“Death is inevitable. And something will have to be done with your body.”—Funeral Director, interview
Death is big business. Over two and half million Americans die in the U.S. every year. And that number is expected to go up 30% as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Americans already spend $17 billion dollars a year on death services—their final expense.
Here are some more fascinating stats about the industry of death:
- The death rate spikes in the cold and flu season—December through February are the months when the most people die.
- Caskets have model names, like cars, to attract different levels of consumers.
- There are 1.5 million caskets sold every year—75% are metal, 25% are wooden.
- In the Philippines, many caskets are hung on mountain faces and over cliffs, so the deceased are “closer” to heaven.
- Average cost of a burial is $6,500; cremation average is $1,600 and a growing trend.
- A crematorium incinerates at 1,600 degrees. Artificial hips, knees, etc. don’t burn, but are recycled.
- Fans are still leaving baseballs, gloves, hotdogs, and beer at Babe Ruth’s grave.
- There are companies that, literally, make diamonds from ashes.
- A man once bid $4.6 million for a crypt above Marilyn Monroe.
- Obesity in the U.S. has changed the sizing of caskets. Many now can hold people up to 600 pounds.
- Prices in a cemetery are set like real estate anywhere—location, location, location.
When I was a kid, my dad once joked with me, “You see that fancy field over there? That’s a very exclusive cemetery. People are just dying to get in there.”
Why do we spend so much money and exert so much effort honoring and caring for the remains of the deceased. They’re dead, after all. What do they care?
What did you do with your pet hamster when it died? Your dog? Cat? You probably cried, reflected, and buried them. Without an honoring response to death, a life seems less special.
We mourn, reflect upon, and honor the dead because we feel we must—and we believe that somehow it matters.
There is something in us—in all of us—that senses an invisible truth: What we do in this life matters in the next.
Chad was the student chosen (out of a school of 2,200 students) to be the life claimed by a pretend car accident at his high school assembly. You know the kind—where the car is mangled in the center of campus and a pretend emergency scene hopes to scare kids into thinking about the importance of sober, text-free driving?
The program is not new. But for Chad, and his dad, it was haunting.
Here’s an email I got from Chuck, Chad’s dad:
Today started like most days, but today was different because I knew I was going to watch my 18 year old son be pronounced dead at the scene of a car accident.When we got to the football stadium at the high school we were taken to the press box so no students would see us. My younger son, four nieces and nephews (who attend the same school), and two of my sisters were brought into the press box with my wife and I. We sat and watched as the 2,200 students filed into the stadium completely unaware of what was about to take place. When everyone was seated the drama began to unfold. There were two big tarps down on the field, each covering the cars that had been set to demonstrate a horrific accident. My son and the three other seniors involved were already in the cars under the tarps. Suddenly the tarps were pulled off and the horrific scene was right there in front of everyone. I have to admit that even though I knew what was coming I was overcome with emotion when I saw my son trapped and motionless under the car he was in. A police radio came over the loud speakers telling of an accident at NGHS. Sirens started to sound in the distance. It took 3 minutes for the ambulance, fire trucks, and police cars to get to the scene of the accident. The crowd of 2,200 kids sat very quietly as the teams approached. I could only stare at the mangled car that imprisoned my son. After using the Jaws of Life to free another student, they got to my son. I heard the words over the radio, “passenger deceased.” I had tried to prepare myself for this all week but when I heard those words it tore me up inside. My wife was sobbing and the aunts, brother, and cousins all sat in a state of shock. The firemen walked away obviously disappointed at seeing a young person lifeless in the car. They left my son in the car while they brought the driver of the second car back in front of the crowd. They began to test him for DUI and it was obvious that he was under age and way over the limit. We all watched as they placed handcuffs on him and took him away in the police car. Next they came and pulled my son from the car and placed him in a body bag. It is hard to watch your son look so lifeless and go through this. He was taken away to complete silence in the stadium. Then the principal walked out on to the field with his phone in his hand and acted out the call he was making—to us! “Mr. and Mrs. Scott, on behalf of NGHS I want to share with you how sorry we are for your loss. We are all heart broken here at the school. Chad was such a wonderful young man. He was a great student and exceptional athlete. We will greatly miss his leadership. We want you to know that our hearts are broken for you and your family.” This is the part I was not prepared for. I had played out the accident scenario, and even though seeing it was hard I was making it through. But this phone call hit us all like a ton of bricks. Everyone was in tears in the press box. There were a lot of tears in the crowd. This is the call no parent ever wants to receive.
Two days later, the school held a mock-funeral for Chad. All 2,200 students filed into the stadium as soft music played over the PA system. On the field was a casket with Chad’s football jersey and pictures. We (the family and speakers) walked down the track in front of the whole assembly. As we approached the Casket and saw the pictures of Chad I had to remind myself over and over that we are just pretending. The family all sat down in the seats in front of the Casket and then Pastor Sharrett got up and delivered his message. It was powerful. He reflected on James 4:14: Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. He challenged the students to make an impact with their lives. He shared about the amazing legacy Chad had “left” in his short time here on earth. He said, “Choices we make today will decide our future tomorrow.” The message was powerful and the kids were challenged. They were challenged to make good decisions while driving a car but more importantly they were challenged to think about life.
Take your seat at the top of the stadium. Your near death experiment is underway.
Imagine seeing this scene play out from a seat in the press box. You see the mangled car. This accident is horrible—how could anyone survive? You look closer and notice a lifeless body pressed against the steering wheel of the car…it’s yours. You family is in shock, your mother is weeping. Your father tries to hold in his tears—trying to be strong for the family—but when He gets the call…he breaks….
What do people place on or next to your casket? Jerseys, artwork, flags, banners, balance sheets…? What are you known for? And who are in the pictures that decorate your memorial? Who sits on stage? What do they miss about you? How will their lives be better because of yours? When the speakers get up to share, what will they say? You may not have accomplished all you had hoped, but have you lived in a manner in which you can be proud?
It’s okay if your answer to this point is, “no.” But it’s not okay if you do nothing about it.
Go to a funeral. Call a local church and ask what funerals are scheduled for that week. Go, sit in the back, and listen…and think…and feel.
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. James 4:14 (NLT)