Hey Funeral Directors, Get the Hell Out of the Way!

Jeff Jorgenson runs a green/alternative funeral home, Elemental Cremation and Burial. In this post he asks, “why is it so hard for funeral directors to trust their families?”

I had a woman come in for her mother’s cremation. She was the only person to show up. No one else was comfortable doing a visitation or witnessing her cremation. Our witness package includes a one hour visitation. She took 20 full minutes just setting up the crystals, sage smudge, river water, music, and Tibetan singing bowls. She spent a great deal of time cleansing her mother’s spirit, the space and her own grief in, what was to me, a very curious manner. One of my peers said, “Wow, that’s pretty over the top, what the hell was wrong with her?” Though this is not usually my style, I lashed out at him. I said “YOU KNOW WHAT?! At least she’s doing something. I wish that more of the families would take this kind of interest; what she’s doing may be odd, but she’s taking on her mom’s care, which is more than we can say about most families!” Taken aback, he thought about it for a second and said: “You know what? You’re absolutely right.”

As of now, the funeral industry does a horrible job at collaborating with families. Most people in the industry believe that if we give consumers the power to collaborate and join us as equals, somehow there’s no value in the services provided by directors. Or worse, no profit to be made. Low cost providers don’t want to take the time to walk a family through the funeral process because it could reduce their overall volume of business. And the majority of directors believe consumers are either too stupid or too squeamish (or both) to run a funeral on their own.

I know that this will be a shocking reality to hear – there are VERY FEW families that want, or have the capacity, to transport and care for their dead on their own. People don’t want to haul grandma to the crematory in their Honda. I also don’t know of anyone that has a personal cooler capable of storing a body, nor the cremation equipment. Regardless of the popularity of the home funeral movement, funeral directors aren’t in danger. Home funerals are definitely possible (and are encouraged!) but many people find it too difficult or too foreign relative to their traditions. People want to find things that they can do, where they won’t be told “no.”

I’ll say right now that I don’t have a secret sauce to make the consumer happy in all cases. The biggest way to fight back with the industry is to plan your own death (which doesn’t mean you need to pre-pay). Here’s my promise to you, North American Consumer: the funeral industry will listen to all of your needs when you start talking with your family to make a plan for death. Because when you do that, you can go into the funeral home while everyone is still alive and do it on YOUR terms, not theirs. There’s a lot of grey area that you get to dance in (and write down in proper legal documentation) when you aren’t bent over a barrel in the darkness of grief.

You have the ability to research the funeral homes around you and find one that wants to collaborate with you and walk the path alongside you, not leading you by the nose. We can change the way that this society cares for it’s dead, and it starts with your family and your dialogue.