What’s more, cremation is now preferred over traditional burial. In 2021, the U.S. cremation rate was 57.5%, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). By 2025, it is projected to reach 64.1%. In Canada, that rate is projected to reach 81.8% that same year.
Consumer desires amplify the ripple effects of these preferences. Let’s take a look at the top funeral trends for 2023.
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11. Memorial diamonds and other cremation jewelry
Through the wonder of physics, Eterneva converts a loved one’s ashes into a sparkling stone. Creating a lab-grown gem takes about nine months, and the resulting jewel becomes a treasured family heirloom. Some Dignity Memorial® providers will begin offering Eterneva diamonds in 2023. The cost is around $7,000 per karat.
Families who wish for something less extravagant but equally special are opting for charm bracelets and pendant necklaces that hold a bit of a loved one's ashes. Someone who doesn't want to keep ashes with them might choose a pendant necklace with an imprint of their loved one’s thumb.
10. Living funerals
Most of us have heard the statement “Funerals are for the living.” In the case of living funerals, they really are. When facing a terminal diagnosis, more and more families are opting to host a gathering for their loved ones before they die.
Sometimes called a pre-funeral, living wake, living tribute or reminiscing party, these gatherings bring together friends and family in much the same way a funeral after a death might—the big difference is that the loved one being honored is present for the event. A living funeral is an opportunity for a mutual goodbye.
Living funerals tend to be very celebratory, not sad. They usually include many of the same elements as a funeral service, such as a casket or an urn, photos, music and more. They are often catered affairs with plenty of food and drinks. And, of course, there are eulogies and shared memories—the point being to allow the honoree to hear all the wonderful heartfelt sentiments often shared after someone dies. The person being honored usually also speaks at the funeral, expressing love and gratitude, and sharing fond memories.
9. Return to nature
Burials that are considered by some to be more environmentally friendly have been around for a while. According to the Green Burial Council, best practices for these cemetery burials include forgoing embalming and choosing a biodegradable casket or urn. But the funeral industry has seen a rise in other alternatives to traditional burial as well.
Water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, is now permitted in nearly half of all U.S. states and Canadian provinces. This process involves placing a loved one in a chamber with a special solution to dissolve the soft tissues and leave behind only bones. Families may find the idea of water cremation gentler than flame cremation.
In December 2022, The New York Times featured an article on human composting, which is now legal in a handful of U.S. states. Sometimes called natural organic reduction, the method “fulfills many people’s desire to nurture the earth after dying.” It transforms a body into soil in a process that uses straw, wood chips and other natural materials.
The Mushroom Death Suit launched a few years ago. It hasn’t become commonplace, though at least one celebrity has been buried in the shroud embedded with mushroom spores that help a body return to nature. It could catch on as more people become more concerned about the environment.
8. Emphasis on pets
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 45% of U.S. households include at least one dog and 26% include at least one cat. Many pet owners consider their animals family. Funeral directors are seeing more and more requests for pet cremation, and CANA is helping train pet crematory operators and offers a pet bereavement certification.
That’s not the only place we’re seeing more interest in pets, however. A number of Dignity Memorial locations have comfort dogs who can sit with families as they make arrangements for loved ones and even attend funerals. Some funeral homes will now allow a family to bring their own pet to a service. Some who plan ahead are asking to be buried with their previously deceased pet’s ashes, though laws prohibit burial of pets in cemeteries where humans are buried in many states.
7. Death doulas
Millennials and their Death Positive movement are driving the death doula trend. Similar to a midwife, who supports and cares for women during pregnancy, birth and afterward, a death doula supports and cares for people who are working through the dying process—before, during and after.
Like their beginning-of-life counterpart, end-of-life doulas work to bridge the gaps between the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of death. They educate, guide and assist the dying and the families of the dying to help them face death, embrace mortality and grieve in healthy ways.
They can work in tandem with funeral directors, and some funeral directors have become certified death doulas. A January 2022 article in The Washington Post highlighted the first Death Doula Day at a Washington, D.C., cemetery.
6. Family participation
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 allows 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. (Note: Dignity Memorial providers do not allow this practice.) 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.
5. Dividing ashes for scattering and scattering ceremonies
More families choosing cremation means more families choosing to scatter their loved ones’ ashes. Most often, people scatter ashes in a place that meant a lot to their loved one, whether the ocean, from a mountaintop or even their own backyard.
Some families are splitting up a loved one’s ashes so they can be scattered in multiple places. One sibling might want to scatter some of dad’s ashes at his favorite fishing hole, while another might want to take them to a cherished mountain campsite.
Regardless of where a loved one’s ashes are scattered, families are taking time to make a cherished memory with a scattering ceremony. Inviting family and friends, enlisting a clergy member, planning for music or speeches, making a toast, scattering flower petals or blowing bubbles with the release of ashes, and eating a meal together afterward make a scattering a memorable moment.
We had pre-made arrangements, but the fact there was no issue combining my previously deceased father's ashes with my mother's in one urn to bury and one to scatter ashes was extremely helpful to carry out both of their final wishes and have them together again.—Manda K., December 2022
4. Glass-front cremation niches
Still another cremation trend, glass-front niches give a family a place to store a loved one’s ashes along with a few of the loved one’s treasures. Located inside a mausoleum or columbarium, glass-front niches allow a family to display not only an urn but also photographs, religious artifacts, beloved trinkets and more. They aren’t new, but they’re not something every family knows about. We’re seeing more requests for glass-front niches as families look for ways to honor a loved one after cremation.
3. Return to big, in-person services
In many cases, COVID forced families to forgo the types of funerals they wanted. Services were smaller in size and often delayed. Some families didn’t get to have a service at all. But now that COVID restrictions have lifted and the world is more prepared to deal with the virus that causes the disease, families are planning bigger and more elaborate services.
Perhaps it’s because they realized what they missed—or could have missed. And there’s no doubt COVID focused attention on how much we as humans love to be with family and friends in both joy and grief.
One aspect of creating a big, in-person service is often a funeral celebrant, who works in conjunction with a funeral director. These professionals are specially trained to create truly unique end-of-life ceremonies. They know the ins and outs of both funeral services and event planning and work within a given timeframe and budget to ensure a funeral or memorial is a deep reflection of the life being honored.
Families love having an extra resource to lean on, and a celebrant will even act as the officiant of a service in lieu of a clergy member, if a family so desires.
1. Pre-planning end-of-life services
Planning ahead is more important than ever, and discussing death has become more commonplace. It’s even appearing more and more on television and streaming services in shows like Upload, The Good Place, The Casketeers and We Bought a Funeral Home.
Plus, as cultural preferences move away from tradition and more toward individualism, people want more control over what happens to their bodies after death, how they are celebrated and how they are memorialized. A prepaid funeral plan allows you to design the service you want—right down to the last detail. It also protects your family from having to make decisions during a stressful time and saves them from having to find the funds to pay for a service.
My loved one made arrangements well in advance of her passing. This made the whole process much easier and less stressful. I would recommend looking into the options for arranging what is needed in advance.—Richard P., December 2022