Remember Grumpy Cat? Did you hear “Yanny” or “Laurel”? Did you witness the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked airplane? The ubiquitous presence of social media exposes nearly everyone on the planet to a cacophony of shared information in a matter of seconds. Instantaneous, unscripted, relevant (or not) posts are sent and received by friends, followers or random individuals in a daily barrage that is “background noise” for the 21st century. Political memes, inspirational quotes, amazing sports feats and funny animal videos are interspersed with family pics and dream vacation snapshots for our perusal.

People are no longer bound together by geography, family ties, places of employment or community groups. Circles of acquaintances are ever expanding. Social media keeps millions of people communicating on a daily basis. Prior to the Facebook explosion…did you ever anticipate that you would view regular updates about the new puppy obtained by your high school chemistry partner or your Aunt Agnes’ latest garden plantings? Did the last #TrendingTweet inspire you to add your 280 characters (or less) to the fray?

We’ve heard a lot about the damage social media can do to the fabric of our society. Less than honest posts are taken at face value. An angry tweet may go out before better heads prevail. Vicious bullying or false rumors proliferate within moments which is especially dismaying when the subject is a young teen or other vulnerable target. But on the other hand, there is a lot of valuable information available at our fingertips. For good or bad, we are kept in the know about what’s going on in the lives of others. We are exposed to a whole world of ideas and opinions that allow us to make up our own minds. We are in constant touch with a multicultural, vastly diverse community.

Social media posts touch on all aspects of life, from an adorable birth announcement to the lengthy obituary of a much beloved family member. People post heartfelt tributes to a loved one, or, in rare cases, expose the family skeletons for the world to see. Religious beliefs and ways of celebrating life events have evolved over time to where even members of the same family may regard death in very different ways. Funeral directors have had to become more flexible as to how services are designed and conducted regarding sacred texts, meaningful quotes, philosophical approaches, as well as the recitation of traditional Bible verses. Most funeral directors, especially in large metropolitan areas, have seen an uptick in the diversity of the families they serve.

Justin Crowe reported astonishing statistics in his recent article on ConnectingDirectors.com, “In 17 Years, De-churching Millennials Will Rock the Funeral Industry…The Stats Are Shocking.” He writes,

According to PRRI research, from 1990 to 2015 the number of people who identify as being “religiously unaffiliated” has risen from 8% to 24%. Another study by The Pew Research Center shows that 2012-2017 the share of Americans who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” has rocketed from 19 percent to 27 percent, while the share of those who identify as “religious and spiritual” has declined from 59 percent to 48 percent. These are dramatic changes for just 5 years.

With about 2.7 million Americans dying each year, that means today well over a half million people pass away annually who do not adhere to any set religious practice. Are you providing those families with options that align with their personal beliefs or lack thereof?

Social media is not just a frivolous way to pass time. Various sites provide a way to research what is currently on trend, as well as find creative and unique methods to commemorate the lives of loved ones. Pinterest is a popular site for people searching for ideas. There are “boards” on Pinterest with Celebration of Life themes, where people “pin” images of various things they like and want to share with others, including music playlists for songs to be played at the event and interesting displays featuring candid photos and personal items of the deceased. Instagram is gaining popularity by leaps and bounds. It focuses on visual sharing through photos and videos, less words. A search for “funeral” brings up a cornucopia of offerings—from paparazzi pics of celebrity send-offs to Lego funeral scenes to macabre Jib-Jab videos. This platform provides an “eye-opening” window into how our modern society views death, with a special focus on the mindset of millennials.

Memorial tribute videos, from amateur attempts to well-polished professional productions, are posted on YouTube for the public to view. Eulogy examples abound online, and it is not uncommon for an especially touching (or scathing) obituary to go viral. Celebrants and funeral directors who are responsible for coordinating an unforgettable service will not lack for inspiration, thanks to social media outlets.

We may be surprised how irreverently, bizarrely or comical others portray death. The solemn pastor at graveside surrounded by quietly sobbing people dressed in black is no longer the norm, but a trope. A memorial service may be a joyous occasion, colorful and loud. There may be traditional ethnic customs observed that are puzzling to the American public in general but may eventually be incorporated and synthesized into future death observances.

There will always be the need to provide the devout Christian family with a traditional service and memorial items featuring comforting Biblical verses and imagery. But most certainly funeral traditions vary for those of other faiths as well as different ages, cultures and social groups. To memorialize the “spiritual but not religious” individual, the first/second generation immigrant, or the unconventional iconoclast, there are customized options for celebrating the ultimate life transition. Social media educates us by providing literally millions of ways to do just that. FBA

Rick Gentry is the Manager of Operations at Lamcraft, Inc., based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He can be reached by phone at 800-821-1333 or by email at [email protected] You may also visit their website at www.lamcraft.com.