Since everything in life seems to be changing, it should be no surprise that things involving death are, too.
Everyone is familiar with the existing routine, which does provide comfort at a difficult time. First is the visitation, when people stop by a funeral home for a few kind words with surviving family members. Then comes a funeral, concluding with burial in a cemetery.
But in a world that has seen the growth of destination weddings and gender-reveal parties for expectant mothers, it’s no surprise that there also are new ideas for the treatment of death.
The Washington Post reports, “Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death, and it’s not just among the wealthy and famous.”
The most obvious change in recent years is the growing use of cremation. More than half of all Americans who die are cremated, compared to only 28 percent in 2002. The National Funeral Directors Association predicts that the cremation rate will be 80 percent by 2035.
Part of this trend may involve available space. At some point, large urban areas are going to run out of land for cemeteries. But cremation does lead to concern about the future maintenance of cemeteries. If fewer families use them, who will pay for their upkeep?
The growing number of cremations may be providing inspiration for more creative memorials. Perhaps not having a coffin to move around has led to some unique services — a backyard cookout or a cocktail party — that celebrate a person’s life as much as they mourn the loss of a relative or friend.
Some families are even choosing destination funerals. A boater in Hawaii runs a company that performs 600 “cremains” scatterings per year in the Pacific Ocean, with up to 80 people attending. He says business is growing 15 to 20 percent annually.
This evolution of the funeral service is certain to continue as the nation’s baby boom generation creates a historic level of deaths.
Census figures say that by 2030, there will be more Americans over age 65 than there are children. By 2037, an estimated 3.6 million Americans will die, which is 1 million more than the number that passed away in 2015.
Perhaps the oddest development is the idea of “green” funerals, where a body is placed in a biodegradeable coffin or shroud.
The Washington state Legislature is considering a bill that would make it the first place in the country to legalize human composting. A Seattle woman’s company wants to use “wood chips, alfalfa and straw to turn bodies into a cubic yard of top soil in 30 days. That soil could be used to fertilize a garden, or a grove of trees, the body literally returned to the earth.”
Besides cremation, few of these ideas have hit Mississippi yet. Traditional funerals remain the norm. We may not be quite ready for composting, but it is clear that change is coming.