Larger view

I just finished reading an interesting article about a funeral home in Minnesota and the effect that cremation is having on their business.  You can read the full article on the Minnesota Public Radio website here.

While the article touches on how many people are choosing cremation because of new economic realities and the way the funeral director they’ve interviewed is weathering the downturn, the article fails to discuss the long-term ramifications for the industry.

I believe that cremation is a game-changer for the traditional funeral industry and that many firms will have to re-think their entire pricing models to make their businesses operate on cremation income.

Traditional burial is called by its name because that’s what drives it:  tradition.  Other than those who fear fire, most people aren’t afraid of cremation as an option; they simply choose burial because “that’s what the family’s always done.”

So what happens when grandma can’t afford a big funeral and there’s a choice to be made?  What happens to the “tradition” when the patriarch or matriarch of a large family decides, for economic reasons, to choose cremation?

In my experience, “grandma’s getting cremated” means everyone else in the family is now free to be cremated.  Cousins start asking the cemetery how many sets of cremated remains can be buried in a space in the family plot.  At the memorial service, family begins discussing how much easier it was to plan a cremation (and cheaper) and, if you’re invited, you’ll hear five people say how much they’d rather have a party than a funeral.

While I don’t advocate battling cremation, I do think we, as an industry, have to realize that consumers are seeing the benefits of cremation, benefits to their wallets and their families, and they’re making the easy, less-expensive choice.

The current economy just gives them another excuse to make the decision sooner.

What are we doing to show our relevance to grieving families?  Does our community know that cremation isn’t just direct?  Do your neighbors and friends know that cremation is just a cheaper disposition than burial, not a completely new thing?  Do they know that you can still provide them with viewing, services and closure?