The year is 2019. We live in an era where technology is all encompassing within our daily lives. The use of text messaging, social media and online ordering is common practice for most people of every generation today. Most of our daily social interaction happens through the use of computers and non verbal communication. The lack of face to face conversation propels a desire for intimacy, individuality and personalization.
There will always be duality, it is part of the human experience. Every advancement has its drawbacks. With convenience comes a price. When you order that package online and it gets dropped off, you don’t have to talk to anyone. When we go through that self checkout buying overseas goods produced by a robot, the experience doesn’t fulfill the need for human connection some of us might look for by going to the grocery store.
When it comes to funerals, we once again search for convenience in our most difficult times. People come into the funeral home and make all their decisions on a major life event within an hour. Products and services are ordered and families walk out the door, not even remembering what it was they chose in their state of grief.
It used to take an entire community to bury our dead. Our friends or church group would cater the reception. Our neighbor who farmed would cut flowers from their garden, a family member would dig the grave and we knew our funeral celebrant personally from our small community.
Today, all of these things are contracted out. The funeral home is a place full of strangers who genuinely want to help and they do. Funeral homes provide amazing service for people who don’t know what to do. But how many families feel they are just going through the motions?
The community is no longer expected to help. Death has become industrialized and people, as consumers of funeral services have asked for it. The result is an arm’s length experience of the death of a loved one. The funeral industry has allowed people a chance to separate from the process of end of life celebrations without fully realizing the loss of support they experience by not partaking in the physical actions involved. When they hire us, a stranger, or purchase a product which is not facilitated or created by their community they lose something.
I have worked services where hundreds of people came for the funeral. The sympathy card basket is overflowing with condolence messages. How does this type of support compare to the community support found on First Nations reservations, where everyone collectively caters the wake and together families dig and fill in the grave?
The majority of Canadians wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for help. Strangely enough, it has become socially acceptable to ask for money online, through forums such as Go Fund Me, yet to ask our friends to come over and help us bake cookies or build an urn for the service, seems foreign. With technological advancement and the business of day to day life we have experienced more alienation, although we now have more tools allowing us to connect with each other.
My ego has a tough time accepting help when it’s offered. Even as a director, I realize the financial burden which accompanies a modern funeral service. In cities there are laws and regulations about grave digging in most cemeteries. There are fees which are unavoidable, but there are so many aspects of funeral service which people could and would participate in, if they knew how and what to ask.
In a society where mass production goods are commonplace. Urns are made in India and caskets in China, so many funeral homes carry the same products. I often see families in the selection room having a difficult time choosing something which is representative of their bond to that person. They’re looking for something which has meaning. These things can’t always be bought.
A personalized service means more than just an engraved plaque or embroidered cap panel in a casket. Ritual becomes effective, when we are involved rather than just observers. For many people, the easiest way to begin to process of grief is having a friend come and bake cookies or bread at their house for the service. Building an urn together creates a bond and is a stronger action of support than a sympathy card.
A family making their own flower arrangements, or providing their own catering isn’t going to drive business away from the funeral home. These are the actions which facilitate acceptance during the initial stages of grief and have been proven to be therapeutic. When I mention DIY funerals many business owners seem to cringe. The missing kickback from the florist or caterer we hire on behalf of families’ won't cause us to close the doors.
We all know that it takes an entire team to plan a service. Funeral planning is comparable to a wedding and done in a matter of days. More people today are delaying the service. This is a perfect opportunity for us to educate and empower our clients. We need to be providing the families we serve with the information necessary to partake in the funeral in more ways than just a pallbearer or eulogist. Create more opportunities for connection and participation in the rituals surrounding death.
Grief can leave us feeling isolated. The daily lives of future generations are going to become more immersed in technology as humankind advances. Today and in the future, people will still ask for service, but they’ll want opportunity. This means involvement and creative input. Providing a tangible and ritualistic action to assist in processing emotions will always be something humans do.
For some people death and dead bodies are too much to psychologically manage. Providing a safe outlet through projects involving funeral service and community is what every family I have served has asked for in some capacity or another. There isn’t a single family who comes in asking for the same old #3 as everyone else had on the brochure (with the exception of immediate cremation, and you know they’re doing something without you).
People don’t know what to say when they’re faced with grief. By creating something tangible with our bare hands, we are performing an action which so many of us crave in a process which leaves people feeling helpless. We crave it because it feels grounding. It allows us to express without words and create in a safe environment.
Do it yourself funeral projects personalize small but important aspects of the service. It allows us to give back through creation at a time which seems contrary to beginnings. That is what death really is, just the beginning.
If you would like to be informed about DIY funerals, check out and subscribe to my youtube channel "Kari Peters Passing" with a new episode every 2 weeks.
Special thanks to Amy Setka for editing