The Death Business – 1960 To The Present Day

american way of death mitfordI’ve been reading, The American Way of Death Revisited. This wildly popular and provocative book was written in 1963. It was updated in 1996. In 2013, the material is dated, but still interesting.

I’ve been reading about funeral practices throughout history for many months. It’s the sin-eater / scapegoat bend I’ve been on (Life Is Suffering, The Afterlife – America The Fluke?).  Studying that, I collided with this.

Ms Mitford reports that in 1961, less than 4% of Americans were cremated. Those in the funeral business wanted to keep it that way, because cremation is not as profitable as selling a full funeral package. Think about it. Casket, embalming, transportation, flowers, etc.

Ms Mitford reports that one way the industry discouraged cremation by making those who showed up at funeral homes interested in the service feel as if they were cheap. I experienced in the early 1980’s when my grandfather, Henry died.

I was in my early 20’s and to my great shock, the job of making Henry’s funeral arrangements fell to me. I had knowledge and no money to speak of. I had no way to get any money, so I had no choice but to go into the funeral home and ask them…no, beg them, to provide him with barest essentials.  I left there in tears over being shamed for not providing my grandfather with something better, even though he’d told me two days prior, I should spend as little as possible.

This goes to show you how good they were at their job. But ultimately cremation caught on. By 1995, 21% of American dead were cremated.

As of 2011, that figure has risen to 42%, but in some states it is much higher. In Nevada, 74%  of the dead are cremated. In Washington, the figure is 72%.   The state with the lowest rate of cremation, circa 2011 is, Mississippi, at about 16%, which four times higher then the national average in 1961.

This illustrates a dramatic change in funeral customs over the course of my lifetime.  In part this is due to cost, but in larger part, it’s due to the Catholic church lifting restrictions on cremation. Also, families tend to break up and move to different parts of the country these days, as opposed to being localized. Consequently,  there is no one “home” to visit a loved one in a cemetery.

One thing that interested me about this, was how the industry tried to manipulate to maintain the status quo. But ultimately they failed, because there were greater forces at work.

I don’t mean to denigrate the funeral business. It’s no worse then any other business when it comes to manipulating the buyer. For example, the beauty business does everything it can to make women (and now men) feel as lousy as possible in order to not only sell, but upsell.  But I do think this is interesting and topical with Saturn in Scorpio and Pluto in Capricorn.

Death (Pluto/Scorpio) Business (Saturn/Capricorn)
Manipulation (Pluto/Scorpio) and control (Saturn/Capricorn).
Dead (Pluto/Scorpio) grandfather (Saturn/Capricorn)

Have you see a business die or be transformed over the course of your lifetime? Tell us!

21 thoughts on “The Death Business – 1960 To The Present Day”

  1. e I own a hair salon and have a putrid hatred for commercial companies who try and sell there “fountain of youth” beauty products. I have starred integrating organic hair remedies into my salon. Even going as far as applying hair concoctions of bananas and avocados and the like to all my clients. When I recently recommended to a client to not shampoo her hair as much and use a vinegar rinse instead, she was astounded. ” no hairstylist has ever said that to me” … Because they’re always trying to sell you some fizzy lifting
    tonics that pumps up their commission. If everybody were just a half more conscious of the world around them, they might just be open to the beauty of nature. Using what is grown from the earth naturally and a dust of ourselves to the dirt of the earth. Natural. Grounding. Full Circle.

  2. I worked in accounting and finance departments. Need I say more. I got out just before the accounting firms went down. No surprise to me. But I really liked workin the numbers. They always balance. My exec friend says I just got in too far and did not like what I saw, ie. the truth. She’s an auditor. Folks is funny about the munny. Heard a snippet last week that 1 out 4 Americans took a bribe last year.

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    I use the vinegar thing with bakingsoda and have fairly long hair. The rare visits to a salon always have them all exclaiming over how wonderful thick, glossy, amazing, beautiful my hair is. I figure it’s 90% genetics and 10% not putting cr@p in it.

    Oh and you might not want to be buried. When the DOT puts a highway through or expands a highway they do a property search for cemetary records within about 1/3 of a mile or so, give or take because bodies are known to float and move underground and end up in the way of excavating equipment. They usually do it a bit different and expect to re-bury a number of them if there is a cemetary near.

    Headstones are very important, as well as some extra rocks in and around in areas with high water tables because there are historical incidents of bodies “floating” out of their graves.

    😀 Whatcha learn working with the guys who do the actual work.

  4. I work in a niche branch of advertising. We help corporate clients advertise their employment opportunities. We market their openings with the employer brand message, etc, and handle the media placement so HR doesn’t have to use their time.

    It used to be all print advertising, much more expensive then on-line, because our media commission was a lot higher. We had an art dept design the ad layout, a copy writer, etc. But now all of the recruiters can post a listing on a job board and its pretty much done.

    Also, with the current job numbers out there and high unemployment rate the business has taken a serious nose dive.

    Our business isn’t really relevant any more and I totally understand. The world changes!

    Me and my business partner are finally walking away but it’s time. I think I’m going to move to a new location with my husband and start over fresh.

    For years I never really liked what I did that much anyhow. If it wasn’t for the pretty good income and awesome co-workers I would have switched a long time ago.

    This is a great topic by the way!

    p.s. and I TOTALLY want to be cremated. I don’t believe we are our bodies and the concept of my skeleton being buried underground always gave me the creeps. 🙂

  5. I worked as an interpreter for an Italian company at a big funeral trade show in Philly. They came from all over the country with their stuff and services, and they were the jolliest group of people ever.

    Scorp Merc interpreting at the funeral show, ha! 🙂

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    Since 2008..i have worked for 4 different businesses..all of which have gone under & have had to close up shop! Consequently making my position within, redundant. All of them due to bad management & greedy bosses that had no respect for the people that worked for them, & the public they were servicing.

    As a result, i am still looking for stable employment. 7 years on.

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    & my last position was looking after children with mental health issues…our boss didn’t give a dam about those kids..just the money he was making from their parents. Very sad circumstances.

  8. Well I am not in the Funeral Business but I knew someone who was and he said it was all theater and smoke and mirrors. Now they are going “Green” and there are “Green” burial grounds opening up in our county. I like that idea. Giving back to what has sustained you. So I think the old fashioned funeral home will most likely always be around, but not as popular as it once was for sure. That book looks interesting Elsa.

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    I use vinegar & bicarb baking soda as a household cleaner, its brilliant stuff! I will google & try this in my hair tonight ! 🙂 Thanks for the little tip!

  10. I know that today’s cremations are either “fire or water”.

    Fire as in cremations with high heat or Water as in disintegrating the body with very potent sodium hydroxide solution (and potentially putting the whole solution down the drain) – I got this from Elsa, I think…It was the funeral director up in Michigan you referenced in a previous post!

    For me – cremation is the only way to go. Torch my body, have a Hell of a good party, and spread my ashes over a beautiful garden so I can help the next generation love flowers or grow a garden!

  11. Hmm, my own small business died.
    Recently I started writing again for a local consumer website. It has been 26 years since I wrote and edited for a consumer magazine!

    As for the death industry… I have already donated my body to Science and I carry a body donor card with me.

    Elsa, try reading the book Deathing if you can find it. Not for the fiction in the beginning, but for the description of the death process.

    Finally, I have a beautiful glass pendant with my Goddaughter’s ashes in it. This kind of Memorial jewelry has very deep meaning and is part of a nice trend in the industry.

  12. In 2008 I entered into my mortuary internship (pluto conjunct ascendant ahaha)
    I was in the business for 8 years, but for the most part was working behind the scenes for a non public funeral home (think the funeral home for funeral homes) so mostly drove around picking people up, embalming, paperwork etc. I worked there because I could not condone working anywhere near sales. (thought I was bad at it, but no, just had morals around it)
    It turned my stomach watching a co worker go into an arrangement with the same spiel every time and unless a family said no to his suggestions he would sell a $12000 funeral to a family who may have just wanted to spend a couple thousand, but didn’t know how or were not in a place to be able to say No.
    F**king wanted to strangle that pompous dandy.

    One line I remember being spooned to families regarding casket vaults was ‘so your loved ones are protected from the elements’
    By god man, our loved ones are MADE of elements, what’s wrong witchu’?!

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