In my career, I’ve read numerous articles and heard impassioned speeches about the importance of embalming and how we are failing as an industry. It always seems that the blame is levied towards the discounters, the direct disposers, cremation itself, other “more green” options, and as always, Jessica Mitford. However, I feel funeral service has had a long-standing problem with introspection. We’re like Dracula, We avoid mirrors.
The trending narrative from the profession, for many years, has been “body present services” and creating a “lasting memory picture”. Clearly, these aspirations of what is a “proper” funeral have fallen on deaf ears as the consumer continues to move away from the old traditions choosing cremation over burial over 60% of the time.
Although many funeral directors and embalmers have educated their community on the value, purpose, and benefit of embalming, the overall rate of embalming is declining and we often blame cremation. We even toss blame to the younger funeral directors that post on social media. This criticism is applied with a broad stroke to scorn this new way of communication as dangerous and hurtful to our beloved profession.
Because we forget there are always two sides to every coin, we need to look deeper. Traditional print media was what Jessica Mitford used to take topics out of context and this showed the embarrassing ways we discuss our profession amongst ourselves. Mitford didn’t need social media; just like social media, once something goes to print, you can’t simply delete it.
I’ve recently read several embalming-related articles that point to the problems we face. Declining profit margins, increasing overhead, and a threat to our lifestyle and bottom line are all truly relevant issues. But this should never be the foundation of how we explain to families why embalming is important.
Let’s talk about why embalming is important. First off, it might not be. (GASP!) It really is not for us to decide! Depending on a family’s needs and wishes, it could be very important. Now, how do we figure this out when serving a family?
First, funeral directors and embalmers believe that spending time with our dead is healthy. This includes what we would consider traditional: visitations with family and friends. But today most families, for whatever reason, need our help to decide if this is something they need and that’s where we come in.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
Second, we believe that the act of embalming will create the most pleasant experience possible for viewing over an extended time. Therefore, there is no room for error by the embalmer.
Finally, embalming allows families time to make decisions that are right for them. They can safely bring their loved one home for a time. It also allows us as funeral directors to confidently say “yes, you can have a viewing next week.”
We need to share these reasons with each other more often. We all know that our margins are decreasing and the funeral home as we know it today may not be the same in the next decade. But if our mindset is limited to only profit and our lifestyle, we will never be effective in relaying the importance of this service to our families.
We must reframe and reinforce these things to ourselves, over and over again. Make them part of our core beliefs and values. We can only continue to provide a service if we believe it’s in the best interest of our families and not the best interest of ourselves.
While we’re worried about what some young embalmer is posting on TikTok, we should instead be more mindful about what we say and what we put in writing because it will also be seen by our families and be scrutinized by our detractors.
What do YOU see when you look into the mirror?