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Funeral Home History

Funeral Home History

Funeral Homes & Our Economic History

Funeral homes have a history in the United States that, in many ways, mirrors the economic history of the country itself. Back in the early days of the United States, funeral homes were non-existent and, in fact, most families did for themselves the same tasks that a modern day funeral home does. This is akin to what has happened in, say, agriculture over the centuries in which the nation has evolved from a country whose families largely grew their own food into a country that routinely buys all of its food from corporate-run grocery supermarket chains.

Many family run funeral homes have been bought out by larger corporations, but the quality of service remains.Today's funeral homes are largely run by large corporations such as the Houston, Texas based Service Corporation International (SCI) or Foresight Companies. These companies control even the funeral homes that may appear to be run by the same family that established them years ago. In these cases the large company has bought the smaller company but has retained the previous owners as managers. This arrangement has financial benefits for all involved, but it is often largely disguised. In fact, a customer whose family has been working with the local funeral home for decades may be very surprised to know that they are, in fact, working with one of the large national (and even international) corporations instead. This mirrors the economic history of the United States at large in that many nationally run stores (and other business outlets) often run as if they are entirely a local outfit. Applebee's restaurants for example is far from the only corporate chain that focuses on local décor in its restaurants, and even offers locally popular recipes in many cases. Likewise, many Wal Mart Stores proudly support their local athletic teams in in-store displays and they also are often proud to hire well-established local people as their high profile store managers.

These trends are the latest link in the chain of funeral home history that began from, well, nothing. In the earliest days of American history, funeral homes were, as we say, nonexistent. Most families conducted their own memorial service and even prepared the bodies of the deceased on a kitchen table or in some other familiar spot in a modest home. Burial was a simple affair, usually in a wooden coffin made from wood chopped down and shaped by family members just a day or so before the burial.

Funerals helped usher in the modern day casket design.As the country's economic developed, so did the history of funeral homes. People began to rely upon each other for more and more specialized services, and the economy, accordingly, became specialized as well. This is what led to the development of funeral homes and the profession of funeral directors, people who devoted their lives to attending to memorial services and other needs of grieving families. The proprietors of early funeral homes were as important to a community as, say, a local doctor or grocery store operator. They specialized in helping to comfort the loved ones of deceased by finding every increasingly dignified ways to remember a family member. These efforts included the introduction of caskets that had the appearance of elaborate and exceedingly comfortable beds (and the word casket itself is an intentional upgrade from the word coffin. Casket is meant to bring up images of jewelry caskets that are intended to protect precious family jewels.)

As the history of funeral homes developed, funerals became more and more sophisticated and elegant affairs, complete with ornate flowers, music, and embalming techniques intended to make the deceased appear more sophisticated than ever as family members and friends paid their final respects. Eventually, these trends gave way to a reversal of consumer demands. Requests for elaborate and sophisticated funerals slowly began to dissipate (though they never disappeared entirely), and families began asking for simpler affairs. Wood coffins made their return – though the modern versions have much in common with their steel cousins from a decorative point of view, and funeral services began to no longer even be called “funeral.” A Celebration of Life became popular replacement term, and, in a few cases, funerals began even being called a “party."

Funeral homes adapted to these changes in the modern needs of families who have suffered the loss of a loved one, but they had to be able to also accommodate the needs of families with more old-fashioned tastes as well. As a result, the modern funeral home, being run by a large corporation with sufficient financial resources, is able to be flexible. The modern state of funeral home history can be said to be a renaissance, of sorts, since funeral homes today are able to do just about any thing that a family desires to make any memorial service a perfect tribute to the deceased's unique personality and life.

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