4 Predictions for Funeral Service in 2019 [And How Your Funeral Home Can Be Ready]
Posted January 30, 2019
5 min read
Amy Cunningham is a funeral director, funeral home owner, and celebrant in New York. She makes it her mission to collaborate with families to create a memorable and enriching celebration of life that fits their needs and desires—whether it be a crematory chapel service with eulogies and music, a green burial, or memorial event with food and slide show of the life.
Families seek her out for advice on how to make funerals affordable and sustainable, and on ways to be more creative with their end-of-life experiences.
That’s part of why Women’s Health even gave Amy the unique moniker of “Death Ritual Disrupter” in an article about death, self-awareness, and life enrichment.
Here are 4 valuable predictions Amy has for 2019:
2019 Will Be a Year of Educating Families
A huge potential opportunity for directors this year—perhaps now more than ever: sharing what you know with your community. Amy thinks more funeral directors should get out there and start educating the public. “The rise in cremation and other shifts will continue to foster confusion, but that provides funeral directors with chances to more deeply educate consumers through workshops on their end-of-life options,” she explains.
A few opportunities, just to list a few: partner or collaborate with houses of worship, community centers, homes for the aged, chambers of commerce and Rotary, hospices and hospitals. Whether it be information on funeral service history, funeral planning, or another topic, consider giving a speech, giving a presentation, or doing a panel at these venues.
“People are truly fascinated by the work funeral directors undertake daily and they want to hear from us,” explains Amy. “I see 2019 as a year to better inform consumers on funeral pricing, cremation, green burial, family care of the deceased in the hours after death, and—for the most self-sufficient funeral consumer—laying grandma out on dry ice in her own parlor,” she adds.
Get creative with how you’ll educate others and try to get specific dates and events lined up to help make sure they happen in the next year. Amy is doing the same, she says. “I’m giving workshops at our local cemetery, food coop, inter-faith seminary, and Zen center.”
2019 Will Be Year of Meeting Families Where They’re At
Amy says one thing that’s become clear is that more and more, families want more control. What that translates to is meeting them where they’re at spiritually. “Some funeral theorists point to [changes in funerals] that arise from a more secular nation. I’m seeing new needs arising from a mixed-faith nation—with secularism being among the faiths,” she explains.
For example, in Brooklyn, almost every family Amy sits with is mixed-faith. That might include one who is Protestant or Catholic, another that is Jewish, another that is a serious Buddhist meditator, another doing yoga, another communing with God by walking in nature. Even a family that is all one faith might have wildly different ways of individually interpreting funeral custom and scripture, adds Amy.
“Add cremation to the fray, and every family member in that meeting will start to debate what they’re going to say, when they’ll say it, the poems they’ll read and songs they’ll play, and whether they should invite clergy in to lead, or if they should just skip everything having to do with the physical body of the deceased (which I don’t advocate), directly cremate, and go straight to a memorial service with slide shows of the life.”
Anticipating and knowing how to best navigate these conversations will help a great deal in 2019 and beyond.
2019 Will Be the Year to Embrace Authenticity & Transparency
Amy recognizes how Baby Boomers tend to embrace authenticity, and that’s directly shaping how they make decisions, even in funeral service. They also want transparency, so recognize how that can shape your firm in 2019: “’Let the Sunshine In,’ both literally and figuratively,” says Amy.
Practical ways any funeral director can do this: open the window shades; give your families real opportunities and experiences; and look for ways throughout the experience they have with you to listen and to be more open.
As much as you can, Amy suggests being open to this approach in 2019. “This can be tough, of course, and upset any director still insisting on full control. Families may ask to comb the hair of the deceased, dress the body, lift the casket, witness the casket’s entry into the cremation chamber or retort. They are much, much less interested in a mahogany stained, polyurethaned, velvet-lined casket with brass handles today. They’d rather decorate the simple box with photo-copied images of the deceased’s life. They want to write on the casket or place letters of love inside it,” she says.
“They want well-considered opportunities and experiences previously considered too difficult or arduous.”
2019 Can Be the Year of More Self-Care
One other point she has for looking ahead: directors can be asking themselves: Am I taking care of myself? After all, funeral professionals are under a lot of stress. “I sometimes feel, after a funeral, as though I’ve stepped out into a different realm, so how can I go out, and sit and chat with normal people? When I get like that, I know I’m doing too much and I try to ease up,” says Amy. “I think funeral directors, like psychotherapists, should have support groups, supervision, and places to go to talk it all out,” she explains. The best place for that kind of exchange to occur is within the company.
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