Funeral Industry News

Funeral Directors Will Go The Way of The Dinosaur – NOT

August 21, 2009

Funeral Directors Will Go The Way of The Dinosaur – NOT

Imagine sitting at the head of the long table, looking at the faces of 15 PhDs who have tread this very path before, armed with questions. Not just I am curious but honest to goodness genuine questions about the funeral industry. It would not be unreasonable to believe that most if not everyone had at some time been in the position of sitting across the arrangement table from a funeral director; had sat with someone, most likely a member of the clergy or a chaplain to plan a funeral or a memorial service, choosing favorite prayers, readings, poems, music and deciding who would say the eulogy; looking through books of flower arrangements and deciding if roses would be nicer than carnations or maybe something a little more upbeat like sunflowers and irises. Everyone sitting around the table has some personal knowledge about the funeral industry and now they wanted me to take them inside and answer, those questions ?you were always afraid to ask your funeral director but really wanted to know.?

Most people in North America do not want to deal with their dead and are quite happy to hand them over to a trained professional. That is what makes the statement, ?funeral directors will go the way of the dinosaur? even more amazing than not. Let me tell you about the person who made the statement. He is a PhD and has had some recent experience working with the funeral industry. I know this because he came into one of the funeral homes where I do my research while I was there. We smiled at one another, I offered my condolences and watched him being seated in the arrangement room with a funeral director. An hour later, I saw him leave without having made any arrangements. Fair enough, a shopper; you don?t get many but there is always one who wants to hunt for a bargain. As a researcher, it matters not to me where the business is taken. What I can tell you is that many academics prefer direct cremation and no service though I cannot tell you the reason for that choice. Several days later I noticed an obituary for his mother, cremation was immediate, the memorial service to be held in the funeral home later that week.

?Funeral Directors will go the way of dinosaurs. They will become redundant and as such, the industry will cease to exist? was how he began. After rambling on with his views for several minutes, I worked up the nerve to ask him if he had a question to ask me or if he was just sharing his views on caring for the dead. He rephrased his statement as a question and asked me to defend my research on that basis. Here is my answer.

Your mother passed away recently in a local nursing home. I am sorry for your loss. I was stunned to read in the newspaper that the arrangements were being handled by a local funeral home. For someone who believes that funeral directors are redundant, I would like to lay out for you what you could have done. First, you want to order a casket from an online site that has casket kits or stop by your local Costco and put one in the back of your mini-van. Next you want to go to the nursing home and sign the documents which will now allow you to take your loved one from their care. Keep in mind that nursing homes expect a quick changeover and do not have morgues, so you have to arrive and remove your mother from her bed onto a stretcher as discreetly as possible so as not to bother the other patients. Sign the papers and get her loaded into the van, possibly by placing her directly into the casket. You want to wash her and freshen her up a little, you say, before taking her to her final resting place. How about a sponge bath in the van? Hope you brought towels and sheets. Your next stop is the coroner?s office because you want your mother cremated. The coroner has to sign the paper work, did you remember to get the right papers from the crematorium last week? No, well out you go to get them. Back to the doctors office and yes, this will cost you $100 and you will wait until he has time to come down and examine her in the back of your van. Next stop is the town hall to register the death and yes, pay more money. You are finally ready to drive out to the crematorium but alas, the hours have gone by and they are now closed so you have to sit with your mother all night in the van because you cannot leave a dead body just anywhere. You decide to place a newspaper notice while you are sitting in the van, so you call the paper but they want a hard copy or at least an online copy which they will send back to you to spell check. Of course they need to verify this is not a prank and wonder who they can contact, maybe the doctor or the hospital as you aren?t using a funeral home. The night is long but morning comes and you drive out to the crematorium with your papers in hand so that you can finally leave the body. No one comes out to help you immediately and you look around for something to put the casket on.. finally someone comes to assist you. You are relieved to have the help because you cannot move the casket on your own. At last, the task you started yesterday is almost complete. All that remains is to hang around for 3 or 4 hours until the cremation process has run its course. You are not the first on the list. You will come back for your mother in a ziplock in a cardboard box, try to remember the urn.

What was your alternative? Well, it was the choice you made. You went to a funeral home, met with a director, made the arrangements to have your mother removed from the nursing home, washed, dressed and placed in a casket. The paperwork was completed for you by the funeral director who contacted the coroner, the newspaper, the crematorium. The body was taken to the crematorium and the ashes returned to you, tactfully in a velvet bag which covered the cardboard box holding the ziplock of ashes. How long did your meeting take you? One hour not one day. It was simple and expedient and before you knew it, you had arranged the disposal, organized a memorial service and a reception without having to move from your comfortable seat in the arrangement room. Who made this happen for you? A licensed funeral director, a professional who has the knowledge and expertise in matters pertaining to the dead.

Funeral directors are not going the way of the dinosaur. Not today, not tomorrow. Why, because most people, just like the PhD who asked the question prefer to hand over their dead to a stranger who will compassionately take care and follow through with the arrangements for disposal, funeral or memorial service and the reception. Why? Because it is easier and takes far less time than doing it ourselves and most of all because we still hold to the belief that dead things are ?really nasty business?.