Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, August 14, 2019
As the rate of cremation in North America continues to grow, the amount of traditional burials is dropping. This trend affects many sectors of the death care industry, and cemeteries are no exception. Cemetery operators, designers, service providers, and suppliers are working to meet the inevitable challenges.
Elisa Krcilek, Vice President and General Manager of Mountain View Funeral Homes & Cemetery, was inaugurated as President of CANA in July at our 101st Convention. Elisa has many plans for her term as president, primarily focusing on cremation memorialization and the ways our industry can work together, learn, and share what we know.
The following is an excerpt from a past issue of The Cremationist about the ways that instilling a culture of memorialization to staff training in funeral homes and cemeteries to educate the public on the options and benefits of memorializing cremated remains.
Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa, Arizona is, in my opinion, the most beautiful cemetery in the East Valley of Arizona. We have 52 acres, but only 24 are developed. So we have space for 150-200 years to come.
Like most cemeteries, originally all the spaces were for traditional burial. The sections for cremation were added in later. The cremation rate in Arizona, both by percentage and total number of cremations, is near the highest in the United States and predicted to surpass 70% by 2023. Cremation has changed the way people look at permanent memorialization on both sides of the arrangement table.
Changing the Mindset
I am not at all embarrassed or ashamed to say that we are a for-profit cemetery. We’re always looking for new ways to generate income and to give our families what they’re looking for and what they want. You know that if they don’t see what they want, they—in many cases—do nothing.
Because of the growth in the demand for cremation, a lot of what we’re doing at Mountain View is first working to change the mindset of our funeral directors and our cemetery staff to do a better job feeding into our cemetery. The first thing we did to work more efficiently is set up a two-up system, very similar to what you see in a lot of other combo businesses. This means that we have a cemetery professional go into the arrangement conference with the funeral director. When the funeral director steps out to make the final contract for the cremation, we make sure that that family is not left alone during the arrangement. Instead, the family service counselors take the family out to the cemetery to see what we have available.
It starts very simply, because right inside our funeral home we have a glass-front niche. It’s a matter of coming out of the building, taking four steps to the left, and introducing the families to the idea of memorialization.
From there, we direct them to our golf cart up front and we immediately take them to the cemetery. We don’t do a lot of talking. The beauty of the majestic cemetery speaks for itself. What we will do is point out areas in the cemetery that specialize in housing cremated remains.
Showcasing Cremation Options
At that first niche, just to the left, most of our cremation families will say, “Oh, no, no. We don’t need any of this. We’re taking Mom back to Iowa where she’s from.” We tell them, “We understand that that’s what you’re planning to do. However, it’s not fair to you if we don’t take you through the options we have available.”
Many times people tell us they’re taking the remains with them, but in the end that’s not what actually happens. Sometimes they realize that because they’re here, this is Mom’s new home. This is where Mom retired, this is where she wanted to be for the duration of her life.
What are people looking for? A lot of the families we serve have chosen cremation because they don’t want to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. So we want to give them something that’s affordable. We’re finding ways to expand our cremation garden. We have added in a green cremation area because a lot of people say, “Oh, we just want to scatter Dad,” so we offer them the option to do this in the cemetery.
We’re doing a memory vase memorialization package. The memory vase is just for vased flowers right above a bio-degradable urn that goes directly in the ground. They don’t need an urn vault, just a 12-by-12, 3-inch-thick granite base. These memory vases are affordable, and they do not take space out of our inventory because they’re spacers that weren’t in our inventory to begin with. We identified little nooks and crannies of space where there’s nothing, and now we can beautify our cemetery with flower vases.
Engaging Cemetery Visitors
The memory vases provide a way for us to generate more income, but, more importantly, they’re a way to get the families to come back. When they come back, when they visit, it gives them a reason to come in. It keeps us in touch with them. That way, when we have a Memorial Day service or a Veteran’s Day service, we have a way to be able to get in contact with these people to invite them to these events we have and then talk to them about, “Well, what about yourself? Have you preplanned your funeral? Have you preplanned your cremation?”
We do a lot of things to find out what people want. We do a lot of “park-rangering” – we just go up to people in the cemetery, give them a bottled water, and start a conversation. You would be amazed how many people will say, “I’ve been visiting my husband for twelve years and you’re the first person that’s ever come up and talked to me.” So it’s just a matter of being friendly and saying hello. I’ve never had somebody say, “Leave me alone.” Of course, you have to use some discretion, too.
You also start to see patterns of people who come in on a regular basis. Sometimes you’ll see a family come in on the weekend and it might be a special occasion, such as a birthday, so we don’t approach them right when they first arrive. We wait maybe a half an hour or an hour. When you see them wandering around, looking at other graves, that might be a good time to walk up.
I do a monthly training with my team and include “Best Practices” for park-rangering: these are the things you want to do, these are the things you don’t want to do. For example, if you’re doing a graveside service you are not to be out there handing out your business cards to everybody. You can keep your business cards with you, and if somebody approaches you and says, ‘Hey, I’d like to get some information’— and that, believe it or not, happens a lot—then you’re allowed to give out your card.
Most of that conversation comes at the end of an interment, where people are standing around. They like to see the vault lowered into the ground, they like to see the urn placed. We talk to them and make sure to say hello because they’ve already met us at the arrangement.
I start all of my weekly staff meetings with a victory story. We go around and every person has to tell a success story about something that’s worked for them. The people around think, “Oh, maybe that does work!” because when you hear a real-life story, with a real name attached to it, suddenly it becomes contagious. I want each one of them to have buy-in with their victory stories because they’ll have a passion for the things they were able to sell.
Nobody wants to be sold and nobody wants to be pushed into something they’re not interested in. But they will buy when they see value and they see something they like. But they’re never going to know that if you don’t take them on a tour and show it to them.
When you do a tour, it’s not always about the person who died. It’s about showing the family the possibilities. If you’re not taking them on a tour, you’re doing that family an injustice. More people will make a decision when they see how beautiful your cremation waterfall is in person. They can’t visualize it on their own.
If you say to a family, “Were you thinking of being buried in the cemetery?” they’ll say, “No, that’s why we chose cremation.” Instead, you can say, “Take a quick ride with me, let me show you something you might be interested in. We’ve developed things specifically for families like you,” They won’t refuse, they’ll follow you because they don’t do this every day. They don’t know what they don’t know.
We’re developing a very specific cremation tour, not showing our gardens that are all burials, but taking them to key cremation places. “Have you ever heard of a cremation boulder? This is what it looks like. We have areas where we can place it,” and then taking them to show them where the areas are.
The family they’re meeting with on the funeral home side may or may not buy in the cemetery, but they may have a relative who will. We keep saying, “In our business, it’s not about the family you’re serving today. It’s about all their friends and relatives that you should be thinking about serving tomorrow.”
On meeting the opportunities and challenges of an expanding demand for cremation:
- Plan for the future. Be prepared for what is coming, do not wait for it to get here. If you run out of space because you have not planned ahead you are not serving your cemetery or the people that want to be there.
- Continue to make cremation interments an EVENT for families. Do not minimize the interment process simply because it is easier to inter cremated remains compared to a casket.
- Be open to suggestions from families, have a policy IN WRITING —and STICK TO IT—regarding the disposition of cremated remains.
- Diversify as much as possible and promote the value of the experience at least as much as the goods and services.
- Offer everything. When a family says they want to take dad home, ask “Why?” and why they do not want a permanent placement?
- Always ask the family to take a tour of the cemetery before they make a final decision about what they are going to do with Mom or Dad.
- Provide as many options as possible
- Listen to the changing needs of your customers and adapt by providing solutions that are important to them. Provide more choice and options for people.
- Price it to make money. We in the industry have made cremation inexpensive, not consumers. And they do not mind paying for service and quality.
Elisa discussed cremation growth at CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. Missed it? Soon, you can catch up with the on-demand event recording providing the latest CANA Statistics Report and how to use it to benefit your business: gocana.org/CANA19
CANA Members have access to the complete CANA's Annual Cremation Statistics Report, but you can see the highlights for yourself on our website. Members — don't know your password? Contact CANA for your login credentials and make full use of the benefits of CANA Membership!
Elisa Krcilek is VP of Sales and Marketing at Mountain View Funeral Home, Cemetery and Crematory in Mesa, Arizona. Elisa has been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 25 years, is a certified cremationist, and is licensed to sell pre-need life insurance and cemetery real estate. Prior to joining the Mountain View team she was the Market Manager over Pre-Planning Advisors for Dignity Memorial in Phoenix. She was Director of Cremation Development for Stewart Enterprises until they sold to SCI. Elisa spent seven years as the District Manager of the West for Matthews Intl. bronze division. Her career started in Illinois in 1990 working for the Cremation Society of Illinois, where she was the VP of Sales & Marketing until relocating to Arizona.
Elisa was elected as President of CANA in 2019, the fifth woman to lead the association.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.
Know Your Data
Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.
I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.
If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.
A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?
The Importance of Outreach
When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.
You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.
If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”
The Laotian Buddhist Funeral
I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.
Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.
After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.
As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.
There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.
If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.
Learning to Listen
It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.
In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.
The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.
This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.
Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Updated: Monday, July 8, 2019
“Gina was a rescue beagle, shuffled between three or more households before finding her permanent home with our family and becoming the bereavement dog at the cemetery. Because she is so calm, affectionate, and well-behaved, we thought Gina would be a perfect addition to our staff. I found a trainer in the local community who worked to train me and Gina together on site at the cemetery. Over time, the demand for Gina’s services has grown among the bereaved seeking comfort. She’s trained to help people who come to make arrangements for memorial services and purchases of niches and urns. Gina helps lift families’ hearts, because no one can resist a warm, willing bit of affection.” — J.P. DiTroia, Fresh Pond Crematory
The use of therapy dogs is becoming more common, and there can be wonderful benefits to your business for having one in-house – after all, cute puppies are a great way to engage families! But as J.P. DiTroia, Lindsey Ballard, and Robert Hunsaker discovered, it’s not enough to just pick up a random pooch. The trio got together at CANA’s Cremation Symposium to tell attendees about their experiences integrating canines into the workplace. Their presentation illuminated several key points about therapy animals and the ways to incorporate the support and comfort dogs can provide to grieving families.
Dog Service—Definitions and Requirements
First, it’s important to understand the difference between therapy, service, and emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in various settings, such as disaster areas, hospice, schools, nursing homes, and, of course, funeral homes. These pets have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and they enjoy doing so. Typically, emotional support dogs provide benefits to their owners through simple companionship as prescribed by a mental health professional. Service dogs are trained specifically to help people with disabilities such as mental illness, visual impairment, seizure disorder, etc. Due to the nature of their work, the latter two are permitted to travel with their human partners, but therapy dogs are not afforded special rights to enter a business unless they’re officially going to work there.
Not all dogs will make good therapy pets. The work—and, yes, it is work— can be tiring and stressful for the dog and requires the right personality. There are many characteristics to look for in a suitable therapy dog, including a deep love for all people (strangers included), emotional and physical calmness, and an affinity for being hugged and petted (sometimes by surprise or roughly). People have found success with rescue dogs, but caution that these animals can be particularly sensitive to certain situations and people and that may impact their training and work. Some breeds are more suited to guarding or protecting, but not emotional support.
Bella, a black Labradoodle, is the beloved Hunsaker family pet, but Robert soon identified that she would make a great addition to his funeral home staff. Not only is her temperament well-suited to working with people, but she’s also hypoallergenic so she doesn’t shed and most people aren’t allergic. This is important since she’s interacting with the public.
Fletcher, an Australian Labradoodle, was destined to be the funeral home therapy dog first, and a happy addition to Lindsey’s household second. Lindsey researched what breeds were most appropriate to the work, prioritizing that the animal be hypoallergenic, too. She chose a breed, located a breeder, and, since he would also be the household pet, made sure to identify the perfect pup for her family.
The three presenters emphasized that once you find the right dog, both the animal and the humans who work with the dog have to be properly trained. The dog needs to learn good manners and to be able to respond appropriately in various situations. The people need to learn to interpret the dog’s body language and communicate effectively with the dog. There are many organizations that can provide therapy dog certification, including the American Kennel Club, Delta Pet Partners, and Therapy Dogs International.
Unlike J.P.’s Gina, Bella wasn’t trained on site at the workplace. Because the Hunsakers hadn’t originally intended for her to be a therapy dog, she didn’t start her training until she was a little over two years old.
It’s a common misconception that therapy dogs have to be adopted as puppies and trained from the beginning. Most trainers will help determine whether you have a prospective therapy dog or not by doing a needs assessment. Bella was put through her paces by her trainers before they committed to taking her on. Robert emphasizes that it is best to make sure you have someone who’s qualified to train your animal in what you want her to do before you add the dog to your staff.
Bella was trained by Lorenzo’s Dog Training Team, a national organization based out of Ohio. Robert did his research, talked to the vet and other community members, and decided on Lorenzo’s because they’re a nation-wide organization with trainers throughout the US. Bella was enrolled in their four-week off-site training program. Lorenzo’s would bring her back to the funeral home on the weekend to train Robert in the commands Bella learned off-site that week. Having her gone for a month was rough, but the results were amazing. The follow-up training 30- and 60-days after she came home ensured that Bella maintained the skills she learned, and added a couple of new skills each time.
Lindsey brought Fletcher home on a Monday. Tuesday was his first time in the funeral home. And Wednesday was his first puppy obedience class. She had already mapped out their long-term training schedule to follow a two-pronged approach: 1. Socialization, and 2. Obedience.
Long before Fletcher was old enough to start working with the public, Lindsey emphasized his socialization with as many types of people as possible – diversity of appearance, size, and age as well as people with wheelchairs, beards, hats, etc. That way, he’d be ready for the broad range of people he’d meet at the funeral home. She took Fletcher to all of her business locations so he’d become familiar with the each different environment, including the floors, staircases, elevators, and future human colleagues. Lastly, she worked on exposing him to the diversity of experiences he might encounter: thunderstorms, interactions near caskets and during bath and meal times to make sure he would be comfortable with anything that might come his way.
Fletcher attended, and passed with flying colors, many types of obedience training at every level of difficulty. Then, beyond standard obedience, he was also trained in tricks, therapy classes, and agility classes. Once this basic work was accomplished, it was time to pick out a specific therapy group to work with. From the beginning, Lindsey knew she wanted to be part of his training every step of the way. So she chose Pet Partners, a non-profit that hosts a national registry of trainers.
Rather than certifying only the dog, both the human trainer and the pet are registered as a therapy team. Lindsey and Fletcher were trained equally as a dog and trainer to support each other, with a special concentration on teaching the human half how to read the dog’s body language and advocate for him. Once Fletcher was a year old, the duo was able to take the in-person evaluation for certification. Once certified, they’ll still need to be re-evaluated every two years to ensure continued training.
On the Job
Bella comes to work every morning, about 5:30am. She has a set area in the funeral home where she comes in, gets brushed every morning, gets her vest on, and, with that, it’s an immediate transformation from an active, three-year-old pet to working therapy dog.
She’s very visible. When a family comes in, the staff can tell immediately whether they want to engage Bella. Probably 80-85% of family members acknowledge her and want to have some type of interaction. Due to her training, Bella won’t interact until commanded to do so as some people are afraid of dogs or dislike them. She’s been well trained to stay.
If engaged, Bella will attend arrangement conferences and aftercare appointments, funeral services, and visitations. She’s active in the grief support group at Robert’s funeral home on the third Thursday of every month. She attends most of cemetery gravesite services, and some pre-planning presentations at area nursing homes and care centers. She’s very busy.
Robert is sensitive to her needs. Working dogs are constantly thinking about what they need to be doing. It’s emotionally draining for the animal. So, in the afternoons, Bella has a special place in Robert’s office that’s become her area to decompress. She’ll take a break there for an hour or two. And when she gets home after work, she’s tired just like any of us. Even if it’s not particularly physically draining, it’s a lot of emotional work.
Like Bella and Gina, Fletcher attends community events, greets families, and sits in on visitations and arrangements. For Lindsey, the biggest value of the therapy dog is greeting families. While funeral professionals are very comfortable walking into a funeral home, crematory, or cemetery, it’s often a hard step for families to take. Fletcher welcomes the families at the front door and helps to keep people at ease.
Lindsey also finds that families linger longer with Fletcher there. When a devastated husband and daughter dropped by to pick up their loved one’s urn, their visit lasted for twenty minutes. When the daughter saw Fletcher, they stayed to play with him, pet him, take selfies, and derive comfort. The dog clearly made an impression: the next day, another family member came back to pick up information on cremation jewelry and asked about the dog.
Things to Consider
There is more to the process than just finding the right dog and going through training. You will need to consider all of the costs involved (purchasing the dog, training, vet bills, food, etc.), how much time and commitment will be required for both training and daily care, the logistics of when and how the animal will interact with people at the business, and more.
Robert estimates that they’ve invested about $2,000 in Bella-- $1,600 in training and $400 in equipment (vest, collar, leash, and other needs). Then there was the initial cost of getting Bella (around $500) and monthly expenses (between $150-$200 for food, grooming, and the vet). The dog has a standing groomer’s appointment every other Thursday to stay presentable; she goes to the vet every six months to ensure she stays healthy.
Liability for having a pet on site also needs to be considered. Check in with your insurance provider to see if they offer coverage for therapy dogs. Additionally, the professional training service you use may offer some form of coverage.
Besides the monetary expenses, a substantial amount of time is invested therapy dogs as well. Robert estimated that reinforcing Bella’s training took 30-60 hours over the first three months--about an hour a day. And he still spends 30-45 minutes to get her ready every morning and reinforce things she’ll need to do that day, particularly if she doesn’t do it frequently.
Similarly, Lindsey and Fletcher maintained a continuous training schedule for more than two years of in-person and online classes. And considering that Lindsey was also completing her MBA, moving, orchestrating the remodel of one of the businesses’ locations, managing staff turn-over, and running the family business, there were some days that made prioritizing Fletcher’s training a challenge.
Robert involved two of his staff in Bella’s training to handle her when he’s absent. They know her schedule, her needs, and her commands so she can still work. He emphasized that you can’t take on this work by yourself – you’re serving families and you’re running a business, so you need buy-in from your staff to make it work.
Lindsey agrees that managing staff is key, but never thought about the great impact it would have on them. Funeral directors are often up at all hours, working extended days, and emotionally drained. For Lindsey’s staff, being able to take a moment to pet the dog and play fetch or tug with her has been great.
They’re Still Dogs
One of the most valuable lessons for Lindsey was the need to advocate for Fletcher. His afternoon breaks are key to his well-being, as are mental and physical exercise in the morning to make sure he’s focused for the day. She also stresses that you have to be ready for anything. These dogs might be staff, but they are still animals who tend to sniff people in embarrassing places, lick or scratch themselves without regard to proper etiquette, and must relieve themselves when necessary, so be prepared.
J.P., Lindsey, and Robert agree that this experience is only for those who really love animals, especially dogs. It’s a commitment for the trainer and the entire funeral home. Despite this, everyone concurred that the benefit to their businesses and the families they serve made all the effort worthwhile.
One interesting aspect of the presentation at the symposium was that it moved attendees and panelists to discuss how to memorialize the therapy dog itself after death. These animals have a big impact in the community and bring people in to the funeral home. Robert recommended having a plan to begin training a new dog for continuum of care for the community. Lindsey mentioned how a professional colleague who has maintained several therapy animals holds services and invites other bereft pet owners to come in to memorialize together. J.P. emphasized the service, the memorial, and the final placement.
This post is excerpted from Robert Hunsaker, Lindsey Ballard and J.P. DiTroia’s Therapy Animal panel at CANA’s 2018 Cremation Symposium. Save the Date for CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium: February 26-28, 2020 at the Paris Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Robert Hunsaker, co-founder of Hunsaker Partners, has been involved in the funeral industry his entire life, as his father was a funeral director and they were living in a funeral home when he was born. From an early age, he has worked for a memorial park and a group of funeral homes. He finds great satisfaction in helping families during a very difficult time of their lives and enjoys establishing relationships with all those he is honored to serve. Robert has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Weber State University and has worked in sales and executive positions for several companies that serve the funeral industry, including: Batesville Casket Company, Great Western Insurance Company, Service Corporation International and SinoSource International, Inc. Robert serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
Lindsey Ballard is a third-generation funeral director and owner of Ballard-Sunder Funeral & Cremation in Minnesota. She loves her work and is passionate about creating personalized and meaningful services for the families she works with. Lindsey is always looking for new and inventive ways to serve her community, including the work she does with her dog, Fletcher. Lindsey serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
J.P. DiTroia serves as President of the U.S. Columbarium Co. at Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, NY and has worked there since 1967. He served on the Board of the Metropolitan Cemetery Association for 9 years and is now co-chair of the Cremation Committee. He presently serving on the Board of the New York State Association of Cemeteries. He has been a committee member of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association since 1979. His therapy dog’s name is Gina.J.P. serves on the Cremation Association of North America Membership Advisory Group.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Updated: Monday, June 24, 2019
This year at the CANA convention, I’m proud to cover a new topic on how we all serve our cremation families. As a group, we value the presence of the person and often encourage the family to see their loved one for not only identification purposes, but also because we know that the experience can be valuable in grief processing. We discuss this concept from a “front of the house” perspective often, but what does it mean to our prep room staff?
All of us who are in funeral service and caring for the dead are well aware that they come to us in various conditions. We also know that it is our job to observe these various conditions and prepare them in a way that is suitable for whatever disposition they are going to have. The industry term for preparation without embalming is “minimal care” however, that does not mean our efforts should be minimal. If we consider the most thorough method of preparation embalming, we can use it as our benchmark. However, not everyone gets embalmed, but that doesn’t mean that any preparation we do should not meet the highest level of care that embalming provides.
An Ethical Approach
Those of you who are reading this are likely embalmers (or know embalmers), so you are well aware that embalmers feel very strongly about giving the correct treatment to the deceased in their care. However, what does that actually mean, and how does it apply to preparing someone who is not going to be embalmed?
The first step of any thorough embalming is to bathe the person. Not only do we do this for safety reasons, but also to conduct case analysis (see the next section), and have a better understanding of what we are dealing with.
Embalmers are sometimes told by institutional care staff, death investigators, and even sometimes the family that the condition of the body is worse than it actually is, and a thorough bathing can actually create more of a peace of mind rather than reveal problems.
During this phase, all medical devices should be removed whether the person is going to be viewed by their family or no one other than the person placing them in the cremation container. We do this for safety in the crematory, because some implants can explode or melt, but also because used medical devices are trash and should be disposed of properly. A reasonable embalmer removes all of the medical devices they can from a person before presenting them, and if this is our ethical standard of care, then this should be done regardless. You wouldn’t expect a person to be buried with garbage, in fact the idea is repulsive.
One of the first things embalmers do when presented with a body is their case analysis. We observe the physical condition of the body in order to decide our strategy for fluid selection, feature setting, and dealing with any possible unknowns that may occur during the embalming such as swelling, purge, etc. But, if we are not embalming, what can we do? In this case, we still observe any pathological or other medical treatment outcomes this person may have. Medical devices should be removed and dealt with, and lesions should be treated appropriately with surface preservation (if allowed), sutured, or wrapped in bandages to prevent leakage.
By definition, embalming is always mutilation, which is one of the reasons we have to receive permission from the family before doing it. However, we embalmers bristle at this idea, because we are not in the business of mutilating people, we are preparing them for the most difficult event in a family’s life. We rectify this more negative perception by always minimizing the number of invasive procedures necessary, and we do so in a way that is careful and surgical.
Believe it or not, embalmers must have a bedside manner even though their patients have no idea how – or even that – they are being treated. We know how they are being treated. When we are preparing an individual who is not going to be embalmed, we always have to consider the technique we are using and recognize what is surgical and what is mutilation.
Further, perhaps one of the reasons a family is choosing not to have someone embalmed is because they do not recognize the care we put into it. Exceptional care of the deceased and proper bedside manner in any invasive procedure is not only ethical but respects the family’s wishes as well.
The Practical Approach
So now we have established three points on what to set our benchmark at when caring for an individual, but how do we apply this to a more practical manner? Presupposing compliance with all OSHA regulations and Universal and Standard Precautions, as well as observing the family’s wishes, providing minimal care does not mean compromising the quality of your care for their loved one.
To create a basis for our continued conversation on best practices of care, I have created an outline for you to consider. The outline described below is just that, an outline. This list is not meant to define limitations on best practices, but rather create marks on a spectrum.
When it comes to embalming, the word “clean” is often used interchangeably with the word “disinfected.” So how does that apply here? Closely observing and cleaning the person often uncovers medical outcomes such as bedsores or fluid pockets that are the result of the ante mortem or post mortem settling of fluids. Furthermore, moving the body from one side to another will reveal possible purge that may have not been otherwise apparent when the person was lying supine. There are different levels of cleanliness that may be available based on what the family wishes and what is possible based on the condition of the body.
- Basic disinfection: Basic disinfection procedures should be taken regardless of whether or not a family is planning to view their loved one. This would include the removal of all medical devices and bandages, surface disinfection using a spray, and removal from a soiled container into a clean one.
Mid-Level disinfection: This would include all of the above listed steps in addition to bathing the person, including washing their hair. Once the person has been thoroughly dried, it would also include the replacement of bandages over punctures from medical devices, and suturing of any surgical incisions. It would also include the draining of any fluid pockets that have formed. Orifices should be packed with cotton.
Thorough disinfection: Thorough disinfection includes all of the above steps, but it would also allow for some chemical preservation. While it may not call for vascular injection of embalming fluids, there is the possibility of surface embalming of any lesions, treatment of drained fluid pockets, the chemical cauterization of any surgical incisions, and the chemical treatment of any artifacts of medical device removal. Cotton for packing orifices can be coated in a topical preservative.
When preparing an individual at any level of service, we must consider the techniques we are using and ensure that they are appropriate based on family directions.
When caring for a loved one whose family has requested minimal care, we have to be sure not to be mired in our own hubris, but rather consider if our course of treatment is going to go well for our case. We must also consider our bedside manner matches the wishes of the family; are the procedures we are using in accordance with their wishes? If a family desires to view their loved one prior to disposition, but requests the least invasive techniques possible, do we understand what that means and are we able to execute that? For example, when closing the mouth in this situation, are you using a dental tie as opposed to a needle injector? Are you opting to use cotton to close the eyes as opposed to an eye cap? This is evaluated during case analysis and applied through bedside manner.
As funeral service purveyors, we are all very cognizant of the importance of the body and how it is honored. Just because a person has chosen not to be embalmed, does not mean we need to negate the philosophy of care that embalming entails. By observing these best practices, we can provide better customer service to our families in the assurance that their loved one will be cared for in a skilled and thoughtful manner.
Join embalmers and educators Damon de la Cruz, PhD and Ben Schmidt as they discuss best practices for preparing a decedent for identification, short term viewing, and cremation at CANA's 101st Cremation Innovation Convention. This lecture will include a discussion of safe handling procedures, the removal of medical devices, dressing, and cosmetizing deceased individuals. Ben and Damon will also differentiate between invasive and non-invasive procedures and the grey areas in between, sponsored by Ring Ring Marketing.
CANA's Annual Cremation Innovation Convention heads to Louisville, KY to bring together professionals across the funeral profession – funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, cremation societies, and combos. Like CANA, Louisville celebrates a storied history even as it embraces its exhilarating future, making for the perfect pairing of location and association. Whether your thing is horse racing, whiskey, baseball, or shopping, you’ll find it in this charming city. Convention activities including social events, programming and exhibit time in the cremation innovation trade show merge seamlessly, keeping you on your toes and focused on the finish line.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Ben Schmidt is an instructor at Worsham College of Mortuary Science where he teaches Embalming Theory and Lab, Restorative Art Theory and Lab, Funeral Directing, and Funeral Service History. In addition to his duties there, he is the co-creator of MorTraqr, a web application for tracking embalming and funeral directing tasks. Furthermore, he is co-author of the textbook Creating Natural Form; Restorative Art Theory and Application. Follow the creation of the textbook, the further developments of Mortraqr, and the antics of his two year old son on Instagram @mortraqr.
processes and procedures
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Many funeral directors are facing more and more direct cremations with no services. They are at a loss as to how to overcome that trend. There are many ideas, theories, notions and educated guesses as to why families choose cremation. Cost. Environmental footprint. Control. Convenience. Lack of information. Religious affiliation, or lack thereof. All of those certainly are factors and can play a part in any one person’s decision. So we are going to look at the three Big C’s in Cremation.
I would like to go back in time to the early ‘60s when cremation first came on the profession’s radar, and find that first funeral director who said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t charge as much for this since I’m not embalming or casketing” and take him out. I’m not a violent person by nature, but really?? That idea got started somewhere and we all just went along with it. Sure, let’s charge less for something that takes just as much time to accomplish, has much more liability, and requires just as much staff involvement. That makes perfect business sense.
Within that nonsense also was created the message to families that they were somehow lesser-thans or 2nd class funeral customers. I actually worked for an owner who said to families, “We bury our dead, we burn our trash.”
Because we didn’t take these families seriously and did not take their needs for a meaningful funeral service to heart, they left. Why would I pay $8,000 to someone who thinks I’m not as important as the people who buy the box? I can be ignored at the $695 box-and-burn immediate disposer who is more than willing to take my money and do nothing else for me.
Families are hiring us to perform a service. If I hire an orthopedist to perform surgery on my shoulder, his price is for the surgery. He doesn’t talk about which instruments he might have to use or the amount of time it might take or how many nurses will have to be in the room. He says, “This is my price to fix your shoulder.” Why can’t we have a price for body preparation? Yes, we’d have to figure out the correct GPL language but we could certainly have more productive conversations with our client families if we didn’t have an if/then/or approach to pricing.
Yes, for a small group of people the cremation choice is made based upon cost. But the large majority are choosing cremation based upon control. These people have attended bad services in their past and are determined that they are not going to go to another one. If I have a burial, then I’m beholden to the funeral director to get the casket from point A to point B and so I’m stuck with whatever service is offered to me. I can’t throw the casket in the back of my car and drive off and arrange a service that fits me. But I can walk out with an urn in my hand and have control over the type of service that I hold.
We’ve all been to “bad” services. The cookie-cutter, insert name here, hope someone says the name correctly, impersonal ritual that offers nothing about the person and what his death will mean to those mourning his loss. Every time one of these boring, hurtful or meaningless services occurs, another immediate disposition/no service is created. People say “When I die, don’t do that!”
Cremation offers a choice, a sense of control over what happens in a memorial service. Does that mean that most are held at someone’s house or at a bar or a restaurant with toasts and stories? Probably. Does that mean that the value of having a gathering that celebrates the life and explores the grief and provides a guidepost for mourning the loss is lost? Definitely.
Once I served as a Celebrant for an 80 year-old-man who died of suicide. It was a difficult service, but we honored his life and talked about the depression over health issues that caused him to make such a choice. We discussed what the grief journey was going to look like for those who were trying to make sense of the death. We encouraged the standing room only crowd to be an integral part of the family’s next steps as they turned tears into memories. It was a pretty good service.
That afternoon I received an email from a woman who was in attendance begging me for a copy of the service. This lady tracked me down and said she needed a copy of my words. So, I asked the family for permission and I sent her a copy.
Her backstory was this—her son died of a heroin overdose and her daughter, his twin, died of suicide four years before. They did not have funerals either time. They cremated, then met at a restaurant and told stories. They did not trust that someone could handle such delicate and hard situations, so they just avoided. She needed those words to help her on her own grief journey. This happens hundreds of times across the country to our Celebrants.
Because the celebrant is a ceremony expert, focused solely on the ceremony and often devoting much more time to the ceremony than funeral directors and clergy can, the celebrant can be a tremendous resource. What celebrants offer can even be attractive to those who initially think they don’t want a ceremony at all.
—Diane Gansauer, Director of Celebrant Services, SCI Colorado Funeral Services in Metro Denver
Until we change the service experience for those families, they will continue to walk away. Our pricing, our lovely chapels, our offers of assistance—they’ve been there and done that and don’t trust us to be able to do something that is meaningful.
Which brings us to the final C:
My bedrock message is “Celebrants can change your business, Celebrants can change your families, Celebrants can bring your cremation families back to your firm.”
The religious landscape of our country is changing. The percentage of people who identify as a “None”—not religiously affiliated, not engaged with a church—is rapidly growing. Statistics from the Pew Research report show that almost 25% of the overall population now considers themselves “nones” and over 35% of millennials are disenfranchised with religious experiences.
This has incredible implications for funeral service. Some funerals homes have stained glass windows, Bibles in the foyer, hymns on the speakers and scriptures on their websites. There is nothing wrong with having an ability to serve your religious families, but today anywhere from 25% to 80% of your community does not identify or resonate with those representations. If all you have to offer is a minister and a religious experience, they are going elsewhere.
High “nones” equal high cremation rates. It’s just that simple.
The greatest impact a Celebrant can have with a family is the one on one interview time, an opportunity to sit down and become part of the decedent’s family, by hearing and learning first-hand about the life of their loved one, and sharing a personal glimpse into the life of the decedent with friends and family at the funeral service. That is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to the family. Out of that experience comes the most gracious of compliments that you will ever receive, which is to hear at the conclusion of the service how well you knew the loved one. The Celebrant experience gives you that opportunity to serve the family in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
—Kevin Hull, Vice President and Location Manager, Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home
Celebrants are the answer for a majority of your cremation families. So many of them are not offered any options by their funeral professional. So, they either opt for the rent-a-minister or do nothing. Another immediate disposition walks out of the door.
When someone attends a service where every word of the service is focused on the life, on the family, and on the grief experience, their decisions can change significantly. “Oh. . .we can have this kind of service? Then I’m willing to talk to the funeral director about paying for THAT” Over 50% of the services I perform through referrals from funeral homes in my city come from someone who attended another service and came back and asked for that Celebrant. People pay for value. People pay for meaning. People pay for gatherings that heal.
My friend, Ernie Heffner from York, PA, ran numbers on his Celebrant services and found that cremation families who used a Celebrant spent 36% more on other goods and services. It’s not about the money. It’s about the value, the experience, the assurance that someone is going to hear their stories, to honor the life and work with them to put together a service that fits them. People pay for meaning.
I did a service for a man in his 40’s who drank himself to death. He left an estranged wife, a 19 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and a brother who was a recovering alcoholic himself. This meant two hours of slogging through a lot of baggage and feelings to get to the stories and to give them permission to say what was needed. But we put together a service that honored his life while being honest about his struggles and his demons.
After the service, the brother handed me a thank you card with $300 in it. The funeral home had already given me a check for my Celebrant fee of $400. I said, “Oh, you’ve already paid me.” He said, “Please just take it.” The card read “Thank you for performing J’s service and I especially thank you for the time you spent with us Sunday evening. I’m hoping it provided as much healing to the others as it did for me. Thank you.” People pay for healing gatherings.
In today’s world, the most crucial element in helping a family lies in the ability of the Celebrant to actively listen and recreate what they have heard into something with meaning and value. Celebrant Training is funeral service’s best option to develop the skills to become an outstanding funeral professional. At our firm, all of our funeral directors must go through the Celebrant Training so they can understand the importance and value of working with our Celebrants to help the families have a truly outstanding experience. This is especially important for cremation families that are looking for something other than traditional services. Celebrant Services play a major role in making Krause Funeral Homes a place of exceptional funerals.
—Mark Krause, President
Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service
We’ve been saying this since 1999: Families need a service to begin their grief journey in a healthy and honest way. Unless we are willing to provide the professionals and the services that they are looking for, they are going to walk away. When families have options, funeral homes are going to lose every time unless their option is better, more appealing and soul touching.
Looking at everything we do when it comes to serving the cremation family—pricing, style of service, presentation of choices, availability to Celebrants who can do exactly what the family wants and needs – is the only way that full-service funeral professionals are going to stay in business. How we deal with all of the C words will determine how much farther down the road we get to travel.
CANA is partnering with Glenda Stansbury and the InSight Institute for the second time this July to offer Celebrant Training. Limited to 40 attendees, this course packs a lot of information, emotion, and training into three days but is increasingly considered a must for the most successful businesses in the US.
Learn more about this class coming to Louisville, Kentucky from July 29-31 and register online.
Glenda Stansbury joined InSight in 1996 as Marketing & Development Director. She has worked as an educator, teacher trainer, and seminar developer. She is a practicing Celebrant, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Funeral Department and is a licensed funeral director/embalmer. Glenda is available for speaking to funeral professionals at state and national conventions or for private staff training. For more information, contact Glenda at firstname.lastname@example.org.