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Predicting the next 100 years of the funeral industry

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PREFACE:  These predictions are simply conclusions based on fringe ideas I see being developed today.  These “predictions” aren’t necessarily my “preferences”.

10 Years.

By 2024, embalming will no longer be the majority choice, while cremation and alternate burial options (green burials, etc) will not only count for the majority of dispositions, but will continue to rise in popularity.

Pet burials and maybe even pet funerals will continue to gain momentum.

20 Years.

In 2008, the cremation rate for England was at 72.4%.  In 2034, America will have reached the same rate.  The remaining 17.6% will probably be either direct burial (with no embalming) or some other type of sustainable full burial option.  Embalming will only be performed on those who suffered tragic deaths; or on bodies that need some type of shipment.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Alkaline Hydrolysis (or something similar) has a major foothold in the disposition of the deceased.  It’s possible that Alkaline Hydrolysis takes over cremation due to the fact that it’s a more sustainable option.

40 Years. 

The euthanasia topic will be a settled issue at this point.  Even today, in 2014, seven out of ten Americans are in favor of physician assisted euthanasia.  By 2054, the question won’t be “is it legal” but “how do we adapt to the large number who request it?”

With the ability for a death date to be determined via euthanasia, it’s possible that a person’s life is celebrated through ritual BEFORE their death, instead of after it.  This changes the whole landscape for the funeral industry.

60 Years.

Throughout the next 60 years, end-of-life discussions be a hot topic.  Whether it be insurance concerns, euthanasia ethics or various other topics that arise, we will all have an opinion.  In 2075 the conversation starts to shift, as people begin living very long and healthy lives through advanced technology, medicine and various synthetic forms of longevity aid.

It’s possible that death becomes a welcome friend, instead of a hated foe … that when people reach the age of 150 they simply want to die.  It’s possible that we will be able to sustain life much farther than we sustain health.  It’s possible, at this point, the euthanasia become the dominate cause of death.  Instead of funeral homes, there’s now “Celebration Centers”.

100 Years.

At this point, technology allows us to be anything we want to be.  And we’ll all choose to be Batman … the rich kid who has all of his needs fulfilled so he decides to test his fate by pushing limits.  And we’ll all die stupid narcissistic heroic deaths from rock climbing or space explorations or deep sea diving.  At this point, humanity will kill itself off via stupidity and dogs will rule the world.  You heard it here first: Planet of the Dogs starts in 100 years.

With everybody dying from tragic acts of stupidity, most bodies aren’t recovered and the funeral industry dies.  : )

The end.

A Sailor’s Dying Wish

Today’s guest post is written by Jennie Haskamp:

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After signing my Pop, EM2 Bud Cloud (circa Pearl Harbor) up for hospice care, the consolation prize I’d given him (for agreeing it was OK to die) was a trip to “visit the Navy in San Diego.”

I emailed my friend and former Marine sergeant, Mrs. Mandy McCammon, who’s currently serving as a Navy Public Affairs Officer, at midnight on 28 May. I asked Mandy if she had enough pull on any of the bases in San Diego to get me access for the day so I could give Bud, who served on USS Dewey (DD-349), a windshield tour.

The next day she sent me an email from the current USS Dewey (DDG 105)’s XO, CDR Mikael Rockstad, inviting us down to the ship two days later.

We linked up with Mandy outside Naval Base San Diego and carpooled to the pier where we were greeted by CMDCM Joe Grgetich and a squad-sized group of Sailors. Bud started to cry before the doors of the van opened. He’d been oohing and pointing at the cyclic rate as we approached the pier, but when we slowed down and Mandy said, “They’re all here for you, Bud,” he was overwhelmed.

After we were all out of the van directly in front of the Dewey, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Petty Officer Simon introduced himself and said as the ship’s Sailor of the Year he had the honor of pushing Bud’s wheelchair for the day. Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Budaboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey. And so they carried him aboard. None of us expected him to go aboard the ship. I’d told him we were going down to the base and would have the chance to meet and greet a few of the Sailors from the new Dewey. He was ecstatic. The day before, he asked every few hours if we were “still going down to visit the boys from the Dewey,” and “do they know I was on the Dewey, too?”

Once aboard, we were greeted by the CO, CDR Jake Douglas, the XO and a reinforced platoon-sized group of Sailors. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. These men and women waited in line to introduce themselves to Bud. They shook his hand, asked for photos with him, and swapped stories. It was simply amazing.

They didn’t just talk to him, they listened.

Bud’s voice was little more than a weak whisper at this point and he’d tell a story and then GMC Eisman or GSCS Whynot would repeat it so all of the Sailors on deck could hear. In the midst of the conversations, Petty Officer Flores broke contact with the group. Bud was telling a story and CMDCM Grgetich was repeating the details when Flores walked back into view holding a huge photo of the original USS Dewey. That moment was priceless. Bud stopped mid-sentence and yelled, “There she is!” They patiently stood there holding the photo while he told them about her armament, described the way it listed after it was hit, and shared other details about the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Bud finally admitted how tired he was after more than an hour on deck. While they were finishing up goodbyes and taking last minute photographs, GMC Eisman asked if it’d be OK to bring Sailors up to visit Bud in a few months after a Chief’s board. I hadn’t said it yet because I didn’t want it to dampen the spirit of the day, but I quietly explained to GMC Eisman the reason we’d asked for the visit was simple: Bud was dying.

I told him they were welcome to come up any time they wanted, but I suspected Bud had about a month left to live. Almost without hesitation, he asked if the crew could provide the burial honors when the time came. I assured him that’d be an honor we’d welcome.

Leaving the ship was possibly more emotional than boarding.

They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal.

Later that night Bud sat in his recliner, hands full of ship’s coins and declared, “I don’t care what you do with my power tools; you better promise you’ll bury me with these.”

He died 13 days later. For 12 of those 13 days he talked about the Dewey, her Sailors and his visit to San Diego. Everyone who came to the house had to hear the story, see the photos, hold the coins, read the plaques.

True to his word, GMC Eisman arranged the details for a full honors burial. The ceremony was simple yet magnificent. And a perfect sendoff for an ornery old guy who never, ever stopped being proud to be a Sailor. After the funeral, the Sailors came back to the house for the reception and spent an hour with the family. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s another example of them going above and beyond the call of duty, and it meant more to the family than I can explain.

There are more photos, and I’m sure I missed a detail, or a name. What I didn’t miss and will never forget, is how unbelievable the men and women of the USS Dewey were. They opened their ship and their hearts and quite literally made a dream come true for a dying Sailor.

They provided the backdrop for “This is the best day of my life, daughter. I never in my whole life dreamed I’d step foot on the Dewey again or shake the hand of a real life Sailor.”

Without question, it’s the best example of Semper Fidelis I’ve ever seen.

*****

Jennie Haskamp is a Marine Corps veteran. Follow Jennie’s personal blog HERE.  And to read a follow-up to the post you just read, click HERE.

Grief Shaming: Why some people believe your grief over Robin Williams is misguided

My social media feeds have been spattered with statuses such as this:

“People need to wake up!  He was JUST a celebrity!”

Or this:

“Why are so many people grieving over Robin Williams when Mike Brown was shot and killed for NO REASON!!!”

And then there’s the complaint that we forget crimes against humanity, like those atrocities being committed by ISIS against the innocent:

“The media covers celebrity deaths, but they totally forget that ISIS is slaughtering children.”  

And I admit, I’m guilty of the same type of grief shaming and grief measuring.  There’s been a few times when I’ve walked into a nursing home, hospital or home to see the grandchildren and children weeping over the body of a 90+ year old deceased person.  And I want to say, “You know last week I buried a 15 year old boy who was struck by a car … that family has a right to grieve, but this person that you’re crying over … this person has lived 90 full years of life.”

Or, something like this: “Most people never get to see their parents live into their 90s.  You should be celebrating that fact that you shared so much time with your loved one.  STAAAAPH CRYING!!!”

And, from a level of objectivity, I (we) are right.

I mean, have you read about the recent Mike Brown tragedy?  An eighteen year old unarmed black male gunned down by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

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And the ISIS stories are so horrific that it’s difficult to recount.  ISIS is slaughtering children.  And turning other children into monsters.

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ALL THIS IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD AND YOU’RE MOURNING THE DEATH OF A COMEDIAN???  A COMEDIAN WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE???

The problem with grief shaming and grief measuring is this: there isn’t objectivity.

See, grief is proportional to love and intimacy.  The more you love someone and the closer you are to them, the more you grieve.  And telling someone that their grief is misguided is as wrong as telling someone their love is misguided.

Sure, the death of a 90 year old isn’t as tragic as the death of a 15 year old, but that doesn’t make the grief for the 90 year old any less real or any less valid.  You grieve because you love and we all love differently.  We love different people.  We love those people in different ways.  And our attachments are as varied as we are unique.  I’ve learned the grief NEVER deserves judgment, but it ALWAYS deserves compassion.

My friend Tracy, who has an incredible way with her words, wrote this:

I saw a thing today complaining about the focus on Robin Williams’ death instead of the horrible atrocities in Iraq and around the world. Can I tell you something?  Mr. Williams’ death HAS affected me more deeply.  Even if that makes me a bad person.

I think it’s because I understand something about depression and have no concept of being a refugee.  I think it’s because I’ve considered suicide at one point in my life but I’ve never needed to climb into a rescue helicopter to escape genocide.  I think it’s because I’ve been touched more than once by mental illness and addiction in the lives of those around me but I’ve never had to see a neighbor child cut in half. I think it’s because I can’t do absolutely anything at all about Iraq or Sudan or DRC, but I can look in the eyes of the people around me and make sure they are actually ok and not just pretending.  Step up to my own war against profound and crushing grief and sadness.  Do something small to release the stigma of mental illness in my own corner of the world.

I’m not one to really care much about celebrities and their divorces/affairs/babies/movies/whatever, but this one hits me.  And instead of lashing out at those who mourn a suicide by calling their attention to “more important” deaths, maybe we need to check in with the people who are mourning Mr. Williams and make sure they’re ok. (I’m ok, really.  Thanks.)

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Many of us grew up with Robin Williams.

He was the Genie in Aladdin that made us laugh.

He made us believe in the magic of Neverland.

Williams sparked our imagination in ‘Jumanji’.

He somehow softened the blow of divorce in Mrs. Doubtfire

And now, he’s making many of us reconsider our understanding of depression and suicide.

Instead of shaming and measuring other people’s grief, isn’t it more helpful if we open up a space in our hearts for compassion and empathy?  And maybe, if we show others empathy for their grief, they will in turn show empathy for ours.

The key to solving problems like ISIS and the injustice of the Mike Brown tragedy doesn’t start with shame and judgment.  The key to solving problems big and small starts with showing compassion.  It is love, after all, and not judgment, that covers a multitude of sins.

 

 

Robin Williams’ Suicide: Why I hurt for the Williams family

Yesterday I wrote a piece entitled, Robin Williams: Finding the Silver Lining.  I rarely address celebrity deaths on my blog, but I found Williams’ death affected me more than I expected.

This morning I woke up and as I scrolled through my news feed I was surprised to see the details of Robin’s death trumpeted on nearly every news outlet.  And again I found myself strangely affected.  So I wrote this piece — from my perspective as a funeral director — on why Robin’s death, more than most, needs privacy.

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Church funerals often cause a proxemics dilemma. The dilemma comes into play in rare circumstances when the family wants the open casket in the front of church sanctuary.

Sometimes, when the time comes for the family to say their last good-byes before the lid’s closed, they have to do something incredibly intimate and tearful in a public setting, with often a hundred or so onlookers watching as they cover their deceased loved one with the blanket, give a final kiss good-bye and say their last “I love you.”

The way we solve the dilemma is by having the pall bearers come forward and surround the family, creating a human wall so to speak, which allows the family to let all their humanity out before the lid is closed.

Celebrity deaths create the same dilemma.  Grief that is meant to be private is watched and consumed by the public.  Ideas, thoughts and feelings that are meant to be processed within the context of family and friends are now processed within the context of the public eye.

For instance:

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We, the public, have also been told the manner of Williams’ death (suicide).  I’ve been in this business for years and we’ve buried many people who have committed suicide without the public EVER knowing.  If the family we were serving wished for it to remain a private topic, it was kept private by us and by the authorities.

Suicide is SO complex.  It’s not easy for anyone to understand and so there’s times when privacy is the most psychologically healthy way to approach a death by suicide.  Because while suicide isn’t easy to understand, the VERY LAST THING the survivors need to experience is judgment of any kind from others.

This approach from Shawna Morrissey’s blog is one of the best ways to understand suicide.  Shawna writes,

Twelve years ago this month, I lost my Uncle Jay to suicide.

At his funeral, Jay’s bishop addressed us. The words he spoke are burned into my mind.  He said, “I feel impressed to tell you that Jay spent his life struggling to survive.  Suicide was not a choice he made, but rather a choice he happened onto when his pain was greater than his ability to cope.”

This man, who took his own life, was a survivor in every sense of the word.

I imagine that such is true of many who leave the world in this way.

But not everyone is so compassionate towards those who take their own life.

Not only have we been told the manner of Williams’ death, we’ve also been told the cause (hanging).

Why?  Why?  Why have we been told this?

Suicide through overdose, gunshot wound and carbon monoxide asphyxiation are considerably timid forms of suicide when compared with hanging.

Overdose, gunshot wounds and carbon monoxide are one step methods that sometimes result from impulsive moments of considerable darkness.  But, hanging oneself.  This is a whole different method of suicide.  In many ways, it is the most premeditated form of self-murder.  Suicide by hanging is a statement suicide. Suicide by overdose and gunshot is usually an “I just want to end it” method … not so with hanging.  And all this gives more reasons why Williams’ death is so complex and complicated.

Grief is sacred.

This sacredness of grief is the reason so many of us hate the Westboro picketers, who picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, and any other funeral that can grab them some limelight.  We dislike what they’re doing because it transgresses one of the most sacred aspects of both our love and our humanity: the grief that comes from the loss of personal love.

I believe transparency is helpful.  But, in times like this, privacy is what Robin’s family and friends need and deserve.  And I wish they would have received it.  I, for one, hurt for his wife and kids and hope they find the space, compassion and love they so desperately need.

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Robin Williams: Finding the Silver Lining

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Most celebrity deaths don’t affect me too much.  For some reason Robin Williams’ death has.  When I first heard of his death I nearly broke into tears, prompting me to immediately reflect on why his passing elicited such an emotional response.

As was public knowledge, Williams suffered from severe depression, which caused him to both cope through various forms of substances, but it also seemed to inspire his comedic genius.  In fact, I always had the sense that his comedy somehow poured out of a deep current of pain … that the laughter he inspired was his way of brightening the darkness he saw in the world.  That in his depression, he fought back by inspiring laughter.  And I think that’s why so many — including myself — loved him.  With Robin Williams, you just had the feeling that his humor was deeper than the Vince Vaughns or the Jim Carreys of the world.  You had the feeling that his humor was genuinely meant to inspire your happiness … that his desire to make you smile was inspired by his pain.

Here’s a small story that acts as an example. Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve (of Superman fame) were roommates at Juilliard where they studied drama and became lifelong friends.  After Reeve had his devastating accident (that caused him to be a quadriplegic) and Reeve was in the hospital preparing for a surgery, this happened.

Reeve was approaching operation to reattach his skull to his spine (June 1995).  Reeve recollected that the surgery “was frightening to contemplate. … I already knew that I had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the surgery. … Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent.” The man announced that he was a proctologist and was going to perform a rectal exam on Reeve. It was Robin Williams, reprising his character from the film Nine Months. Reeve wrote: “For the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”

For those of us (like myself) who struggle with depression, some days it can be hard just to get out of bed.  But Robin Williams — somehow — in his pain inspired millions to laughter.  Thank you, Robin, for making the world brighter.  Thank you for finding the silver lining.

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