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Wednesday 24 January 2024

Outsider’s perspective of the funeral industry

Hi everyone 👋! I'm Anna, a guest writer on Jennifer’s blog 💫! I’m here to provide an outsider’s perspective on the funeral industry. My professional journey has been in finance & strategy at tech startups (very different, I know!); but, after I lost my mom in 2016, I’ve become fascinated with the deathcare space and passionate about making the end-of-life process easier for families. Now in 2024, I find myself in the process of discovering my path within the industry and also serendipitously crossing paths with Jennifer! 

Last week, Jennifer & I hit up the Trend ReCON conference hosted by Tribute Tech. Tribute is a leading tech company in the funeral space that builds websites, case management software, and other tools for funeral homes. This was Tribute’s second year hosting Trend ReCON, a small conference where they invited speakers and hosted fireside chats to review & present new technology. Lecture topics ranged from reminding funeral directors of the importance of digital marketing to providing a crash course on how to use ChatGPT. 

As an outsider, I found the conference really helpful in understanding a unique & niche industry a little bit better. Here are some of my key takeaways:

  • Confirmed, the funeral industry appears to be very technologically behind.
  • Many funeral homes still don’t have a website and rely on word-of-mouth and community referrals. To put it into perspective, Google and SEO activity exploded ~20 years ago. 
  • For the funeral homes that are tech savvy, they will at the very least have a website, maybe Quickbooks, and maybe case management software. 
  • The pandemic forced funeral homes to become more tech savvy. 
  • It was a necessary change that is here to stay. 
  • The pandemic pressured funeral homes to create websites and offer virtual live streaming. Even now post-pandemic, virtual attendance is increasing while physical attendance & visitations are decreasing.
  • Although the landing page is important for funeral homes to advertise their business, the obituary page is their goldmine.
  • On average, an obituary receives 200 views. 60% are 45+ years old, 60% are female, and the majority are within 15 miles. This means that obituary viewers should be funeral homes’ target leads for at-need and pre-need.
  • The funeral industry is very short-staffed. This is an acute & persistent problem across the industry.
  • The funeral industry has shifted from an employer’s market to an employee’s market. The space is paying employees more than ever, but there is just not enough supply to meet demand. 
  • What’s interesting though is that in 2021, overall enrollment in mortuary school jumped by 24% indicating an increasing interest in the space.
  • Succession planning will be a problem. I predict more consolidation over the next few years.
  • 60% of funeral directors will retire in the next 5 years. Most will have issues finding a successor and will probably get acquired.
  • The fragmented industry has just started getting consolidated in the last few years (20% of funeral homes are owned by consolidators). Right now, consolidators are focused on scaling their portfolio, but more consolidation will come in the next few years. 

I hope you found this post interesting. Leave a comment if you have any thoughts, questions, or input into what you think the future of tech is for the funeral industry!


~ Anna






Saturday 20 January 2024

A Cinematic Odyssey: Saltburn's Grief Scene and a Wuthering Heights connection

If you haven't seen it then STOP, go and watch it! 

Diving into the heart-wrenching yet beautifully crafted world of Saltburn, with a special focus on the soul-stirring grief scene that unfolds at the graveside. 

Saltburn, a cinematic masterpiece, takes us on an incredibly boundary pushing and profound journey through life, love, and, inevitably, loss. 

As the characters gather around the graveside, the scene is bathed in a soft, melancholic light, and the weight of loss hangs heavily in the air. The filmmakers' attention to detail is palpable, capturing the essence of grief in its rawest form. But once the family leave Oliver, it becomes no typical movie grief scene – it's a moment that challenges the boundaries of expression.

Barry Keoghan's portrayal of Oliver in this scene is nothing short of masterful. In the aftermath of Felix's funeral, Oliver grapples with the heaviness of the situation. The weight of loss becomes overwhelming, and in a moment of profound vulnerability, Oliver removes his shirt and collapses onto the freshly filled grave unbuttoning his trousers to relieve himself of the pent-up sexual tension he's been holding on to.

The scene takes an unexpected turn as Oliver, consumed by grief and obsession, engages in an unsettling ritual to bid farewell to his beloved Felix. Instead of conventional tributes, Oliver fully undresses and lies face down on the freshly-laid gravesoil. This disturbing yet intriguing act serves as an unconventional expression of love, loss, and extreme hopelessness. But is it so 'out there'? I don't think so. I think people who have seen grief and lived in it know how dark, how bizarre, how weird your thoughts and actions can get (or feel). To see this on screen, in a popular medium with great actors was incredible. Grief is UNIQUE.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Barry Keoghan sheds light on the scene's evolution. Originally meant to stop at touching the dirt, Keoghan and writer/director Emerald Fennell decided to push the boundaries further. Keoghan explains, "It wasn’t about f@%king the grave, it was more about I don’t know what to do with this obsession; it’s making me confused and making me unhuman in a way. It was a total discovery for him, I think. And it was sad. It was very, very sad."

Emerald Fennell describes “It is troubling, it’s about grief, it is about the horror of grief and the horror of love. It comes directly from the Gothic tradition because there’s a scene in Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books of all time, where Heathcliff digs down to get to Cathy’s coffin and the subtext is very much to do a similar thing. So what we have in the film is not completely outlandish given the genre. So much of Oliver’s desire cannot be sated, what he really wants is not possible, and even in the end it’s not possible.”

While Saltburn's grief scene transcends traditional movie boundaries, it invites audiences to explore the multifaceted nature of human emotions which is something we have previously kept closeted away when it comes to grief. Another movie that came to our screens in a similar timing was Good Grief and for me that did less for grieving in the modern day than Saltburn who showed is grief in its raw form - the only form there is.

BUT I will say, any movie or popular medium that deals with grief, loss, death, funerals and bereavement is a winner in. my book because it is being TALKED about and that is all we can ask for. Grief is unique for us all.


As a side note, has anyone read Alix Strauss Joy of Funerals? More on this to come. Rereading it again but it gave me Saltburn grief vibes!

Friday 12 January 2024

Embracing Life's Journey: A Positive Perspective on Death

As someone deeply involved in the world of memorial planning (and therefore death), I want to share thoughts on how we can approach death with a positive mindset, drawing from my experiences and the unique pillars of my company Muldowney Memorials.


The Rollercoaster of Farewell

Death – it's something we all face in one way or another, shaping our lives in profound ways. In my journey within the funeral industry, I've witnessed a spectrum of attitudes towards death. Some see it as a chance for transformation, while others navigate it with coping mechanisms. Dying, at its core, is transformative and profound. To make it a positive transition, acceptance of death before it comes becomes crucial.


Dealing with the Dreads

Coping with the anxiety surrounding death involves recognizing the different stages of grief, as proposed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and further developed by many more incredible authors, researchers and grief experiencers. Additionally, there are various approaches to death acceptance – from staying neutral to taking it head-on or seeking an escape. It's like a rollercoaster ride, with ups and downs, twists and turns.


Finding Peace in Acceptance

Acceptance is the key, my friends. It's about letting go of attachments and finding that spiritual connection. Whether it's reflecting on life, embracing your true self, or diving into your spiritual beliefs – there are different paths to acceptance. It's like the Buddhist perspective that says to solve the problem of death; we must live a fulfilling life.


Unpacking the Fears of Death Anxiety

Let's be real; death can be a scary thought. The fear of the unknown, the finality of it all, and the worries about pain and loneliness can weigh heavily on our minds. Our society tends to shy away from facing mortality, opting instead to prolong life through various means. But what if we flipped the script and embraced the inevitable?


Adding Some Positive Spice

Let's sprinkle in some positive psychology with the meaning management model. We all crave meaning, especially when faced with the tough stuff like death. Engaging in meaning management deepens our faith and spirituality, creating a robust framework that shields us from the fear of death. It's not just reframing; it's a total reconstruction of our values and beliefs.


Embracing Life and Death

In the memorial planning world, embracing a life of meaning echoes in our dying moments. It's about leaving behind a legacy that truly means something. By living a life of significance, we set the stage for a departure that's not just an end but a celebration of what we've created. Faith, hope, and courage – they pave the way for a life well-lived and a death embraced.


A Paradox Worth Exploring

Our attitudes toward death don't just shape our individual lives; they influence the future of our society. Whether we choose to face death with fear or hope significantly impacts how we live. So, let's ponder the essence of life and death – what truly matters is living a life of meaning. Embracing death with faith gives us courage and an enduring sense of hope. 

In accepting and understanding death's significance, we gain wisdom, courage, and an unyielding hope. After all, life is a paradox – seizing each day like it's our last while striving to do good for a hundred years. 🌟

~Jennifer

Friday 5 January 2024

The Surge in Demand for Celebrants in Funeral Services

Celebrants are becoming an increasingly sought-after presence in funeral services. But what's driving this noticeable rise in demand?

Primarily, the surge is in the category of families who lack church affiliation and seek a non-religious funeral experience also known as 'none'. The nones account for a large portion of Americans, 30% of U.S. adults who claim no religious affiliation in a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Additionally, the burgeoning popularity of cremation has reshaped expectations. Families are no longer satisfied with traditional services. Opting for cremation grants them liberty to design a personalized tribute using (or not) the remains in an urn. Funeral professionals often hear that for cremation families, their presence is deemed optional. Funeral homes offering Celebrants witness a retention of these families within their fold. Celebrants cater precisely to a families unique needs while maintaining a connection to the funeral home. 

Moreover, an increasing number of funeral homes, particularly larger corporations, have embraced Celebrants as a standard service option for all families, integrating it into their General Price List (GPL). This integration has resulted in a noticeable uptick in revenue and heightened client satisfaction. 

Testimonial from a real life celebrant consumer

"I can not tell you what a Godsend Muldowney Memorials was to my family when my cousin unexpectedly passed away. I was from the West Coast, and knew nothing about how to do a funeral that was zoomed from the funeral home in New York to 3 different time zones to people from all over the country. Jennifer, Mikey and Siobhan were just incredible. They were so kind and professional. The service turned out beautifully, the sound and visual presentation were spot on (thanks, Mikey) and Siobahn did a beautiful eulogy. I felt like they really honored my cousin. I am truly touched at what wonderful human beings they all were. Best money I ever spent, but more importantly, they took a huge burden off my shoulders in a kind, honest, and professional way. Muldowney Memorials has my highest recommendations."

Positive experiences shared among business owners have further fueled the acceptance and interest in incorporating Celebrants into their firms. Beyond simply officiating funerals, Muldowney Memorial Celebrants offer families additional services like:

Collaborative Creation: Celebrants view their role as a collaborative and creative process shared with the family. Each word spoken is 100% approved by the family before the service and each script is meticulously crafted by the celebrant based on the family's shared experiences. 

Family Meetings: These gatherings are pivotal and healing. Spanning one to three hours, they serve as an opportunity to collect stories, allowing for the design of a personalized service for the departed. Beyond that, these meetings provide families with a platform to collectively share stories, commence the grieving process, and cultivate safe spaces for cherished memories.

Access to Expertise: Not only are Muldowney Memorial Celebrants trained and experienced celebrants who love their job but they also have access (thanks to the MM Events Team) to a wide range of expertise including AudioVisual Support, Catering, a wide variety of Venues, Florists, Funeral Directors and more.

The role of a Muldowney Memorial Celebrant involves providing a personalized funeral service, memorial service, or tribute tailored to reflect the personality and lifestyle of the departed. This is achieved through consultations with the family and coordination with the funeral home.

A Problem: Serving as both a funeral director and a Celebrant for the same family presents an immense challenge. Both roles demand substantial time and attention to distinct responsibilities. Celebrants, on average, invest 8-10 hours in preparing a service, encompassing meetings with the family, crafting the service, and conducting the service itself. Simultaneously, funeral directors juggle numerous tasks related to the service while managing calls and tending to other families in need. Given these demands, it is nearly always better for everyone involved if the work of a Celebrant is outsourced.

In conclusion, Celebrants are devoted to the fundamental principle of crafting a tribute that resonates with the unique lifestyle and convictions of the individual, ensuring that the service is a meaningful reflection of their life and values.