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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?

Much like you yourself can only be in one place at a time, when you visit a new room, booth, or start a new conversation in the Virtual Convention, you leave where you were. However, power users can copy and paste the Virtual Event URL to a second (or third, or fourth…) tab or window of their browser to visit booths and network, or hold public and private chats, or anything you can dream of!

Get Technical Support

This is new to everyone, but CANA Staff are standing by to help ease your way. If you get stuck, you can find a chat widget in CANA-gold in the lower left corner – type in your question and someone will answer. Or find a Staff member in the Networking section, any one of us can help you out. Or maybe you just want to talk it through, in which case, CANA’s phone lines are open and waiting: 312-245-1077.


We can’t wait to welcome you with a handshake and a hug in Seattle next year. But until then, we’re excited to connect with you at a safe social distance with CE you need, ideas to inspire, and connection you crave.

Join us virtually:

CANA is meeting cremation, cemetery, and funeral professionals where they are – serving their communities safely through online platforms. Exhibits, networking, education, and fun packed into two days at CANA’s Virtual Convention and Trade Show. See what you’re missing by not registering at

Tags:  events 

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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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Living Your Everyday Legacy™: Finding Purpose, Even in Times of Uncertainty

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, July 2, 2020
Living Your Everyday Legacy™: Finding Purpose, Even in Times of Uncertainty


You know, there are so many things we can’t control right now, and for most of us, that makes us anxious. But I want to encourage you with this: In each moment of your life, you have the ability to change yourself and those around you in profound ways.

No matter the time.

No matter the day.

No matter the circumstance.

Even amid moments of uncertainty, like the one we find ourselves in right now.

In moments that seem out of our control, there’s always something that’s within it: our perspective. I like to say that I’m a Spiritual Pragmatist, which means that while I appreciate believing in a higher power and it’s guidance and influence in our lives, I also believe in action and doing, to bring about success and happiness. It’s about having balance, and part of having that balance means that we have to be conscious and mindful of how we’re showing up and how that influences any given situation, including the one we’re amid right now.

I spent 20 years as a funeral director and embalmer; I like to say that everything I’ve ever learned, I learned from dying. One would think that a career surrounded by death would have taught me a lot about dying, but in fact it taught me so much about life, and gifted to me the most beautiful lessons. Ones that, in moments like this, come through with crystal clarity and enable me to put into action the behaviours that can ground me, even amid all of the uncertainty.

Efficient Vs Effective

My British, tea-totting grandmother used to say, “Good tea steeps.” My grandmother knew the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. For her, there was no such thing as an efficient way to make tea; there was only an effective way. Can you make tea by dropping a tea bag into a mug of water and putting it in the microwave for ninety seconds? You can, sure. But, according to her, that’s not going to make a delicious cup of tea.

A drive-through car wash is efficient, but you might enjoy the therapeutic process of washing your car by hand. Ordering takeout is an adequate way to put dinner on the table, but a great satisfaction comes with preparing a meal from scratch yourself. Sending a friend a text message to see how they’re doing is an economic use of time, but it’s not quite the same as picking up the phone and talking.

As a society, we are consumed by efficiency, collectively racing from one thing to the other and from one person to the next. Being able to make the rush seem effortless is perceived as honorable. Those who work the most are revered, as though the most stressed-out person will be awarded a trophy. Sometimes you have to choose the efficient way; there’s no denying that. But we could all try a little harder to choose the effective way more often, especially when it comes to our relationships. How do we do that when we are in the throes of the hustle or in the midst of chaos? We pause.

The Pause

Most of life’s magic happens in moments of pause. We need to stop and re-centre in order to reach a state of conscious awareness. Pausing helps us to slow down and plan our time more effectively, so that we create more meaning in our lives. The way my grandmother did with her tea. Normally I would profess the importance of creating the space to do this, and so often, and I’m including myself, we struggle to find the time to do it.

Now, we’re at a place in time where the world has quite literally slowed down. So many of us are sequestered away in our homes, adjusting to a world where physical distancing is common place, and life outside of our homes has come to a grinding halt. Is there time in your day to create the space to reinvest in something that brings you joy? It wasn’t that long ago that many of us likely caught ourselves complaining that we didn’t have enough time in a day, or that we were missing out on things in life: missing quality time with our children, missing time for the gym, missing time to just sit and read. There are likely many more things you could add to this list.

While we adjust to this new normal we find ourselves in, try to negotiate some time for you to invest in ‘the pause’, even if that time is spent on an activity like reading a book, or moving your body, meditating or sitting in prayer. Whatever it is that fills your cup, it’s important to realize that in order to be of service to others, we have to spend time investing in ourselves.

Community Connection

The late, great Jim Rohn once said that we’re each a reflection of those with whom we spend the most time, so the key to being your best self is to be surrounded by those who support and inspire you. I like to call these my “finger snap people.” They’re the ones with whom you feel an instant attraction, as quickly as you can snap your fingers. More often than not, you can’t quite distinguish exactly what it is that draws you to them, but their energy is like a magnet. There’s something about their character that causes you to be perfectly content with who you are, while also inspiring you to seek ways to be a better version of yourself. And when you find these like-minded individuals, hold on to them tightly, because you are much more powerful together than alone.

We might be physically distant from one another right now, but that doesn’t stop us from taking advantage of the incredible technology that helps us stay connected. I would encourage you to reach out to one of your ‘finger snap people’. Make that phone call, send that email, heck, you can even watch a movie together over video chat. Will it be perfect? Maybe not, but you’re connecting to people that matter, at a time when connection matters. I promise that you’ll feel a little better afterwards, because people need people and we’re all in this together. We don’t have to make grand gestures. The most meaningful moments can happen in the simplest of ways.

Sometimes, allowing someone the space to be seen and heard is the one thing they need the most, as they navigate their new normal right now. If that person is you, your community, your go-to people, are the ones you can rely on, no matter what. Just ask. I suspect they’ll be there, in the snap of a finger. There’s no question that the world we find ourselves in today, isn’t the world we were in not that long ago. There’s also no question that through it all – the up’s, downs and all-arounds – if we just remember that our perspective can shift everything, we suddenly find ourselves with more control than we might have believed we ever had.

If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that everything we’ve ever been taught about legacy – either consciously or unconsciously, is that it’s something that there once we’re gone – once we’re dead. I also know that when we shift the narrative around legacy, from something we leave to something we live, every single day, we can realize the power of understanding the impact we’re making - while we’re still here. I’ve seen first hand how that shift can help us realize the depth and breadth of that impact, help define our purpose and help us live our everyday legacy. When we realize that the way we show up in the world today, is the way we’ll be remembered tomorrow, we transform not only our relationship with the world around us, but also with ourselves in that world.

For all the chaos that COVID-19 has caused in the world, it’s powerful to see humanity band together for the greater-good – living with purpose, on purpose and showing how marrying that with compassion can be so incredibly powerful.

Codi Shewan will Keynote CANA’s Virtual Cremation Convention and Trade Show this August. The first 100 registered attendees will receive a free copy of his new book, Living Your Everyday Legacy, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Kyber Columbarium. But that’s not all – our sponsors are making sure that this virtual event has swag bags to make this a fun experience. Register soon!

This post first appeared in the EverLearn Associates blog, available here. Watch a video of this message here:


Codi Shewan

Codi Shewan, CFSP, CCP is the President & Founder of EverLearn Associates, a full service, comprehensive management consulting firm, for the funeral and cemetery profession – aimed at engaging and building dynamic teams and successful businesses. Operating across North America, EverLearn Associates is known for aligning closely with clients to provide tailored solutions, which overcome their operational challenges and align their business goals with success. Working with some of the professions finest operators, EverLearn Associates focuses on the tenet of ‘People first; always.’ and has enveloped that philosophy in all of our consulting lines of business; HR, marketing, business strategy, and digital solutions.

Tags:  covid19  inspiration  leadership  selfcare 

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Grief can't wait: 5 strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020
Grief can't wait: 5 strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing


Lately, we’ve all had to reassess the way we do things. Talking to people in your community is different now that most of it isn’t done face-to-face. Fortunately, you can still make meaningful connections, just a in a new way. We must now lean more heavily than ever on technology to connect with our communities.

During social distancing, the ways you used to engage and connect with your families don’t always work, but you know grieving families need your support now more than ever. Grief just can’t wait, and families need you as a guide. As a funeral director, you’re already a problem solver, so think about lending support to those grieving in a way you never have before. Think differently, and think digitally.

Here are five strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing so you can continue to serve your families in an effective and valuable way.

1. Host virtual events

If events were part of your marketing outreach before the pandemic, make them part of your efforts now, too. Just make them digital. When you plan digital events, thinking outside the box goes a long way. We’ve seen a number of firms use digital events to engage with their community and keep their outreach going. For instance, you can use inexpensive apps to engage your community online. You can learn more about how Guam Windward Memorial did just that in this interview using digital scavenger hunts coupled with community bingo sessions.

These fun-focused events engage your community and highlight your brand rather than directly marketing preneed or at-need services. When creating virtual events focused on engagement, spend a little time brainstorming things your community likes to do and how you can create a digital space to come together around those things. It could be a sport, a community landmark, or a recurring community event like a parade.

If you are ready to dive back into preneed events, hosting digital ones provides an opportunity to personalize your education more than you did in the past. When you host an in-person preneed event, most firms need to reach a broad audience for better attendance since in-person events take more resources (cost, set up, time, etc.) than digital ones. However, when hosting a virtual preneed event using a video conference call, like Zoom, less prep is required so you can hyper-focus your event. Consider promoting events specifically catering to the needs of a target audience: veterans, religious groups, recent widows or widowers, or any other specific group in your community.

Personalization like this has been proven more effective because people feel you are speaking directly to them and meeting their specific need. Thus, hosting smaller, highly targeted video events increases your chance of winning these individuals over.

2. New ways for people to connect:
Online donation options and digital grief classes

People need each other when they are grieving. Social distancing doesn’t have to stop the connection your community members make with each other after a loved one passes. Think about creating new opportunities for grieving families to receive support using virtual options. For instance, if you’re seeing fewer flower sales since the pandemic, consider adding other donation options. Several companies offer a donation tool that allows people to donate toward gifts or services (we are one of them) and community members love being able to contribute in a new way.

Donations can be made to help the family defray funeral costs, for a meal at home from a favorite local restaurant, for groceries, toward an at-home cleaning service, or for keepsakes or memorials. Having multiple options allows your community to choose what resonates with them, and you are the perfect facilitator to connect a grieving family with this act of kindness from the community.

Many funeral homes offer grief support as part of their aftercare program. Some offer grief support groups. If you’re used to facilitating in-person grief support, take these groups online during times of social distancing. Experiencing a loss during a time when families already feel isolated can make the pain feel worse. Talking about their grief with others will give people the chance to connect around shared experiences. Video services like Zoom or UberConference can be used for these virtual meetings.

3. What works on social media during a pandemic

Your voice on social media is powerful and important. Your families need your reassurance and guiding words to remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. Your typical educational content-based strategy still works, but think about adjusting the perspective in a few ways.

You want to remain thoughtful, positive, and informative with the content you share online. Make sure you are up-to-date on facts you post and always double-check your sources.

Beyond being educational, you can use your social media to inspire and spread hope. A few topics we’ve seen perform well with people during a crisis are inspirational or religious quotes, stress relief tips, coping mechanisms, and helpful resources around mental health and grieving. You can, and should, post details about your pandemic safety practices, changes to your services, hours, etc. on social media, too. However, that should not be the only thing you post.

4. Incorporate email to deepen the conversation

Although social media is a great place to initiate conversation with your families and stay in touch with them, not every message fits the same media channel. As you make connections through social media and other marketing campaigns and build up your contacts, you need to know when to move that conversation to a more private channel.

Your community is happy to see your inspirational posts on Facebook, and these posts are an important part of a solid top-of-mind strategy or conversation starter. Next, you want to deepen the conversation and build a stronger relationship. To do that, you need to move things to a private channel. Enter: a stronger email marketing plan.

Email marketing can help bridge the gap between connections on social media and an in-person or phone meeting. Using email to draw people in with a more meaningful message allows you to create a more personal conversation. Plus, people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves or asking questions via email than on a Facebook post.

Ideally, you’re already sending a newsletter to your email list. In addition, segment your audience into different categories so you can send additional emails targeted at their specific interests. Some categories might be: Christians, recently widowed, veterans, losing a parent, losing a loved one to addiction or overdose, etc. Creating segmented email campaigns build connections, because the message resonates with their specific experience.

Pro tip: Include links on other topics in each email and see what people click on. This will give you even more information on what people in your community want to learn about.

5. Offer virtual services and teach people how to attend them

In navigating this strange new world together, we all have to adapt. Putting on a digital funeral service may be new for you; it’s probably new to your community, too. They need guidance on how to participate in digital services. Just as in-person funeral services help your families realize the finality of their loved one and really begin the grieving process, it’s important to share that digital services offer similar value.

Teach your community the importance of digital services. Also offer them tips on how to attend and participate, such as:

  • Create a video tutorial showing people how to use Zoom or whatever video or conferencing platform you are using to stream services.
  • Encourage people to share tributes online under their loved one’s obituary before the service starts.
  • Provide an opportunity for people to share a pre-recorded video tribute to the family if they can’t attend.
  • Encourage community members to reach out to the family in attendance with a quick text or phone call beforehand to express condolences; these before-service points of contact are crucial for support.
  • Encourage people to reach out to the family after the service, too.
  • Explain how friends and family can send flowers, donations, or keepsakes to support those closest to lost loved one.
  • Remind friends and family how valuable and appreciated stories and memories of the loved one are. Sharing these can help the grieving heal.

And of course, give digital attendees clear information about when the digital service will begin, and invite them to join 5 minutes before the ceremony starts to get acquainted with the streaming service. Does your stream offer comments? This would be a great place to lead families who want to show their regards for the family during the service. It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to participate while the digital service is taking place.

Technology and change

You have the power to take control of the shift we face and challenges ahead. By using technology to virtually reach your families, you will stand out in your community and connect with new people. The next few months will surely bring new challenges and rapid changes, but keeping an eye on technology solutions – and being willing to adopt and implement them quickly – will help you keep serving your community no matter what happens next.

For inspiration on how to make meaningful, remote services, read celebrated Celebrant and instructor Glenda Stansbury's recent post. Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times from Glenda filled with ideas on how to bring your families together.

Last week, CANA hosted a webinar with customer service expert Lacy Robinson You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. You can watch a recording for free, and other recorded webinars, on CANA's website.

Heather Mierzejewski

Heather McWilliams Mierzejewski brings marketing and additional writing expertise to the Funeral Innovations team. She previously covered breaking news, politics, and religion for print, digital and radio news outlets before slipping journalism’s tentacles and diving into the digital marketing world. She spent the past 3+ years at a digital advertising agency working on marketing and content solutions for adidas, Reebok, and Chipotle among other brands.

When not on the prowl for killer marketing stories, Heather spends time with her active kids and rides her bike on the Colorado byways. She’s always looking for new riding buddies.

Tags:  consumers  events  marketing  personalization  tips and tools 

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Thank a Funeral Director

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 1, 2020
Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar


I am a funeral director. If you had told my 25-year-old self who was beginning a career as a determined and dedicated special education teacher that 40 years later I would be typing that sentence, I would have laughed in your face. And, yes, I’m that old.

But life has an interesting way of taking turns and detours and branching off the map to the point where today I am proud to be part of this very special and unique band of professionals.

In the twenty-five years that I have been part of working with funeral directors, I’ve become known as one who trains, speaks and writes in the arena of imploring our profession to do better. To grow into the needs of our new consumers. To widen our practices beyond the safe and traditional. To think outside the proverbial box. Some people have appreciated the message and embraced the opportunities to try new things. Some people think I’m kind of a shock jock and loudmouth. All are accurate.

But, today, all I can say is wow! These past months have presented such overwhelming challenges and unprecedented practices as my sisters and brothers have faced the daunting task of caring for the dead and supporting the grieving families. This virus that has the world by its grasp has forced us to turn on a dime, to think differently, to adapt and adjust while being on the front lines of unknown potential dangers and a nationwide fear. And just when you think you have it under control, situations change once again, and a new plan has to be developed on the fly. We often talk about thinking outside the box. Well, for all of us, the box has been destroyed. All that we knew to be usual and predictable no longer exists for this moment in time.

In those states where the death toll has been crushing and constant, just the physical toll on staff to keep up with the demand, to deal with shortages of protective equipment, running out of space to care for the deceased in a safe and honorable method, to answer the phone again and again and again, knowing that capacity is a faint memory, has been nothing short of amazing. Every person involved-- the removal personnel, the embalmers, the arrangers, the office staff, the crematory operators, the managers and owners have all answered the call to stand in the chaos and provide the final farewell for every family. In those states where COVID-19 has not been the overlying problem, the issue of quarantine and social distancing has complicated the opportunities to say goodbye.

Removals have taken on a whole new level of caution and care. Those of us who attended mortuary school were all trained to deal with infectious diseases, but did we every think that we would be facing this? How do we honor a sacred moment of taking a loved one into our care while being vigilant for the staff and the family? How do we help those families whose loved one had to die alone in quarantine? How do we offer comfort without a handshake or a hug?

Funeral professionals live their lives to say yes. To be accommodating. To move heaven and earth to meet the needs of every family. So, the difficulty of having to look at a family and tell them that they cannot have the service that they planned and want is devastating. To be the bearer of the bad news that a grieving family cannot invite friends and family to join together as we always have, to hug, to hold hands, to cry together, to remember as a collective and see their reactions. Broken hearts that are further crushed by the restrictions of our current realities. It’s hard.

Everyone has had to stretch, to learn new skills, to think creatively and fiercely as we try to provide a healing moment of gathering in a world that changes with each sunrise. Technology that had never been used. Exactly what is a Zoom? Arranging by phone, online or by Facetime, streaming services live, posting complete services on the website, gathering safely at graveside, resurrecting drive-in movie theaters for an entirely new audience. Funeral directors, Celebrants, clergy, chaplains, officiants are all searching for meaningful and healing ways to offer remembrances, benedictions and blessings. Our hearts ache for those families who say “we’ll just wait and have a service when things are back to normal” because we know grief does not wait for normal. And we understand that for many it will be too difficult to capture that moment again and gather months later.

So, this is my moment to say thank you. As the hospital and health workers are applauded each day for the difficult and dangerous work they are called upon to do trying to heal the sick, I applaud our funeral professionals who are the ones called upon to care for our dead and their survivors in difficult and dangerous situations. People may not stand on street corners and sing to you, but please know that your efforts and diligent work are noticed and celebrated.

I am in awe and appreciation for each one of you who are waking up each morning determined to do the job you were called to do. There will plenty of time for me to get back on my soap box about things we could do better or differently. But today, I offer my deep gratitude. You are heroes. And I’m proud to say that I’m a funeral director.

Sustained, stressful situations require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. He wrote a post for us about taking care of yourself in these ever-changing times. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.

For inspiration on how to make meaningful, remote services, read Glenda's recent post . Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times from Glenda filled with ideas on how to bring your families together.

Glenda Stansbury

Glenda Stansbury is the Marketing and Development Director, InSight Books, and Dean and Training Coordinator for In-Sight Institute. She holds a BS in Special Education from Central State University, as well as a BS in Funeral Service and a MA in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining In-Sight Books, Glenda worked for 12 years for the Oklahoma Education Association as a trainer/facilitator. She has worked as Marketing and Development Director for In-Sight Books for 24 years and has been Dean of the In-Sight Institute for 20 years, co-training over 4000 Funeral Celebrants across North America with Doug Manning. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant; Licensed Funeral Director/ Embalmer, Oklahoma; Certified Funeral Service Professional; Thanexus, New Jersey Board of Director; and Full Time Instructor- Department of Funeral Service, University of Central Oklahoma..

Tags:  covid19 

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