Trade shows make for a great opportunity to check out innovations in memorialization—scattering urns, the latest keepsake jewelry, contemporary stationery designs, and cemetery monuments. These products offer new ways for you to match the unique personalities of families and their loved ones.
But true personalization is so much more than products. From the moment you answer the phone, you have the chance to differentiate yourself from your competition and enhance that family’s experience. Then, once they walk in the door, you have the opportunity to infuse ceremony in each interaction and make a difficult process meaningful to the family.
Extracted from examples provided when Lindsey Ballard facilitated an interactive discussion on Best Practices in Personalization and Ceremony at CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium, we offer the following ideas as inspiration.
Transfers and removals offer a unique opportunity to gather helpful information about the family through observation of the home and the items of comfort that surround the deceased. Encourage your staff and removal technicians to take notice of décor, family photos, items on display that might reveal a passion or treasured activity, and even the colors that fill the space. Empower your staff to engage with the family—it’s here they can learn some of the stories behind these beloved objects and see what motivated people in life. These initial impressions can help start the conversation about ways to make a service personal and demonstrate that you care.
Symposium attendee Franklin Rainier, of Franklin J. Rainier, Jr. Funeral Home, shared a story about entering the home of a 95-year-old woman and finding it decorated with Pink Floyd memorabilia and album covers. When asked, the woman’s son confirmed that she had been a true fan. Back at the mortuary, Franklin and his staff played Pink Floyd and lit candles to honor her as they prepared her body.
For some families, such as those who make a direct cremation choice, the arrangement conference may be the only time they will be acknowledging their grief before moving on. Sometimes, a special window opens up during these conversations and it’s important to pay close attention. Attendee Rita Alexander, of the Cremation Society of Illinois, recommended being especially sensitive to the pauses in the conversation and allowing people as much time as they need to grieve in the safe space you’ve provided for them.
Attendees agreed that a primary strategy is to make the arrangement conference into a conversation, to put the pen down and get to know the family before filling out the forms. You can introduce yourself and your company and describe how the process will work, then invite them to converse and share. Ask them about themselves, the deceased, and family and friends—that’s the time to take notes. At Simon Dubé’s funeral home, a Dignity Memorial location, these notes are discussed in staff meetings to brainstorm how arrangers can make sure the family’s experience is special. Not everyone on staff is equally creative, but together they can design the meaningful service that each person deserves.
Attendee Keith Charles suggested keeping the acronym FORM (part of the word information) in mind to guide your questions: “F” is for family and their relationship to the deceased. Make sure to acknowledge every single person in the room. “O” is for the occupation of the deceased. What type of work did they do and what was its impact? “R” is for recreation. Where did they go on vacation as a family and are there photos to use during the ceremony? And lastly, “M” for motivation—what put meaning in their life? With this acronym to guide you, you’ll be sure to touch on the major aspects of someone’s life and gather valuable stories to create a meaningful service.
Viewings, Visitations, and Services
Attendees agreed that getting the family’s permission to personalize the service is the first step to providing a unique and memorable experience. Many attendees shared stories of services they’d performed that conveyed real meaning to the family they served. A signature purple door for a Friends fan, a dress carefully chosen and displayed with a tuxedo to re-create a meaningful dance memory, or the seemingly modest touch of preparing the body’s fingernails with a signature teal polish and passing it out to the family to wear, too. Never underestimate the power of the small gesture of service: accents of a favorite color, the gift of a small pin (such as an American flag pin in the case of a service for a U.S. veteran) distributed to each guest, and other touches go a long way to demonstrating you listen and care.
Simon Dubé explained that taking time to requires a lot of work, but staff that are motivated by family service are willing to make the extra effort. Word of mouth is your most powerful advertisement. When you create an unforgettable experience, the conversation keeps going and spreads the word about how your firm goes above and beyond for the families you serve. Simon had many useful tips, including the recommendation that you invite the family to view the set up of the room an hour ahead of the service to make sure that they are comfortable with what you’ve done. This leaves plenty of time to remove a display if the family disagrees, and also provides them an opportunity to grieve and remember with the memorabilia in private.
Facilitator Lindsey Ballard pointed out that every moment can be an opportunity to turn service into ceremony. Handing a flag to a veteran’s family can be more than a simple keepsake if you use it to bring the family together to reflect on the symbol the flag holds. Lindsey does this by inviting close relatives to lay a hand on the flag while she recites a few words about commitment: a veteran to his country and theirs to his memory. In this way, a service for the family is transformed into a ceremonial experience they will remember.
Committal and Scattering
Be sure to inject ceremony at every pivotal moment, even during scattering. With a water scattering, you can pinpoint the GPS coordinates and give them to the guests. Balloon or butterfly releases can accompany an event. Processions will provide a really special memory for those in attendance. Don’t be afraid to ask local groups related to the deceased’s passions or occupation to participate as an honor guard. That could be firefighters, motorcycle groups, or high school athletic teams. At the end of a committal or scattering, as people are standing awkwardly, unsure about what to do next, give them an invitation to do something to finish with ceremony. For instance, they can leave a “handprint” by stepping up to touch the casket or urn before they leave.
Transfer of Urn Into Family’s Care
The urn transfer can provide an opportunity for ceremony, too. If the family is open to it, you can schedule a military honors ceremony for veterans with the military present and a flag-folding presentation. Another idea is to hand-deliver the urn along with the death certificate. You can wear a jersey when the family of a deceased fan comes in to pick up cremated remains.
It’s important to stay in regular contact with families before, during, and after the services. Suggestions for accomplishing this goal include memorial service for donors, annual remembrance events, and mailing special cards to the family on the date of the deceased’s birthday or the anniversary of the death.
This presentation included many images and stories that had several professionals tearing up in the audience. Interested in hearing the recording? The 2019 Symposium Recording is available for purchase. Visit the event page to learn more.