I had a conversation with a colleague of mine who I would consider a well-informed and responsible “millennial.” He asked me how much the average funeral costs, and when I told him the answer (about $7,300), he scoffed and replied, “For what? What do you get for that money?”
This conversation represents a changing attitude among the younger generation about death, dying, and the need to grieve. As a funeral director, I get indignant questions all the time about how much I must be profiting on the pain and confusion of others. Most people don’t realize that funeral directorship is not a high-paying job. The average funeral director’s salary is actually about the equivalent of a teacher’s: about $45,000 per year. That being said, often the attitude of the public is that funeral directors are scam artists who prey on grieving families by overcharging for something they could really do themselves.
Let’s do a little cost comparison. As of 2016, the average wedding cost approximately $35,000, and the average wedding planner makes about the same as the average funeral director ($44,500), but the attitudes about the two events are worlds apart. How is it that we are willing to spend five times as much on a ceremony celebrating the joining of lives, but we begrudge every penny we spend on honoring those lives when they are over? Is it because funerals are less fashionable, less photographic?
I would pose that the attitudes of the public are shifting based on their previous experiences with funerals and a change in the next generation’s priorities.
Funerals are Awkward
When I discuss funeral options and pricing with clients (especially younger clients), I get in return an attitude of, “Funerals are awkward and sad and no one wants to be there.” I am often regaled by childhood memories of grandparents’ funerals and receiving lines filled with people unknown. The overall idea is that funerals are stuffy, sad, and stressful, and guests are guilted into attending.
What many people don’t understand is how flexible funeral plans can really be. I have planned funerals in parks, I have booked food trucks and live music, I have seen funerals that included dancing, singing, laughing, and friendship. A funeral director’s job is to cater to your imagination and create the event you would like to attend. The best way to change the public’s attitude about funerals is to adjust the way we fulfill their needs. If all the funeral experiences our millennials have had are negative, then of course their attitude about the event (and the cost) will be negative.
No Need to Grieve
Many of my younger clients seem dubious to the concept of grieving and the expression of condolences. That receiving line they experienced as a child is something they want to avoid at all costs as an adult. Our priorities as a society are shifting, and that face-to-face interaction is less important than it used to be. However, we know that without a funeral (and I would pose, a viewing), many people will be left with unresolved feelings of grief or despair. If I can get my client to look beyond their own needs at the needs of other loved ones and friends, they often see that some sort of gathering is necessary and considerate—no receiving line necessary!