Funeral Homes Feel the Impact of COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to have ongoing ripple effects into our everyday lives, a $16.3 billion industry may be changed forever.

The death industry that once included large funeral services filled with loved ones, has seen those services dwindle to allowing only 10 attendees. The expenses that usually accompanied funerals such as flowers, caskets, services, tchotchkes, transportation by hearse, and cemetery plots have also seen staggering drops. Even with states moving into Phase 2 or 3 of reopening, COVID-19 cases are still on the rise and gatherings must still abide by social distancing precautions. Funeral homes are struggling with new standards of sanitation, checking the health of employees, and creating at least 6 feet of separation between attendees.

More than 19,000 funeral homes exist across the U.S., and many who have already had to face changing customs, are now also facing a crisis as people reconsider how to part with their loved ones.  Whereas traditional funerals could cost upwards of $10,000 and require families and friends to gather within days after the passing of a loved one for a service and burial, cremations are becoming the new normal and inexpensive urns can be personalized and ordered online.

There is no question that the funeral industry is being hit hard by COVID-19, which is ironic seeing that the U.S. has had over 100,000 deaths so far. After a large funeral in Georgia drew over 100 mourners, it became a breeding ground for the virus and resulted in ill attendees and an additional death.

Another funeral in Mississippi and one in the Chicago area had similar results with researchers able to trace cases back to the gatherings where the disease spread.

Customs had already been changing as millennials and younger people began to popularize eco-friendly methods of “green burials” that included urns that produce trees once buried, biodegradable urns, and even ocean-friendly water urns that break down over time. So now, with mourners fearing the creation of a hot spot along with already evolving traditions, funeral homes face an uncertain future.

It’s unknown whether people will choose traditional funerals or opt for less expensive cremation options once we return to a new normal. It’s also unknown how long funeral homes will last while they lose money during these turbulent times. On the other hand, some funeral homes such as one in New York seem to have the opposite problem. They are overwhelmed with the situation unfolding in their area and are even bringing on new staff to help with the influx of death.

Urn companies are seeing large upticks with some struggling to keep certain urns in stock with bottlenecks occurring in manufacturing stages abroad. Google Trends showed a surge in people searching for urns at the end of March, and the general interest since is at least double what it was pre-Coronavirus. Filling a gap based on necessity and the current situation, online urn companies may continue to see steady growth that becomes their new baseline.

There are many kinds of cremation and memorial products that allow families and friends to mourn in the interim before society reverts to normal for funeral plans. Jewelry can hold a small amount of ashes and be worn. Soft teddy bear cremation urns can be hugged and cuddled, and keepsakes can be shared with many family members.  Instead of gathering at a funeral, memorial stones which can be placed to offer a temporary or permanent spot where people can talk to their loved one and mourn in their own way.

Like so many other industries trying to find a sense of balance in a quickly changing world, those that can pivot fast and provide what consumers need now will be the ones more likely to survive and thrive. Urn-makers and sellers have long been able to adjust to consumer demands, which is why there are so many varieties of the increasingly popular funerary option.

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