Local funeral directors say they've seen many changes in their business over the years.
One director compares today's funeral process like going to a restaurant.
"We used to have what I call a stock funeral. We would do the embalming and preparation work one day, the viewing the next day and the funeral the next day," said John K. Bolger, president of John C. Bolger Funeral Home Inc., with locations in Martinsburg and Williamsburg.
Mirror photo illustration by J.D. Cavrich and Hannah Frank
Bob Jones straightens up the “Liberty” casket displayed at the Jones Funeral Home. Directors are saying funerals are more specialized today.
"Now I describe it as the 'Ruth's Chris Steak House formula' - you pick and choose your own specific funeral like you are picking from a menu. It is like an a la carte funeral now. We put it all together as a package. It is more specialized today," he said.
In many cases, the funeral process has been tightened from three days to a single day.
Richard H. Searer, owner of the Richard H. Searer Funeral Home, Tyrone, has been a licensed funeral director for 57 years. He said it used to be that families had calling hours over two days and then the funeral on the third day.
"That was the standard. That is no longer true," Searer said. "Some are doing the whole thing in one day - they do the visitation for two hours and go right into the service. That has become somewhat of a practice."
Many families elect to have what directors call the traditional 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. visitation on a single day. Joseph Stevens III, president of Stevens Mortuary Inc., Altoona, said that is typical in this area, which he described as "a rather traditional area."
Stevens noted that among the changes in viewings over the years has been a greater focus on celebrating the person's life.
"People bring in items like antique cars, trophies and lots of pictures that are relevant to that person's life," Stevens said.
Bolger agreed. He said people often create memory boards or choose special caskets where they can include framed pictures in the panel that depict the person's lifestyle and hobbies.
On the other hand, some families elect not to have a viewing of their loved one.
"Some people have a vanity issue and don't want to be viewed," said Robert M. Jones Jr., owner/funeral director of Jones Funeral Home, Altoona. He has been a licensed funeral director for 46 years. "I can't say that it is a trend. It is a personal, individual decision."
Some families prefer a private visitation, where people are welcome by invitation only. Searer said that could be something where only family members are welcome.
Another change has been a decrease in graveside services.
Jones said they are not a thing of the past, but they are diminishing. Bolger said he is finding many people do without them.
"We've gone to where people don't want the open grave experience. People are becoming more prudent because of weather and the health of the older generation," Bolger said. "This is a convenience generation. They say let's have it all in the funeral home; the pastor can do the committal prayer and they can go directly to the funeral meal."
Another trend has been an increase in cremations, which are less expensive than the typical funeral. The national average for a funeral is between $6,500 and $7,500, while a cremation costs between $1,500 and $2,500, Jones said.
Searer said while cremations are increasing locally, they are not as prevalent as they are elsewhere across the country.
"There are a number of reasons. It is financial for some; for others, they are not interested in cemetery property and monuments," he said. "And for others, to some degree, it is convenient for families that are scattered."
Jones said he went 25 years in the business before he did his first cremation. For years the Catholic church would not allow cremations, he said.
Stevens said cremation is seen as an alternative to burial.
"We still have visitation with the body present, it is just like any other service. Instead of taking the body to the cemetery, we take it to the crematory where it is cremated," Stevens said. "Sometimes it comes down to financial matters, sometimes it is just the family's preference. It is cheaper, but it is more about people's preference rather than an earth burial. I would say, based on our numbers, cremation makes up between 12 to 20 percent of our business."
Beyond types of services, the funeral industry is also evolving to offer more help to survivors in terms of completing paperwork that is required after the death of a loved one and coping strategies for their grieving process.
"They need help and that is what I am there for to help. When you die, your problems don't end. They just begin. We do more work after the funeral today," Searer said. "I am doing two, three and four times the work to care for a family than I once had done. I pride myself in making myself available. That is part of what I am there for. We care for the dead and help the living."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.