Business is dying in the funeral industry

Times are tough for people in the business of dying, the Boston Globe reports today.

Traditional funerals are out and by 2030, 71 percent of the dead will be cremated and people are looking for more creative ways to honor them.

Families who opt for cremation spend 42 cents on the dollar compared to the traditional funeral. That’s inflicted a toll on many in the industry who haven’t adapted.

It’s a fine line between respectful and tacky and over the next few years, apparently, we’re going to struggle finding it.

In the town I lived in before moving to Minnesota, for example, a woman wrapped her mother’s body in a cotton sheet, laid her in a cardboard coffin, added dry ice and invited family and friends to a vigil at her dance studio, inviting people to play music and see and touch her face for the last time, the Globe said.

“The first day she looked like herself. She had a little smile on her face. She looked quite peaceful,” she said. “The next day she was just a little bit caved in. The next day she was definitely a cadaver.”

That, as we say in Minnesota, is… interesting.

Caskets and headstones are out, and that’s got some people concerned.

“How are we going to record our existence?” said Jacquelyn Taylor, a former professor of funeral service education at Mount Ida College.

Seed pods, the Globe says.

In Italy, designers have created these:

Just add ashes, stick it in the ground, and plant a tree over it. The “pod” acts as fertilizer.

Eventually, the designers plan to make bigger pods in which bodies are placed inside in the fetal position. Instead of cemeteries, the departed will create “sacred forests.”

If that doesn’t do it for you, you can always choose to be turned into a diamond, NPR reported a couple of years ago.

It takes about a pound of ashes and about three months to make a diamond.

The process costs almost as much as a traditional funeral, but a family member can wear you to the country club.

Related: Unearthing the secret of New York’s mass graves (New York Times)

  • A Folger’s coffee can is always an option…

    • wjc

      Make mine an Oreo tin, but otherwise it works for me.

      The Dude abides…

    • boB from WA

      Went to a memorial service a few years ago where the ashes were placed in a Garfield cookie jar. I’m not sure what they did with the ashes afterwords

    • Postal Customer

      It is our most modestly-priced receptacle.

    • Rob

      crappy coffee though, so for my posterity, I’d need to be put in a Dunn Bros bag…

  • Al

    When I go, I have zero interest in ending up in a coffin. Cremate me and set me free over the middle of the lake. If that’s legal.

    • BReynolds33

      In Minnesota, it’s technically not legal. That said, I’m not sure anyone has ever been arrested for doing so.

      • My father donated his body to science (U of MN medical school).

        The U returned his ashes to us and we, in turn, scattered his ashes from the top of the Eiffel tower, in front of his favorite Parisian restaurant, in the Seine, and in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

        /All illegal of course…
        //Donating MY body to science as well…

  • PaulJ

    People used to get their sense of security from knowing where their extending family was; now they get it from beer.

  • BReynolds33

    When I die, take as many organs, tissues, cells, and other body pieces and make use of them. With whatever is left, , figure out whatever the easiest way is to make the least impact as humanly possible for disposal. Cremation? Diamond? A tree? Whatever floats your boat. I’ll be dead, so I won’t rightly care what you do with the body.

    • jon

      That’s what I’ve told my wife, once I’m dead, scrap me for parts and use the rest for whatever you’d like… at that point I’ll be done with my body.

      • ChrisF

        Yup. If there’s anything of value left in my corpse send me off to a local cadavar junkie and burn the left overs.

    • Postal Customer

      You won’t care, but your family might. When my mom died, the organ transplant team informed us that we’d have about five minutes after she passed. Then they’d take her.

      Despite being pro-donation, because it was a sudden loss, we declined. Five minutes just wasn’t long enough. We were disappointed to do it that way, but it was just too much.

      • jon

        My wife has been fairly insistant with me that her organs will be donated, and that if my mother-in-law is there at that point I’m going to have to be particularly forceful with her to make sure that happens.

  • Mike

    Surely the long history of customer abuse in the funeral industry is one of the contributing factors to this trend (e.g., “The American Way of Death,” by Jessica Mitford). Perhaps the business is being brought to heel by market forces. That isn’t a bad thing.

    • KTFoley

      Possibly, if the focus there is on the cost of burial. I’d add that the mobility of US families also have an impact, where children tend to move away after reaching adulthood

      A hometown is no longer a place where generations of a family are born, raised, married & buried. A family plot in the cemetery doesn’t represent the generational continuity it used to, when relatives aren’t nearby to visit it in remembrance.

      Instead, it can represent an added cost/logistical hurdle to transport a body back “home” for burial.

      • KTFoley

        One other consideration is that fewer people espouse the religious idea (particularly Catholic) that at the end of the world the souls of believers will be raised up to be literally reunited with their bodies.

        This piece of dogma used to present a barrier to organ donation, cremation, etc.

  • Gary F
  • Kassie

    My parents are giving their bodies to the U of MN. The U does whatever it is they do to bodies and then about a year later you can either get the body back, get cremated remains or they will inter the remains at Lakewood Cemetery.

  • Rob

    A good place to start is checking the organ donor box on your driver’s license. In the event I’m killed in a crash, all that will be left to do is to cremate the leftovers, which the crematorium can dispose of however it sees fit. If I die from more natural causes, the same instructions for the crematorium will be applied. No need to take up real estate with a coffin, and ashes aren’t much good for anything.

    • boB from WA

      One word: Fertilizer

  • Sue

    How interesting to see this change in society about burial. I have always told my children to not do a traditional funeral for me as I want to be cremated.
    The cost of a traditional funeral is extremely costly and happens during a very emotional time. Make sure you let your loved ones know how you want to be buried and remembered.

    • KTFoley

      Probably the most important message: We need to make and communicate the plan ahead of time. That one bit of anticipation could go a long way toward lessening the pain in the moment, as Dave described above.

  • Mike Worcester

    //“How are we going to record our existence?” said Jacquelyn Taylor, a former professor of funeral service education at Mount Ida College.

    Part of my day job is helping people do genealogical research, including locating the final resting place of those who came before them. There is a tremendous bond in that finding. One might think that family lore will forever tell what happened to someone, such as having their ashes scattered. I can assure you it does not always work that way.

    How will some of these options then square with later efforts to go on those family history journeys?

  • DotWonder

    Our mom was put in one of her wooden Shaker sewing boxes. It just seemed right.

  • 212944

    “It’s a fine line between respectful and tacky and over the next few years, apparently, we’re going to struggle finding it.”

    One person’s respectful is another’s wasted opportunity.

    The Toraja in Indonesia celebrate Ma’nene, celebrating with their dead ancestors (literally). In Des Moines, a company called “Parting Shot” will pack a bit of your cremated self into shotgun shells so that your buddies may take you on one last hunting trip. The Urban Death Project is kind of a big composting project.

    Open up your mind and you are free, Bob.

  • MrE85

    My mother, who works in the funeral industry, has told me in the past that business in Indiana has been steadily declining.