Walker Posey Shares The REAL Reason Families Choose Direct Cremation

At this moment, I am sitting on a plane coming home from the Asia Funeral and Cemetery Expo in China. It was a fantastic experience, getting to see first-hand the cultures and customs of those on the other side of the world. I went to speak at the conference, but I must say that I learned far more then I shared.

Isn’t that often the way it is? When we have courage to step out of our comfort zone and challenge our own thinking, often we grow in an exponential fashion.

The Truth About Direct Cremation

In the US, we seem to either fear cremation and the perceived impact it will have on our bottom line, or we accept the idea that it means less. Less revenue for the funeral home and less service for the family. However, while in Asia, it was reinforced to me as never before that cremation should not equal less of anything.

The idea of a “direct cremation” (or cremation with no service) is a foreign concept to our friends in the East. They understand that ceremony and ritual are keys to families adequately dealing with grief. They understand that humans have an inherent desire and right to tell their loved one’s story and that a disposition method does not dictate that right. So why do we often find families in our funeral homes requesting direct cremation, and what can we do to about this cultural phenomenon?

Going Back To The Experience

There is no doubt that we have created a “no service mentality.” The truth of the matter is, it goes back to our forefathers not understanding cremation in general and, therefore, doing a horrible job introducing it to our client families.

Today, many funeral directors simply don’t have the courage or skill to stop being an order taker and become the true advisor that client families actually expect to deal with. When a family comes in and sits down across from an order taker, they have no choice but to accept the inadequate options that are presented. The idea of associating cremation with limited or no service is very under-serving to the families who call on us and this habit must be stopped.

The consumer is beginning to demand more skill from funeral directors. Could the very fact that they are choosing nothing mean they actually want more, but simply can’t find what they are looking for? Is it a choice by default because they don’t see anything they want?

A Funeral Professional’s True Role

Those who call on us need to understand that we are the very best avenue to help them tell their loved one’s story. This skill and ability, coupled with the many other important things we do, is our value proposition to them. It is true, in many areas, that this is an uphill battle because the consumer has been neglected for far too long and the culture of no service has already shifted.

But it is essential that we develop the skill set necessary to become the polished, capable advisors that these families deserve. Kindness, compassion and caring are vital to the process of funeral planning but, equally as important, are skills such as communication, anticipation and the ability to explain the consequences of choices being made.

Let’s decide as a profession to step it up and sharpen and/or acquire the skills needed to help families understand and make choices that will help them more effectively deal with loss and grief. It is time to stop taking orders and to be the professionals that families of today deserve to deal with.

Do you agree that funeral professionals need to make the first step in educating families about the value of direct cremation and funeral service options? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Bob Arrington


  2. Spencer Skorupski

    I couldn’t have said it better myself! Preach it preach it!

  3. Anthony Kaniuk

    Absolutely! In the most recent Crematoria Business Report from Matthews Cremation Div. it amazes me that their tracking shows 72% of all cremations performed with Matthews equipment are in a cardboard container. Batesville’s stats are the same on cremation. That’s why they talk about the $40 million pillow. If the industry could just move families from the minimum cardboard container to a basic alternative (with a pillow), the industry would (conservatively) see an incremental $40 million! Now that’s significant!

  4. Jeanne Staehli

    As a member of the board of trustees of Oregon Memorial Association, I’d like to thank you for sharing your thoughts about the role of ceremony and ritual. Understanding ” that humans have an inherent desire and right to tell their loved one’s story and that a disposition method does not dictate that right” captures the lesson I learned from my husband’s death, but which I have been unable to put into words. Thank you for your words.

  5. Jeff Harbeson


    Well defined thoughts and yes, I too believe that funeral professionals need to take the necessary steps of education to consumers. Unfortunately, anyone can make a few calls to funeral homes and find disappointment in the conversations that take place from funeral director to consumer. How is this solved? Training and intentional leadership…fact is that is a rarity in the funeral industry. #thefuneralcommander

  6. John Parker

    I fear that North American funeral service is so resistant to change and too slow to respond to consumer demands that little will change any time soon. We were born of cabinet makers that learned to embalm. We are beholden to selling our widgets – be that a casket, urn, guestbook, upgraded cremation container, or other product. We are ensnared in the trap of manufacturers, and it has led to the commoditization of what we do. Even when merchandise is engraved or personalized, as Doug Mannig likes to say, it’s all just setting a stage that doesn’t matter one bit, if the show is horrible. Instead, we must focus on the thing of true value that we, not the internet, or some direct disposer can offer – an authentic, personal, healing experience. To really do this we need to evaluate the entire process of how we do everything. Taking a first call, making a removal with the family present, arrangement process, selection rooms, facilities, equipment, etc., etc., etc. The emphasis must be shifted from gathering information to building relationships. No more: “What’s your father’s name?” “Does he have cemetery property?” What church does he attend?” “Do we have permission to embalm?” We must shift to:: “Tell me more about your dad.” “Who were the most significant people in his life?” “What did they share in common, or do together?” This is going to be hard work. It’s much easier just to run down a list and fill in the blank information. I wonder if anyone in this discussion would leave a home call without even an attempt to discover if embalming was necessary or not. Build a relationship, build trust, through a first call and transfer, so that as you make suggestions at the arrangement conference, or explain the benefits of holding a public service, or viewing a body, you already have credibility with the family.

  7. Brad Apsey

    Why, have we never done a national TV campaign educating the public about the importance of funeral service. Why do we get articles like the one above, that is preaching to the choir? I know that, you know it, the public sure doesn’t, and they really don’t want to be bothered with the facts. Remember the Beef Growers Assoc., telling you “beef, it’s what’s for dinner”. Or the American Dental Assoc. telling you about dental care. Where is the NFDA, or your state assoc.?

  8. Tom

    In my experience, families who choose “direct” cremation are not always foregoing a ceremony, a celebration of life, or other ritual. They’re simply not hiring the funeral firm and it’s personnel to perform those services. Here are two recent examples of families who hired the funeral firm for a direct cremation only:

    1) With the guidance of a local “home funeral” group, the family kept the body at home for a two-day vigil during which friends and family honored the body, shared stories, food, and memories of the deceased, carried out simple rituals, sang songs, played favorite music, and read from selected texts (including her journal) of their deceased mother, grandmother, sister and friend. At the end, the funeral firm (which had advance notice and had secured the necessary paperwork) came for the body. The closest family members witnessed the start of the cremation process. The cremated remains were later scattered at a lake where the family had a summer cabin.

    2) The family hired the funeral firm for a direct cremation. After retrieving the cremated remains, the family held an evening-before prayer vigil and visitation in their Catholic church, and a funeral Mass the next day, both with cremated remains present. Afterward, the remains were inurned in a cemetery columbarium. In all cases, one or another family member transported the urn. No funeral director was needed after the direct cremation took place.

    Some families actually know what their after-death choices are because they’ve educated themselves, talked about it, and planned for it (though not necessary pre-paid for it).

    So I don’t think it’s a matter of no service versus hiring the funeral director to conduct it. The author says: “We are the very best avenue to help them tell their loved one’s story.” Really?

    The author says funeral directors should stop taking orders from families. On the contrary, I think it’s a wonderful development that families are educating themselves about their rights as funeral consumers and have stopped “taking orders” from funeral directors who for too long have told them what “Mom” would really want, and how viewing an embalmed body helps the grieving process, and how this vault will better protect the casket, and a host of other funeral industry-related talking points each with its own price tag. And that includes the latest buzz words – memorialization and personalization.

  9. Brad Apsey

    You got that right, John Parker.

  10. Joe

    I don’t believe we will change anything by ‘educating’ our families about having a service. Most of what I hear dozens of times a year (and this will be dependent on your area demographics) is:
    1) “The deceased wanted no services and I want to do exactly what they wished.”
    2) “The deceased has no friends in the area and doesn’t speak to family so we aren’t having anything”
    3) “We don’t believe in spending money on funerals so we are going to scatter and that’s it”
    People are going to do what they want to do. End of discussion. Take for example the Catholic church recommending to its believers that ‘the body be present for the service and the cremation done afterward’ or ‘cremated remains must not be separated and not be scattered’. I can’t tell you the last time we did a cremation after a service and many Catholics ask me to separate cremains in to keepsakes.
    Again, people will do what they want to do, especially these days.