Two New Books from Funeral Directors Tackle the Micro and the Macro of the Death Care Industry

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Two books have come out recently, both by licensed funeral directors, that cover the death care industry in two distinct ways. One is an intimate documentation of the challenges and rewards of being a funeral director, and the other examines funeral rites around the world. Both adopt what is most commonly referred to as a "death-positive" outlook - in general, a movement to re-contextualize society's engagement with death as not something to be feared, but embraced. It encourages open conversation about needs and wants with the hope that knowing more about the process can make it easier on everyone involved. Obviously a death is an extremely trying time, but the death-positive approach believes that the more you know, and the closer you are to the ritual, the better prepared you will be and the better you will feel when a death happens in your world.

Caleb Wilde's memoir, Confessions of a Funeral Director: How The Business of Death Saved My Life covers his experience as a sixth-generation funeral director and the struggles he went through on an emotional level, dealing with the toll it was taking, and how he came to find beauty in death and death care. It strikes me as a very honest engagement with the good and bad of death and grieving, and how he found his place in that process personally and professional. New York Magazine published an excerpt from the book, and it's well worth a read. 

Caitlin Doughty is a well-known Los Angeles funeral director, author, and blogger who has a new book examining death practices around the world. Her "Ask A Mortician" videos on YouTube get hundreds of thousands of views. She is also the person who started to popularize the death-positive term, and though some of her work emphasizes environmentally-friendly burial, she is more of a general thought leader about death care for the mainstream. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death demonstrates how varied the methods and attitudes about death and funerals are across the globe. What Americans could find odd or inappropriate might be the highest order of reverence in another culture. You can read her interview with the Washington Post here.

Finally, we are all aware that the nationwide cremation rate is a persistent topic at trade shows and conventions. And for good reason, because it officially has passed 50% in the U.S. as of last year. The actual number (50.2%, from the NFDA) is more symbolic, as rates have been on the rise for years now. In the Northwest region, where cremation rates are the highest, they approach 70%. In August, CNN reported on the 2017 NFDA Cremation and Burial report press release linked above, and they do a nice job of capturing the many facets contributing to the rise in cremation: cost, religion, geography, and transience, among others. It also highlights the rise of death-positive thinking and its emphasis on being open about the process, which for most funeral professionals should be an encouraging sign for one big reason - pre-planning. 

That's all the reading for this month. Jordan and I will be at the NFDA Annual Convention in Boston this coming week, so please stop by and say hello if you are there. We will be in Booth #2564. Hope to see you there.