Just as our collective communities have changed and evolved with time, so has the care and attention provided at the time of a funeral. In the early 1870’s; yes, that is the 1870’s; my great-great grandfather began his and his family’s life in funeral service. He owned a dry-goods store, and several teams of horses and flat-bed trailers that were used to deliver those goods to neighboring residences. I’m not sure when or how it first happened, but neighbors and local residents began to ask if they could use the horses and trailers to transport their deceased family members to local cemeteries. Thus was the beginning of funeral service in the Slater family.
At the same time, the Church was very much the social, as well as religious, center of people’s lives. As people were able and transportation allowed, funeral services began to be held in local Churches. Just as folks went to Church for weddings and baptisms, confirmations and communions; they sought support from their church at the time of a funeral. Consequently, the idea of transporting the deceased to a place-of-service and then to the cemetery, in something other than the family buggy or carriage, became an issue.
As time passed, and with the invention of the automobile, a motorized hearse began to be used for this transportation. Once families began to purchase automobiles, they became able to attend funeral services, and to follow a family to a Church and cemetery in a funeral procession. Slowly but steadily, because more people were more mobile, and thus more-easily able to attend a ceremony, a funeral became more of a community event.
It is interesting that when World War II ended, and soldiers returned home, many of them continued their education “on the GI Bill.” More than a few people attended and graduated from Mortuary School, and upon obtaining a mortuary license, opened funeral homes in their neighborhoods. The City of Pittsburgh’s topography and distinct neighborhoods were, and are, conducive to the presence of the many funeral homes that exist today.
It is also interesting that prior to the conclusion of WWII many funeral visitations and services (and embalmings, believe it or not) were conducted in family residences. Post-war, as more and more funeral homes were established, these visitations and services moved to a funeral home. Since this transition saved a family much “wear-and-tear” on their home and their energy, home-funerals and visitations quickly became less frequent.
This history leads us to the funeral practices of today. The funeral continues to be the opportunity for a family to receive condolence and support from friends and other family members; it continues to be a social event. It also continues to be not only a declaration that someone has died, but also that someone has lived, and that they will be recognized and remembered. Whether someone chooses to be buried, or to be cremated actually has little to do with the fact that a funeral-service, or a memorial-service, still serves as a sociological vehicle of support and remembrance.
Today, the idea of a “Celebration of Life” is becoming prevalent. The term connotes a service that is considered to be more positive and maybe less somber, but certainly no less meaningful. Any Funeral service, or Memorial Service can be a Celebration of Life. It seems as though those phrases are becoming more and more synonymous.
Regardless of what it is called, the service for a deceased may be self-designed, (i.e. pre-planned by the deceased, personally), or created and designed by family-members at the time someone passes-away. A service today may and often does include several elements including: 1.) offering friends and relatives the opportunity to speak and to relate a humorous or inspirational story, 2.) listening to the nurturing and comforting words of a Pastor or other Officiant, 3.) displaying items of interest, pictures, and videos of the deceased, and possibly 4.) offering an item or memento to those in attendance.
Now being a funeral home is so much more than the horse and buggy, it is about helping people celebrate life and connect with the community. We offer this newsletter as a resource for our community.