Drive-Thru Funerals

After playing tennis in 90 degree heat, I desperately needed an ice coffee. Being sweaty and truly offensive to society, I planned to wait until I got home. En route, however, my tennis partner spotted a Dunkin Donuts and suggested we pull in. I questioned how it would be less rude to stink up this location than another local store?
“Drive-thru.”
“Drive-thru for my coffee?”
The process was obviously simple. We drove up to a sign offering dozens of options, I asked a crackly voice coming from a speaker for a black ice coffee, we proceeded a few more feet up, I exchanged my three dollars for a cold bit of heaven and we went on our way. While I got what I wanted, this process seemed unsatisfying and foreign to me. Unlike most my age, I missed the minimal human interaction.
Since I’m not comfortable with the most trite exchange taking place through drive-thru, you can imagine how I felt when reading about the recent re-excitement over drive-thru funerals. Have we reached a point in our society where we cannot even get out of the car for the dead?
The New York Post ran a video about a drive-thru funeral homes in Memphis, TN. Mr. Bernard, the owner, boasts that this makes it physically easier for people to pay their respects. I have worked in the funeral industry for a decade and have been to hundreds of funerals homes around the country. ALL funeral homes strive to be user-friendly for the elderly and disabled. Funeral directors know that the majority of visitors are going to be aged; it’s not in anyone’s best interest to make it difficult to maneuver through their locations.
That being said, are there challenges? Of course there are! At a funeral home I worked at, if a family chose the room with a step, we would have a staff member present to remind and assist visitors if necessary. We had multiple services which had disabled visitors- with the respect we gave all those mourning, we helped them to be present. If it mattered enough to the grieving to attend, we made it as seamless as possible. In fact, for a quadriplegic son attending his father’s funeral, we took doors off the hinges to allow his extra-large wheelchair to enter through the front doors (the side door was another option but we wanted him to have the most respectful experience.) Attending any event is particularly difficult for some, but funeral directors know and are there to help. Of course there are always extenuating circumstances, but most of us are fortunately well enough to make the effort to walk into a funeral home.
Ryan Bernard adds that his drive-thru also assists those who don’t have a physical handicap, but are too “spooked out” to come into the funeral home. NO! That’s not the solution! I personally feel that it is the job of funeral directors to remove the taboo of death and the angst of funeral homes. Funeral homes have gotten a terrible reputation because people fear that which they don’t know. Rather than perpetuate the anxiety by advertising something that allows the consumer not to enter the “scary funeral home” why not take the opportunity to personally walk those visitors though your lovely funeral home and show them that there is nothing to fear?
Do I feel there is any benefit to the drive-thru option? Actually, yes. Originally, this was found in a funeral home in Compton, Los Angeles, an area that once suffered from extreme gang violence. Peggy Scott Adams of Adams Funeral Parlor notes in a 2011 article, “In the 1980s, cemetery shootouts made gang members reluctant to gather for graveside services. The drive-thru’s glass partition is bulletproof…and so for a while the mortuary became a popular location for gang funerals.” In my opinion, safety trumps everything else. If the options are to not have a funeral, have a funeral and put others lives in jeopardy, or have a drive-thru funeral, obviously, the best choice is drive-thru. Kudos to Adams Funeral Parlor for creating a solution and letting people grieve safely.
Lastly, I cannot help but comment on the title of the NYP article: “Drive-Thru Funeral Home Tries to Make it a Fun Thing.” I know personally that the NYP has a tendency to sensationalize everything, but I fear this was actually what the owner, wanted. While so many ask for “a celebration of life,” rather than a classic tear-jerker, do we really feel that funerals need to be “fun?” If “the party” doesn’t sound good, will people not attend?
Around the world funeral, people accept that their lives are inconvenienced when they need to attend a funeral; they, however, make the effort. In America, everything is about the simplicity. The owner notes that he even brings an iPad up to the window so the grieving can sign and, “show their respects.” Is driving up to a window really showing your respect? Have we become so disenchanted by life that we don’t even care when someone’s ends?

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