Inside the new death industry

The $20-billion-dollar death industry is ripe for disruption—and not of the zombie kind.

A typical funeral service today is remarkably similar to one from 50 years ago. A funeral home will display the embalmed body, perhaps in an open casket, while a religious leader who may not have known the deceased reads a few prayers. It’s impersonal, stilted, and, at an average of $8,000 a funeral, expensive.

For the non-religious, non-traditional, and non-boring, this shouldn’t be the only way to commemorate a life. In an age of abundant choice and personalized everything, why in heaven’s name hasn’t the funeral followed suit? In the words of Amy Cunningham, a lecturer and in-demand funeral director in the New York City area, “We’ve mastered the wedding—but the funeral needs a lot of work.”

The traditional funeral, as we know it today, is a relatively young cultural practice. In the 19th century and before, American families hosted funerals in their homes and cared for their deceased loved one’s body themselves. But with the Civil War came the process of embalming, which preserves human remains in a lifelike form and allowed soldiers’ corpses to be shipped home for burial. When this practice was brought off the battlefield and into cities, death care became a professional pursuit.

Read on and think about your funeral HERE

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