The History of the North American Funeral Home
Part Three
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This is "Part One" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to the "Examination".

THE DAWN OF THE POST MODERN FUNERAL HOME

 

Funeral home facilities continued to remain in the same basic progression of development throughout much of the 1970s and on into the early 1980s. However, during the 1980s there were three things that influenced the institution of the funeral home in great measure. First was the introduction of the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling on the funeral service industry. It called for more accurate presentation of pricing and service information to be given to funeral home clients. It also called for more thorough financial record keeping of funeral sales activities. This eventually would force funeral homes to concentrate more effort on their office space and rely on the use of computer technology. This meant the business office would be enhanced to accommodate more office equipment and storage of records.    

Another influence came from the rise of an emphasis on pre-arranging and pre-funding funerals during the mid to late 1980s. Prior to the 1980s the preplanning and/or prepayment of funerals fell more into the service offerings of an attorney who would help someone complete a last will and testament. But with a new emphasis on this service being offered by funeral homes, many funeral homes saw this as a potential way to secure future business. They often adjusted their facilities to provide separate office space and conference rooms to be used exclusively for families wishing to pre-arrange a loved one’s funeral in advance. Some funeral directors even went as far as to purchase or build separate buildings to facilitate such operations in. They often called them “funeral planning centers” or “pre-planning centers”. For some the pursuit of pre-arranging funerals is still evident in their day to day operations. However, many others slowly left the emphasis as the government regulations (primarily on a state level) changed more in favor of the consumer’s rights, and compressed the options on funding vehicles for such pre-arranged accounts to be placed in.

The last influence of that era was the noticeable establishment of the corporate funeral home chains in North America. As theses previously silent entities began to become more aggressive in their purchase of independently owned funeral homes across   North  America  in  the  late  1980s, they were often perceived as a threat to those who refused to be courted by those conglomerating purchasers. It spurred many smaller family owned businesses to restore and/or refurbish their facilities. It caused others to build newer and more “consumer friendly” funeral homes to compete more adequately against the corporate chains which appeared to have deep pockets at first.

But ultimately the competitive attitude between the corporate owned firms and the privately owned family operated establishments would level out by the mid 1990s as the country adopted a more post modern mentality to daily living.

By that time the corporation chains were not buying up as many funeral homes. The family owned personal style of business had resurfaced in prominence and in public favor. The corporate funeral home chain mentality of operating only highly profitable larger volume funeral homes had not worked like the corporations had expected them to. This was primarily because the institution of the funeral home is not only a personal and traditionally oriented business, but also one which deals with perceived religious and spiritual values also. The corporate owned funeral home often lacked progressive ideals in these areas of thought. The funeral corporation chains seldom expressed perspectives that reached beyond the bottom line on a profit and loss statement.

In the early 1990s the Occupational Health and Safety Administration   (OSHA)   had   imposed   regulations  specifically directed at the funeral industry. This affected funeral homes directly, causing almost all of them to modify their embalming facilities (preparation rooms) to be brought up to code, so as to comply to with OSHA requirements.

For many establishments it required them to rebuild their mortuary environments completely. Such improvements and modifications would include drench showers and eye wash stations for embalmers to have access to while working in the embalming and preparation room. 

It would also include extensive labeling for doors, drawers and cabinets in and around the preparation room. OSHA also required the compilation of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) in a binder describing the chemicals used in the preparation room. An MSDS sheet is generally used as a source reference in the case of spills or extra contact with the embalmer’s skin, eyes, etc.

Fulfilling these OSHA standards were just a few of the ways funeral homes advanced their facilities to be safer and more functional for both the embalmer and ultimately for the general public.           

During the 1990s the pre-arranged funeral had become more of a standard service for funeral homes to offer their clients and not just another new option to get the most out of in a short period of time. All of these changes and regulations ushered in the dawn of the post modern funeral home, and learning how to function effectively in America’s new culture and society would prove to be a very interesting task for most funeral homes and their staff to adjust to.

 

THE NEW MILLENNIAL FUNERAL HOMES  

 

As funeral homes continued to operate into the new millennium, there was a definite sociological difference in the foundational needs of funeralization and memorialization in North America. Not only had religious and philosophical diversity changed the customs, standard offerings and facilities of most surviving funeral homes, but now the demand for the individualistic preference of the post modern citizen was pressing into the funeral industry even more than ever.

From the late 1980s until the new millennium the North American culture had become very different in its personal ideals than it had been in the previous six or seven decades. These post modern trends had caused people to rethink their own individual role in ordinary society. People were no longer “team members” or “joiners”. Instead, they thought more of themselves as individuals and often questioned authority and accepted traditions.

The things that in the past were very important about the funeralization of loved ones and family members had changed. The understanding of most of the aspects of the nation’s historical development were also being re-written.

 The society as a whole started to make one new standard in the memorialization process very clear. That was to remember the deceased the way they were at better times in life, instead of the way they are in mortal death. This interpreted into more cremations and more private family direct burials without a viewing. It also affected the number of anatomical donations that took place on an annual basis.     

By the new millennium cremation had become a standard and very popular option that all funeral homes offered, both in the urban and in the rural communities which had previously not been very involved in cremation services. From 1970 to the year 2000 the creation rate had increased more than 10 times. By the turn of the century nearly five percent of the funeral homes in America operated their own crematories in house.

Funeral home facilities had become more religiously generic for obvious reasons. Because of the ever increasing religious and philosophical diversity being expressed in the United States, too close of an identification with a certain faith or philosophy narrowed the potential clientele base. By this time the phrase “Serving all Faiths” disappeared from many advertising venues used by funeral homes. It became  necessary  for  the image of any funeral home to be capable of serving any faith (without a special bias), sect or special interest group. Political correctness to a funeral home’s image was more important than were their own preferences, or even their own history in serving specific religions or ethnic groups. The idea of using a neighborhood funeral home had generally been replaced by convenience of a funeral home’s facility, and even in some cases the price.

There were also now more obvious personal needs in the clientele base that funeral homes started to address in the general use of their facilities. Rooms where social workers, counselors and grief therapists could hold counseling sessions and practice “aftercare” with clientele families were often incorporated into the more progressive funeral home facilities.

Many funeral homes incorporated a room or area for childcare during viewings and funerals and memorial services. Professionally trained personnel were needed to coordinate and oversee such areas for a family’s comfort and security while they experienced the memorialization process. 

These facility trends obviously forced funeral homes to be conscious of not only what they charged the public for their services, but also how they utilized their floor space and managed their own facilities to the best interest of the public’s needs. The new funeral homes that were built were more creative in their use of their floor space and often had multifunctional rooms for counseling, pre-arranging funerals, lounges and dining areas and even childcare.             

By the early 21st century most funeral homes had been rewired for the internet and for video presentations in their chapels. Because many families could now prepare a video memorial of their deceased family member in their own home on their own computer, the desire for this type of presentation needed to be accommodated by the funeral home.

The internet gave most funeral homes the ability to file death certificate information electronically. By this time this had became a requirement in most States. Each funeral home now had their own website. It was a very efficient and thorough way to promote their funeral home, because the majority of the population

of the United States now had access to the internet, either in their own home or on their cell phones (or both).

In some cases the internet was the connection in their merchandise selection room to show families the various selections available to them directly from the casket companies, burial vault companies and cremation merchandise suppliers.

Many funeral homes became equipped with multiple kiosk computers in their foyers and offices. These computers would guide the funeral home visitor through many informational activities such as the general history and information about their funeral home and the services offered, information and recommendations on how to progress through various types and stages of grief and even general information about funeral merchandise and service options. 

The funeral home’s merchandise (Caskets, vaults, cremation urns, printed goods and clothing)  was now  presented to families in a variety of space saving and technological ways. For the past four decades funeral homes typically displayed their caskets in a room which held the actual units that would be used. Some funeral homes would show as few as five caskets, which represented the five basic material and price schemes. Other funeral homes that had the floor space might show between a 12 - 24 caskets in well lighted spacious rooms.

The major casket manufacturer’s representatives would advise funeral directors how to place the caskets in their display rooms so as to achieve the highest eye appeal for the more expensive units. This method of merchandizing was the standard of the industry for many years.

The technology of the new millennium changed funeral home merchandising. Now a flat screen television in a funeral home’s arrangement conference room would be able to show a grieving family literally dozens of casket selections that could be customized and adorned with personalized engravings and/or embroidering. In most parts of the country these special orders could be produced in time for the viewing and funeral sometime in the next 24-48 hours. 

If a funeral home did not use the internet and digital media to show merchandise exclusively, the merchandising  areas of the funeral home were more compact. They often displayed a partial portion of a commonly produced casket. This would allow a funeral home to show over four times the actual units than they had previously shown when they were displaying full size caskets.     

The printing of memorial folders and prayer cards had formerly been contracted out to local printing companies. Some funeral homes still operated their own manual typeset offset printing  presses to  accomplish  this task  in house.  However, with the advanced technology of the personal computer and the economical availability of color inkjet and laser printers, funeral homes in the 21st century could print their own folders and prayer cards utilizing full color portraits of the deceased on this media for a fraction of the cost that the printing companies charged, and at their own convenience.

All of these technological advances being utilized in the funeral home helped cater to the new post modern society that had enveloped the North American culture during the last two decades of the 20th century. The funeral home had now morphed from a strictly utilitarian option for the location of a funeral or memorial service, to a center for personalized memorial tributes to be created in and expressed in.

The emphasis on selling caskets, burial vaults and other forms of funeral merchandise had been radically diminished and even translated into a business where the service and personal care expressed to a grieving family was now the primary provision made by the funeral home.

These cultural trends may create as interesting of a future for the funeral home as its historical development has been. Many are curious to see how funeral homes in the future will concentrate the use of their facilities and the development of their professional staff that operate and manage them. Only time will tell.       


REFERENCES & RESOURCES
          

 

Death, The Trip of a Lifetime Greg Palmer (San Francisco, California - Harper-Collins Publishers – 1993)

 

Embalming History, Theory and Practice  Robert G. Mayer (New York - McGraw Hill Publishing – 2006)

 

Funeral Customs the World Over Robert W. Habenstein and William M. Lamers (Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Bulfin Printers Inc. - 1960)          

 

The History of Civil War Embalming Todd W. Van Beck (Seminar in Cincinnati Ohio – 2010)

 

The Principles and Practices of Embalming Clarence G. Strub and L.G. Frederick (Dallas,  Texas - Self Published – 1967)

 

 

 

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