The Future of Funerals: COVID-19 Restrictions Force Funeral Directors to Adapt, Propelling the Profession Forward
Brookfield, Wis. – More than half of funeral directors have experienced increased cremation rates due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 2020 Cremation and Burial Report, released by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The pandemic has forever changed the way families memorialize a loved one – further solidifying cremation as the leading end-of-life preference, and funeral directors as unequivocal first responders in times of crisis.
While the impact of COVID-19 has been both unprecedented and unpredictable, the shift toward cremation has been a forecasted pattern by NFDA. In 2015, the national cremation rate surpassed the burial rate for the first time in U.S. history. In 2020, the projected burial rate is 37.5% (down 7.7% from 2015) and projected cremation rate is 56.0% (up 8.1% from 2015). This preference is predicted to only strengthen, with projections for 2025 indicating that the burial rate will be 30.6% (down 14.6% from 2015) and the cremation rate 63.3% (up 15.4% from 2015).
End-of-life services have looked different in 2020 due to COVID-19, starting with the sheer volume of deaths. An additional 200,000 U.S. deaths are estimated this year because of the pandemic, eight out of ten of which are adults 65 years and older, according to NFDA’s 2020 Cremation and Burial Report. That means more families than usual are planning funerals. However, because of “safer-at-home” orders, social distancing rules and restrictions on gatherings, most have had to postpone or revise memorialization plans. In fact, 50% of NFDA-member funeral homes report families postponing a loved one’s service due to COVID-19, with plans to hold some type of service with a funeral director’s assistance in later months.
The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of funeral directors, not only as leaders in their communities, but also as a vital network of often overlooked first responders during national and global crises. From natural disasters to mass tragedies, funeral directors are on the front lines helping families navigate uncharted territory – it is no different with COVID-19. In fact, nearly 900 funeral professionals from across the country volunteered to assist funeral directors and others with respectfully caring for the dead in hotspots, like New York and Michigan, when they were experiencing spikes in COVID-related deaths.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral directors have been an invaluable part of the community, providing constant support and flexibility as families make already difficult decisions under seemingly impossible circumstances,” said 2019-2020 NFDA president, Bryant Hightower, CFSP. “There was and is no road map for funeral directors during this unprecedented time, but they have undoubtedly risen to the occasion and adjusted their services to meet the moment.”
Ultimately, the changes funeral directors made to meet this moment will propel funeral service into the future. While COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult or impossible for families to gather and grieve, it has highlighted the ability of funeral homes to meet every family’s unique needs. For example, nearly half of NFDA-member funeral homes have started offering livestreaming options since the onset of COVID-19, offering widespread accessibility to loved ones who are unable to be physically present for a service. NFDA expects this trend to continue as social distancing becomes the norm for the foreseeable future.
With families and funeral directors having to quickly pivot plans in recent months, it highlights both the uncertainty of death and the importance of preplanning. Whether families prefer burial or are considering cremation, like most Americans, they might not know where to start. Answering questions at all stages of planning, Remembering A Life (www.RememberingALife.com), NFDA’s family outreach and education website, offers guidance on where to begin the planning process, the kinds of decisions that families can make, and the many options available to make a tribute personal and meaningful, especially during the time of COVID-19. Whether visitors are curious about their own affairs or need fast answers following the death of a loved one, the “Ask a Funeral Expert” tool gives families access to experienced professionals who can answer questions or refer them to a local funeral director.
As the trusted leader and worldwide resource for the funeral service profession, NFDA lists Remembering A Life among their top resources providing helpful information about planning a meaningful service, as well as resources to help people understand their own and others’ grief and loss.
Funeral professionals may order a digital copy of the 2020 Cremation & Burial Report through NFDA’s online store (www.nfda.org/store). The report is a free to members and $175 for nonmembers. Funeral professionals who have questions about the report or placing an order can call NFDA at 800-228-6332.
About the NFDA 2020 Cremation and Burial Report:
The statistical projections contained in the 2020 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report were compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. State-level deaths by method of disposition data were collected from state vital statistics departments or similar state regulatory agencies for the years 2002-18. Other findings presented in the report are from proprietary NFDA research studies, such as the 2020 NFDA Consumer Awareness & Preferences Study.
About National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA):
NFDA is the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world. NFDA is the trusted leader, beacon for ethics and the strongest advocate for the profession. NFDA is the association of choice because it offers funeral professionals comprehensive educational resources, tools to manage successful businesses, guidance to become pillars in their communities and the expertise to foster future generations of funeral professionals. NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., and has an office in Washington, D.C. For more information, please contact 800-228-6332 or visit https://www.nfda.org/.