A couple hundred years ago the front room of every house (or at least the houses that had them) were called parlors. In the parlor, the family would have all their best furniture, their most beautiful interior decorations and even a larger, less noticeable door off to the side. The furniture and decorations were to impress any visitors and act as a showcase to represent the family home. The large door off to the side was called the death door and it was there to bring coffins through.
Death was more personal back then, or at least, more “in person”. Maybe because there was no computers or cell phones or three-hundred thousand pictures on Facebook. The family would bathe their deceased loved one, dress them in their best formal, and lay them out in a coffin or on a bed in the parlor. Once everyone came by to pay their respect, it was off to church for a ceremony and then to the graveyard for a burial.
My how funerals changed…
The funeral industry really began in North America with the Civil War. There were 600 000 dead soldiers between 1861 and 1865 and it made for a lot of grieving families who just wanted to see their loved ones, one last time. Dr. Auguste Renouard was the man who made it all possible.
Dr. Renouard embalmed soldiers during the civil war for proper transportation home to their families. It was during this time that coffin makers turned into undertakers. They saw an increasing profit in the market and quickly jumped ship. Dr. Renouard showed them how to do this by opening one of the first embalming schools. Undertakers built parlors of their own which evolved into the funeral homes, visitation centers and chapels we know today.
From that point, until recently families followed this funeral process: two days of viewing in a very expensive casket, a separate day for a funeral service with burial and reception following. All of this was born out of a simple need to ship dead soldiers back to their families over 150 years ago.
Was any of it really needed?
Undertakers saw the opportunity to create a need for services. An embalming institution was definitely required but, a funeral home as a service location was redundant. Churches were doing a fine job before the parlor turned into a one-size-fits-all chapel. In fact, pulling families away from their churches in a time of grieving may have been a damaging disservice.
The overwhelming like-minded feelings of faith, love and a community are the overarching values of the church. Outside of weekly mass, people go to church to feel a sense of community for holidays, weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Why should funerals be plucked from the group?
Take it back to the church
If you’re part of a church and you need to arrange a funeral, consider your church as the main location for the services. Churches are almost always able to hold memorial or traditional services, visitations and receptions. And sometimes, they even have cemeteries right onsite.