The coming Unstoppable Force Paradox of Funeral Service

The other day I came across this article from a publication called Mic.  The article was entitled, “I feel like a Survivor – inside the Funeral Industry’s 2021 National Convention”.  To say the article was interesting. . .and even somewhat eye-opening might actually be an understatement.

You can read the article here.

The article is authored by Eleanor Cummins who apparently is a writer and not a member of the death care profession.  When I Googled her bio. . .here is what came up:  “Eleanor Cummins is a science journalist focusing on all things urban, especially climate change resilience and transportation. Her work can also be found in Slate, Popular Science, Atlas Obscura and the podcast miniseries Tie My Tubes.

So, as I began reading the article I did get the impression that the author was not “one of us”.  I also got the feeling that the funeral industry was being looked at and judged from the outside. . which is not always a bad thing.  Many times our perception of ourselves is much different than the way the public sees us and we are better off if we know how we look to the public.  Politicians, in my opinion, probably lack this self-perception reality more than any other profession – they just don’t seem to have a clue. . . . I think funeral directors, in contrast, are pretty good at self-perception of their public perception.

It appeared that Ms. Cummins saw us as historically a profession of “middle-aged white men” who now are seeing a new demographic of females coming into the profession who she believes “have brought a new Tik-Tok-able sensibility to the industry“.  She was buoyed in that thought by having an Oklahoma licensed funeral director comment to her, “There is evidence of progress pouring in from the margins.   At the same time, the NFDA continues to be the dinosaur that they’ve always been.”

Cummins continued to describe going on the convention floor and seeing new ideas such as the home funeral movement, alkaline hydrolysis, therapy dogs, solidified remains, and all kinds of digital and electronic memorial tributes.  And, I would agree with her that these new choices are great for families that want to celebrate life through their procedures.

When I read Cummins article, though, I see it written through a lens of someone who has a jaded viewpoint of historical death care memorialization and standards.  In essence, Cummins and the young people she advocates for, seem to have a much different idea of what death care should be.  She certainly takes a stand of advocating for a new progressive bent of death care worker as compared to what she calls today’s professional mainstream.

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

And here is where I think that the article poses a question which reminds me of the “Unstoppable Force vs. Immoveable Object” paradox.  I think of the picture of a river flowing into the immoveable force of rocks. . . . .when that happens you get a turbulent rapids for some distance.  As Cummins describes it – that may be what funeral service or death care will be coming up against soon. . . . . Cummins states, “that merging the funeral industry’s dualities — the progressive contingent and the professional mainstream — into a unified whole will be challenging.”

One of the questions, according to her is with “dignity”.  A comment made in the article talks about “throwing away the tired notions of dignity“.  Who owns dignity?  The funeral home owner/manager/staff or does dignity lie with the consumer?

The same Oklahoma funeral director quoted earlier also said this about change, “The next five years are going to be really interesting. Because that group [of white male owners] is getting older and going to sell or go away or die.” They will be replaced, according to the author,  by a whole range of funeral directors who can do a traditional embalming and burial, plus a cremation, an aquamation, a human composting, and any other service a family might dream up.

Funeral Director Daily take:  I don’t agree with everything in this article.  However, it is very thought provoking and should give veteran funeral directors a chance to reflect on how will they move forward as younger funeral directors, many with different value sets and ideas, moves into the profession.

And young funeral directors, with different backgrounds can be very valuable to the profession moving forward. . . . but there is also a maturity level in those experienced funeral directors who they can learn from.  The key, in my opinion, will be to balance values and ideas so that we serve the consumer public as they want to be served.

In reading this article, which I thought had a lot of judgement about my generation of funeral director,  I was also reminded of the Biblical passage of Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 3.  That simple verse tells us that how we look at the world can be distorted by our own judgement.  It says, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

It would be my hope that the new generation of funeral director and the experienced generation of funeral director would find a mutual understanding of each other, and not be pre-judgemental of each other,  so that we do not cause a “river rapids” by having an “Unstoppable Force of new workers meet an Immoveable Object of traditional services”.

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