What Is The “Death Positive Movement” And What Does It Mean For The Funeral Profession?

If you scroll through any major media website today, you won’t be hard pressed to find the words “death” and “positive” together.

Put those words together, and you have yourself a death positive movement.

This movement is sweeping its way through the funeral profession. And unlike other movements that have begun here, this movement is being embraced in other industries, too.

The New York Times, Fast Company and even Marie Claire Magazine are writing about the death positive movement. People are tweeting about it like crazy. Art is being created around it.

In short, it’s a movement not to be ignored. In fact, this movement could be just the movement the funeral profession needs to re-position itself as the thought leaders and support system we ought to be.

You ready for it? Before you dive in heart first, let’s take a look at what it is, and how it started.

When did the death positive movement start?

We suspect the catalyst of the death positive movement was this tweet by Caitlin Doughty, Founder of The Good Death, nearly 6 years ago:

Doughty, in a later article, explained the Death Positive Movement with this quote:

“Death positivity is saying, “I am fascinated by death, the history of death, how cultures around the world handle death, my own relationship to mortality, and I refuse to be ashamed of that interest.”

While the movement is a very helpful one for humanity, there are still many myths about death positivity (like that it was started by a bunch of gothic folks), that Doughty has been working to dispel, slowly.

As funeral professionals, I feel it’s our duty to be of service in the death positive movement.

Feeling called? Here’s how you can get involved with the death positive movement at your funeral home, explained by some industry leaders:

1. Re-imagine the funerals you create

“Everything around dying is getting radically rethought–from making the experience more humane to mourning and funerals getting reimagined.”

– Global Wellness Institute 2019 wellness trends report

How to do it: Check out how some of your peers are already re-imagining their services, see what works, and try it yourself.

2. Embrace the humanity behind your services

“Dying is a human experience. We’re trying to put the person back into the center of the experience.”

– Ellen Goodman of the Conversation Project

How to do it: Try out the “EXTRA” model, which encourages conversations that are more about the story and the memories, rather than logistics and pricing.

3. Invite non-religious rituals into your practice

“We just don’t know what to do with death anymore… it’s this big, scary thing. We don’t have a set of rituals around it that contains it or gives it meaning. Ours is the first culture to pathologize an interest in death.”

– Joanna Ebenstein, author of Morbid Anatomy

How to do it: Try working with non-religious families and see what kinds of rituals they enjoy most, and try to embrace the non-religious approach to funerals, rather than letting confusion set in.

4. Host a Death Cafe

“We’re not supposed to be curious about death now… but how can you not be? It’s a great human mystery. It’s the thing that defines our life, but we’re supposed to pretend it’s not interesting to us? [The Death Cafe] is almost like my form of activism to create an atmosphere publicly that permits talking about death. If we can talk about death and dying, maybe that will spread to easier conversations about grief and terminal illness.”

– Millet Israeli, host of Death Cafes

How to do it: Partner with local organizations and cafes to start your own grassroots Death Cafe. See how others are doing it here.

5. Tap into the power of Death Doulas

“We got so far removed from death even being an option that we finally got sick of it being closeted”

– Suzanne O’Brien, host of podcast “Ask a Death Doula”

How to do it: You can either hire a Death Doula to work with you at your funeral home, or you can do a Death Doula training yourself. Read all about Death Doulas here and here.

6. Encourage important conversations before pre-planning

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

– Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

How to do it: Although many people are showing interest in pre-planning, not many are actually doing it. What processes do you have in place that are encouraging for families to pre-plan? What processes or programs are others using that are successful? Do your research and adapt your process as often as necessary. Testing is the way to success!

7. Embrace the feminine aspects of listening and empathy

“We’re part of a movement, and it’s really a return to a female presence at the time of death,” Ms. Cunningham said.

Amy Cunningham, Greenwood Heights Funeral & Cremation Services,

How to do it: We recently posted an article called “The Funeral Director Job Description of the Future” in which we discussed the vital skills of empathy and listening. Check it out, and if you want to hone in on your listening skills, check out this slide deck below:

Final words

The death positive movement is possibly the biggest catalyst in our profession other than death itself. It’s a HUGE opportunity for the funeral profession to adapt and make things right with client families once and for all. An opportunity to learn about ourselves, and our families. A calling to collaborate. To come together. To remember the traditions we came from, and combine their beauty with relevance.

And our final words for you are to… embrace it.

What do you think about the death positive movement? How would you like to take part in it? Tell us in the comments below!