BALTIMORE (AP) — As the new president of the National Funeral Directors Association, John O. “Jack” Mitchell IV has been keeping an eye on trends in the industry of death.
The sixth-generation owner of the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home in Towson and president of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, Mitchell sees the funeral industry adapting to changing desires for death rites as customers move away from the melancholy of traditional burials.
Many of the changes in funeral services are years in the making, Mitchell said.
Cremation has been on the rise for decades, surpassing traditional burial in Maryland for the first time in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic massively boosted the already growing practice of livestreaming funeral services. And more women are entering the once male-dominated industry; in fact, more than 78% of mortuary sciences students are female, according to the funeral directors association.
Supply chain issues exacerbated by the pandemic have caused price changes; for example, caskets became more expensive due to a rise in the cost of wood. Beyond the dominant practices of cremation and burial, Mitchell said families are showing interest in more eco-conscious disposition methods such as “green burials,” which are similar to traditional burials but use biodegradable caskets and do not use chemical embalming.
Another emerging practice is natural organic reduction. Also known as “human composting,” it ultimately turns the body into soil. The process often involves a solemn “laying in” ceremony, similar to a traditional funeral, where the body is placed into a container along with wood chips, alfalfa and items important to the decedent. After several months, the rich soil created from composted human remains can then be spread out in a more cheerful “laying out” ceremony, allowing the deceased to physically “return to earth.”
Natural organic reduction is not legal in Maryland. A bill that would have legalized it died in a Senate committee after passing the House of Delegates. A separate bill requiring state regulators to study the environmental and health impacts of several funeral practices, including natural organic reduction, failed to reach a final vote in the Senate Monday after passing the House. Baltimore City Del. Regina T. Boyce, who sponsored the bill requiring the environmental analysis, said the study was not to promote a specific practice, but would allow residents to consider their options.
She intends to bring the legislation back next session.
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Written by: Editor