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Relaxing about an old taboo

Funeral services become less formal, more people prearranging

Funeral services become less formal, more people prearranging

February 03, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The rack of suits and pastel dresses seemed out of place in the room full of coffins.

But more people have been thumbing through that clothes rack at Bast Funeral Home in Boonsboro. They are seeking the right outfit for a special occasion - their own funerals.

"They can pick out a dress if they want, and we pull it out and put it in a closet for them until their time of their death," said Bast Manager Paul Dean.

There are modern women's pantsuits and menswear. Older women like the old-fashioned satin negligees, Dean said. It's a similar process for people picking out their coffins or urns.

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"We're seeing more prearrangements," Dean said.

As society ages and a growing number of people remember what it was like to bury their parents, more are wanting to control how they are remembered after they die - down to what they will be wearing on the big day. It is a sign of changing times.

"Death is not as taboo any more," said Dana Cable, professor of psychology and thanatology at Hood College. Thanatology is the study of death.

More people are pre-arranging their funerals, local funeral directors said. Services have become less formal, and more people are wanting to be cremated.

The National Funeral Directors Association says these trends are happening all over the U.S. Add to that the recent manifestation of car window sticker memorials and roadside crosses, Cable said. All are indications that society is becoming more comfortable with the idea of death and dying. The result: A less "funeralized" and more personalized way to remember the recently departed.

Charlie Brown and Eric Brown, owners of Rest Haven Cemetery and Rest Haven Funeral Chapel, off Pennsylvania Avenue, spoke of services filled with music and laughter, not pastors, tears and formalities.

"There was a guy from a bluegrass band," Eric Brown said. "His family wanted the funeral to be about his music. After the service, the bluegrass band set up around a spray of flowers with his fiddle mounted in it. His bandmates played for about an hour."

Charlie Brown remembered a woman who's husband was a magician. "They broke his wand in half during the service," Charlie Brown said. The shards were buried with the magician. He took his magic with him to the grave.

People also are leaving personal touches on the Web.

Minnich Funeral Home in Hagerstown posts obituaries on its Web site and allows people to sign online guestbooks for their loved ones. People can even prearrange their own funerals online.

"I never thought people would want to make prearrangements online," said Robert Rankin, manager of Minnich Funeral Home. "We just had six in the last month."

Cost is one of the reasons more people are choosing to prearrange.

"There is a tendency to overspend," Cable said, "Children wanting to go all out, thinking, 'Only the best for dad.'"

Roberta Halporn, thanatologist and director of the Center for Thanatology Research and Education in New York, said prearrangement, informal services and changing attitudes toward death might make it easier for people to get through the grieving process.

"I don't want my daughter to pay for an elaborate funeral," Halporn said. "I don't think people should have to do anything but sit around and talk about me. I just hope I'm not there to hear them."

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