Obituaries: The funeral industry sports pages

    Obituaries are something most overlook.  Many avoid them or never think of them until the death of someone they know.  However this is not the case for those in the funeral industry.  To them the obituaries are like the gossip page or the sports page.  It is a good example on how simply looking at something differently can completely change the meaning and use.

    Once on a funeral I was talking with a hire car driver.  He mostly drove for funerals and had been in the job for about a year.  During our talk he said how since driving for funerals he had become interested in the obituaries section.  It was now "like the sports pages" for the funeral industry.  This driver would read the obituaries every day now, to see which companies were busy and how busy the industry was as a whole.  Plus it let him know which companies got the 'big' or 'famous' funerals.

    I also remembered how in the mornings before work some of the other undertakers would look through the obituary section.  To them it was like a gossip section, giving them the scoop on other rival companies.  One time they saw that another company had got the funeral for a big Catholic priest even though WNBull was "the Catholic funeral home" as the boss liked to put it.  So they were rather interested that another funeral home had gotten such a predominant Catholic priest funeral.

    For many in the funeral industry the obituaries take on a whole new meaning.  They become a form of information about the industry as a whole or about other companies.  I found it interesting how the different attitude about the obituaries illustrated how meaning is very subjective and contextual.  To the undertaker the obituary is little to do with the deceased but rather a window into the funeral industry.  While to the mourner the obituary is almost only about the deceased.

    What was also interesting was how public this information was and yet how overlooked it is.  That the obituaries are public, viewable to all and still so few read them.  Obituaries are a great way to gain information about a company or about the industry.  For example, when I was this post on how much of the industry InvoCare owns I turned to the obituaries.  I looked at the percentage of InvoCare obituaries compared to other companies and looked at how regular they were.  While perhaps not a reliable method the results were surprisingly close to other methods I and others used.

    Next time you look at the paper turn to the obituaries.  And do not think of it as a sad thing, or even really as a listing of the dead.  Instead look at it as a form of information, a window into the industry.  And perhaps think about this when you look at anything.  How just changing your view point slightly might completely change the message and the meaning.


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