Fusion in the Funeral Industry – How does the traditional become postmodern?

The ‘fusion funeral’ – the alliteration works well doesn’t it?  As Dan Katz rightly points out in his post ‘The emergence of the fusion funeral’ we are witnessing some amazing examples of innovation by some funeral companies now.  It is an interesting time for this industry, with the huge shift towards cremation, a radical shift away from traditionalism, new technologies reshaping funeral services and, of course, the baby boomer generation starting to make their mark upon their rites of final passage.

Dan points out that ‘fusion’ is an integral aspect of many vibrant and progressive communities now.  In many ways, it can be regarded as a cultural reflection of our emergent multicultural society, but it also symbolizes much more than that.

We do see examples of fusion in many aspects of our culture today, and fusion has especially become an accepted practice in culinary cuisine, art and design, and music.

At US Funerals Online we try and keep abreast of good examples of innovation in the industry, and feel it is exciting to be involved in an industry on the epoch of a revolution….as we like to consider it!  This revolution, if not evolution, continues to affect the funeral industry, and we do agree that we are witnessing the emergence of the ‘fusion funeral’

Opposing cultural concepts of the death ritual and decency

We are certainly seeing some extraordinary creativity that is challenging the very notion of a stoic and somber profession. How do you fuse together an icon of Americanism, the drive-thru, with a funeral service? 

In April 2011 we published an article about the Adams Mortuary in Compton, Southern California operating their somewhat bizarre but popular ‘Drive-thru Funerals’. Some public opinion to the notion of a drive-thru funeral viewing was to express distaste, yet many also found it an ingenious way to be able to access a viewing in our 24/7 culture.  For those to whom a viewing and a paying of last respects is an essential element of a funeral ritual, the drive-thru funeral viewing enables a must wider access to a whole community to participate in this ritual.

Is it disrespectful to laugh at a funeral? We have long held to the tradition of the funeral as a somber event, yet the ‘life celebration’ a less somber and more celebratory event, is now being heralded as the next-generation funeral. I have heard many wonderful plans for life celebrations, some that even border on the bizarre. What is certain is that our concept of what is ‘decent’ for a death ritual is changing.  Stand-up comedy at a funeral may still seem rather unorthodox but this has been facilitated where the specific wishes of the deceased are honored.

The Fusion of Funeral Homes and Community Centers

Funeral Homes

The shift towards life celebration events and the decline in traditional funeral services has led many funeral homes to open up their establishments as wider community event venues.  Some funeral homes now host weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events.  Grace Funeral & Cremation Services in Rockford, IL recently hosted an art show for local artists. Robinson Funeral Home in Easley, S.C. made headline news in July with their announcement about their ‘Coffee Corner’, a Starbucks coffee shop open to the general public. 

How about funeral homes sponsoring community events? Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home of Manhattan, KS sponsored a production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the local Arts Center.  This must surely be a creative way to fuse your community values and profile your company to a broader audience! 

The fusion of technology and funerals

Technology is being fused into the funeral industry with a growth in webcasting, online funeral planning and creativity in online memorialization.  Over the last few years, we have seen QR code and mobile technologies radically thrusting emergent technologies onto an industry somewhat stumbling into modernity.

The Online Funeral: How digital technology can re-shape funerals as we know them examines how technology is reshaping our funeral experiences.  QR technology emerged to stretch our interaction of online connectivity constantly, and in our Online Funerals article, we looked at QR codes on headstones.  The QR code has a greater application to the funeral industry and accessing online memorial data. A QR Remembrance Code is being marketed by Funeral Innovations as a way to incorporate this technology into traditional funeral stationery.  This enables attendees with smartphones to instantly access the deceased’s full online obituary and memorial and leave condolences messages, eliminating the need to search for the deceased’s online memorial.

Although the QR code technology seems to have fallen by the wayside, the versatility of mobile Apps today has superseded the original QR technology.

Some funeral businesses are having a mobile version of their website developed.  Realizing the value of information that can be accessed on a handheld device.  In fact with the take up of handheld devices by baby boomers, a mobile-friendly website, could become an essential solution for many funeral homes. 

Mobile technology is now the most prevalent technology to impact the funeral business. 

Creative Funerals

I know it is a tad clichéd but current trends are more focused on putting the ‘fun’ into funerals.  Funerals today are evolving into the funeral of tomorrow.  Even funeral professionals are creatively embracing how they can be part of a greater change in the industry.  I have met funeral directors who have shed the black suit in favor of more casual attire, and prefer to meet their families at their home instead of the funeral home.

You can be just about as creative as your imagination will allow these days.  ‘Personalization’ is the buzzword that many in the industry are attempting to master, although with some trepidation, as no one can personalize a tribute as effectively as the family can.

Life Celebrants are now becoming as entrenched into our culture as Wedding Planners.  A celebrant will assist a family to arrange a befitting life celebration event, and it is my understanding that they primarily focus on the memorialization aspect of a tribute service.  In the UK there are several companies that offer life celebration or funeral consultancy services based on offering creativity.  The Fantastic Funeral Company specifically focuses on supporting families in arranging a bespoke “personalized alternative to a traditional funeral”.  Whilst some funeral businesses are resistive of such a service, many are adapting to work with life celebrants or even offer their own bespoke celebrant services.

With so many creative memorial solutions today – where do you start?  Butterfly, dove and Chinese lantern releases, themed services that involve dressing up, services held at unusual locations in memory of the deceased, creating online memorials or memorial gems, and a whole array of extraordinary ash scattering choices.

There is no doubt that as the current trends in funeral care evolve, I expect we shall further witness the emergence of the fusion funeral as a cultural ‘norm’.  It is also likely that the more we dispel the taboo about discussing dying and funerals, and encourage ordinary people to talk openly about their end-of-life ritual expectations, the more we will witness the funeral turning into a creative and innovative life celebration ritual.

Marketing funerals has never been an easy task, but marketing life celebration events and quirky, creative ‘fusion’ funerals may open up a whole new approach for those in the death care industry to engage with their audience.

Related Articles:

Sources:

MAC presents ‘A Christmas Carol’ [The Clay Center Dispatch] Nov 28, 2012

Starbucks to Open Inside Funeral Home [ABC News] July 12, 2012

Artists sought for art show at local funeral home [Rock River Times] July 26, 2012

Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 10 years.