By integrating health and wellbeing, a wave of funeral services is breathing new life into the taboos surrounding death.
The funeral industry, largely unchanged for decades, is primed for an overhaul—and a growing faction of entrepreneurs is already stepping in to shake up tradition.
The funeral industry is estimated to be worth $20 billion dollars in the US alone and an individual funeral costs $8,000 on average. Each year, there are an estimated 2.7 million funerals, currently fueled primarily by the Baby Boomer generation (some 10,000 of which turn 65 daily). What’s more, Boomers also control about 70% of disposable income. This chunk of the population, coupled with their millennial children, is leading a wellness-forward trend toward more personal and better designed death services. As the Global Wellness Institute notes, “finally, a ‘better death’ is becoming integral to a ‘well life.'”
While the industry is still largely run by small, independent and often family-owned local businesses, there is a budding trend toward bespoke end-of-life care. Dubbed the “death positive” movement, there is a growing interest in dying well, with end-of-life autonomy becoming a priority for many Boomers. Preparing for the end of life now sees more tailor-made options than ever, from death doulas, to high-design funeral parlors offering stylized caskets and urns, to personalized event services and eco-friendly burial plots.
The shift sees an increase in death doulas as a modern care practitioner, as more Boomers are eager to discuss and prepare for end-of-life. Also referred to as “death midwives,” growing demand for end-of-life coaching is driving a flood of official training programs and associations. This year, the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine became the first university to offer a Doula Professional Certificate program, joining a roster of global organizations including the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), the Art of Dying Institute, the Conscious Dying Institute and End of Life Doula-UK.
Opened in October 2019, nouveau funeral parlor Exit Here, founded by restaurateur Oliver Peyton, offers a full-service experience but with a polished, thoughtful and ultra-modern package. From within Exit Here’s refined and modern space in London, clients can create individual experiences from custom floral arrangements and catering to Exit Here’s in-house designed caskets and urns. Ultimately looking to treat death as the last great occasion of a life, Exit Here has a simple aim: “offering a previously unavailable level of service, choice, flexibility and attention to detail.” While most other momentous life occasions are meticulously planned, funerals have remained largely uniform, but Exit Here was created to put the individual first. “From religious beliefs to the environment, today we have a much more individual and informed view on life. Exit Here has been created to reflect that individuality and offer choices that weren’t there before.”
Sustainability is also becoming a pillar of the death wellness movement. With a growing interest in green burial options, a number of organizations and start-ups are offering biodegradable pods, bio-cremation (a process of alkaline hydrolysis) and human composting. Both The Living Urn and Italian-based Capsula Mundi have made waves with innovative biodegradable burial capsules, which are planted alongside or beneath a tree. It’s a form of what the Global Wellness Institute refers to as “replanting” in its 2019 global trends report.
With multiple locations planned, VC-backed Better Place Forests offers individuals the opportunity to have their ashes spread beneath a tree of their choosing. Opened in June of 2019 in Mendocino, the land has been donated to a land trust and is operated by Better Place Forests, tended to by a mix of landscape architects, designers and botanists. Beyond a pristine visitor center, family members hike through the memorial forest to visit their loved ones, ultimately creating a more peaceful and soothing experience, one that is coupled with land conservation. “They’re taking 80 acres of land out of the logging industry forever. It’s never going to be developed as a housing project,” says David Fletcher, the lead landscape architect at at Fletcher Studio, overseeing design for all of Better Place Forests’ properties.
Whether clients are looking to leave a more positive impact on the environment or leave a more celebratory memory with friends and family, the demand for more customized, modern and intimate funeral services is ripe. And as modern consumers look to optimize all aspects of their lives for improved health and wellness, taboos and traditions surrounding the end of life are being reexamined.
Main image courtesy of Better Place Forests