An interesting article came out this past weekend from the Metrowest Daily News of suburban Boston. The article, that you can read here, dealt with the changes in funeral service over time for some of the long established funeral homes west of Boston in Worcester, Massachusetts. Some of the funeral homes questioned for the article have been in the same family ownership for 150 years and into the 6th generation.
One of the owners mentions that when he was born in 1975 Worcester had over 30 funeral homes. According to the article, that number is now 14 with 12 different owners.
Here are some of the things mentioned, by the owners, in the article that have changed over the last 150 years of service:
- Embalming and calling hours took place at the homes of the deceased.
- Horses used to pull the hearse from the church to the cemetery
- Cremation, according to one director, now accounts for over 50% of the business
- Funerals are less religious and cremation is a big factor
- Funeral homes have learned to give the people what they want
- Funerals are now “celebrating someone’s life”
- Funeral homes have playrooms with toys, puzzles, and books for children
- One funeral home has a therapy dog
- Prayer cards can now be made with a Red Sox or Patriots motif
- Secular music has become more common
Funeral Director Daily take: I think you can get my point that yes, funeral service has changed, but these funeral homes seem to be doing pretty well and have adapted to the changes. I think of my own family’s funeral home now in its 148th year of business.
Started in 1872 as a cabinet shop, my great-grandfather built coffins for the deceased in the community. As things changed and embalming was introduced my grandfather graduated in the state’s first embalming class of 1905.
Funeral trends then led to families asking for a “funeral home” rather than the wake and funeral in the home. Our family responded by being the first in our community to establish a “home for funerals and wakes” in 1928. Later, trends in cremation came forward and we became the first death care provider in our community to built a crematory in 2005.
What I find interesting about the above article is that, yes, death care has changed over the years that these funeral firms have been in business. But guess what, those firms have found a positive way to continue to make a difference in the lives of those who have lost loved ones which allows them to continue to be in business today. And, those who are good and can see forward, will continue to thrive by somehow modifying what they do to continue to be relevant in their communities.
I find that being positive about the future may be the most important determinant of who adapts and stays in business. Those who are positive will find ways just as funeral homes for the past 150 years have found ways and those who are negative about the death care business may have a much harder time.
Here is some excerpts of what those Worcester funeral home owners said about the future:
- “It’s getting to the point it’s almost a direct disposition business. There will be no funerals, there will be no calling hours, there will be nothing. . . .Let’s go here, let’s go there. They have no interest in this.”
- “There will always be a need”.
- “I see the future of funeral service getting better. Smaller funeral homes, yes, may go away by attrition and their younger generation not wanting to take over, but other firms will continue to thrive as long as they continue to do what people want.”
- “Adapting and responding to the needs of the families that call on us will continue to create thoughtful and dedicated funeral directors. There might come a day when there are only five funeral homes in Worcester, but they’re all excellent funeral homes and they’re serving the needs of the people.”
Just from those excerpts you can see who is positive and who is not. The President of my small town Chamber of Commerce just wrote an article about staying positive. Robyn Snyder says, and I believe her, “Positive thinking is more than a tagline. It changes the way we behave”.
I think Ms. Snyder has something here and it should be practiced by all funeral professionals that want to move to the next generation of funeral service. Believe that you can do the job, that you can adjust to what families want, that you can be the person your community calls at the time of death. . . . .and you will be.