I couldn’t tell you why I’ve received an abundance of requests to offer pre-arrangements, pre-paying for funeral, in the past week. I couldn’t tell you why a desire to plan one’s own funeral comes in waves any more that I can explain why Thanksgiving seems to usher in the “busy season” in the business.  This profession is rife with mysteries that only a funeral insider would find mysterious.

It was years ago that I was the outsider; the person that sat on the outside of the funeral home with preconceived notions of what happens inside those walls. The mysteries of embalming and cremation lay in the corner unanswered like the mysteries of the Masonic Lodge or the Illuminati in some hinterland cabin in Northern Italy.  As my career in the profession unfolded and I got my embalming apprenticeship and spent time in the crematory, the mystery slipped away. It disappeared in the same way any deeper understanding of a topic leaves a person less curious.  Let’s face it – embalming lacks the philosophical depth of a search for understanding dark matter or the development of genetic therapy.

The mysteries that intrigue me these days are, admittedly, a little more cerebral. Not much. I mean it – “a little.”

Why is it that the funeral industry is an economic pineapple upside-down cake?  The wealthy and educated in our society are overwhelmingly simple cremation families with no services – in other words “Cheap cremation” – while the middle and lower class families will, literally, pass a hat to collect money for a funeral service that can cost in excess of $10,000.

Why are there more people dying between Thanksgiving and New Years?  I haven’t done the academic study on it, but the death certificates don’t read “Cause of death – asphyxiation, cranberry blockage” or “gin inhalation.”  The causes of death seem to be just as banal as they are in June, there’s just more of them.

Cranberry Cocktail

Cranberries & Gin – recipe for a busy November

Some of the mysteries are the same as you would find in any other industry, like “what do people want?” or “how can I communicate my message?”  These questions aren’t unique to the death business, so they are inherently a little less compelling as a blog post, but when you dive a little deeper, they fit. Like “Who designed detachable corners on caskets so the family can take home a memento?” That’s a specific variant of “what do people want” to wit I can respond “Not that!”

Our business is filled with mysteries. It’s why I love it.  I can’t solve the mystery of where your loved one is going, I can’t tell you why they left, and sadly, it’s almost impossible for me to speak in anything other than irritating euphemisms anymore. But what I can do is help people through a really rough time and make the process a little easier. Here’s the best part of the whole thing – there’s no mystery to how you do it.

You just have to listen.