In every culture and religion around the world, rituals around death and grief are an important part of an organized society. Often these cultural norms are tied with religious beliefs, including the beliefs around what happens after a person dies. These cultural norms typically originate from an organized leader, such as the clergy or tribal leaders, which sets the standard for appropriate ways to handle the deceased’s remains and defines rituals to honor their memory. Historically, there were also cultural expectations placed on the spouse and immediate family of the deceased, such as an appropriate time period for mourning or a symbolic style of clothing.
One ritual that’s experienced an enormous cultural shift over the past 50 years is the widespread acceptance of cremation as an approved method of disposition. Until the late 1880’s, cremation was a crime punishable by death. Into the early 1900’s, it was no longer illegal but still classified as a pagan practice by the Roman Catholic church. The church’s view was cremation indicated a disbelief in the resurrection of the body, therefore showing blasphemy towards God. This belief shifted in the mid-1960’s when the Pope lifted the ban on cremation and allowed Catholic priests to officiate at cremation ceremonies. In 1997, the Roman Catholic church modified the burial rite to allow cremated remains to be present during the funeral service. Prior to 1997, the cremation had to take place following the service. These two changes set the stage for the business climate we experience today in the modern funeral industry.
Departure from Tradition
Researchers at San Diego State University found that millennials are less likely to belong to a religious group or say that faith plays an important role in their daily lives. Data trends pointed to the rise of individualism, or the 'me' culture, and that mindset doesn't mesh well with strict religious practices. Although the Pope’s ban on cremation was lifted in the 1960’s, it makes sense that older generations would carry out the wishes of their more traditional relatives. Younger generations were born into a world where cremations were culturally acceptable, and as such details surrounding funeral services represent less of a faith-based decision.
Memorials & Technology
Technology and social media have also played a role in shifting the cultural norms around funerals. According to the Funeral and Memorial Information Council's 2015 survey, adults aged 20-39 have different expectations of their relationship with funeral directors versus earlier generations. Members of the younger generations are comfortable having a friend or relative pre-arrange their memorials, and they are open to “crowdsourcing” the funds to pay for their final expenses. The younger generations are also more likely to select an online/virtual memorialization option. Options that were previously regarded as disrespectful or inappropriate have made their way into mainstream culture. Funeral directors need to stay informed of these trends so they can adjust their service offerings accordingly.
Personalization during the memorial service is a continued trend in the funeral planning industry. The National Funeral Directors Association found that baby boomers see funerals as an important part of the grieving process, and are seeking ways to make them meaningful. No longer a somber occasion, these celebrations of life showcase the lifestyle, hobbies and passions of their deceased loved one, and provide connection and emotional closure for the family. Global Bronze recognizes that personalization is an important component of modern memorial services, and our craftsman designed a wide range of ornamental bronze plaques, emblems, lights and vases to offer a meaningful, personalized memorial.
Changes in cultural norms set by the Roman Catholic church were a key influencer of the shifts seen in the modern funeral planning industry, specifically the rise in cremation rates. Those shifts, coupled with the reduced religious affiliations of the younger generations, have redefined the expectations surrounding funeral directors and memorial services. Memorial services are moving away from the ritualistic religious ceremonies, and shifting to personalized celebrations of life for family members to grieve and mourn together. Understanding these changes in tradition allows you to customize your offerings and adjust your business plans accordingly.