The Many Misconceptions of the Funeral Industry

by M-Gillies

The media has helped to fuel the many misconceptions the public has about the funeral industry.

“The only truth in saying “All Publicity is Good Publicity” or “There’s No Such Thing As Bad Press” is the extent to which a company goes to remedy the situation.”  – Derek Land of

There is no other industry in the world that has had such a negative tarnish bestowed upon them than that of the funeral industry. Whether it be Southwest Airlines, General Electric, Dell, Microsoft, Starbucks, FedEx, IBM or retail juggernaut Wal-Mart, the threat of negative exposure has always ricocheted off their name-branded image with Kryptonian defence. But funeral homes throughout the world have always been the victims of intolerance – one part due to the 1963 publication of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death, another part because of the service being provided – the service of death.

Death has become the shudder-some mascot of the funeral industry, and not without merit. Nobody wants to consider their own mortality. Like Atlas Telamon of Greek mythology, the funeral industry stands alone with the weight of death on its shoulders, and for their vigilant responsibilities of being a guiding hand for the living and the dead, the industry has seen numerous condemnations.

Even in recent years, long after Mitford first released The American Way of Death, television broadcasts, magazines articles and newspaper exposés shine on the stories of how the price associated to death is tallied by gouging the consumer.

So what are these myths and misconceptions of the funeral industry that have made so many skeptics and so few advocates?

Funeral Myth #1: Funerals are too expensive: It seems one of the biggest misconception of funerals is the cost. For years, there’s been a backlash toward the end-of-life services in regards to the price of funerals and the expenses involved. Even in her exposé, The American Way of Death, Mitford painted the modern funeral director as the essential wolf-in-sheepskin, preying upon the griefs of the bereaved and coercing clients into purchasing the most expensive product.

However, years after the publication, there was never any light shone on the fact that as average annual income increases, so does the cost of living and so too, does the costs of funerals to reflect the changing rates of inflation.

Comparing the cost of funerals during 2004 to that of 2009, the price of funerals has increased $978 in five years. That is $195.60 per year. When comparing this to the average annual salary between 2004 to that of 2009, in which the average annual salary according to the 2005 & 2010 US Census Bureau report in 2004 was $44,684 while 2009 the average annual income was $50,599, an increase of $13,835.

Funeral Myth #2: Funerals are depressing: It’s natural human instinct to be sad and grief-stricken after the death of a loved one. The association that funerals are depressing and somber affairs tends to take away from what the actually meaning of a funeral is; which is a celebration of life where families gather in a safe and supportive environment to begin the healing process with the aid of other family members and the guidance of professionals.

Funeral Myth #3: Funerals are anachronistic: With cremation on the rise, the idea of having a funeral service has fallen to the wayside, but the problem is that the benefits of what a funeral service offers in assisting in the mourning process has also been forgotten.

To say that funerals are a thing of the past is taking away from the emotional and the physical realities of coping with loss. Funerals are a personal interaction which allows the bereaved an opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one and share in the memories of that person’s life with people who knew and loved them.

Funeral Myth #4: Funeral directors don’t do personalized funerals: The Baby Boomers created their own path. They revolutionized the do-it-yourself philosophy, so for many of them, their views don’t stray far when it comes to funerals.

Funeral directors on the other hand have been seen as rigid and firm believers of old traditions, unable and unwilling to stray from their conventional way of doing things, but this is a fallacy. Funeral directors are willing to personalize funerals and show flexibility to families who find comfort in sharing their memories of a loved one by incorporating aspects of the deceased’s life in the funeral ritual.

Funeral Myth #5: Personalized funerals mean there is no funeral service: The Baby Boomers have adopted a whole new standard of doing things, and even as they approach their golden years that mentality is extended to how funerals are being arranged but the phrase “personalized funerals” tends to bring to mind a belief that funerals are no longer being held in funeral homes.

What is a personalized funeral and how is it applied in the funerary rite seems to be a question that has been left in a gray area. The truth is, personalized funerals are not the be-all, end-all of funeral services, but rather an alteration in the funerary ritual, which sees the incorporation of personalized and sentimental possessions, material and property into the funeral service to further assist the grieving process.

Personalized funerals can see the inclusion of such things as a collage of family photos; dressing in the jersey of the deceased’s favorite sports team; and can also be the inclusion of favorite songs or songs that reflect the deceased’s personality.

But it doesn’t have to end there. Recent personalized funerals have gone as far as having a tomb stone shaped as the loved one’s favorite vehicle, or having the hearse make a detour while on the way to the funeral home for a quick spin around a race track.

As Linda Darby-Sempsrott of Sunset Funeral Homes and Memorial Park in Danville, IL said of personalized funerals, “The sky’s the limit.”

Funeral Myth #6: A funeral service has to take place in a funeral home: Most people want to celebrate the life of a loved one with family and friends which, in many cases, may require a large space to accommodate visitors. Funeral homes can provide the convenient space that is needed but if a family wants to hold a funeral viewing and service in another location such as a favorite family gathering place, a golf course, a park etc. a funeral home can help you make all the necessary arrangements from acquiring permissions and permits to providing catering services.

Funeral Myth #7: Funerals and cremation are mutually exclusive: The thing about being human is our ability of freewill and the power of our freedom of choice. To accommodate this, funeral homes give options to families from simple cremation, to full service burial. But just because a family chooses to have their loved one cremated, doesn’t mean that a family cannot have a service as well. A funeral with or without a body present may be held prior to cremation, and families can choose to have a body embalmed for a viewing and still include a cremation.

Funeral Myth #8: Funerals require the body to be embalmed: Often bodies are suggested for embalming to ensure preservation for viewings and services which may occur days later. The reason embalming is recommended is to allow more time for families who may have to travel from afar to attend the funeral.

While embalming isn’t mandatory, it does offer more flexibility in time frames when organizing and arranging family affairs and the funeral service.

Funeral Myth #9: Funerals are only for the person who died: Once, long ago, funerals were family held affairs occurring in the home of the deceased, but with families spread around the globe alternatives had to take place in the preservation of the body.

Funerals soon began being held in local funeral parlors and followed a traditional formula, which included a wake, viewing, service and burial followed by a social gathering.

With the changing perceptions of life and death, grief and closure, families have turned to memorializing the life of a loved one with the inclusion of photo collages and personalized music. While these can reflect upon the life of the deceased, funerals are not solely for the deceased. In fact, funerals help us cope with the loss of a loved one by introducing us to the reality of death; moving forward from the pain of loss; remembering the person who died; developing a new self-identity and receiving ongoing support from loved ones.

Funeral Myth #10: You don’t need a funeral director: It has been said that arranging a funeral is like planning a wedding. However, while a wedding is generally planned years in advance, a funeral is a ceremony which is organized and arranged within days. If arranging a wedding during a lengthy period of a year is difficult, imagine what it would be like to arrange a funeral in less than three days – the process is equally as extensive, and requires tasks such as notifying relatives, obtaining copies of the death certificate, drafting an obituary, choosing a service hall, cemetery or crematory and much, much more.

The task can be overwhelming, and during a time of emotional loss and grief, the process can be difficult. What a funeral director does, is take on the task of arranging and overseeing that all family wishes are accomplished. These are specially trained professionals in a field which many are unfamiliar with, and they carry out their tasks, taking away any burden that could affect the healing process during a time of mourning.

Read more:

Morticians Misunderstood

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