Differences In Final Arrangements Between Burial And Cremation As The Method Of Body Disposition examined the funeral and burial arrangements selected by a national sample of customers who chose cremation as the form of bodily disposition, compared to choices made by customers selecting whole-body burial. The project produced interesting results, and is notable for focusing on funeral purchases, which is a rarely-studied topic, as well as for its target audience. Working under the sponsorship of the funeral industry, the researchers were able to collect data from funeral home and crematory customers who were next of kin or very close survivors, whose ages were typical of such customers—which is not often possible for research into funeral practices.
Subjects: 703 adults who were either next of kin or the closest survivor of people whose arrangements were handled by funeral homes and crematoriums in the cities listed here within the previous 10 to 30 months. Respondents were: 496 females, average age 58.7 years; 207 males, average age 60 years. 470 were bereaved of people who were cremated, and 233 of people buried. Subjects were in six metropolitan areas: Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, California; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; and Seattle, Washington.
Nearly 40% of cremation cases were accompanied by no ceremony at all (19.8%), or a memorial service at a later date (18.7%).
Only 36.4% of cremation dispositions were followed by a social gathering, versus 62.7% of whole-body burials.
Over 57% of cremated remains were either buried (40.4%) or placed in a niche (16.8%).
Neither saving money, nor saving land, nor convenience were cited more as reasons for making the choice of cremation than for the choice for whole-body burial.
Continue reading 1986: Differences Between Burial And Cremation Arrangements
In the field of archeology, Jill Baker uses the concept of a “funeral kit” to describe combinations of elements in burials that seem to indicate “routine practice, rite, ritual, and ceremony” within a culture. We can use “the twentieth-century funeral” to identify the American funeral kit of the recent era.
The industry’s explanation of this funeral kit was spelled out many years ago and stayed consistent for decades—in fact, there are people today who use the same explanations as those used 50 or more years ago to describe the functions of the various funeral parts. That is not a criticism, because it just means there came a time when people had to come up with clear ways to describe their businesses, and they did a good job of it.
We usually explain practices when they come under attack. Obviously, throughout the entire history of religion in the West, we find the councils, creeds, and confessions emerging during times of division or in response to some heresy or other challenge.
Ethnicity is played out the same way. As Fredrik Barth fascinatingly noted, groups view their distinctive symbols as most important at the margins, where they interact with others.
In the same way, the American funeral concept was formulated and rationalized in large part as a response to the five Cs—critics, consumer advocates, clergy, cooperatives, and cremationists—in the twentieth-century.
Continue reading The Funeral, Deconstructed
The next major theme in our analysis of American funerals, for which this post can serve as the kick-off, is the broad topic of rituals and ceremonies. What have we done in the past; what do we do now; and what do we actually need?
To answer those questions, We’ll start with an overview of the combination of parts that make up the funeral, and then review the results of research studies on funerals and the people who attend them and arrange them. We will be exploring material gathered from the social sciences, history, psychology, and general consumer research.
For a long stretch of history, ranging anywhere from 75 to 130 years depending on where you lived, the American funeral consisted of a viewing period with an embalmed body in a fairly expensive casket as the centerpiece, followed by a ceremony, concluding with a ride to a cemetery led by specially-designed vehicles, and ending with a brief service at the grave site where the body would be lowered into a vault in the ground, or placed into a crypt space. It was all orchestrated by and, mainly, purchased from a funeral home. The cost would vary according to quality of casket, length of viewing, type of burial vault, number of limousines, and a few other variables. Purchases of cemetery space, vault, and memorial might be made separately through the cemetery, and could cost as much as or more than the purchases from the funeral home.
Continue reading The Twentieth-Century Funeral
Part of the problem the funeral industry caused for itself many years ago was to embrace the role of a quasi-public utility, a sort of offshoot of the public health infrastructure.
They were justified in doing so. For one thing, it was written into laws and regulations that a funeral director would be involved any time someone died. When the U.S. Public Health Service spelled out the procedure for gathering mortality statistics, as shown in the 1950 Vital Statistics of the U.S. report, there was the funeral director in the flowchart on page 16, right after the doctors and right before the government registrars and health departments.
Funeral businesses had to be available to make “removals” whenever someone died, under just about any circumstances, making them a 24/7/365 operation. The typical funeral director did not get a lot of holidays off, nor expect a full night’s sleep. Embalming works best the sooner it can be done after death, so the funeral director on call overnight often had a lot more to do than pick up a body after the phone rang.
Although the custom was informal for decades, indigent care also became a somewhat standard part of the business model.
Continue reading A Funeral Industry Trapped By Protective Walls