When we look at past funeral practices we can lose sight of their main purpose, because their main purpose is so taken-for-granted now that we never even have to think about it.
But for most of history people sure did have to think about it.
In order to understand many elements of funerals—for instance, cremation and embalming—we have to step back from the conveniences of modernity to put ourselves in the shoes of our cultural ancestors. In doing so, we also can get a clearer understanding of how funerals are evolving today.
Our death practices serve two main purposes, one practical and one ceremonial.
The practical purpose is to take care of a dead body, which generally means stopping the decomposition process and/or putting it somewhere away from where people live.
The ceremonial purpose is to hold a social gathering which might be considered optional but usually isn’t, because the body is meaningful. Whether the ceremony is a religious ritual or a secular event, whether for many people or only for a few, whether conducted according to a traditional program or ad hoc, we usually do something careful, respectful, and social when someone dies.
Continue reading Understanding History, Part 2: The First Purpose Of Funerals
When we’re trying to decide what types of funeral arrangements to buy there are certain considerations that come to mind, including how much we can afford, and what is necessary as far as legal requirements, respect for the deceased, religious traditions, and all of the concerns we have about grief and mourning.
Is too much of a funeral extravagant? Is too little of a funeral a mistake?
These questions underlie much of the work on this site, including the research studies I’ve been reviewing in recent weeks. Studying what people have been doing for their funerals and how that has been working out for them is helpful, and I plan to continue describing new research as it comes to light.
When making arrangements or advising others or just thinking about all the choices, one question that has arisen in my mind is, what have people done in the past? And I don’t just mean the past decades or even the past century: I mean, what different ceremonial things did we do for the thousands of years we’ve been taking care of our dead and leaving physical traces or written explanations that can be examined today?
Continue reading Understanding History Part 1: Introduction
Cremation’s progress in the U.S. is still in a state of flux. There are differing opinions around the funeral industry about what will happen next, and how the rate of change is changing. Has the cremation trend slowed down or is it speeding up? Are people who buy funerals planning to spend less or more?
Statistics on cremation and its effects on funeral practices are not plentiful but, as we’ve seen over the past dozen or so posts, there is data out there. Some of the questions I would like to see answered are often not addressed systematically, so in order to find out the prevalence of simple (or “direct”) cremation, for example, or what consumers are thinking about traditional funeral ceremonies, information must be cobbled together from various sources. Through that process, the best I think we get is a partial picture.
But I plan to continue work on completing the picture as I find more data to review. In the meantime, here are some final pieces from research by industry consultants and suppliers over the past eight years.
Johnson Consulting Group “Trends & Insights” report
One of the foremost funeral consulting companies reviewed over 235,000 sales records and over 70,000 customer satisfaction surveys from their client firms covering a recent two-year span. The study’s main focus is on information for funeral business owners, including topics related to revenues and profitability that aren’t relevant (at the moment) to this blog—but there are a couple of relevant pieces of information.
From 2014-2016, the study found a trend that matches what we’ve seen in other surveys, of an ever-faster increase in cremation adoption.
Continue reading Surveys Show A Trend Toward The Least Expensive Cremation Choices
An important source of data regarding American funeral practices is the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the oldest and largest of the funeral industry trade associations. The NFDA publishes a periodic report on cremation and burials, drawn from government vital statistics records and surveys of funeral homes, crematories, and consumers.
While the report focuses on information for funeral home managers to serve customers and plan for the future, it also gives another piece of the broader picture of what Americans are doing when they have to make funeral arrangements.
Disposition of Ashes After Cremation
NFDA studies, what was done with cremated remains (percentage of cases)
|Returned To Family
|Scattered At Non- Cemetery Location
|Buried Or Scattered At Cemetery
|Placed In Columbarium Niche
Tracking with what we’ve heard from the CANA experts, a solid majority of about 60 percent of cremation customers are bypassing the cemetery—at the beginning of the process, at least—and taking the ashes home with them, either to scatter or keep.
Continue reading NFDA Reports On Cremation, Ceremonies, And Disposition