Till death do us part


We hear you thinking ‘what kind of a weird topic’ did they decide to explore this month. Guilty! Since I, unfortunately, had a recent experience concerning the subject, it made me wonder about the current state of death and its ceremonies. It seems to be amongst the rituals that actually don’t evolve too quickly. Or do they? 

Numerous event agencies are briefed for weddings, fancy birthdays or anniversaries. Yet, for the ‘last party’, it seems there is a certain discomfort to go ‘all out’.  That doesn’t mean things haven’t changed. Although black is still the color of choice for a funeral, the more ‘celebratory’ funerals start to be more widespread. A meal after the ceremony is a tradition that can be handed over to a local restaurant but is more and more frequently handled by a caterer. Yet, this isn’t always the case.

Last year, we were asked to handle the organisation of a garden ceremony for a little girl that got killed in a very sad and unfortunate accident. The relatives thought of food trucks in the garden. An efficient way to install quality catering options in a location lacking a professional kitchen infrastructure. Organising this kind of event was an eye opener for our project and event managers. The approach is completely different and the emotional impact enormous. All of a sudden putting up tents, tables and generators have a meaningful purpose. The event manager handling the project never felt so involved and never had clients more grateful. When somebody dies it obviously confronts us with the fact that our time on earth is limited. Seize the day always has a fresh sound to it, after mourning. While Europe is worrying about its greying population and marketeers are seeing the senior target as the new goose with the golden eggs, we are convinced there is a new field in the making, and that is the business of death.

Death is an event that everybody will come to. As a spectator or an active participant, the current target is about 7.7 billion people. In Europe about 5.2 million people die each year, an average of about 1,000 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Belgium will lose 113,500 people to death this year, that’s about 300 per day. Diseases of the circulatory system (mainly heart attacks and strokes), and cancer are the two main causes of deaths in the EU, responsible for 37% and 26% of all deaths respectively. Most people who die of cancer are well aware of their upcoming death.

That means this week, more than 500 people in Belgium are well aware their time has come and these people will not live to see next Sunday. 

When it comes to death, cultural perspective is of the essence. Not surprisingly in the Netherlands a number of businesses are focused on modern ceremonies, although these seem to be reserved for the upper class (see the clip on the right).

In our small research we have seen the craziest ideas and experiments:

Mourning clowns can be hired for a funeral. These Clowns lighten up a funeral service and have their roots in ancient Rome. In Roman times they dressed up as the person who died, they wore a mask of his face, and danced about, imitating him. As the funeral procession made way, the well-paid merrymaker would run around the coffin together with other clowns in order to make the grieving relatives laugh. The Romans believed that this would placate the spirits of the dead and bring joy to the living. A number of blogs indicate that Funeral Clowns are making a comeback in the US and the Netherlands. Curious to see if they become as popular as the Cliniclowns…

Green Funerals are becoming a thing. Everything from coffins that are bio degradable to… the composting of human bodies. A technique that the state of Washington in the US has now officially approved. Recompose, a Washington-based company, has been developing a ‘recomposition’ method to compost bodies in about a month. It says the process uses just one-eighth the amount of energy cremation requires and saves a metric ton of CO2 per person.

Click here to read an interesting article on the topic! 

Death Podcast exist. Be warned, we didn’t listen to all episodes of this podcast, set up by The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.

Have a listen here!