Finding the most fitting ways to help a grieving family to commemorate the life of a recently deceased loved one continues to be the top priority for modern service providers in the death care sector. With the increasing adoption of technology in everyday life and ever-shifting attitudes in society, it is no surprise that a sector known for its slow pace of change is now looking for ways to keep up. Here, we explore 5 key elements that any modern bereavement services provider needs to deliver.
There is no denying that COVID-19 has accelerated the need for greater accessibility in the death care sector, but what is equally clear is that these adaptions are no longer just a temporary fix, they are here to stay.
In the absence of face-to-face meetings during the height of COVID-19, modern service providers in the deathcare sector realised the importance of having a digital presence. From providing important service and pricing information via their website, to conducting Zoom meetings, and enabling bookings or payments to be taken online, becoming digitally accessible is now a prerequisite rather than a ‘nice to have’.
The popularity of live streaming services has steadily grown in recent years with the first occurrence traced back to FuneralOne in 2003. Fast forward to 2019 and the National Funeral Directors Association estimated that only about 20 percent of all funeral homes offered a live-streaming option. It was undoubtedly driven into the mainstream by the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions which prevented family and friends from attending funerals in person, but what’s been made evident is that it didn’t just make sense during the pandemic, it provides a plethora of benefits in a whole host of circumstances. As Bruce Likly so eloquently said in an article for the New York Times, “People grieve so deeply when they lose a loved one. That grief is often amplified when they can’t get to the service. To be included in it is incredibly powerful.”
These days, many funerals are anything but traditional and the provision of choice has become a core requirement of all modern service providers. Organizing the perfect tribute for a loved one is an extremely personal affair and it is important that sufficient flexibility is provided to allow the bereaved to create a tailored commemoration that reflects the life, beliefs and values of their loved one. The most successful modern service providers have taken the time to research the latest trends, developments and offerings in the deathcare marketplace, ensuring that whatever it is that their customer wants, they have the ability to deliver it.
In an interview with the Daily Record, Howard Hodgson, CEO of Low Cost Funeral said, “There is no doubt that there is considerably more choice today when it comes to choosing the right funeral for yourself or a loved one.There are a range of factors to take into consideration, such as price and style, but there are many ways to arrange a funeral that is personal and memorable.”
Modern service providers recognize their obligation to provide their customers with as much information as possible so that they can make more informed decisions. Planning a funeral is a largely unfamiliar experience for the vast majority of customers and so they should not be expected to know the details associated with their choices. For example, many are unaware of the toxicity of the resins that are typically found on certain types of caskets and if given this information, would actually prefer to opt for a more eco-friendly casket. Whilst service providers are mindful of information overload, particularly at what is often a stressful and emotionally draining time for the family, it is evident that providing additional insight will help them to make decisions which are more closely aligned with the wants, beliefs and values of the deceased.
New information has emerged about the toxicity of materials involved in body disposal, from the ecological effects of embalming fluids and coffins, through to the effects of natural body composition and even the release of mercury from tooth fillings. In her article for Fortune, Emily Gillespie revealed that each year in the United States, more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by the dead. In addition, more than 4 million gallons of embalming fluids make it into the ground each year, with some 20 million board feet of hardwood used for caskets each year.
The public, particularly the younger generations, are much more aware of the importance of making more sustainable choices, not just during their living years but after death too. From pollution reduction to preserving ecological habitats, to recycling and reduced energy consumption, modern service providers need to recognize the importance of implementing sustainable practices, not just out of a moral obligation to the planet and its inhabitants, but because customers are increasingly demanding it as a standard.
Recognizing the importance of helping the sector to respond to this issue, OpusXenta recently conducted a webinar, ‘The Climate Emergency: What Changes Can Crematoria, Funeral Homes and Cemeteries Make to Protect Our Environment?, alongside Executive Officer for the FBCA, Brendan Day, and guests from the sector. In it, they discussed the steps that Funeral Directors, Crematoria, and Cemeteries can take to help limit their impact on the environment.
As society increasingly moves away from the religious affiliations with life and death, modern service providers need to recognize the importance of memorialisations, not just at the point of burial or cremation, but at recurring times of significance in the future. Whether it is marking notable calendar dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas, or acknowledging key milestones such as 5, 10, or 20 years since their death, families, and friends of the deceased are increasingly looking for ways to incorporate the memory of their loved one into their life as it sadly moves forward without them.
In an interview with ABC News, Nancy Berns, professor of sociology at Drake University, said, “I think that in many cultures, the death rituals and grieving rituals really center around that immediate time after a death. So what the pandemic might help us see too is stretching out that support: continuing to stay in touch with people for the weeks and months after a death.”
Service providers can cater to this ongoing need by partnering with solutions such as OpusXenta’s byondcloud, providing the ability to place flowers on the grave at significant dates each year, or to tend to the plot and send photos to the family to show its upkeep in their absence. Such services not only provide much comfort to the bereaved family but provide a valuable additional income stream through repeat custom long after the funeral has taken place.
Society’s approach to death will only continue to evolve as the younger generations move into positions of influencer and buyer, more data is released which reveals the impact of traditional practices on the environment, and technology becomes ever more sophisticated. Bereavement service providers who take steps to remain ahead of the curve and anticipate future customer needs will be best placed to not only survive, but thrive, in the years to come.