Last week we began a review of 10 developments in funeral service that caught the attention of national–and sometimes–international media. Coverage focused on changing trends, occasionally on what went wrong, and often what were the most outrageous ideas. Here are another five topics that demonstrate what is catching the attention of media outlets and their readers.
- The Vatican Spoke Out As Cremation Marched On
The growth in cremation led to an announcement by The Vatican stating that its approval of cremation has conditions: cremated remains cannot be scattered, divided among family members or stored in non-sacred locations. Still, cremation moved forward as demonstrated with the following trends.
- Cremations surpassed burials in 2015—According to NFDA research, the number of people cremated in 2015 surpassed those who were buried in the United States.
- Unclaimed cremated remains also increased—Cremated remains present a much less urgent need for a growing number of families. Funeral homes reported a growing inventory of abandoned remains.
- The Public Embraced DIY Funerals
Not only is cremation empowering families to take funerals and memorialization into their own hands, sometimes with unfortunate results. Now, community activities are available to support DIY memorialization.
- Artist conducted do-it-yourself casket building classes—“Empowering yourself to be hands-on with [the death ritual] makes you more connected with other people, with family,” says a woman who teaches people to build their own caskets.
- Citizens asked for public parks to scatter remains—Residents of Tacoma Park, Maryland want a public scattering garden so families will have a permanent location to remember loved ones.
- DIY scattering spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e —More cremation means more scattering by families who have little or no experience with disposing of cremated remains. A performance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House was cancelled after a man scattered a powdery substance on the stage.
- Funeral Formality Took a Step Back
The number of people, particularly Baby Boomers and younger, who think formality and religious rituals create unique funeral experiences is declining.
- Fewer consumers valued religious rituals—The percentage of people in the United States claiming that religious components in funerals are “not at all important” has more than doubled in the last three years. Personalizing funerals is more than cap panels and balloons.
- Military funerals looked less traditional—Don’t assume all burials for military personnel will look the same. For example, Cpl. Ty Hart’s family opted for a personal invitation-only ceremony using his pickup truck as a hearse, matching t-shirts for mourners and burial at the family home.
- The Demise of the Green Burial Was Greatly Somewhat Exaggerated
As funeral directors scratched their heads about getting a handle on green burial, the eco-friendly movement moved forward…at least an inch or two.
- Green cemeteries saw slow but steady growth—The first green cemetery in the United States opened in 1998. Now there are more than 120 properties that offer eco-friendly services.
- Green burial is good to offer…even if few families opted for it—a Maryland funeral director believes that offering green burial helps his funeral home’s reputation more than its pocketbook.
- Funeral Directors Felt the Impact of the Opioid Crisis
The impact of deaths due to opioid overdoses became impossible for funeral professionals to ignore both when serving families and hosting mourners.
- Funeral professionals urged to stock opioid antidote—The British Columbia Funeral Association is recommending that its member funeral homes stock naloxone as a precaution for embalmers who might ingest traces of Fentanyl from an overdose case or in case a drug user has a seizure during a funeral.
- Opioid overdoses pushed the death rate up—The U.S. death rate increased for the first time in a decade. The leading factor was a jump in the number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses.
- Increase in opioid overdoses prompts call to list drugs on death certificates—Public health officials want funeral professionals to be informed about their risks by listing drugs in a person’s system on death certificates.
- Organ donations are increasing due to opioid deaths—If there’s a silver lining in the opioid crisis, it’s the jump in organ donations families have chosen following loved ones’ deaths.
Countless other news stories drew attention to funeral service in 2016. While funeral professionals may feel overwhelmed by the buzz that some of these issues attracted, the core calling of funeral directors remains the same as always: to help families honor the lives of those they love and start them on a healthy process to cope with those losses.
By Mark Allen
OGR Executive Director & CEO
International Order of the Golden Rule