Funerals are increasingly departing from traditional and somber rituals and assuming a more informal, flexible and celebratory nature, reports theNew York Times (Feb. 11).
Nationwide, but especially in the American West, funeral homes are embracing a trend known as “personalization,” where services are tailored to individual preferences. A deceased person’s ashes may be sent heavenward via helium balloons, or a minister may forsake the sermon and pass the microphone around to participants in a funeral service.
The development is a way of responding to the decline of the role of organized religions in funerals, according to funeral industry analyst Daniel Isard. Ten years ago, 90 percent of the deaths of Christians resulted in funeral visits and a service in a church or a chapel; today, only 60 percent of deaths result in both of these, says Isard.
He adds that “Our society is less formal, less dictated by formal relgions. It is more humanistic in dealing with death. Traditionally, ministers thought the eulogy was to make a person cry. People who attend a funeral like to see a two-to-one ratio — two laughs for every sob.” Thomas Long of Emory University says that these innovations represent a clear break from any funeral tradition. “It’s not as if old rituals are evolving to absorb new needs. It’s as if we’ve broken with tradition and people make things up.”