, I will add that they also need to send a copy of Alan’s message to at least one other friend in the business to make sure everyone reads it.I find it interesting that nobody has disagreed with Alan’s views.Cheers – Colin Firth — Founder, mysendoff.com

  • Inspirational, clear, concise, and powerful.  A very well written article with a great message.

  • JonOHara

    Could not agree more, Alan.  I would also make the argument that some funeral directors can be inherently lazy, and at times more worried about their tee time than the memorial service at 3pm.  Now, that is a broad brush and there are many, many funeral directors who are adjusting accordingly.  However, I often use the example of Heath Ledger.  The Manhattan funeral home who handled the direct cremation was compensated accordingly for their box, cars, admin work, etc.  The event coordinator that handled the “party” to celebrate the life of Heath, billed the family over $30,000. 

    I realize that this is an extreme case, but the ability to provide these ‘end of life’ services is not out of reach.  I realize that not everyone has the ability, facilities, or clientele to offer these exact types of concierge services.  The point Alan makes about working together, instead of working against each other makes perfect sense here.  If you don’t have the facilities, I bet the guy a town over who you learned to hate for no other reason than he is a competitor has the facilities.  Maybe an old fashion fence mending makes perfect business sense; you might be surprised how welcoming that phone call might be. 

    Stop being an order taker and a logistic specialist, start being a specialty coordinator and an end of life specialist.  Loosen the tie, lose the ego, listen, suggest, direct, and be the expert. 

    • BT Hathaway

      We have to remain mindful of two things when talking about party planners. First, the planner may have gotten a 15% override on that $30,000 project, but most of that bill would have been essentially cash advance items. So the margins are pretty slim. Nothing like funeral service.

      And secondly, most people in most areas of the country don’t spend big money on parties of any kind. I know lots of funeral directors in all corners of the country who can afford to own a building out of which to operate. I look around and can’t find a single example in my area of a party planner who can afford to do the same. Those that I know work out of a small home office as a part time supplemental income, or they work in a relatively low wage position at a hotel or banquet facility. 

      I’m sorry to say this and burst the myth, but there’s not much of a business opportunity in party planning. Can we pick up a few bucks here and there? Sure. Will it produce enough profit to replace traditional funeral margin? Not at all. And it was traditional funeral margin that allowed us the luxury of a building and cars and educations for our children. If the replacement concept has little or no margin, then what’s the point? 

      BT Hathaway

  • L. Gervais

    There is a reason why cars have bigger front windshields than rearview mirrors. What is behind you is less important than what is ahead.  Change your view and chart a new path instead of complaining. Mr. Creedy is dead on.

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