A population survey finds that bereaved people draw upon diverse sources of support in their communities, from both formal services and informal networks of care. The formal service most frequently recognised by participants is provided by funeral directors. We outline some reasons for this, and explore one particular theme, memorialisation, in which funeral providers have traditionally been a lead discipline. Significant changes in memorialisation over recent decades challenge today’s funeral industry, but also draw our attention to underlying social changes reshaping our understanding not only of bereavement care but of care in general. Bereavement support is most effective when provided collaboratively by formal and informal care providers, but collaboration is challenged by policies that continue to privilege formal services over informal care. This challenge of developing constructive, respectful and complementary collaborations between formal and informal care is not peculiar to bereavement care, but is a social policy imperative for contemporary societies.
Although considerable research efforts have focused on bereavement outcomes following loss, there are few studies which address the role of memorialization, particularly as it relates to formal service provision. Currently the funeral, cemetery, and crematorium industries are observing a steady decline in traditional and formal memorialization practices. This study aims to identify current memorialization practices and emerging trends, highlight key priorities for improving service outcomes for the bereaved, and understand the implications of changing consumer preferences for service provision. The study’s qualitative research design incorporates two phases, a scoping literature review followed by in-depth interviews with eight service providers from the funeral, cemetery, and crematorium industries. A key finding is that the trend toward contemporary and informal memorialization practices blurs the lines between the role of consumers and service providers. There is a clear opportunity for service providers to engage in community education as a means of building supportive relationships with and improving service outcomes for the bereaved.
This is the first study to explore bereaved individuals’ experiences of funeral service providers using these services’ databases. A total of 839 Australians participated in a postal survey, 6–24 months into their bereavement. Funeral providers were reported to be the third most prevalent form of bereavement support after friends and family. Analysis found six themes related to perceived helpful or unhelpful support: instrumental support, professionalism, informational support, financial tension, communication, and emotional support. Funeral providers could improve their support by adopting a proactive approach to bereavement needs and offering personalized and ongoing support. We develop these suggestions by exploring their potential contributions to building community capacity around death, dying and bereavement.