Like many others, the funeral industry is undergoing a sea change as consumer demands have shifted with the times.
People not only have less money to spend on a funeral in a post-recession economy but are less drawn to the traditional wake and funeral services that have sustained the industry for generations.
"People don't want to be bothered about death. They want it to be smooth, they want it to be quick, and they don't want to feel anything," said Ertel Funeral Home director Kinsey Ertel. "So what that has resulted in is families picking cremation without any ceremonies. Fifty years ago, every person that walked in the doors here was a full traditional burial, they had a couple days of viewing, they purchased a casket ... now a lot of families come in here and say they just want cremation."
A fourth-generation funeral home director, Ertel grew up in the funeral business and has seen the changes firsthand.
According to projections from the National Funeral Directors Association, the rate of cremation is projected to surpass that of burials in 2015. In 2011, the rate of cremation was 42.2 percent. This year it is expected to rise to 48.2 percent, and by 2030 is projected to rise to 70.6 percent.
Ertel says that in the Four Corners area, business now is roughly 60 percent cremation and 40 percent traditional burial. Since cremations come with less trappings and services than traditional burials, it means a diminished profit margin for the businesses that provide them.
To combat the revenue decline, younger funeral home directors are rolling with the punches and reinforcing their relevance in the eyes of the busy, cash-strapped consumer.
Earlier this month, Ertel was one of 50 funeral directors younger than 40 selected by the National Funeral Directors Association to participate in a mentoring program in Atlanta, which allowed her to bounce ideas off of seasoned professionals and hear what other young directors are doing to strengthen their businesses.
"Our industry has worked really hard on different approaches, and we've tried to be really progressive on how we can show a family value in the service we provide."
Part of that for Ertel has been changing the conversation on after-death care by embracing and promoting the idea of the funeral as a celebration of life that can happen whether someone chooses cremation or a more traditional wake and burial. There are also new product offerings like cremation jewelry being offered-wherein a small bit of ash is encapsulated in a necklace, brace or ring charm-to appeal to changing post-mortem preferences.
"So much of my job is that I'm an event coordinator, we certainly are dealing with a very sensitive and emotional time, but we are planning your event," she said.