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Hungry for Growth: Creating a Thriving Cremation Brand

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Hungry for Growth: Creating a Thriving Cremation Brand


In March 2018, Chick-fil-A opened its largest restaurant in its history on Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. Chick-fil-A fans showed up in droves with a line stretching down a full city block.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. All over the country, at various times throughout the year, campers huddle in tents overnight to be one of the first customers at one of a multitude of Chick-fil-A’s Grand Openings, with the first 100 customers receiving free Chick-fil-A for a year. As the New York Post said, “Chick-fil-A is on fire. The fastest growing chicken-sandwich franchise is poised to become the third-largest fast-food chain in the country in 2019, replacing Subway, according to Kalinowski Equity Research.”

With all of the fast-food choices in the world, Chick-fil-A has created a brand that people not only recognize but connect with on an emotional level. So, what is it that differentiates Chick-fil-A from all other fast-food restaurants and what can this restaurant chain teach us about branding in the cremation industry?

When analyzing the funeral industry, and particularly the cremation space, what business similarities do most cremation providers have? They all offer caskets, urns, flowers, GPLs, and standardized practices. Unfortunately, there are far too few differentiating characteristics within cremation service providers. The challenge of all businesses, but especially in businesses that have common product and service offerings, is how to distinguish themselves from the competition.

When considering the success of Chick-fil-A, it is important to ask what it is that differentiates its brand amongst their competitors. Here’s a test: see how quickly you can answer these questions:

  1. What is the color of the Chick-fil-A logo, and what animal is hidden in the letter “C”?
  2. What is Chick-fil-A’s tagline and what mascot delivers the tagline?
  3. What is it every Chick-fil-A employee says when you say, “Thank you”?

As a consumer, you should have quickly been able to identify the red logo with a chicken hidden in the letter “C.” In addition, the cow has been campaigning for you to “Eat Mor Chikin” since 1995. And last, “It’s my pleasure” is the simple line that uniquely positions Chick-fil-A in its delivery of exceptional service. All three of these differentiating factors help establish the company’s brand and identity. The company has clearly defined a distinct image, message, and brand.

With this example in mind, what are some ways a cremation service provider can distinguish itself in the cremation space and begin creating a unique brand image? Ultimately, it comes down to superior branding, in addition to the unwavering quality of service. Following are strategies you can incorporate to create a thriving brand with a distinct identity in a competitive market.

Establish a Brand Ambassador that Puts Service Above All Else

More than just the Chick-fil-A cow mascot, it is the people that truly make your experience at Chick-fil-A a memorable one. They play a vital role in differentiating Chick-fil-A by going the extra mile to clean up your table when you are done eating, taking your order before you even reach the drive-through menu, or simply handing you a card for a free sandwich when they make a mistake. Creating brand ambassadors by providing exceptional customer service is what differentiates Chick-fil-A from all other fast-food restaurants. Who differentiates you or your firm in the market place?

Speaking with hundreds of firms around the country, most of them feel they do a “good job” at getting out into the community and representing their firm. However, we live in an at-need world, and, when the phone rings or when we are on coroner rotation, we have to go and serve.

Many times, the constant pressures of the at-need business pull us away from opportunities to further the brand. This is known as working in the business and not on the business. To combat this, you must dedicate time to get out into the community and represent your brand.

In some firms, the owner takes on this responsibility. In others, it may be shared by a couple of individuals. Whomever you choose as your brand ambassador, it is important that someone is visiting the hospice centers and the nursing facilities, attending community functions, etc.—someone who will become the face and voice of the firm. This means not only being a recognizable face in these places, but being the face of a firm that cares, provides exceptional service, and sacrificially gives back to the community. Over time, your firm will become known as part of the fabric of the community. You will see your brand grow because people will know they can trust you and the brand you represent.

The following story within the cremation space demonstrates the absolute necessity of having a brand ambassador. A little over ten years ago, a recent college graduate had an idea for entering the cremation market in the Pacific Northwest. He found a location to start his business and began to hustle. He attended every chamber of commerce function he could. He met all the hospice organizations, and he got to know the officers and deputies of the local police department and sheriff ’s office.

Everywhere he went, he carried a few packages of peanut M&Ms in his pockets. As he would visit with people, he would give them a package of M&Ms. He became known as “The Candy Man.” Because he dedicated the time and hard work to develop the relationships, this young entrepreneur grew his brand from serving zero families to over 1,800 families per year, and the brand is still growing.

Be proud of who you are, and get out to tell your story. Be a dedicated brand ambassador who cares for people and offers them a unique experience that puts service and care for others above all else.

Create a Brand Promise that Differentiates Your Firm

What kind of promise do you think Chick-fil-A offers? As a customer, it is fairly easy to define. They promise to deliver higher quality fast food with exceptional customer service. The consumer understands they are not getting the cheapest fast food, but they are receiving a great value for their money.

How do you define your firm? What drives your business and the services you provide? What makes you unique and separates you from other firms? If you have not asked these questions about your business, you will not be able to differentiate your brand from the many other cremation options in the market.

An effective brand promise goes beyond the rational benefits of a product or service and strives to capture the emotional rewards that your firm can uniquely deliver. It is not a slogan or a headline, but a way of describing the commitment you are making to your customer base as to the type of experience they are going to have with your brand. In addition, a brand promise gives you a tremendous opportunity to create differentiation and excitement around your services and offerings.

The challenge with creating a brand promise is keeping it. You can print all the grandiose words you want about your brand; however, those words are empty if not delivered upon. A firm that continues to disappoint on its brand promise will begin to develop a much different brand reputation—one that will be difficult to recover from. Kept promises will define your brand. Here are three “must-dos” for your brand promise:

  1. A brand promise must create unique and compelling emotional benefits to using your firm.
  2. A brand promise must be genuine and attainable.
  3. A brand promise must be kept, every time.

Embrace and Implement Digital Marketing

Our world is busy. Coupled with this, the transient nature of families makes it more and more difficult to maintain significant, long-term brand communication with our customer base. Consumers today are arriving at firms with information they feel makes them well informed on funeral-related issues. Unless you are at the top of the search engine listing and have the highest reviews, the likelihood of you receiving the call from a son who lives five states away for his mother who just passed away in the care facility a few blocks away is nearly impossible.

Digital marketing is equally—if not more—important than all other marketing, advertising, and outreach activities. Digital marketing helps capture the calls that will never come through the telephone. The firms who understand and adapt quickly will flourish in the future economy. Death care is not immune to the shift in how consumers select and make purchases, so it is imperative to seek out industry experts to help drive your digital marketing strategy.

There is probably nothing simpler than a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and fresh-squeezed lemonade, but the company has earned the loyalty and trust of millions of customers across the country. The way Chick-fil-A gained our business in the beginning required countless attempts through advertising, tireless delivery on a promise of quality, and consistency. The concepts of developing a brand are simple but not always easy to execute. By developing a brand ambassador, your firm will become the go-to firm for cremation needs.

Creating a brand promise that differentiates your firm will establish you as a business that truly cares for families. Aligning your brand pricing with your promise will create value in your offerings, and families will come back again and again. Finally, by implementing a digital marketing strategy, you will reach more families in your market that you knew existed.

These are simple strategies, but they are not easy. If you implement them, you will differentiate your firm and will help it thrive in the industry, and over time you will be a leading cremation service provider no longer hungry for growth but leading the way in serving families.


This post is excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 55, Issue 3: Hungry for Growth: What a Chicken Sandwich Can Teach Us About Creating a Thriving Cremation Brand” by Jason Widing. Members can read this article and much more in The Cremationist archive. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus the many resources referenced here to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business – only $495.

Jason Widing Jason Widing is Vice President of Business Development for Foundation Partners Group. He has more than 15 years of business development experience in the funeral services industry. Prior to joining Foundation Partners, Widing was Senior Director of Business Development for PRECOA where he was responsible for driving and delivering new business objectives through strategic partnerships.

Tags:  business planning  public relations  services 

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Taking Stock of Bostock: What it Means for You

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Taking Stock of Bostock: What it Means for You


In June, the United States Supreme Court ended its 2019-2020 Term by announcing its rulings in several monumental and far-reaching cases. Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., one of the most widely discussed cases of the Term and, perhaps, the most likely of the Court’s opinions to touch on everyday life, involved employment discrimination claims by fired gay and transgender employees – including a transgender funeral director. In Bostock, the Court sought to resolve a disagreement among lower courts about whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. With a 6-3 majority, the Court held that, under the law’s broad language, “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

The Underlying Cases

In deciding Bostock, the Court considered a trio of cases: two involving gay men – Gerald Bostock, who was fired from his job as a child welfare advocate in Clayton County, Georgia, and Donald Zarda, who was fired as a skydiving instructor in New York – and one involving a transgender woman. All three plaintiffs were longtime employees who were fired shortly after their employer learned of their orientation or gender identity—this was allegedly the only basis for the employee’s termination. Much of the attention surrounding Bostock has focused on Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired from her job as a funeral director in Michigan after notifying her employer that she intended to “live and work full-time as a woman.”

Stephens began working at R.G. & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. as an apprentice before becoming a funeral director/embalmer. During her employment, Stephens presented as a man and used her then-legal name, William Stephens. Before departing on a vacation, Stephens gave her employer a letter that stated that she had struggled with “a gender identity disorder” her entire life, and that she had “decided to become the person that [her] mind already [was].” As part of this decision, she informed her employer that, after her vacation, she would return “as [her] true self…in appropriate business attire.”

Though her employer was not religiously affiliated, the owner stated that he had been “called [by God] …to serve grieving people” and that his life’s purpose was “to minister to the grieving.” In line with his faith, he informed Stephens that her proposal was “not going to work out” and fired her. In the underlying case, her employer testified that he believed that “permit[ting] one of [the funeral home’s] male funeral directors to wear the uniform for female funeral directors at work” would make him complicit “in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

In the cases before the Supreme Court, all three employers acknowledged that they had terminated their employees for being homosexual or transgender, a fact many plaintiffs often struggle to establish in court. The employers argued, however, that Title VII’s bar on some forms of employment discrimination did not prohibit them from taking such an action.

Passed in 1964, Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual “because of [the] individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Under the law, to “discriminate against” means to treat an individual employee worse than other employees who are otherwise similarly situated to the employee. By prohibiting discrimination “because of” sex, for example, the law prohibits sex from being a “but-for” cause of the employer’s action. That is, the employer would not have taken the adverse action in the absence of, but-for, the employee’s classification (i.e., sex). In sum, the law prohibits an employer from considering an employee’s sex when taking an adverse employment action (e.g., firing the employee). This is true even if sex is not the sole or even primary cause of the adverse action—the law prohibits sex from being a factor at all.

Though the law does not explicitly identify “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” as protected categories, in Bostock, the Supreme Court determined that discrimination based on these categories was prohibited by Title VII because it is impossible to separate them from sex: an employer who fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender necessarily and intentionally does so, at least in part, based on the employee’s sex. This is so, the Court stated, because in taking its action, the employer is applying sex-based rules or stereotypes, and, thus, is discriminating based on sex. To explain the concept, the Court used the example of two employees who are both attracted to men. In the employer’s eyes, the employees are nearly identical in all respects except one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no other reason than the fact that he is a man that is attracted to men, the employer has necessarily discriminated against the male employee for exhibiting traits or actions that it tolerates in the female colleague. This is prohibited by Title VII.

The Court acknowledged that several questions remained unanswered by its decision; most notably, the boundaries between Title VII and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion in many cases. Aimee Stephen’s employer initially raised the law but did not appeal an earlier, adverse lower court ruling to the Supreme Court.

What Does it Mean?

In some parts of the country, Bostock should have little practical effect: 22 states already had laws in place that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The ruling, however, now removes any doubt about Title VII’s applicability and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity at all entities covered by the law; generally, “employers” with at least fifteen employees.

Though each workplace is different, following the Court’s ruling, employers should take a moment to:

Review Practices.

Review practices, policies, and procedures (including employee handbooks) to ensure that they reflect the current law. If not already explicit, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies should be revised to specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Review Uniform Requirements.

In a lower court opinion, it was noted that Aimee Stephens had been fired after notifying her employer that she would begin wearing a skirt, and her employer testified that he disagreed with Stephens’ decision to “dress like a woman,” and fired her, in part, because of it. Though not expressly addressed by Bostock, the opinion indicates that gender-specific uniforms or workplace attire requirements will likely be viewed skeptically.

Train Workers.

Ensure that employees, especially managers and supervisors, have been trained regarding anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and will act to stop discrimination in the workplace. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. If a supervisor objects or refuses to ensure that the workplace remains free of discrimination, employers should consider whether the risk of creating a demoralized or hostile workplace, or the risk of litigation, is worth the supervisor’s continued employment.

Examine Employee Benefits.

Less formal benefits should be reviewed. In a lower court opinion, it was noted that Aimee Stephens’ employer provided clothing allowances to public-facing male employees but did not provide an allowance for public-facing female employees. Employers should ensure that benefits such as these are equally available regardless of gender.


Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 56, Issue 3: “Taking Stock of Bostock: What it Means for You” by Christopher R. Jackson. Members can read this article and much more in The Cremationist archive. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus the many resources referenced here to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business – only $495.

For additional information regarding the effect of the Bostock opinion and how it may affect you, please use your CANA member legal benefits and contact Chris Jackson directly. CANA Members can contact CANA Legal Counsel Lara M. Price, shareholder at Sheehy, Ware, Pappas, P.C., for complimentary 30-minute consultation each month.

Christopher R. JacksonChris Jackson has a diverse civil litigation practice handling a variety of insurance coverage and casualty litigation, including complex, multi-party insurance coverage and bad faith litigation. Chris also has experience in construction and commercial litigation. Before entering private practice, Chris served as a law clerk to the Honorable Ron Clark, District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Tags:  hr  processes and procedures  tips and tools 

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Marketing with Flair

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Marketing with Flair


CANA events are known for taking a collaborative approach and learning from our attendees. At the 2020 Cremation Symposium, we once again found ourselves lucky to have a cast of talented, smart people in the room. In Marketing With Flair, Lindsey Ballard facilitated a discussion with special guest Welton Hong that brought in attendees’ own expertise on something they know better than anyone – what makes their own businesses unique.

Some Suggestions to Get Ideas Flowing

Explaining that what separates good content from great content is a willingness to make a statement by using humor and pushing the envelope, Lindsey started with a look at some creative, out-of-the-box ads from fellow funeral professionals. In this commercial from French Funerals, a woman in mourning black contemplates choosing the right coffee can for her mother’s ashes. It’s hard, you see, because her mother preferred tea. Such a difficult decision could have been avoided, the commercial warns, with a little advance planning.

In a similar vein, a French Canadian cemetery ad depicts an urn reposing on the shelf in the garage, in a closet, and in a tool shed, asking if this was truly anyone’s final wish. It touches two ideas, 1) that many people have occupied urns sitting at home, and 2) they likely feel guilty about it or want a suggestion of what to do with them. So this ad suggests a solution that puts concerns to rest.

Lindsey’s own company recently hired a professional to create a commercial that incorporates the funeral home therapy dog, Fletcher. Not only do people love Fletcher when they visit the funeral home, but having animals involved always attracts notice. So much so that CANA Member Heffner Cares reached out to their local therapy alligator, Allie, for a visit and a video. These videos show the funeral home, the staff, and something that makes their business unique – with a bit of humor.

These work best, Lindsey says, because we’re selling experiences, not products. And not just the chance to cuddle with a dog (or an alligator!), but to create a memorial that makes a memory for a family. We have to remember that in our campaigns.

The Portuguese funeral home Funalcoitão shows how they work to do “more than burials. We pay tribute.” Their commercial features personal touches with the narrator describing how the smiling deceased had wanted to be commemorated in just that way – pulled by a donkey, showered in confetti, surrounded by loved ones.

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” – Seth Godin

What are CANA Members doing?

Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery talked about the cemetery’s Facebook campaigns developed in partnership with a marketing firm who specializes in social media campaigns. Together, they set three goals and designed three campaigns to achieve them. The first was to grow their Facebook followers, and, from that campaign, they discovered that, of the options, mausoleum photos were the most successful – go figure.

For the second goal, to grow their email list, Gracie wrote an ebook on green burials. Designed as an inbound marketing campaign, people needed to enter their contact information to get their free download. And lastly, to encourage tourism and engage their community, they quiz people on the celebrities buried in their cemetery based on a few facts and a silhouette. Correct answers in the comments don’t deter others from answering – everyone wants to be seen as smart in their groups!

Top 5 Marketing Tips

Whether you have a budget for a Super Bowl ad or just a Facebook campaign, the most important thing is to try something new. After all:

You will never make it to the top unless you start to climb!

These are Welton’s top tips to make your marketing plan a success.

  1. Problem-Aware vs. Intent-Based Branding
    Start by knowing whether you’re targeting consumers who know they have a problem or the ones who don’t know it yet. In 1990, if your roof leaked, you’d go to the YellowPages. That was the only way to target the problem-aware back then – to be listed along with other companies that provided solutions to that problem. Now, people turn to the internet to look for a business near them, to visit their website, then to check their reviews. Yelp and Google drive at-need to your business. Nowadays, to reach the people who have the problem, you must make sure your website has strong search engine optimization (SEO), that it is designed to convert well, and that you are monitoring and encouraging reviews.
    When you’re trying to reach people who don’t have a problem yet, you’re trying to build brand awareness so people know your business when they need you. Tools such as billboards, radio, television, and digital ads work well here to reach many people at once – about 8% of which are strong leads.
    These techniques work together – online will never fully replace offline – to reach the people who need to know about your business. Once you know which group you want to reach, you can decide where to start.
  2. Use consumer language
    Keep the wording clear and simple; employing consumer-oriented language – “I just want cremation” – makes your services easy to understand. Do the work for the consumer and make the service descriptions straightforward and therefore easier to choose! More than just making your families comfortable, review your website to make sure it’s consumer-friendly and peppered with search terms for you.
  3. Increase credibility and social proof
    Knowing that reviews are a key element in making any big decision, you can do some of the work for your families by listing testimonials on your website. Even better, you can install a widget that pulls top reviews from other sites and stream them directly. Keep your families on your site with the answers they need.
  4. Compare apples to oranges
    If you’re competing with a business in your area that’s vastly different than yours – discount direct services or premier care – help your families understand what makes you different. Create a visual argument with a table that shows what you provide in comparison to your competition. Help decipher the language so shoppers can make an informed decision about what they need and want from their funeral service provider.
  5. Quantify how you are different
    Visuals are important, so show what sets you apart in easy to understand numbers. How long have you served the community, how did your community rank you in a business vote, etc.? These questions can be attention-grabbing and set you apart from your competitors.

No matter how you approach your marketing, it’s always important to try something new.

At CANA, we love group brainstorming discussions to answer strategic questions about the next summit we want to reach. Lindsey and Welton left a few questions to fuel your next brainstorming staff meeting and help you refine your market strategy:

  1. Identify three things that set your business apart from the competition.
    • Lindsey says they’re unique because they have their own crematory
  2. Why is this important?
    • Lindsey says, for them, it is important because their loved one is always in their care.
  3. What does this mean for your customer? How can you demonstrate the value?
    • For Lindsey, this means that their families know that when they bring the urn home, that is their loved one.

Sound familiar? Many CANA Members can make the same claim which is why it’s important to demonstrate and communicate the value of whatever does differentiate you from your competition.


This post is excerpted from a presentation of the same name at CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium facilitated by Lindsey Ballard with special guest Welton Hong. Save the Date for CANA’s 2021 Cremation Symposium: February 10-12, 2021 at the The LINQ Hotel + Experience in Las Vegas.

The attendees of the 2020 Cremation Symposium had so many more examples of how they set their business apart with marketing and community engagement. Listen to the recordings of this presentation and the whole Symposium plus the Preneed Summit for just $100.



Lindsey Ballard

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 studied sociology and religion and later earned her Mortuary Science degree from DMACC.


Welton Hong Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.

Welton recently launched Elevating Funeral Service, a podcast developed with Ellery Bowker. They have an entire episode about Zoom with practical how-to guides that you can see here.

Tags:  marketing  personalization  storytelling  tips and tools 

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What to Expect: CANA’s Virtual Convention

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Updated: Monday, August 3, 2020
What to Expect: CANA’s Virtual Convention


With the many layers of travel restrictions in place now to support public safety efforts, CANA is taking you where no cremation professional has ever gone before – to a completely virtual convention!

But what does that mean? And what can you expect from this virtual experience? Fortunately, we’ve been able to re-create many of your favorite parts of the Convention in this new meeting space.

Here's a downloadable and printable Quick Reference Guide. If you're already registered, keep an eye out for an email with your convention credentials from CANA's 102nd Cremation Innovation Convention <> to make sure you're in the right place at the right time. If you're not already registered, what are you waiting for?!

Now, let’s take a look:

Enter the Lobby

Just like you get your bearings at the registration desk at a CANA Convention, the Lobby is the place where you’ll start when you log in. You’ll have some pop-ups here with recommendations on how to make the most of your experience: using Google Chrome as your internet browser, connecting on a laptop or desktop, enabling notifications from the platform, connecting your microphone and camera. Say yes without any fear that this will follow you around – no one but CANA will send a notification and they’ll all be event-related. If your window looks a bit strange, try zooming your browser out in your settings.

And you’re in! A video will welcome you and a public chat will show you who else is in the lobby so you can re-connect with your colleagues from far away. A posted schedule will keep you on track (remember, all times default to US Central Time so translate as appropriate), with announcements reminding you where to go next.

To the left, like rooms branching off, you’ll see a list of destinations for your trip:

Sessions, Exhibit Hall, and Networking.

Join the Conversation

You’ll find public chat rooms like the one on the right in all areas of the platform. Just like you never know who you’ll bump into on the Convention floor, you’ll be able to talk to anyone visiting the room, booth, and session you’re in. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and let people know who you are – only other people registered for the event can see what you say here.

Make sure that your profile is accurate by reviewing your Account. Include your photo so people recognize you (we recommend a 200x200 jpg, square dimensions work best).

Catch the Speaker Presentations

Sessions is your doorway to all of the great content CANA has planned. Add the sessions to your schedule to be sure you get reminders when it’s starting – remember all times default to US Central Time (that's where CANA's HQ is) so you may need to translate. Locate the upcoming presentation from the list of sessions and start the Zoom event from your window (you may have to answer a CAPTCHA, so don’t miss any of those stoplights or you might miss out on some great ideas!).

Our speakers were chosen for their talent and expertise at delivering fantastic ideas in an online format. Like striking up a conversation with your neighbor, there’s a public chat here, too, to share ideas with your colleagues and ask questions of the presenter live.

Your seat is the best one in the house, but you won’t be glued to it – CANA knows that staring at a computer screen too long is draining, so we’ve built in breaks and activities along the way to keep you energized and engaged.

Log Your CE

Once you’ve been watching the presentation for a little bit, a pop-up will ask you if you need continuing education credits for your license. And yes, it will do it every time. Be sure to say yes if you do, and we’ll automatically email you your transcript of all of the presentations that you attended for your records. Watch the video below for to see how to record your attendance.

Attending with Colleagues

These events are more fun with friends. If your whole team registered, you can re-create some of that in-person feeling by attending together. The easiest way to do that is to watch the presentations together, submitting your group's questions and comments from one user. But remember, if you and your colleagues need CEUs or want a chance to win in the Scavenger Hunt, everyone needs to log in individually, from their own computers so they don't miss those important pop-ups. Plus, you don't want to miss those one-on-one connections with your colleagues from across the nation.

Visit the Trade Show

The Exhibit Hall is where innovations meet solutions. Like you, suppliers of goods and services have been stuck at home, finding new ways to do things we never had to think about doing before. If you have a challenge, chances are one of these companies can meet it. Visit the booths, read the descriptions, and watch their videos to learn more about the company.

Look for that public chat on the right side – it’s a great kind of users group to learn more about the challenges and solutions that businesses like yours can use. Plus, many booths have open group video chats to see demos, chat with the staff and other users, and more at the link in their public chat.

Two things a virtual convention couldn’t re-create? The miles you walk in your less-than-comfortable professional shoes and the confusing labyrinth of booth maps. Now, the worst you’ll get is a finger tired of scrolling through the more than 60 registered booths – alphabetized so you can find exactly the supplier you want with a click of a mouse. Zip right to that business and connect! When you enter a booth, scroll to the bottom and you’ll see a list of people staffing it, simply click a name and start a private chat with them.

The video below was made so that our exhibitors have their booths ready and waiting for attendees, but we'll let you take a look so you know what to expect in the exhibit hall.

Rack Up Points

As you explore the CANA Convention and Trade Show, you’ll have opportunities to earn points in our Scavenger Hunt. Network with our Secret Code Bearers, listen closely to the presentations, but mostly visit exhibitor booths and collect codes that track your activities. Simply enter these codes in the Gamification pop-up, and watch your rank increase (check out the video below for a walkthrough on our platform). Be one of the highest scoring participants and you have a chance to win a prize delivered to your door!

Network with Colleagues

CANA’s 102nd Convention and Trade Show is shaping up to be our biggest yet! That means that the Networking section is filled to bursting with friends, colleagues, strangers, future bosses, former employees, etc.

This is the spot for connecting one-on-one. Scroll through the list of registrants, and find those people you want to connect with – check out the video below for a quick peek!
NOTE: no, we can’t tell if they’re logged in, or if they’re already in a conversation, but you can always leave them a note by clicking Start a Chat. They’ll be notified about it when they’re available.

If you’ve been chatting with someone one-on-one, you can take it to the next level and start a video chat. Simply tap “Start a Video Chat” and enable your camera and microphone. Your chat partner will be notified you picked up your end of the call and can join you with a quick click. Check out the video below for a quick walkthrough.

Do It All!

Think you’re ready for the big time?

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Can I Get a Witness (Cremation)?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Updated: Monday, July 13, 2020
Can I Get a Witness (Cremation)?


“Offer all of the options, to every family, every time.” Dave Daly

No matter a family’s religion or cultural background, there will be times when it is appropriate for a family to see the disposition to completion, wherever it may be. When I served my first Hindu family during my internship, I was struck by the reverence, the beauty and meaning imbued in the ritual of the sendoff at the crematory. Perhaps the West Coast is unique in that many of the families we served in that region were already familiar with witness cremation, even if they did not have a religious requirement to do so. It was not until I moved back to the Midwest that I learned that so many funeral directors and consumers found the concept of going to the crematory shocking.

Families’ imagination is often far worse than the reality of cremation. Many may envision a stark, cold, clinical environment that smells like a hospital. They may imagine a chamber full of flames, and that the entire process is short, lonely, and perfunctory. This is why families are less likely to ask, When will we be able to watch the cremation? as they would be to ask, When will we be able to watch the lowering of the casket into the grave? Typically, this is an offer that the funeral director poses to the family who may need time to decide if that is something they can handle.

A History

From the late 1890s until the 1930s, the profession had invited the family to attend the cremation, as many marble-walled crematoria began to be built in Europe and North America (Jupp, 2005). Early cremationists treated the cremation ceremony in a manner virtually identical to committals. However, postwar funeral reform in the U.S. began to treat cremation as a threat to the industry, with several professional associations focusing on how to deal with the “problem of cremation.” Too many American funeral professionals determined that cremation was ugly and even our contemporary books on cremation describe witnessing ceremonies in a negative tone:

“As late as 1932, the Forest Home Chapel and Crematory in Milwaukee was encouraging family members to witness the placing of the corpse in the cremation furnace” (Prothero, 2002).

Putting the Service Back in Cremation

Is the consumer to blame for direct cremations? Or, as a profession, have we urged families away from ceremonial cremation in the hope that families who desire more time and a chance to say goodbye will opt for casketed burial instead? It is my belief that we are doing a disservice to families who select cremation if we do not offer them an opportunity to witness their loved one being laid to rest. Most funeral directors will invite the surviving family to be present at the graveside service. Witnessing the remains being placed into the chamber is like watching a casket be lowered into the grave, but for cremation. Similarly, this event creates a lasting memorial and final farewell for the family.

Offering ceremonial witness cremations to families allows a unique, hands-on experience that creates an additional opportunity for the family to gain closure in a meaningful way. When we set up a graveside service, we plan for ceremonial comforts: a tent, chairs, perhaps an ice bucket filled with bottled water and, more often than not, someone to officiate the ceremony whether this is a clergy member, celebrant, family member or the funeral director. There is a prescribed and widely accepted order to the event. To appropriately create this memory of physical separation from a loved one’s remains for our families who select cremation, we need to ask ourselves some questions and shift our own perspectives.

A Standard of Excellence

When was the last time you had a client family ask for a three-day viewing in a Promethean bronze casket with limos for everyone and a plot in the highest spot in the cemetery that overlooks the lake? The fact is that we will continue to serve a growing number of cremation families in the future. Why not create a standard of excellence in your market for cremation ceremonies imbued with meaning and ritual.

Regardless of the type of disposition, families want to ensure that the remains they are entrusting into your care are that of their loved one. Witness cremation ceremonies offer both an opportunity to gather in remembrance of the departed as well as rapport-building transparency with positive identification of the deceased. Families will consider your firm as more credible if you have nothing to hide, and many will want to participate in the hands-on experience of saying goodbye. Seeing their loved one right before the cremation—and potentially participating by initiating the cremation process—will help create a peace of mind, dispel fears about the process, and create greater goodwill and trust. It will allow the families you serve to recognize the permanence of death (Wolfelt, 2016).

Witness Best Practices

As the public becomes more familiar with “do-it-yourself” and hands-on experiences, while self-educating about cremation, it makes sense to offer private crematory experiences as part of our standard services just as we include visitations and graveside ceremonies.

Let’s consider the optics of practicing witness cremation ceremonies. When my mother passes, I plan on being present at the crematory to see my mother one last time. Will I be comfortable with her being cremated in a cardboard alternative container? I consider myself a pragmatist, but it would be much harder for me to select a minimum cardboard container over an alternative cremation option that comes with a pillow and is the same color as all her furniture. Even though I know, rationally, that it will be consumed during the cremation, the likelihood of upgrading my mother to a ceremonial cremation container is 100%.

Even if not embalmed, setting a decedent’s features and performing a minimum preparation of remains should be planned for regardless of whether the family has expressed a desire to view the remains at the crematory. The majority of crematory operators I have worked with in the past have told me that if a family is willing to travel to the crematory, then there is a greater chance that they may wish to view the remains at the time of the cremation even if they were previously undecided about viewing.

As with planning any other type of service, it is important to allot enough time and set expectations and constraints to the family, the funeral home, and the crematory. This will require clear communication between all parties involved to schedule a well-organized event. Families want a memorable and favorable experience; they do not want to feel rushed.

As the families we serve become increasingly participative, including them in the planning and tone of this event lends them a greater sense of control. Survivors may opt to place special photos, letters, or trinkets into the cremation container; they may wish to have a significant song played while their loved one is being placed into the chamber. The benefits outweigh the additional time and effort spent planning the service.

Communicating with Families

Fear comes from a loss of control. Not having a realistic picture of what the crematory looks like, feels like, smells like, or sounds like will cause undue stress. It is important for practitioners to help their client families understand what to expect so they will know what the outcome of the event will be and rest at ease knowing that nothing terrible will happen, like their imagination suggests.

There are several opportunities to convey the value and experience of witness cremation ceremonies: wherever you explain what services you offer. This service should appear on your General Price List, under the Services tab of your website, and be addressed during the arrangement conference with every family who selects cremation. Several funeral homes have the witness cremation option built in to their cremation authorization form, where the authorizing agent will initial “Yes, we want to witness the cremation and here are the names of the people who will be present”, or “No, we would like to opt out of that ceremony.” If appropriate, a gallery of photos or YouTube video can give a sense of the crematory, so you do not have to schedule a pre-cremation tour of the space (although an open-door policy is a recommended best practice).

When making funeral arrangements, a consumer may not have enough background information to understand what you are asking if you say, “Do you want to witness the cremation?” Without context, this sounds more like a threat, rather than an invitation. Over time, a funeral arranger can become more familiar with how to present witness cremation experiences by explaining the ceremony and inviting the family to be present for the event. Here’s a sample script:

“The cremation will be held at our crematory, which is located at our funeral home and cemetery on the northside. There, your mother will be held until the day and time that the cremation will occur. Our crematory allows for immediate family to be present to watch the cremation container be placed into the cremator. We welcome you to be present for one last goodbye in your mother’s send-off, which is completely optional. If you are interested in this, please initial here on the cremation authorization where it says, ‘Yes, family present.’ I will contact the crematory operator to schedule a time. I will be there with you by your side and if you wish to start the cremation process, you have the option of pushing the button.”

Whether your crematory space is “industrial,” or built specifically to host families for witness ceremonies, managing that expectation is key. Would heavy rain deter you from attending the graveside of your spouse or parent? If not, then a “no-frills” functional crematory space should not be a deterrent for a family, but having a weather forecast and knowing ahead of time to bring rain boots is always appreciated.

In an ideal world, every family who selects cremation would be present to see their loved one. If that were the case, the chances of an erroneous cremation would be nearly impossible. Realistically, the percent of families who choose to be present at the graveside to see the casket lowered is likely what you can expect of families to witness cremations.

As with a burial or any ceremony in funeral service, there must be an order of events to ensure a smooth cremation. Funeral directors must partner with crematory operators and schedule times for witnesses at the crematory’s discretion (e.g., “The crematory operator says that we can plan the witness ceremony on Tuesday at 1:00 pm. Does that work for your family?”).

Overcoming Concerns

If you have a distrusting family who does not want to “receive someone else’s ashes”, crematory experiences are the solution. You can collaborate with the crematory operator to allow the family to be present for the transfer of their loved one’s cremated remains to the urn, giving the family a greater sense of trust and peace of mind. It is critical to coordinate the scheduling with the crematory. It may make sense to hold the witness cremation as the last one of the day and schedule the pickup of the urn for first thing in the morning; this gives the crematory operator ample time for overnight cooling and an additional opportunity for the family to watch the identification process post-cremation.

Many funeral service providers may be reluctant to offer witness cremation ceremonies because it is more work. But you would be surprised by the number of “direct cremation” families who are ready and willing to see their loved one, they just did not know it was an option. We don’t know what we don’t know. It doesn’t hurt or cost anything to ask those you serve if they want to press a button, place the cremation casket into the chamber, insert a letter or drawing from a child in the cremation container, or order flowers when they see a photo of an all-concrete crematory space.

Giving the consumer a say in the cremation service helps add value to the experience. It offers another opportunity to mourn and be together in a difficult time. Plenty of funeral homes routinely ask the family if they want to see the lowering of the casket during a graveside service. Why not start with witness cremation ceremonies?


Heather Braatz takes a deep dive into "Witness Cremation Ceremonies" at CANA's Virtual Cremation Convention on August 5. The session will focus on differentiating your cremation business by providing witness cremation choices to families and practical guidance on how to add value through ceremony.

See what else CANA has planned and register at

Heather Braatz

Heather Braatz is a learning experience designer at Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, Illinois. She is a licensed funeral director in Washington State and has worked for low-cost cremation providers, family-owned funeral homes, and combo location corporations. She has arranged several hundred witness cremations with family present.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  processes and procedures  services 

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