Area death care industry adjusts to a decrease in traditional burial practices

When walking through a cemetery in almost any city—small or large—one can often note the numerous plots where generations of families are buried.

Historically families would often grow up, get a job, start a family and even retire in the same community the previous members of their family did.

But times are changing—no more so than in Frisco.

A more transient society and an awareness of the environment are changing the business of dying.

The rapidly increasing rate of cremations rather than traditional burial is one of the biggest changes in the death care industry, said Ted Dickey, who manages five funeral homes in the Dallas area, including Stonebriar Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Frisco and Ted Dickey Funeral Home in Plano.

He has been in the funeral business for more than 45 years.

"In my little part of the world [cremation] is growing exponentially," he said.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, cremation has grown from less than 4 percent of deaths in 1960 to a projected 45.8 percent in 2015. By 2030, the NFDA projects more than 70 percent of deaths will result in cremation.

While cost is a contributing factor Dickey said he believes it is a more transient society that is driving cremation rates higher. According to the National Funeral Directors Association traditional funerals and burial costs have risen from an average of less than $800 in 1960 to more than $7,000 in 2012. Cremation can cost thousands less.

"I think what's most interesting in our communities—Frisco/Plano particularly—is that nobody has any roots," Dickey said. "Cremation is perfect for them. The demographics are someone who is mobile, who is well-educated, and I think that really has caused the growth of cremation more than the dollar consideration."

Dickey said for many years in his business, he would meet with the family within hours of a person dying, and a funeral would be scheduled within the next two to three days.

Now, family members may live far apart, making it difficult to schedule arrangements quickly.

"It's become a far longer period of time from when someone passes away and when you have services, and that really lends itself to cremation," he said.

Dickey said as the trend shifted toward cremations, some churches have begun constructing columbariums, or places for urns to be kept.

"There was a time when churches just did not accept that as a valid choice for disposition," he said. "Now, for the most part, most of the religious organizations allow it."

Other changing trends

Along with an increase in cremations, the traditional funeral service has also seen some substantial shifts, Dickey said.

For example, celebrations of life and themed funeral services have become increasingly common.

"You have to be very open to allow people to say goodbye in the way they are the most comfortable," he said. "There certainly are cultural differences that have changed the way [funeral homes] do business, but I think [most important is] the understanding on the part of the survivors that they have far more options to celebrate a life well lived."

While not a new concept to the death care industry, preplanning continues to grow in popularity, Dickey said.

He is part of a network of 2,200 funeral homes throughout North America, and he said together the group has $9.4 billion in prearranged, prefinanced funerals.

"That's how big it is," he said. "People are realizing the value. And the money doesn't go to a funeral home—it's placed in a trust and managed by a financial institution."

Dickey said making prearrangements can allow a person to focus on happier parts of life and can also ease the burden on family members.