Monday, December 11, 2006

Who is burying whom...

A good friend in the deathcare (yep - that's what they are calling it now) industry brought up a stunning observation from an article he read about America's historical funeral profile. Namely, until about 1930, parents were more likely to bury children than the other way around.
A century ago, Pine said, his great-grandfather worked as a funeral director and had two livery set-ups: a black hearse with black horses for adults, and a white hearse with white horses for younger folks who had died. “They ran the white hearse more than they did the black hearse,” he said. “All the customs that we have were built around burying young people....The needs (of families) began to shift some time in the ‘30s, and the ‘40s and the ‘50s, and we didn’t necessarily recognize it.”

But there has been another major shift – a “demographic revolution” even – that many in deathcare have missed, Pine said in his Oct. 18 NFDA presentation, “The Changing Face of Death.” It explains why there’s such a gap between the kind of highly personalized “celebrations of life” that more families want today and the more routine, somber ceremonies that funeral homes had long grown accustomed to providing. “In the course of human history, most cultures have been made up of parents who buried their children, because most deaths occurred to young people,” Pine said. Today’s Baby Boomer funeral directors “are really sort of the tail end of...the first generation where children are burying their parents. This is a huge shift.” [More]
Nothing could have surprised me more, even though I have read much about our recent past. The idea of burying a child is so abhorrent I had discounted the possibility in my mind. And if you can slide past the professional observation about the "problem" of fewer deaths in the US over the next decade as a challenge to be countered, you can get some sense of how our approach to death is changing. It follows that our traditions will change as well.
It will be interesting to see how churches act to accommodate this trend. We have seen more memorial services at our small church than I remember. Funerals can be arranged to suit the mourners rather than mortuary requirements since cremation now accounts for over a third of all services.

Sadly too very large funerals occur when young people lose their lives way too soon. The link between young men and suicide is as alarming as any social problem I have experienced, and has touched our small community far too deeply. Added to the accidental deaths more associated with young people, such services remain in our memory long after we lay old friends to rest.

We derive comfort from our customs of death, and such practices are important to the grieving process. The extended lives, and nomadic lifestyles of so many of us will challenge those traditions.

Meanwhile, a very large service industry ponders how to cope with these changes.

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