Channel 10's 'The Project' had a segment on the modern funeral, on the 22nd of February 2013. How funerals in the "last five years" are moving to a more personal service as the funeral service and the funeral industry modernises.
I was having trouble finding this as the people who told me about the TV segment said it was part of the '7.30 Report' and did not know any names or details. Then I happened to be looking at the InvoCare website, which had a link to it along with the details.
You can view the segment at either link below, I suggest the youtube one as it is more compatible with more system and a better player overall. However, I suspect the youtube link will go down eventually, so I have also linked to "The Project" site itself.
It opens with a woman explaining how she was "scared to death of dying and funerals all my life" and started planning her funeral after being diagnosed with cancer. However, many traditional funeral homes said what she wanted was not possible.
She set out to work out what was possible as she "wanted to make sure that when the time came they could go to a celebration of my life that wasn't cary, that was uplifting, that was very natural and relaxed". After receiving the coffin she found "it turned into something that wasn't scary anymore".
The show goes on the explain that the Australian funeral industry is changing dramatically as families become more hands on, due to the baby boomers in the last five years. Andrew Smith, CEO of InvoCare, states that traditional or contemporary funeral are dropping to about one in four.
Next the show talks about a farewell in someone's home for a surfer, how they had colourful surfboards around the room and "there was no formality to" the service. Large funeral homes are tapping into this modern funeral services, from ipads to funeral arrangement to online memorials and webcasting services.
Yet these modern funerals can cost a lot, the show states that they cost between $3,000 to $50,000. The Catholic Diocese of Parramatta states how some people can get "carried away by the moment and spend vast amounts of money unnecessarily", and "defends the traditional funeral" as more affordable and better for grieving. He argues that "they don't have to do anything except allow the ritual to carry them through. As the responsibility is in somebody else's hands so it relieves them of the burdon" with a traditional funeral.
He believes that the Princess Diana funeral was a turning point, as people saw secular elements in a traditional Christian funeral service so "people felt that they could then have exactly the same approach" to memorials and funerals.
Overall this was a fun little show, and I thought it actually did well to present the funeral industry side of things. However, the definition of "modern funeral" and "traditional funeral" did catch my attention. As part of my research into the industry I have been studying the history of the industry, and in doing so discovered something rather interesting.
That what we call a "traditional funeral" is actually more modern than what we call a "modern funeral" despite the popular beliefe otherwise. When people talk of a traditional funeral they are generally talking of something which came about during and after WWI and was refined in the 1960s.
Basically before WWI most people died at home, and their family or friends took care of the funeral and the body, funerals were part of domestic life for the majority of people. There were two key concepts with regard to funerals in the Victorian era; the first was the "good Christian death", which involved the ideal way to die, in bed slowly and surrounded by family and friends. The other key concept was the "beautiful death", which lead to the idea of the "beautiful funeral". That death could be a beautiful thing and so the funeral could also be a beautiful thing, this is the when more elaborate funerals were popular, celebrations of the deceased in a way. Also this is when embalming became more popular, as a way to not only preserve the body but to make it look peaceful.
However, this all changed during WWI as soldiers and civilians lost the view of beauty in death, so many young people had gone off to fight an honourable war which had devolved into bitter mourning. Many soldiers bodies were lost, buried in mass unmarked graves far from Australia, in places many civilians would never be able to visit. Death had lost its beauty and celebration, post WWI saw a distancing from dealing with the dead and a move towards simpler funerals with less open grief. Death and funerals moved out of a private setting as more people chose to pay professionals to deal with it for them.
The 1960s saw more of a move back to public mourning and more elaborate funerals, yet the funeral and death still stayed far away from the private or domestic spheres. Essentially it is here that what we have come to see as a "traditional funeral" was created and refined. The funeral being distant from the family except as mourners (as in they do not directly organise it), where the "responsibility is in someone else's hands to it relieves them of the burdon", as the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta describes.
This would have been a very foreign mentality for those before WWI, as they were much more hands on and had direct involvement in all aspects. From the death, as they died at home and were surrounded by family and friends. To the funeral as the family (most often women) would prepare the body and organise the funeral service themselves.
The statistics by the InvoCare CEO were quite important to me, how only about 25% of funerals are now defined as traditional or contemporary by InvoCare. I have noticed InvoCare move away from traditional funerals, they are now implementing things like LifeArt coffins, HeavensAddress online memorials and the main InvoCare brand, White Lady Funerals, is about as untraditional as a funeral home can get. InvoCare is following society, following the profits and moving to what mourners want, if InvoCare is moving away from traditional funerals then this is a very clear indication that society itself is moving from the traditional funeral.
It is mildly interesting that we are moving back to a more hands on funeral, but it is much more interesting that our definition of "traditional funeral" and "modern funeral" has switched. That we are calling the shift a move to a modern funeral when in reality we are going back to a more traditional and historic style of funeral.
To me it raises a few questions, most notably the notion of modern and traditional. Is traditional simply defined as older than we can personally remember? Is modern just a present shift, as in a change we have personally noticed?