My friend Bill says he can’t believe that funerals are so expensive.  In fact, he thinks funerals have gotten so expensive that he doesn’t know how even upper middle class people afford them.  “Who can afford a ten thousand dollar funeral?” he asks me.

Then he grins, like he’s got the secret.  He says, “that’s why I’m being cremated.”

Bill is, by no means, in bad financial shape.  He can afford a high-class burial.  Heck, he might even own cemetery property already.

Bill’s comments don’t convince me that cremation is taking over just because he can afford an expensive burial but doesn’t want one.  And Bill’s insistence that funerals cost too much doesn’t trigger my belief that cremation is taking over.

The biggest reason I see Bill’s comments as a gigantic, blinking “Welcome to Your Cremation Future!” sign is because of his age and his family.

Bill is 80 years old. 

Okay, you say, but Bill probably doesn’t have children who live nearby, making cremation easier.

Not true:  Bill lives with his wife in a house he bought in the 1950’s.  It’s just down the street from the high school he graduated from.  And a block away from the elementary school where his kids learned basic math.  His daughter and her son live two doors down from him.  His son, while in another state for employment reasons, visits often with his family.

Yes, some seniors who have moved to the Sunbelt from Chicago might opt for cremation because of the money or the miles.  But Bill is not one of the older folks who choose cremation for financial or geographic reasons.  Bill has chosen cremation because it’s what he wants and as a reaction to specific choices made by the funeral industry.

Now, I’m not faulting funeral directors here; the increase in funeral prices during the last 20 years can be traced to many factors outside of a director’s control.  The truth is that those of us who provide frontline services to families have done little to stem the rising costs of traditional funeral services.

But do we even know what can be done?  Are storefront funeral homes the answer?  Maybe not.  True, some funeral directors have started to return to the “chapel-less funeral home” model, which asks customers to find another location for the services in exchange for a funeral provider that can offer lower prices because of less overhead. 

Others have eschewed the cost-conscious consumer and built even more elaborate funeral homes targeted at the clients who want and can afford a more expensive and elaborate service.  I think this type of specialization is important for a diversifying marketplace – while the market once chose a single option, burial, from a singular type of provider, the current trend is toward a wider range of options – and I believe there is room for several funeral providers in each area who don’t compete on price, but on abundance or scarcity of choices.

Unfortunately for the large bulk of funeral homes built on the idea that the traditional burials make up for the cremations, the time when consumers might have been convinced that cremation was a bad idea has passed.  When Bill’s kids, now in their fifties, decided that cremation was okay for them, the writing was on the wall.  But that was years ago.  Now that Bill has told them he’s cool with cremation and that he actively chooses it over burial, the fat lady’s singing.

What, then, should be the reaction of funeral professionals?  First, stop reading some fool like me telling you that cremation is taking over.  You should be figuring out how to benefit from this change.  And stop fighting it, for your own sake.  There’s no changing it.  Not now.

Bill has spoken. 

Wanna know more of my thoughts on cremation?  Read these previous posts:

Minnesota Funeral Director Opens Up About Effects of Cremation
Just Another Celebrity Cremation
Teach Them: Cremation is a Disposition Option, not a Service Option
Eulogies are for the Living
Surprised, She Asked “You can have a viewing with a cremation?”
Creating a “Must-Have” Funeral Experience
A Future Without Funeral Homes?
Could You Survive Without Disposition?