I’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!