End of Life Planning and COVID-19

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made death at the forefront of the average person’s mind like never before. And funeral and cemetery services have sadly had to keep up with a significant death rate. Not only is the demand for services growing, but the ways in which consumers access these services is also changing. Pandemic-specific gathering and travel restrictions, in particular, are having a major impact on how our traditional industry operates day-to-day. We have always kept an eye on how tech start-ups are trying to enter the death care industry. A recent New York Times article surveys the latest companies that, in the midst of the pandemic, are trying to change how people research and access end of life planning.

Lantern and Cake are two companies that both focus on offering guidance around end of life decision making. While Lantern asks visitors to create an account to receive a free end of life checklist, Cake more prominently displays their content marketing for free. Both companies are the latest to attract attention for their initiatives in rethinking end of life decision making. But it is not just death planning that is of central concern. The nature of grieving is also changing, which means that these startups are also developing "new forums and content on how to plan for death, honor the newly dead and grieve virtually." Interestingly enough, some of these companies have sought investment by associating themselves with the $4.5 trillion wellness industry.  For example, a company called Near seeks to build a network of support services that go far beyond those traditionally offered by funeral homes, including different types of art and music therapy.The US death care industry, in contrast, was valued at $102.3 billion in 2019.

A universal benefit, and one aspect that I found most interesting, is the effort being put into normalizing and making accessible end of life planning. They are facilitating and encouraging active involvement in the process, whether your own or your loved one. You could look at these startups in two ways — as potentially new product offerings for funeral homes, or as disrupters of the industry as people move towards direct cremation, virtual services, and new ways of grieving. What they lack in community roots, they make up for with online tools and services. Importantly as well, by developing new paths for memorialization and practices for grieving, they are expanding what we think the death care industry can be.