Undertakings: The Death Industry and the Business of Dying

Undertakings: The Death Industry and the Business of Dying

 

Social Impact of the Death Industry: Aeron Scales

Dying in the United States is expensive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of death expenses has risen 227.1 percent, almost double the 123.4 percent increase for all other consumer goods, from 1987 to 2017.[1] An increase of this magnitude has brought the median cost of an American funeral up to $7,360 for a “traditional” viewing and burial, and $6,260 for viewing and cremation.[2] Since this increase has accompanied a rise of income inequality[3], and because death is not an optional event, the modern, institutional ways in which Americans care for their dead has been an immense burden financially as well as emotionally. The process of selling services to the deceased is ethically-tricky terrain, and, regardless of intent, the traditional American funeral the mainstream death industry provides has a detrimental effect not only on American wallets but also on their grieving processes.

Before discussing the modern death industry, it is vital to examine what preceded it. Undertaking as a profession did not evolve in the United States until the second half of the nineteenth century[4] and as such the care of the dead was primarily a family affair for much of American history. The dead were prepared for viewing and burial (which usually just meant washing and dressing the body) by their loved ones in their own homes. This changed during the American Civil War, when the bodies of wealthy Northern soldiers were being transported long distances back home to their families, often in hot weather that encouraged swift decomposition. Arterial embalming, then a relatively new practice, was used as a remedy for this problem, and early American embalmings, wherein the deceased’s blood was siphoned and replaced with preservatives, were performed on these bodies before they were placed on trains to be shipped home. The business of embalming did not gain widespread traction until after the Civil War, however, when President Abraham Lincoln himself was embalmed for his body’s funerary tour of the country.[5] The trend caught on after that and thus the artificial preservation of the dead before burial became a mainstay of American “traditional” funerals.

Since then, the idea of a “traditional” funeral has included arterial embalming, now with the somewhat-less-toxic formaldehyde instead of arsenic and mercury, and often cosmetic enhancements of the deceased, such as makeup and wound repair with materials like wax, to facilitate a staged viewing before the deceased’s cremation or burial. Of course, all this is expensive. According to the National Funeral Directors’ Association, the median cost of embalming and “other preparation of the body” in 2017 totaled $975.[6] High costs for funerals mean high profit margins for funeral directors, so it is not unreasonable to suspect unscrupulous funeral directors may take advantage of mourning families. The Federal Trade Commission therefore has rules in place to ensure the rights of mourners. These include a requirement that directors use caskets, urns, or alternative containers the family provides, and that they are upfront about the prices of caskets and services.[7]

Even with those protections in place, however, mourning families are a vulnerable population. Many may not ask questions of an authority figure like a funeral director in their grief, and accept the expensive casket and funeral package offered. Many people believe, as a result of over a century of custom, that embalming is required for a corpse’s viewing, when refrigeration is almost always an acceptable substitute for slowing decay,[8] or that it best preserves the dignity of the deceased after they have been buried, when embalming only delays the body’s decay and does not stop it entirely. Other forms of supposed body preservation have surfaced in recent years, too; so-called “sealed” caskets, which are typically a few hundred dollars more expensive than regular caskets, are sold, supposedly, to protect the deceased from the ground in which they have been interred. While funeral directors are not allowed to say this, since the rubber gaskets that make these caskets “sealed” are actually considered the weakest part of the metal caskets on which they are installed, they can certainly imply that this is the case. (Below is a video from a California mortician, Caitlin Doughty, about the merits of sealed caskets.)[9]

Link To Video

In their 1995 article on the subject of grief and public policy, marketing experts James W. Gentry, Patricia F. Kennedy, Katherine Paul, and Ronald Paul Hill assert this point, that those grieving constitute a uniquely vulnerable population. In their article, they cite another author, Simmons, who wrote that “The assumptions of classical economics that the consumer is always rational and completely knowledgeable seem absurd if they are applied to the purchase of a funeral.” He goes on to say that shopping for a funeral is fundamentally different from shopping for any other consumer good, because the arrangers are in the mindset of a mourner, not a consumer.[10] They do not typically, for example, shop around at multiple funeral homes or attempt to bargain with the funeral home for cheaper services the director may be able to offer. They are not the rational consumer expected by classical economics and therefore are vulnerable to exploitation, intentional or otherwise. Conventional embalming is an extremely invasive procedure that often involves suturing the mouth shut, gluing the eyelids (and occasionally removing the eyeballs), and various incisions must be made in the body to facilitate the removal of internal gases and fluids.[11] The details of the procedure are, frankly, horrifying to consider, and when it is explained to the mourning funeral arranger by a funeral director as the best way to preserve the deceased for a viewing (leaving out the possibility of simply refrigerating the body in the handful of days before the funeral) the director is likely to leave out the grisly details. Regardless of whether or not a funeral home is intentionally scamming its customers, since its director may legitimately believe that a pricey casket and embalming are the best way for a family to honor their deceased loved one, the fact remains that those experiencing the loss of a close friend or family member are not usually capable of making informed decisions for themselves about what they or the deceased really wants from a funeral.

Beyond financial cost, some believe traditional funerals promote unhealthy grief and limit the mourners’ understanding of the death. According to a paper by Doctors Palermo and Gumz, the effect of embalming, a “natural”-appearing corpse, leads to a denial of death’s reality, and they postulate that seeing the deceased as life-like only delays the acceptance of the loss. Furthermore, they consider it “the ultimate invasion of human privacy,” since it involves such extensive and violent procedures, and therefore “denies the sacredness of the human body.”[12] In this way, it is contradictory to what many seek in funeral arrangements: an honorable remembrance of the deceased as a transition from life with the deceased individual to life without them. The authors go on to assert that since, according to Lindermann, “the duration of a grief reaction seems to depend upon the success with which a person does the grief work,” embalming is counterproductive to a healthy mourning process.[13] By not being able to see the dead person as physically different from the way they were alive, mourners are not well-prepared to do the hard work of grief and instead are able to push it aside, which may cause much larger psychological problems later on.

Within the past decade or so, there has been an insurgence of advocates for alternative funeral and burial solutions. Home funerals and “green burials” usually involve no embalming procedures, and the deceased are, in the latter, buried in a plain wooden casket, or wrapped in a biodegradable shroud, which allows them to decay naturally without embalming preservatives that are toxic to the soil (and humans; formaldehyde is a known carcinogen), and without the need to use the fossil fuels necessary for cremation. These burials are far, far cheaper than “traditional” funerals, since the casket and embalming are two of the largest expenditures. Aside from environmental and financial cost, there is also the question of mourning. In an excellent and emotional article on the death, funeral, and natural burial of a woman named Kate Oberlin, Libby Copeland says, “The Oberlins coped, it seemed to me, by looking straight at what was coming and making it their own. It was the worst kind of adventure, but they were doing it together.”[14] The Oberlins began to discuss arrangements for the home funeral and natural burial Kate wanted well before she died, when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Her husband, Deloy, plans to be buried in the same wooden box that was used to transport Kate to her burial site, upon which the crowd of mourners constructed a garden plot. By taking control of Kate’s funeral in its entirety, the Oberlins were able to guide the funeral to suit the needs of their particular grief, and know that they were doing what Kate had wanted. This version of mourning is in stark contrast to the prescribed embalming and formal viewing of a traditional funeral and to Palermo and Gumz this funeral is psychologically healthier, since the family participated so much in the preparation and burial of Kate’s body. Others who visited Kate during the three days she was kept in her home (under careful temperature supervision) remarked upon their own experiences of loss, and emphasized their need for physical understanding of the loss. As Copeland writes:

A man spoke of touching his father’s “rough worker hands.” A woman spoke of praying over her husband’s body when he died suddenly, and of defying the emergency workers, who wanted to rush him to the hospital, even though he was clearly gone. “We just took time. It meant so much to me,” she said. “We kept him for hours.”[15]

In a home funeral, mourners are allowed more connection to the dead through the time they spend with the deceased’s body, and in a green burial, the remembrance of the lost loved one can be asserted through the planting of trees or gardens which, to some, is a more meaningful reminder of that person’s existence than stone monuments.[16]

Kate Oberlin’s friends and family bear her body to her chosen gravesite: https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a12845872/kate-oberlin-home-funeral/

The Psychology of Funerals: Rebecca Burton

As seen above, when it comes to the funeral business in the United States, the topics that most often come to mind are the economic and social impacts of losing a loved one. However, an aspect of the funeral business not often discussed is the psychological impact within this business. Psychology plays a role not only within those working in the funeral business, but also those who must use the funeral business.

Within the funeral business, one must consider how those working in this type of industry cope with their everyday work experiences. When it comes to working in the funeral business, funeral directors are confronted with experiences, sights, and smells that many others in the medical field will never have to confront. On top of this, they must also create an emotional balance to balance business and personal connections when dealing with those who have just lost a loved one. To become thoroughly educated and trained for this business, funeral directors must go through multiple stages of socialization.[17] During their professional education, funeral directors are directly confronted with death and corpses on daily basis. In his article, Cahill analyzes how students in the funeral director program at “Community College” handle this “unique” profession they are getting into. One aspect that these students reported was the social handicap that comes with their studies. For example, when checking out books for classes, the cashiers will not even look into their eyes when they see the topics of the textbooks they are checking out. At parties, other students will either walk away from conversations or ask inappropriate questions when learning that these students are wanting to become funeral directors. [17] In fact, most students in the mortuary science department typically live together to avoid the awkward conversations and social interactions with other students outside of this program who may judge them for wanting to become funeral directors.[17]

Within these social groups, these students also attempt to normalize the topics of their careers through their conversations. According to Cahill:

“mortuary science education requires students to adopt an occupational rhetoric and esoteric language that communicate professional authority and a calm composure toward matters that most of the lay public finds emotionally upsetting. That language, like the scientific, clinical language of medical education (Smith and Kleinman1989), encourages students’ “analytic transformation” of their potentially unsettling contact with human bodies. The corpse is no longer a dead person but an interconnected system of arteries and veins with numerous convenient points of entry and exit for injecting chemicals and draining blood. Students learn to think of the corpse as a series of technical puzzles and problems posed by the cause of death, the previously ingested substances that it may still contain, the chemical changes that it is undergoing, and the injuries that it sustained before, at, or after death.” [17]

However, this socialization found within the mortuary science department has been found in other departments of higher education. Cahill makes the argument that this socialization nods to directions of analyses focusing on secondary socialization and reproduction of social distinctions in other fields. [17]

In the United States society, most people avoid the topic of death and dying. However, funerals have actually become the tool individuals use to normalize these topics and processes. This avoidance of discussions on death and dying can be seen through the word choice within these discussions. When talking about death in the U.S., individuals often use phrases such as “passed on”, “expired”, “went on to a better place”, or “went to their heavenly home.”[18] People use these phrases in attempt to avoid the harsh realities included with death and dying. In their article, Bailey and Walter analyze how funerals can be seen as “conquering” death. They state: “We thus argue that funerals symbolically conquer death not only through words delivered by ritual specialists, but also through those who knew the deceased congregating and speaking.”[19] In this argument, funerals are seen as individuals’ way of defeating and being “above” death and dying in attempt to lessen the fear they have of the death and dying processes. Hayslip, Booher, Scoles, and Guarnaccia also found similar results as Bailey and Walter. They conducted an experiment including 348 adults who had attended funerals of a loved one within the past year, and they found six factors explaining why these adults found difficulty coping with funerals. They state:

“Principal components analysis of these data indicated that difficulty in coping with funerals could be understood in light of six factors explaining 56% of the common variance among relationships between items: 1) protocol/mechanics of the funerals; 2) general personal and interpersonal difficulties related to the death/funeral; 3) trust in the funeral industry; 4) concerns regarding the cemetery; 5) issues pertaining to grief; 6) post-funeral personal responsibilities.” [20]

When it comes to the actual funeral, many individuals implement specific details to the funeral in attempt to lessen the burden and seriousness associated with the topics of death, dying, and funerals. One detail manipulated for this reason is the music chosen for funerals. In his article, Cross argues that music is used within funerals in attempt to mark a change in social status and social transformation within the community connected to the death. [21]  Often, the music used during funerals symbolize how the loved ones of the deceased would like to mourn and grieve.

 

Signed: Aeron Scales & Rebecca Burton

 

[1]Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The Rising Cost of Dying, 1986–2017.” TED: The Economics Daily, ( 31 October, 2017). https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/the-rising-cost-of-dying-1986-2017.htm.

[2]National Funeral Directors’ Association. “Statistics.” http://www.nfda.org/news/statistics.

[3]Bureau of Labor Statistics. “A Look at Pay at the Top, the Bottom, and in Between.” Spotlight on Statistics, (May, 2015). https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2015/a-look-at-pay-at-the-top-the-bottom-and-in-between/home.htm

[4]Zena Beth McGlashan. “Caring for the Dead: The Development of the Funeral Business in Butte.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History56, no. 4 (2006): 32-100. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4520843.

[5]American Council on Science and Health. “How Lincoln’s Embrace Of Embalming Birthed The American Funeral Industry.” (15 February, 2015). https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/02/15/how-lincolns-embrace-embalming-birthed-american-funeral-industry-13821

[6]National Funeral Directors’ Association. “Statistics.”

[7]Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. “The FTC Funeral Rule.” (July 2012). https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule.

[8]Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. “The FTC Funeral Rule.”

[9]Caitlin Doughty. “Are “Protective” Caskets a Scam?” YouTube, December 14, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W54fpeRZVsw.

[10]Gentry, James W., Patricia F. Kennedy, Katherine Paul, and Ronald Paul Hill. “The Vulnerability of Those Grieving the Death of a Loved One: Implications for Public Policy.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing14, no. 1 (1995): 128-42. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30000385.

[11]Funeral Consumers Alliance. “Embalming: What You Should Know.” 2007. https://funerals.org/what-you-should-know-about-embalming/.

[12]G.B. Palermo and E.J. Gumz. “The Last Invasion of Human Privacy and Its Psychological Consequences on Survivors: A Critique of the Practice of Embalming.” Theoretical Medicine(1994) 15: 397. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00993797

[13]Palermo and Gumz.

[14]Libby Copeland. “Kate’s Still Here.” Esquire, November 15, 2017. https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a12845872/kate-oberlin-home-funeral/.

[15]Ibid.

[16]For more on this specifically, see “My Dead Mother, the Tree That Never Was: The Psychology of “Green Burial” Practices,” by Jesse Bering in Scientific American: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/my-dead-mother-the-tree-that-never-was-the-psychology-of-green-burial-practices/.

[17]Cahill, Spencer E. “Emotional Capital and Professional Socialization: The Case of Mortuary Science Students (and Me).” Social Psychology Quarterly 62, no. 2 (1999): 101-16. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2695852.

[18]Giblin, Paul, and Hug, Andrea. “The Psychology of Funeral Rituals.” Liturgy21 (2006): 11-19. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/04580630500285956?scroll=top&needAccess=true

[19]Bailey, Tara, and Tony Walter. “Funerals against Death.” Mortality 21, no. 2 (2015): 149-66. doi:10.1080/13576275.2015.1071344.

[20]Hayslip, Bert, Suzanne K. Booher, Michael T. Scoles, and Charles A. Guarnaccia. “Assessing Adults’ Difficulty in Coping with Funerals.” OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying 55, no. 2 (October 2007): 93–115. doi:10.2190/OM.55.2.a.

[21]Cross, Ian. “Music and Communication in Music Psychology.” Psychology of Music 42, no. 6 (November 2014): 809–19. doi:10.1177/0305735614543968.

19 Comments

  1. I liked the comparison the post made between the cost and circumstances of death 100+ years ago to today because it helps contextualize how much more expensive the burial process has become in the United States. I think a global comparison would have been helpful because then we could assess in the United States is rising along with other countries. How does the increase in burial prices contribute the rise in capitalism and is it right to capitalize off of the death of a loved one?

  2. I found your article to be extremely interesting and often forgotten about as a role of the American consumer. As with many other topics discussed in this class, the logistics and details surrounding death are something we all must eventually deal with at some point; yet, it is something we all avoid talking about. I appreciated your explanation of the details surround embalming and the protections put in place to avoid the potential exploitation of mourning families. Additionally, I gained a new perspective on an appropriate way to interact with those who are pursuing a profession in mortuary sciences. This article provided with me information that I really don’t think I would’ve encountered until much later in the future, and I think that highlights the necessity to provide transparency on the logistics surrounding death.

  3. It’s disappointing to see that everything can be profited from, even death. This is very smart, as mourners are not as aware or rational. This reminds me of the readings we had for class. I was very surprised to hear that embalming is not required, especially since the funeral directors all made it seem like it was. They made no attempts to inform the grievers that it wasn’t, further taking advantage of their fragile state of minds. Embalming and the arrangement of the corpse also shows how American culture is so uncomfortable with death. The preservation of the corpse has no purpose today besides to make it easier for the family members. Arrangement also seems to be extreme, with the example used from the reading of preparing for Jenny’s funeral. Looking at a dead body is never easy, and I would understand if one would want to fix a body that may have been through an accident. However, the desire to make the dead resemble those sleeping shows that American culture does not want to fully confront and accept death.
    I wish you had integrated the different perspectives for a better flow. I also noticed that you were missing an ethical perspective. However, I think you did a great job and raised some points people do not often think about. I also liked how you used the example of Kate Oberlin’s funeral.

  4. Gabrielle Geiger

    April 24, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    It really is disappointing that people can be taken advantage of in such a vulnerable time of their life. I think it is unfortunate that this is something that is avoided talking about because death is such a sensitive subject, and it is very easy for these industries to “prey” on families and loved ones experiencing losses. I really enjoyed the video you included on sealer caskets, I think this was a great way of exemplifying this industry taking advantage of the consumer. It would have been interesting to hear you speak a little more about cremation and its comparison to to business of burial. Even though cremation sometimes seems like a more cost efficient option, it can also be expensive. It would have been interesting to compare these two avenues.

  5. American capitalism is generally seen as a point of pride but when I see people capitalizing on something so intimate I question both the necessity and the practicality of something so grand and expensive. Is someone’s worth in life dictated by how much money is spent on their funeral? I question the motivation behind the funeral industry and why people still have trust in it. Almost everyone can acknowledge that funeral homes take advantage of people’s momentary despair to make a large sum of money and their continued presence throughout many communities suggests that the business is lucrative enough to be sustainable. I find it so difficult to wrap my head around why these businesses still flourish, especially after seeing the video on sealer caskets. There are many point address in this post that opens an avenue for father research and overall I believe it’s a good summary of the scientific and cultural understanding of the modern death business.

  6. In the book Stiff which I have read fairly recently, and interesting viewpoint was brought up. From a more controversial, apathetic perspective, some may view such costs and ramifications after death to be a bit immaterial. Scientifically, a body after death is just that—a body. It is and object, and medical students going into the business are trained to view is as so. As quoted in your article, corpses are not people, and I feel that if more people saw it that way, then there would be less suffering for those going through the process. Such—for lack of a better term—theatrics are both time-consuming and generally more than is actually necessary. I know I seem completely impassive, but the death industry is like much else in the economic, consumer industry: completely inflated. However, those going in the practice deserve much more respect than what they get. Not many people can stand being around such “morbidity”, yet they rely on those who can. It is an incongruous concept and an interesting topic. I enjoyed reading this article.

  7. This is a really interesting article, and it relates very closely to the Anthropology assignment that we just completed. It’s so fascinating how over the span of a couple of centuries, the way we treat death has immensely changed, and even in the last 30 years, prices have increased exorbitantly.

    Death, as you state, is not optional, and capitalism shows that if you own a product or a service that will never fall out of demand, you can charge higher prices for it. Death has become such a social phenomenon in today’s world, as proven by the complex and elaborate funerals we now see. Card companies have created an entire industry out of sympathy cards because regardless of the state of the economy or the challenges somebody may be facing, people will continue to die and a sympathy card is now an expectation.

    For better or for worse, death has become commercialized and socialized. Undertakers are able to make as much money as they choose because no matter what, people will pay for their services. It is unfortunate that in a family’s time of grief, they must also consider cost when planning the funeral for their loved one, but this is simply the way things have become.

  8. Cee Cee Huffman

    April 24, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    The American customs of a funeral are so understood and consistent that it has never once occurred to me the financial burden those customs may create. It seems natural for individuals in the undertaking industry to take financial advantage of those closest to the deceased. This posting also opened my eyes to the daily emotional challenges funeral employees must go through, which is something I don’t know I would be able to endure. Additionally, I’ve never considered the psychological effects American funeral practices might have on those in mourning. American’s have an aversion to death, and the possibility of modern embalming and preserving practices reflecting and intensifying that is scary.

  9. I enjoyed reading your post! I never knew that the industry and business of death and dying initially began with the American Civil War. It was interesting to me that the embalmment process first began with President Lincoln, and continued into the Civil War to prevent bodies from decomposing before returning to the United States. I find it disappointing that the American society is able to profit so much monetary gain out of death. Loved ones and family members are at some of the most vulnerable periods in their life when planning a funeral, and it is upsetting that some funeral directors are able to take advantage of people when they are in this emotional state. It would be interesting to know how much the embalmment process costs the funeral home? I am sure that they are making a lot of profit, as over $900 for this process seems extremely high. It is sad that the American society has to pay so much for funerals, embalmment, burials, cremation etc. , when other countries and cultures do not have to do this because they take care of their loved ones once they pass, instead of giving the body to a stranger to take care of for profit.

  10. I think it’s really interesting that students, before they’ve even begun their career as a funeral director, already face the stigma that comes along with working around death every day. I imagine it stays with them even more, once they actually are funeral directors. Our society avoids the topic of death so vehemently that, once someone has actually died, it always seems like a shock and we never think about the person who will be handling our loved one after they have “passed away.” I wonder what made these students want to be funeral directors, as I know a lot of funeral homes run in the family and are passed down.

  11. It is shocking and deeply saddening to hear how those who are grieving are being taken advantage of and exploited for their money. Your research brought up points I hadn’t realized, like how families are charged for embalming when they aren’t aware it isn’t a necessary procedure. It makes me wonder what other parts of the process are also hidden or not necessary. Families spend exhorbant amounts to pay respects to the dead, which makes me wonder how being unable to afford a nice funeral affects one’s grieving process. I would assume the extra monetary stress and lack of grieving time leads to a longer and more difficult grieving process.

  12. I didn’t understand the funeral business this extensively until after reading this article. When I first watched the Netflix horror series called “the haunting of hill house”, one of the main characters worked at and owned a funeral home, and made a comfortable living doing it. I always wondered how a business like this would flourish, but seeing the numbers behind funeral services, it all makes sense. This makes me wonder, why are grieving family members punished with such expenses? It almost becomes an inconvenience to have a death in the family, when the process should be mournful and centered around transitioning a person to life after death. The aforementioned Netflix special required the sister of the deceased individual to complete her embalming, as she insisted on doing so, but highlighted the pain and horror associated with it. Completing her sister’s embalming process took a toll on her and this just shows the lack of intimacy associated with it. A funeral should allow the family to say goodbye to their loved one, and not say hello to a plethora of new and unexpected expenses.

  13. I think its good that you all have examined where the business of dying has originated from and how we got where we are with the whole thing. A lot of people, like a lot of people do not know the underlying business of death and how it exploits the natural occurrence after life. I think this post gives rise and encourages more posts, talks about people discussing with their family how they want to be discarded after they pass. Yes, it is a touchy topic but some people can save their families money in the long run. When at the end of it all and in a couple of years of burial that casket was a waste of money because body decomposition and forces of earth such as insects/water finding way into the casket tarnishing the embalmed body faster than said. I think its good to bring awareness of the vulnerability of families at this time and note that this can basically be seen as coercion into buying expensive funeral plan to commemorate the dead. The funeral business/industry is an offense to ethics and like you all effectively explain, the denial of deaths’ reality. Wouldn’t it be better for closure and for mourners to view the truth of the person’s state/appearance after death and could this help us break prevalence of the fear of death?

  14. This post was very informative! I really appreciated your comparison of death practices across time and the point of views you posed on funerals. The topic that my pod focused on was the Ebola Virus and I find it interesting to consider how this type of practice and the financial and psychological details change when you have infected dead or mass graves. Who profits then? What does it do psychologically? How does it screw up the ways that we try to normalize and cope with death? Does it bankrupt undertakers because they lose so many bodies?

  15. This was a really great post! I think you made a very interesting point drawing this back to the American incapacity to talk about death because we have outsourced it! What used to be a personal matter is now in the hands of doctors and funeral directors, rendering us unfamiliar with certain aspects of the death process. I feel like more discussion surrounding death would not only allow the bereaved greater healing but greater public conscience regarding the costs surrounding burial would lessen the vulnerability they already experience in light of the loss of their loved one.
    In my research regarding green burial, one of the issues addressed by several entrepreneurs was transparency with the public about their practices so that the bereaved would feel as though their grief was being capitalized on. It seems unreasonable that death should be as shrouded (no pun intended) and costly as it is. Maybe part of increasing public discourse surrounding death should be developing expectations about fair pricing.

  16. The beginning the article describing the huge cost of funerals is consistent with our reading: The Embalming of JennyJohnson, so it let most of us accept it within a short time. An interesting idea that captures me is the difference between mourner and consumers’ mindset, which I have not thought of before. As an international student, I was surprised to find that the stigma around funeral workers, the utilization of mourners’ grief in charging funeral prices, and the avoidance to talk about death in public are similar across culture. So these will not simply be problems for the United States to solve – it becomes a global problem for people to consider. Despite the great explanation across the article, an integration of the psychological and social perspective will make it even better.

  17. Miyah Lockhart

    April 25, 2019 at 2:03 am

    Dying is often romanticized in many ways, but there are often times that families can’t properly mourn due to the stress of funeral costs. In my opinion, death is capitalized on more often than it should be. Although we are all aware of the fact that death is inevitable, funeral prices steadily increase, leaving more and more families to deal with the consequences. I really liked that you all included specific statistics and examples of costs. For example, it was stated that the median cost for viewing and burial is $7,360. I feel that the specific examples used throughout this post are extremely helpful. I personally feel that this is a sad, but inevitable issue that we must be prepared for in our society. I truly found this article very interesting. Great job!

  18. Great Post! I particularly enjoyed reading about the psychological effects of not those who are mourning, but the effects of being a mortician. This is the first thing I have seen that has looked at the members of the industry as people. Often when discussing the funeral business, especially in class, we have looked at the gruesome details of embalming and questionable business practices. This is a refreshing look and it is nice to look at the business from a different point of view.

  19. The funeral industry and the increased medicalization of death have both contributed to the depersonalization of death and the culture of death denial within the United States. Funeral industries have made desired funerals inaccessible to those unable to afford a “proper burial” and force families to make decisions that may not align with the plans of their loved ones. In addition to the social and economic issues, there are also environmental repercussions as you mentioned, with contamination of surrounding land at burial sites from embalming and coffin materials. Though these are still very prevalent issues, I have seen death advocates like Caitlin Doughty shifting the narrative towards more open discussion of death and more green funerary practices.

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