I used to live on the “Field of Dreams” side of the state of Iowa and I’ve been by there a few times. Recent weather patterns leave no one questioning whether this is heaven. It’s certainly not the Lake of Fire either – too cold for that. But my silly little title leads into my silly little question.
I’ve seen some odd trends developing in funerals in my neck of the woods recently and I wonder if it is just a western Iowa/eastern Nebraska/southern South Dakota thing (we aren’t called the Tri-State region for nothing) or if it is a national trend. I raised it on Facebook and got some interesting answers, so I thought I would ask here, and perhaps add a few more things.
I’ve been doing funerals for nearly 4 decades and I have some great stories – which I’m not going to tell. But one of the things that I’ve noticed is that funeral practices differ greatly in different regions. In Cedar Rapids, few people wanted me to read the obituary but here in Siouxland I have done so at every single funeral in 11 years. In Cedar Rapids, we almost never did “prayer services” but here we do them all the time. They aren’t really prayer services but actually sharing services. At the family visitation, the night before the funeral people gather around and after the pastor reads a scripture and says a prayer pe0ple share their remembrances of the deceased. They are either wonderful times or painfully inappropriate and embarrassing!
But I have noticed some newer trends in funerals. I’m not saying they are good or bad, but they are definitely new. The first one will be controversial, of course, but the others are just logistical. My question is whether these trends are local or national. My initial results, from my Facebook post, seem to indicate that the results are common across the nation. So, here are the trends:
When I began in the ministry (February 1, 1982 – full time) the percentage of Bible-believing Christians who were cremated for burial was really small – something approaching my Iowa Hawkeyes’ chances of winning next year’s NCAA football playoff. More realistically, maybe the percentage was more like my Hawkeyes chances of MAKING the playoff. Christians got buried. Buddhists got cremated.
Today, I would guess that my burial approaches 50% cremations – that might be slightly high, but it’s not far off. People don’t get cremated for religious or symbolic reasons, but for other reasons.
- It is cheaper.
- People don’t like the idea of folks gaping at their corpses, so they opt for cremation and an urn.
- I’m sure plenty of other reasons abound.
Many feel it is wrong. My opinion is that cremation is a matter of Christian freedom. Burial is a better way of handling the body that symbolizes our belief in the bodily resurrection to come, but I do not think cremation is sinful.
When I served in Florida (did only a few funerals) and in Virginia I did almost no cremation memorial services. I did a few in Cedar Rapids and now in Sioux City I am doing more and more of them.
2. People are disrespectful to funeral processions.
I am old enough to remember when just about everyone would stop what they were doing, doff their hats, and stand in silent respect as a funeral procession rolled by. No more. I was riding in the hearse in Cedar Rapids, headed to a cemetary. In the back was a decorated war hero. It angered me the way people buzzed by us, the disdainful looks, the way people acted. Of course, they had no way of knowing he was a war hero, but there was a grieving family going by and it didn’t seem too much to ask that they pause for a second to show some respect.
We can probably wax eloquent about societal trends here.
3. Long delays for funerals.
I used to be able to guess when a funeral would be when I got word that someone had died. Mrs. McGillicutty passed away at 11 am Monday? Funeral would likely be Thursday afternoon, maybe Friday morning. Now, it is not unusual for families to wait a week, two weeks, even three weeks to do the funerals. Arranging for people to travel is difficult and our lives are so booked that few can just drop everything, even for a funeral.
It still seems a little weird to me. On Facebook, Alan Cross said that the longer wait for funerals has been more common in minority cultures and the 3-day wait is more of an Anglo thing.
4. Saturday funerals.
There was a time funeral homes would almost not allow Saturday funerals. They cost extra and were discouraged. Recently, I would hazard a guess that the majority of the services I’ve done are on the Seventh Day. Laid to rest on the Sabbath – not that bad of an idea, perhaps. But the first time I had a Saturday funeral it felt weird. It was one, I think, where there had been a cremation, a long wait, and the funeral home was not actually involved.
Now, I almost expect that funerals will be on Saturday.
I understand the trend. People are busy, don’t want to miss work, have to set up schedules. It’s just an odd thing because it wasn’t that long ago that it just wasn’t done, at least in the circles I worked.
5. No visitation
I have told people that the most difficult thing they will go through sometimes is not the funeral but the 2 to 3 hours of visitation the night before. That is especially true in big funerals where an unceasing line of guests come through. It is a blessing, but it is also exhausting and emotionally draining. Also, if there is any tragedy attached to the death, it can be multiplied by the things people say in vain attempts to bring comfort.
In recent years I have noticed that it is becoming more common not to have these family visitations, or to have them just before the service. Why? Often it is a money-saving move. The funeral home charges for both services and people don’t want to pay, so they combine the two into one and the costs go down. I’d say there is still a visitation most of the time around here but the percentages are decreasing.
- Do you see these trends?
- Do you see other trends?
- What do you think drives these? Costs? Cultural changes? Convenience?
The floor is yours.