While we all know that death and taxes are inevitable, the business surrounding this final life event is changing. In small towns, funeral homes are still mostly small, family-owned businesses, but the industry has undergone considerable consolidation with large corporations dominating urban markets. Succession planning for this type of family businesses is also becoming more challenging. Someone must be on call 24 hours a day, which is a lifestyle many young people are reluctant to adopt.
The services themselves are also changing. Families are often more spread out, so multiple day events are less frequent. Longer life expectancies mean there are fewer friends to visit, so funeral events are becoming smaller. Cremation is becoming more popular, but according to local funeral home operator Bill Shields, this has nothing to do with a shortage of burial spaces, even in Toronto.
Both he and Kawartha Lakes Cremation owner Rob Jardine believe the industry has done a poor job educating their customers about their options and more importantly, about the ramifications of the event itself. This is being exacerbated by corporate firms which tend to be more focussed on the bottom line, selling lucrative packages instead of personalized services. As Shields describes it, whether you cremate or bury the dead, in the end all that remains are bones; the process just changes the timetable. It’s not that one process is more desirable than the other, and while burial usually offers some ceremony, cremation requires another step. With a society focused on convenience and efficiency, there is a growing trend where many who lose loved ones are not taking time to truly process the event, and that troubles both Shields and Jardine. It’s not healthy to leave Uncle Harry’s ashes in the cupboard indefinitely. There needs to be closure.
Some in the industry believe that having conversations about how people want to die is becoming the next civil rights issue. Caitlin Doughty of Los Angeles, is bringing the discussion to the masses, in her original YouTube series, “Ask a Mortician.” Light-hearted and sometimes graphic, the series receives tens of thousands of views, and brings the discussion about death and commemoration to a new, younger audience.
In the end, one of the kindest things you can give your family is to discuss your final wishes or better yet, organize a pre-planned arrangement. Putting the final arrangement plans in writing eliminates second-guessing and family arguments at a time when stress is often already off the charts. It can allow bereaved families to take their first steps to move on and celebrate the life lived. KG