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Editorial: Turmoil comes to mortuary business

In small towns, these enterprises touch a wide swath of the population

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Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 10:52 am | Updated: 10:54 am, Tue Nov 6, 2012.

Funeral homes are community assets that tend to be placed out of mind until they are needed. We shouldn’t take them for granted.

Throughout the country, there is some turmoil and consolidation going on in the mortuary business. It may seem slightly inappropriate to even call it a “business,” considering the emotional and spiritual components of the services they provide, but funeral homes are subject to many of the same economic pressures squeezing other industries.

To start with, the recession and lackadaisical recovery have made all Americans far more price conscious. Bargain hunting even extends to end-of-life services, with the Internet playing a role. At the same time, the real estate crash and related banking problems have impacted the investment decisions made by some small-town businesses, including funeral homes.

Businesses like Hughes-Ransom, currently in receivership and likely to change ownership, perhaps took on more debt than was sustainable. This became a particular problem considering the fact that some 21st century people are making different decisions about funeral practices than their parents and grandparents did.

As people struggle to keep up with the costs of living, it becomes more appealing to identify dignified lower-cost options for departed loved ones. Relatively less-expensive cremation, once stigmatized in some religious traditions, has become the preferred option for most families – at least here on the West Coast.

Beyond these monetary issues, mortuary practices have moved this way and that for thousands of years. For example, the Anglo-Saxons who colonized Britain in the Dark Ages primarily believed in cremation, while the Christian era that resumed in England in about AD 600 brought a swift change to burials. A tangible body was believed necessary for resurrection on Judgment Day.

Locally owned funeral homes – with their traditions of strong community service, compassion and understanding of local circumstances – are worth preserving. They stand by us in difficult times. We should do what we can to support them in turn.

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