During a conversation with Herb Ayres of the Life Story Network, I was reminded of an issue that I keep meaning to talk to this audience about:

What will you do when hospitals or labs dispose of bodies and no one needs an embalmer anymore?

Ethical Fork in the Road

Funeral directors in the heartland might not be facing this right now, but those in more progressive areas like Florida, California or the Sunbelt are seeing serious competition to what was once a “monopoly” on deathcare.

Recent efforts by a hospice in Florida  to operate a funeral service as part of their offerings (they’ve withdrawn this request for now), the rise of direct disposers and the prospect of anatomical donation all point to a future in which the funeral director’s usual body-handling tasks are minimized.  So I’ll ask the question another way: 

Do you provide enough value beyond just body-handling (removal, embalming, dressing, cosmetizing, transport to the cemetery, etc.) to justify your prices or even your firm’s existence?

Maybe it would help if I talked about the services most people need when someone dies. 

Everyone needs disposition, obviously.  The future (at least in Florida) is cremation.  What happens when, fifty years from now, 60 or 80 percent of people are cremated?  I can see a future where hospitals, nursing homes and hospices operate their own retorts.  Disagree?  Ask your local hospital how they dispose of medical waste (specimens, amputated parts, early-stage fetuses) and you’ll understand how easy a switch it would be.  Don’t rule out anatomical donation, either.

Many will choose to have a memorial service, even if their loved one is immediately cremated.  And while you currently offer these services, many others are capable of planning and executing a memorial.  Even today, many cremation families choose to handle their own memorial services.  Hotels, wedding chapels and community centers have already begun marketing their services to your clients.

Do you currently provide any grief services?  Many funeral homes try to offer the basics like books, pamplets, videos or telephone helplines.  Along with a host of other post-funeral assistance like estate planning and filing insurance paperwork, grief care is usually generic and limited.  The majority of funeral clients already go elsewhere for financial advice regarding the estate of the deceased, grief counseling and other needs. 

Even cremation families need permanent memorials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean headstones in cemeteries.  Thousands of online internet memorials are created everyday.  Many firms now offer some type of online memorial for each deceased served.  You may have noticed some newspapers automatically turn printed obituaries and notices into online guestbooks with a limited time period, after which they encourage the family to pay for a permanent memorial.

Three churches in my area have recently installed or ordered for installation private columbaria for their parishioners.

 Things are changing in a big way.  So, for a third time, I ask the question in a new way:

Are you ready to change into a funeral director who does more than bury or cremate bodies?  Are you ready to facilitate more than just disposition?  Even families that choose direct cremation now are deciding that they need to commemorate their loved one’s life.  Why aren’t they choosing to get your help to do it?

Think you have time before this reaches your area?  Watch this video.