Why (And Where) Do Drive-Thru Funerals Exist?

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Funeral directors are business owners. They have unique skills and knowledge, which enables them to serve the community — and they make money doing it. 

Some funeral directors across the country (and the world) have decided to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Some do this by offering drive-thru funerals.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Funeral planning is big business. So what’s it like using a drive-thru funeral home? Here are the reasons that someone would use a drive-thru funeral and which cities across the U.S. offer a drive-thru funeral facility.

What’s a Drive-Thru Funeral?

A drive-thru funeral is more like a drive-thru visitation. During a typical funeral, mourners are surrounded by family and friends. Music is performed, prayers are recited, and a eulogy is read. That’s not what happens when someone goes through a drive-thru at a participating funeral home. 

Instead, an open casket is available for viewing during a scheduled time. Mourners can drive up to the window, similar to what you would do when you order a Big Mac. You can view the body from your car or exit the vehicle and stand near the window.

Some drive-up funeral facilities play music in the background as you view the body. Others limit the time you can stay in the drive-thru to just a few minutes.

You may be able to sign a traditional or electronic guestbook from the comfort of your vehicle there may be a place for you to deposit condolence cards.

Some drive-thru funeral homes allow you to see a close-up video image of the deceased person. This enables the drive-thru to be open to different groups of families and friends at the same time. 

What’s the Reason for Drive-Thru Funerals?

A quick Google search of drive-thru funerals gives you lots of media accounts that report about this “breakthrough” in the funeral industry. 

Some feel that funeral home directors used the funeral alternative to get attention and increase sales, but this is their prerogative — they’re in the business to make money and serve the public. 

Some of these directors are quick to point out that there are several benefits to mourners:

  • Elderly or disabled mourners do not have to exit the car to see the body of their loved ones. They can offer support to the family by signing the guest book and leaving a condolence card.
  • Those who are sick can “attend” the funeral without infecting others.
  • Mourners can avoid getting out in unpleasant weather by staying in their climate-controlled vehicles while viewing the body.
  • People can view the body of the deceased even if they are estranged from the rest of the mourners. 
  • Some people are afraid of going to funerals. They may feel more comfortable when viewing a dead body through two panes of glass.
  • Perhaps some mourners want to avoid the religious aspects of a funeral wake or viewing. They want to see the body for the last time, but they don’t want to feel forced to participate in religious rituals while doing so. 
  • Attending a drive-up visitation or viewing saves time. 

Where Can You Find Drive-Thru Funeral Homes?

Some funeral homes that have received media coverage from offering a drive-thru service have since gone out of business. Here are cities of notable funeral homes that have received attention throughout the years for providing this service:

Atlanta, Georgia

From reading media accounts, most would assume that the drive-thru phenomena was rather recent.

In fact, there was a funeral home in Atlanta that offered this “moratorium” service in 1968. 

Memphis, Tennessee

The funeral home in Memphis was housed in an old bank building. Mourners would be given three minutes to view the body at this funeral home.

At one point, families were able to utilize the drive-thru mourning option without paying any extra charges on top of the regular funeral expenses.

Compton, California

The entrepreneur who opened the funeral home in Memphis said he first learned about the idea from a drive-thru in Compton. This drive-thru option was popular for mourners during the 1980s when funeral gatherings may have resulted in gang violence.

Saginaw, Michigan

This funeral home in Michigan has a drive-through “viewing” option. Once you pull up to the window, the curtains open to reveal the open casket.

The business owner said that he decided to offer this service when an elderly widow was not able to attend the funeral of her husband. The director said that care is given to make sure that only real mourners utilize the service. 

Chicago, Illinois

The funeral home director in Chicago allowed mourners to drive to a window to see live video of the deceased. Previously a construction worker, the director said that he often wouldn’t attend funerals because of his soiled clothes.

He noted that a drive-thru viewing option would make people from all walks of life feel comfortable when offering respects to the departed.

Japan

A funeral home in Nagano offers a drive-thru funeral. Unlike the American versions of the drive-thru visitation, this Japanese version does not seem to allow mourners to view the body.

Instead, the visitors enter their names and addresses on an electronic device. They then give their condolence offering and are given the change to pray over incense. The faces of the mourners are shown on monitors in the funeral home so the family and friends gathered inside can see the mobile-mourners as they pay their respects.

If you want to learn more, read our guide on Japanese funerals.   

England

A funeral home in Chatham has a drive-up window, but they aren’t using it the way these previous business owners have.

Instead, the funeral home director decided to pass out free coffee for two hours every Wednesday morning as a part of a community outreach program. 

What Do You Think About Drive-Thru Funerals?

Drive-thru funerals elicit a vast number of opinions. Some may like the convenience that they offer, while others feel that the practice of driving up to view a body may not be for them.

As you start your own end-of-life plans, perhaps you’re looking for memorial service ideas that are different than the norm. If you want something different than a traditional wake, funeral, and graveside service, then you need to share your desires with the people who will plan it.

If you want something different than the norm for your funeral, begin doing your research now. See what types of funeral options are offered in your area. If you love the idea of having mourners cruise by while looking at your body, see if there is a drive-thru funeral home in your city. 


Sources

  1. Jones, Yolanda. “Drive-thru viewing comes to Memphis funeral home.” USA Today. 13 March 2017. www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2017/03/13/funeral-home-drive-thru-viewing/99113958/
  2. Marks, Gene. “A drive-thru funeral home. Why not?” The Washington Post. 13 March 2017. www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2017/03/13/a-drive-thru-funeral-home-why-not/
  3. Stampler, Laura. “Drive-Thru Casket Viewings Are Now an Actual Trend.” Time. 17 October 2014. time.com/3517280/drive-thru-casket-viewings-funeral-home/