The Covid-19 pandemic and the millions of deaths it caused shook our somewhat taboo relationship with death.
But it has also inspired vocations among some young Americans, with a growing number of them now interested in getting into the funeral business.
The phenomenon is such that American universities that provide funeral-based education programmes are seeing an increase in students.
New enrollment in mortuary science programmes jumped nationally by 24% between 2020 and 2021, according to the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). And that's just the beginning.
Many Americans under the age of 40 are taking the plunge and moving into the business of death. Driven by vocation, of course, but also by ambition.
With nearly three million deaths per year, the sector is doing well. It is even estimated to be worth US$16bil (RM73bil) in the United States – a figure that's set to rise as the baby boomer generation nears the end of life.
The flourishing health of the death sector also contributes to its attractiveness – even if salaries remain low.
The median annual salary for morticians, undertakers and other industry employees is US$48,950 (RM223,677), compared to US$74,000 (RM338,143) for funeral home managers.
Despite that, taking this career path is a guarantee of finding work quickly.
"The shortage is so serious right now that there’s a 90% job placement rate for graduates of these programmes," Leili McMurrough, programme director at Worsham College of Mortuary Science and accreditation chair on the ABFSE board, told CNN.
This is compounded by the ageing of those who have been in the profession for years.
"Over 60% of funeral home owners said they will retire in five years. That’s a lot," said Randy Anderson, president of the National Funeral Directors Association, speaking to CNN.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also considerably heightened people's awareness of the importance – and the great usefulness – of death-related professions.
At the height of the pandemic, the ordeal of death was particularly trying for families and loved ones. Many were strongly affected by the images of coffins piled up in mass graves, funerals attended by small groups of mourners, or dehumanising and rushed ceremonies.
Hence, the influx of new callings to the sector's professions. This new generation of funeral industry professionals – younger and including more women – is determined to heal the trauma of the pandemic while breaking the taboos surrounding death.
They post explanatory videos about their daily life and answer the questions that Internet users have about funeral and mortuary practices – an innovative way to help make people more at ease with the subject of death. — AFP Relaxnews