Recently attended a visitation followed by a service at one of the local funeral homes.  The deceased was to be cremated, but the family saw the value in having his body present for viewing and a service.

As I was leaving, I chatted with the funeral director and complimented him on the service.  I even teased him that having to work such a late services (went until almost 9 pm) is hard on his own family.  Then he said something that reminded me how much change the trend toward cremation has brought to the industry.  He said:

“I used to spend four nights a week on the visitation team.  Now, we’re lucky if we can convince people to see the body before cremation.”

We chatted some more.  Turns out he misses how often he used to stand for visitations.  He wishes he had more visitations and he knows that educating his public is the only way to encourage more viewings in the future.

“My staff presents all the options and we tell families that we truly believe that some kind of viewing is beneficial for their friends and loved ones, but these economic times are really affecting my customers,” he shared.

At the end of the day, his bottom line is affected also.  Having a big funeral home with multiple viewing rooms and state-of-the-art technology isn’t cheap.  At the same time, he is worried that if direct cremation with no viewing becomes the norm, more than just the funeral industry will be damaged; he believes that the basic need to “say goodbye” is harmed, even if people, driven by the economics of it all, don’t realize what they’re losing.

I agree with him.  And while I have an awfully pessimistic view of the future of the industry, I think there’s a lot individual funeral directors can do to educate their community.  I just wish I had the answer to fix the problem.