Every funeral should be a reflection of a unique life. Therefore, no two funerals are alike. Though traditional services, rich with cultural and religious customs, are still very much preferred by some, there's a trend toward less strict, more relaxed celebrations and memorials that incorporate options that weren't available in the past.
Like everything else, funerals, memorials and celebrations of life change with the times. What's more, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated some trends and promoted innovation in some areas, making 2020 an interesting year.
Here are the top funeral trends for 2021.
10. Cremation jewelry
Charm bracelets have seen much popularity in recent years, and that desire for a wearable reminder of something or someone special has crossed over into cremation jewelry. More and more families are choosing sterling silver and 14-karat gold bracelet and necklace charms that hold a bit of a loved one's ashes. Among the most popular selections are necklaces with rose gold hearts, infinity designs and feather pendants. And for those who don't want to keep the ashes with them, thumbprint necklaces let them feel the touch of their loved one's actual thumbprint any time.
Memorial diamonds—synthetic gems manufactured in a lab with a loved one's ashes—are also trending. Through the wonder of physics, converts the cremated remains of a loved one into a sparkling stone. The process takes just seven to 10 months, and the resulting jewel becomes a treasured family heirloom.
9. Eco-friendly burials
Sustainability has been a hot topic for more than a decade, and suppliers in many business sectors have seen a shift toward products and services that keep the environment top of mind. Among them are green burials. According to the , best practices for a green cemetery burial include forgoing embalming and choosing a biodegradable casket or urn. Caskets include simple wooden boxes and wicker baskets. Alternatives to traditional urns include wooden containers for scattering or burial, as well as paper containers that dissolve in water.
Some who choose cremation are also opting for placement at the . The Reef was designed by a marine biologist to attract and support certain marine life to build an underwater ecosystem. Located off the coast of Key Biscayne, not far from Miami, it's permitted and certified by the EPA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the Department of Environmental Resources Management. This unique underwater final resting place accommodates individuals, families and even pets. The cost ranges from $595 for a scattering or memorial plaque to $2,995 for a reef placement, which can be less than a cemetery plot.
Another new option, has emerged as a popular way to bury a loved one's ashes and help the planet at the same time. Cremated remains are planted with a young tree in a special eco-friendly urn. On the horizon: a GPS-based app that will allow family members near and far to check in on the tree's growth through the years.
8. Online planning and purchasing
According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, which collects data on 18 product categories, online sales across the board were up 55% year over year for the first seven months of 2020. Ecommerce was already a growing market sector, and the pandemic gave it a huge boost. Consumers now expect to purchase almost anything with only a few clicks, and that demand has extended to funeral products and services. However, because so few people understand the elements of funeral and burial planning, consumers can find themselves unexpectedly inconvenienced when they try to DIY. In the case of funeral planning, it's better to enlist the expertise of a professional who can clearly explain your options and guide you through purchasing decisions that many find confusing, even over the phone during a remote consultation.
At Dignity Memorial®, our planners offer both face-to-face and virtual meetings—as video appointments are another rising internet trend. We also offer . We strive to get every detail right the first time, every time. If for some reason we don't and you're dissatisfied with any aspect of your service, we'll fully refund that portion of the service.
7. Actively participating in a loved one’s cremation, funeral or burial
In recent years, more and more families have expressed a desire to be involved in a loved one's funeral beyond just planning and attending. Some are assisting a licensed funeral director with washing and dressing their loved one's body. Others are requesting to witness the cremation or even push the button that begins the process—an established tradition in some religions, including Hinduism. A graveside tradition allowed the family to place or sprinkle soil over a casket, but now certain cemeteries may allow family members to take part in digging a grave by hand. These acts allow spouses, children, grandchildren and siblings to be much more intimately involved in the final stages of their loved ones' lives. They are priceless opportunities that create unforgettable memories.
6. Online grief support/grief counseling
Telehealth went from an option to a necessity in many cases in 2020. Simultaneously, calls to the Dignity Memorial® toll-free quadrupled in the first half of 2020. Access to the Helpline is available to family members for up to 13 months after a Dignity Memorial service. Once a caller establishes a relationship with a counselor, he or she can then choose to continue with mental health counseling via text-messaging app or video.
The pandemic forced upon many a series of losses—some unimaginable, says Charles Nechtem, whose Charles Nechtem Associates Inc. operates the Dignity Memorial Compassion Helpline. The losses of physical safety, social interactions and, in millions of cases, jobs have increased anxiety and depression. That then compounds the grief of those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, which continues to prevent family members from being with those hospitalized or holding the kinds of funerals they would like to hold.
“And then there’s the matter of being at home and alone. Being alone during a pandemic is hard enough, but when you’ve lost a loved one, you feel really alone. This is a very tough time for people. It’s turned lives upside down,” Nechtem says. “Losing a family member is the most radical change a person can go through, and change is difficult. As therapists, we know how to help people deal with painful issues.”
5. Pre-planning to ease the burden of loved ones
Planning ahead is more important than ever, and discussing death has become more commonplace. Plus, as cultural preferences move away from tradition and more toward individualism, the younger population wants more control over their funerals, memorials and celebrations. In fact, Vox recently called the millennials the “death positive generation,” and they do seem to be more willing to research and plan in advance for the ends of their lives. They may also be encouraging their parents to do the same.
Perhaps that's because they realize that not only saves money but also keeps surviving family members from making hard decisions in a stressful time. It's likely also because they realize that when you plan ahead, you get to design exactly the service you want—right down to the last detail.
Because of our experience with Mom and Dad, my wife and I have chosen Allnutt for our own arrangements, which was easily accomplished, and are confident that when the time comes Allnutt will follow through on every detail and support our loved ones in our absence.—Tom Adams, Greeley, CO
4. Creative alternatives to cremation burial
There were more cremations than traditional burials in the United States in 2019. The U.S. cremation rate reached almost 55%—up from less than 10% in 1980—as more families chose an option often seen as less expensive and more flexible. Cremation numbers were up again in 2020, due in part to the pandemic, and are forecast to grow to nearly 80% by 2040. In turn, creative alternatives to cremation burial and scattering are on the rise, too. Among them:
Some have described Celestis Memorial Spaceflight as a meaningful way to connect with the universe. The service, around since 1994 but seeing growing interest this year, launches cremated remains to near-space, Earth orbit, the lunar surface or beyond. The cost depends on the experience chosen and ranges from $2,495 to $15,000. In fact, two of the options cost less than the average funeral.
A lab in New Mexico transforms cremated remains into smooth stones that can be distributed among family members. The polished rocks can then be slipped into a pocket, displayed on a shelf at work or home, taken on a trip or otherwise be kept close always.
3. Celebrations of Remembrance
A Celebration of Remembrance is a funeral or memorial service that takes place weeks or months after it normally would, and it's become an important option for families whose loved ones have passed during the era of COVID-19 when large gatherings are prohibited and social distancing rules may prevent the kind of service that a family wants. By pushing a celebration to a future date, a family gains extra time to plan every detail (and every safety measure) of an extraordinary event to honor a person's memory—complete with family and friends, cherished traditions and rituals, and more.
My husband died of COVID four months ago. We had a small service of nine people. We're waiting to take him home next year because my husband has hundreds of good friends. How do you pick and choose who can attend?—Beanie J.
2. Livestreamed services
Another trend pushed to the forefront by COVID-19, webcasting and Facebook Live allow friends and family members to attend services when they're unable to be there in person due to travel restrictions, limits on gatherings or personal health concerns. Even as restrictions lifted, some were still uneasy about being indoors in groups. Fortunately, technology now allows friends and family from around the country and the world to be present at a celebration for a loved one. This trend has provided comfort to many, and it's expected to become a standard offering of funeral homes even after the pandemic has passed.
1. Personalized funerals with attention to detail
Each person is a complex, multifaceted individual, and each funeral or celebration of life should honor the details that made him or her unique in the world. Themed events are great, but events rich in nuance are second to none. It's no small effort to that friends and family will remember as deeply reflecting a special life, but by asking good questions and carefully listening to your stories, we create memories that last forever. To Dignity Memorial professionals, the details aren't the little things. They're everything.
The attention to detail impressed me the most. Chris provided my dad, brother and I with a lock of my mom's hair as a keepsake. Chris answered all my questions n person and over the phone. Thank you Chris for your compassion, care and understanding at such a difficult time.—Cesar Estrada, Oshawa, Ontarios