Funeral planning trends that may surprise you
Take inspiration from these unique funeral trends as you embark on your own advance funeral planning journey.
By Jessica Catignani and Karla Walsh
Planning a funeral isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. People want to mark the event with a personal touch, which has opened more options than ever. At the same time, funerals during the coronavirus pandemic have limited — or at least adjusted — end-of-life commemorations drastically.
With these factors in mind, we’ve rounded up the latest and greatest in funeral planning trends to help you breathe new life into age-old practices, all while keeping everyone safe. Whether to help educate or inform a loved one or for your own advance funeral planning, these ideas might come in handy. Some are changing funeral services as we know them forever — and for the better.
1. Cremation is on the rise
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) estimates that over half of Americans now choose cremation over burial, and it expects more people to do so in the future. In fact, NFDA expects cremation trends will become the rule by 2040, when they predict almost 80% of funerals will center around cremation.
The increase in cremation is affecting cremation trends themselves. One is direct cremation. Usually, cremation happens after the deceased is placed in a casket for viewing and the funeral service. Direct cremation bypasses these traditional processes and extra costs. Instead, the body is cremated immediately following death, and the remains are placed in an urn or container to be displayed at a memorial service, if one is held at all. (This is becoming a bigger funeral planning trend during the pandemic to bypass large gatherings.)
Another alternative is water cremation, which uses a liquid solution to decompose the body, instead of flames. The option is eco-friendlier because it reduces carbon dioxide released into the air by traditional cremation. Plus, the bereaved still receive the remains to do with as they wish.
Cremation funeral planning trends not only apply to new methods, but also to how the bereaved honor loved ones through their cremains. Creative ideas let them showcase the deceased’s passions or allow them to send their ashes off in unusual ways. Some include:
- Memorial reefs: Cremains are affixed to or mixed into a man-made reef at the bottom of the ocean to become a natural habitat for marine life.
- Ashes in the atmosphere: The company Mesoloft, uses a balloon to launch cremains to the edge of space, where they’re released into the atmosphere.
- Pressing remains into a vinyl record: The recording supports 12 minutes of customizable audio per side.
- Growth urns: In lieu of traditional vessels, companies like BiosUrn and EterniTrees offer containers that allow the remains to offer nutrients to a tree or other plant that will act as a way for loved ones to remember the deceased.
2. Going green
Green funeral services may be a new movement now, but like cremation trends, they may become commonplace as more people seek ways to lessen their ecological footprint. That's why more funeral homes are providing green services. They are following such practices as formaldehyde-free embalming, using recycled products, and even biodegradable balloons to release at the ceremony in place of plain plastic ones that may harm birds. The number of businesses offering green burial services is also increasing.
A green burial, or natural burial, is one in which the body is embalmed with non-toxic products or not embalmed at all. It is then wrapped in a shroud, if desired, which is a cloth made of natural material, like cotton, linen, or bamboo. In a shroud, the body is placed right into the ground or inside an eco-friendly casket without a vault. These biodegradable caskets are built of wicker, banana leaves, bamboo, cardboard, or other sustainable materials, and without glue. Thus, they decompose more easily in the soil, which lets the green burial site return to its natural state and lessens the impact to the Earth.
3. At-home funerals, participatory funerals, and family-led services
At-home funerals and participatory funerals allow families to be more involved with the care of their loved ones after their deaths. Instead of taking the body to a funeral home, caregivers who choose an at-home funeral take on some of the responsibilities of a funeral director, such as changing the deceased’s clothes. Family and friends then come to pay their respects — for a few hours or days. The trend allows people to gather in an intimate setting to say goodbye, which works well in the age of the coronavirus pandemic when smaller, more intimate memorials make much more sense for safety reasons. If desired, you can livestream the ceremony via private virtual “room” or on social media to allow others to be involved even when they’re halfway across the globe.
Participatory funerals encourage the same care by loved ones, except they do so in a funeral home. This method lets them contribute at a level they feel comfortable and under the guidance of professionals.
Family-led services do not have a chaplain or officiant lead the ceremony – a family member does – but a funeral home cares for the deceased and helps with preparations.
It’s legal in every U.S. state to have at-home funerals, and most states don’t require a licensed funeral director to be involved. However, some states require a funeral director to help with key steps, such as signing the death certificate and overseeing burial or cremation.
4. Funeral party
Wanting to divert from somber events, more people are making preneed plans for a funeral party in lieu of traditional services. Also known as a celebration of life, a funeral party may feature upbeat music, funny stories, and sometimes open bars. They are held in various settings, ranging from a home to a park to the deceased’s favorite restaurant — anywhere that speaks to the person’s life. In short, a funeral party lets loved ones take part in an uplifting life tribute instead of a sorrowful event.
5. Theme funerals
A theme funeral takes the funeral party one step further by focusing on one thing that was important to the deceased to create a truly personalized funeral. For example, unique theme funerals have included Star Wars services, featuring pallbearers dressed as movie characters, and bowling funerals, during which participants roll the casket into pins at the deceased’s favorite bowling alley. Such funeral personalization lets the departed go out in their own style.
6. Technology in funeral services
With technology dominating so much of everyday life, it should come as no surprise to learn it’s becoming a staple with death, too. Funeral homes announce arrangements on their websites and offer to create memorial videos that show highlights of the deceased’s life. Online broadcasts allow loved ones who are far away to virtually attend funeral services. Digital sympathy support, such as e-cards, allow people to show compassion to the bereaved easier than before. Social memorial websites, such as ForeverMissed.com and Legacy.com, honor the dead with commemorative webpages, and crowdfunding lets friends contribute to the funeral expenses.
But perhaps the most innovative way to pay tribute to the deceased is with an interactive headstone. Some supply a link to a social memorial website by scanning a code with a smartphone. Others feature text, video, and audio right on the slab via an interactive display that detects human presence. From a slideshow of images to even a novel, if you like, this display can be as personalized as you wish and updated over time, if desired.
7. Advance funeral planning is gaining popularity
To ensure the most personalized funeral service and to incorporate as many of the above funeral planning trends as desired, more and more people are turning to advance funeral planning each year, according to the NFDA. This strategy is not only ideal to guarantee your own memorial is designed just how you like it, but it also helps make it easier to prepay at today’s costs via Preneed Funeral insurance.
8. Crowdfunding funeral costs
Speaking of paying for services, another tech-forward option is becoming a more popular funeral addition — especially in the event of an unexpected or quick death. To quickly raise money for the memorial, some families are turning to crowdfunding funeral costs through sites like GoFundMe. (This, of course, is not necessary in the event of preplanned funerals that have already been paid for at the present-day price — just one more reason to consider Preneed Funeral insurance.)
9. New faces in the industry
You might also notice a different demographic involved with funerals moving forward, notes the NFDA. In the past a male-dominated field, more than 60% of mortuary science students in the United States are now female. And in the past, funeral service was known for being a “family” profession that was passed down from one generation to the next, but people with no family ties to the business are joining the profession as a second career.
Photo credit: iStock
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