The series “Reshaping Sympathy” explores how the rituals around death and offering sympathy have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, 1-800-Flowers.com Founder and Chairman Jim McCann introduces the series with observations on the transformation of the sympathy industry. This piece originally appeared in Worth magazine.
COVID-19 has changed nearly every industry – even the floral one – and the funeral business is no exception. I spoke with a number of experts over the past few months and Dr. Camelia Clarke, President of Paradise Memorial Funeral & Cremation Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shared that the biggest challenge for the industry was the question of how do we adapt? Like any essential business, funeral directors couldn’t just go home. Instead, they had to figure out “how do we change our business model to operate successfully, within federal guidelines and while best serving the lives of families and the public?”
For a long time, the funeral industry said that technology isn’t what our customer wants. But, that’s no longer true.
Dr. Camelia Clarke
Paradise Memorial Funeral & Cremation Services
Funeral homes and funeral service providers saw an increase in demand by as much as 20 – 30% per month from the previous year at the start of the pandemic in 2020, noted Jamie Pierce, the Chief Marketing Officer of Service Corporation International, a provider of funeral goods and services as well as cemetery property and services. Pierce shared one of the hardest challenges for funeral directors was to limit attendance to services. Funeral directors are caregivers at heart who understand the powerful role of family, friends and community in grieving. This represented an unprecedented change to the funeral industry, which had to rapidly adjust to the situation and a massive increase in need.
The compounded change of pandemic restrictions and rising death toll required funeral directors to think outside the box about funeral planning and the myriad options families now have. Anthony Kaniuk, Director of Industry Relations for the National Funeral Directors Association, observed that “what’s changed most are the choices families have regarding the size and scope of a service.” Depending on the state or local restrictions on gatherings, families may have had to limit the number of people who can gather. Jamie Pierce noted the growing prevalence of outdoor services since the pandemic, and he expects that to continue moving forward. Additionally, virtual options for a service have enabled even more people to participate in the service when they can’t be physically present. So, families have to really think about more emotional questions like how intimate they want a service to be, what venues they want to hold the service in, and what role they would like for people to play in observing their losses.
Funeral directors have carried on with this important work since the beginning of the pandemic. What has changed is how they work.
Director of Industry Relations
National Funeral Directors Association
“Many funeral homes used technology – like Zoom or Facetime – to conduct arrangement conferences, especially when state regulations precluded them from meeting in person or a member of the family had been exposed to COVID or was ill. Funeral homes could also take advantage of services like DocuSign to enable families to sign off on important paperwork and authorization forms,” shared Kaniuk. And, funeral directors, he shared, used virtual funerals to bring families together to pay tribute to their loved ones. “For a long time, the funeral industry said that technology isn’t what our customer wants. But, that’s no longer true,” shares Dr. Camelia Clarke. Technology is and will continue to be an essential aspect of funeral services going forward.
I wondered if these changes would be here to stay or merely something we would look back on as a fad? Kaniuk believes that virtual funerals will stay even as traditional funerals return and that he is hopeful for the future of the funeral service. “We are optimistic and think that consumers are rediscovering just how important a funeral or memorial service is in healing following the death of a loved one.”
“People will 100% be back to gathering in person when this is over,” shared Dr. Camelia Clarke. “COVID just accelerated changes that the industry was heading towards already.” She believes that the funeral industry will continue to grow and be profitable following the pandemic.
While the traditional funeral symbols and rituals that accompanied our pre-pandemic life may have changed, Anthony Kaniuk said, “In many respects, the primary mission and duty of a funeral director – to help families honor the life of a loved one in a meaningful way – has not changed one bit. Funeral directors have carried on with this important work since the beginning of the pandemic. What has changed is how they work.”
Trust us to help you express your condolences, giving comfort and support. We offer funeral flowers for the service, handcrafted by our caring florists, and sympathy and remembrance gifts for the home.