Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2018
“What do you know about Alkaline Hydrolysis?”
Recently, I’ve been getting this question everywhere. It doesn’t matter what my presentation is about, or if I’m presenting at all, someone asks me about Alkaline Hydrolysis.
What is Alkaline Hydrolysis?
Alkaline hydrolysis. Also known as AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, aquamation, biocremation™, or Resomation™, alkaline hydrolysis is, in short, cremation. CANA took this position in 2011 for the simple fact that cremation is the method of speeding up decomposition, traditionally done with fire, but also through other methods like alkaline hydrolysis. As states and provinces began to legalize the process, their laws expanded the existing regulations to define alkaline hydrolysis as a form of cremation. In 2013, CANA observed this trend and decided to broaden its official definition of cremation to recognize this new reality:
"The mechanical and/or thermal or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments."
CANA remains the only trade association to take this controversial position. And ever since we did, we’ve had the book thrown at us – specifically, the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines cremate (v): to reduce to ashes by burning. “There you have it,” people exclaim, “alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t burn and thus cannot cremate. Ergo, it isn’t cremation!” But cremation is not defined in dictionaries, it is defined in legislation. For many states and provinces, cremation is not just combustion but chemical, mechanical, or thermal dissolution of remains to bone fragments.
In essence, CANA is following the leadership of the state and provincial regulatory bodies and classifying alkaline hydrolysis as cremation. And since it’s cremation, it can be marketed as such. Hence, the many terms to describe the process.
What AH Is, and Isn’t
In practice, CANA prefers the term “alkaline hydrolysis” because it clearly describes what happens – an alkaline solution using water to break chemical bonds at the atomic level (aka hydrolysis). What it looks like, though, is a typical cremation: body goes in, bone fragments come out. The process of alkaline hydrolysis requires that the body be submerged in water with alkaline (base) chemicals and, through a combination of time, pressure, heat and possibly agitation, the body is reduced to bone fragments. The sterile waste water (or effluent) can flow into the water system with the remaining chemicals (salts, amino acids, peptides, etc.) which help break down waste at the water treatment plant or even fertilize crops.
But the public isn’t thinking about that. Current practitioners find that their families don’t ask much about these details. Instead, they see the same results as flame cremation (cremated remains) but, presented side by side, perceive “water cremation” as gentler and more environmentally friendly. The term evokes something like a bath – one person called it “the final spa treatment.”
Our profession, on the other hand, hasn’t seen it the same way. While AH practitioners find the public doesn’t ask about the process, it seems to be all the profession can think about. And many people say it’s gross to “dissolve bodies in acid” and disrespectful to “flush grandma down the drain” and celebrate legislation being quashed in their state or province. But these fears aren’t based in fact: AH doesn’t use acids and the waste water doesn’t contain identifiable bits of grandma (especially when compared to the wastes of embalming). This has not stopped the Catholic Church from taking an official position opposing AH, nor industry leaders from dismissing it out of hand and even attempting to make it illegal.
But the process has caught people’s imagination and emotional reactions have spread faster than good science and facts.
Emerging Technology That’s Here to Stay
Alkaline hydrolysis has been everywhere recently from letters to newspaper editors, national science magazines, and governors’ desks. When they call CANA, they are looking for answers and predictions. I explain that, while it’s gaining popularity as an alternate form of human disposition, it’s a proven technology that has been in use in universities and colleges since 1994, and was originally patented in 1888.
Recently, I had a reporter ask if alkaline hydrolysis is the reason that the US cremation rate is over 50%, if it had pushed the cremation rate passed this milestone. The question is logical given the coverage AH has received in the media and also the push to legalize the disposition, but the impact of AH on cremation rate growth is negligible. Because alkaline hydrolysis is considered a form of cremation, it is counted with cremation in disposition rates and there is no way to accurately report AH alone.
CANA estimates that less than one tenth of one percent of cremation uses the alkaline hydrolysis process nationally. This is roughly on par with home funerals and green burials, which have also captured the imagination of consumers and professionals alike, but is rarely practiced. This figure does not (nor should it) count the thousands of pets and animals (data not collected) or the hundreds of bodies donated to institutions like the Mayo Clinic or UCLA that have AH machines in their medical schools (reported in vital statistic data as body donation).
More and more states and provinces are legalizing AH, but few of them have actual practitioners. While it takes a united front of practitioners, manufacturers, consumers, and the media to change the law, it is a different mix to make a business successful. One of the primary obstacles to new AH businesses is the business model itself. There are regulatory and financial barriers to entry, as well as the need to educate and recruit the public. Then significant capital investments and uncertainty of what consumers choosing AH will ultimately pay for the option. It took 100 years for traditional cremation to reach 5% of dispositions in the United States, but AH businesses will need to see a return on their significant investments in a much shorter timeframe to be successful. Early adopters have navigated these obstacles and are enjoying success that may be a model for others to follow.
Outcomes of CANA’s Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit
The second Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit brought practitioners, regulators, and other curious people together to discuss the practicalities of running an AH crematory. But with such low adoption of AH to date, why talk about this now? CANA specializes in bringing experts together, pooling knowledge and problem-solving with peers facing similar challenges. Our attendees were people who have been operating an alkaline hydrolysis facility for years, people who are eager to launch their own, and so many others curious about the process and how it works. And this group doesn’t represent even half of the people operating alkaline hydrolysis units every day.
Together, we gained a greater understanding of the practical and technical matters of running an alkaline hydrolysis crematory. We learned that cotton is the enemy of the process, that a larger urn is actually not always necessary, a mixture of two hydroxide salts is more effective than either alone, and so much more. But, there’s a lot we still need to learn and to share with our colleagues and the public to combat the misinformation out there. Alkaline hydrolysis has been in use for over twenty years in body donation programs and pet crematories. The science of the process is well documented. It has a significantly different environmental impact. Current practitioners have much to share regarding best practices and successful business implementation. CANA is excited to be involved in curating all this information for use by future practitioners.
The outstanding questions can only be answered by time. For instance, cremation started in cemeteries who built crematories as a side project – who will be the early adopters and evangelists for AH? At the moment, practitioners are installing units in response to market interest, regulations prohibiting flame crematories, and curiosity. Which leads to another question – what kind of training will regulators require of AH owners and operators? States and provinces vary on crematory requirements, certification standards, and even funeral director licensing, so it stands to reason that variance will continue when AH is in the mix.
We’re excited to participate in this conversation, and proud to be a resource for practitioners and the curious alike. The content presented at the summit will be made available in the coming months through articles in The Cremationist, online learning modules, and presentations at various events. Stay tuned for more...
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2018
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) and the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) share similar values of dignity and respect in the care of the deceased and standards to maintain this level responsibility at all times. We’re pleased to present this post from our partner association about determining proper standards of care for our loved ones, no matter how many legs.
According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 84.6 million homes. In 2018, it is estimated that over $72 billion dollars will be spent in the U.S. on these pets for everything from food to vet care to grooming and boarding. Because most people see their pets as members of their family, they are often willing to pay more for their death care as well. Thus, it is reasonable to presume that they also expect their pets’ remains to be treated with the same dignity and respect we would use with their human family members. If that is what families expect and are willing to pay for, we must meet this expectation as pet death care providers or else face a growing potential liability.
While it isn’t imperative (or even practical) that pet death care be exactly the same as human death care, they should be treated similarly. This does not mean that pets should be embalmed, placed in $10,000 caskets and the costs should be in line with human services. But it does mean that, when handling the death care of pets, you need to establish policies, procedures and documentation that provides the same safeguards to ensure that the remains are cared for properly.
Pet Death Care: The Standard of Practice
So what standards of practice should providers follow? In order to determine this, we must first look at how standards of practice are determined. When we talk of standards of practice, there are two different standards that apply: 1) the Regulatory Standard and 2) the Civil Standard. The Regulatory standard is the standard that that is established through the applicable rules and regulations of the jurisdiction in which you practice. The Regulatory Standard establishes the bare minimums of practice, all of which must be met to be able to practice.
The Civil Standard is the standard that applies in a civil lawsuit. While the Regulatory Standard helps form the Civil Standard, there are other factors that can affect it. In short, the Civil Standard is: What the reasonably prudent operator would do under the same or similar circumstances. In certain situations, the Civil Standard could significantly exceed the Regulatory Standard. Ultimately, in a lawsuit, it is the jury that determines what the standard is and deciding whether or not the Defendant failed to meet that standard.
When it comes to damages in a civil lawsuit, the intent is to make the Plaintiff “whole” by requiring the Defendant who has been found to have been negligent to compensate the injured Plaintiff. The intent is to put the Plaintiff in the same position he or she was in prior to the injury.
Traditionally, only economic damages have been recoverable damages related to injuries to Plaintiffs for their pets. In other words, the amount recoverable for a wrongful cremation, for example, is the value of the pet (i.e., purchase price, etc.). This is because the pet is considered personal property the same as a car or smart phone.
However, the landscape is changing. Some jurisdictions are beginning to allow for other categories of damages other than economic damages, such as punitive damages and emotional distress damages. Many jurisdictions leave the door open for the possibility of accepting these damages in the future, should the facts of a case support them.
Therefore, when looking at which human care procedures and policies should be mirrored in caring for pet remains, we need to consider what the common pitfalls are, and essentially, it comes down to the big three: 1) Authorization, 2) Identification, and 3) Chain of Custody. In order to protect your business from the significant liability that can arise from these three elements, you need to focus on documentation including policies and procedures, authorizations, and chain of Custody. As a largely self-regulated industry, the pet aftercare profession has little oversight, other than environmental regulations and business licensing. Currently there are only two states, Illinois and New York, that have any legal standards for pet cremation.
Recognizing the importance of the big three, and of having a standard of practice for the pet industry, the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) began development of such a standard in 2009, and the project culminated in the release of the IAOPCC Accreditation Program in 2014. This is the first and only Accredited Program with published and recommended procedures for every step of the pet cremation process. With the introduction of this program, the IAOPCC has given the industry and the pet owner a measure of protection regarding the integrity of the pet aftercare processes from those pet crematories who seek out Accreditation and inspection.
From Standards to Accreditation
In 2009, a committed group of pet crematory professionals dedicated to identifying and promoting standards of quality care and procedures within the pet aftercare industry gathered to form the IAOPCC’s Standards Committee. These individuals, with a combined experience of more than 120 years, met monthly over a five-year period to develop the rigorous evaluations and standards. What resulted was a core set of Accreditation standards, processes, and a program of inspections that were copyrighted and rolled out across the United States, Canada, and worldwide to its Members. Since its inception, these worldwide standards have continued to raise the bar of excellence throughout the pet aftercare industry.
Under the IAOPCC Accreditation program, members are subject to a rigorous examination and evaluation of their services and operations. Through the program, pet crematories are evaluated against a pool of nearly 300 standards that represent the best practices in pet cremation care and pet crematory management. The IAOPCC Standards Committee continually updates the Accreditation standards to reflect the latest developments and improvements in pet aftercare, pet cremation techniques, records, cleanliness, staff and client safety, and a host of other areas essential to excellent pet and client care. Those Members who choose to achieve Accreditation through the IAOPCC have set their practices and standards at the highest level in the pet aftercare industry.
To become accredited, a business much meet certain standards of practice and pass inspection by their peers. Depending on the profession, the process can take time and commitment to changing policies and procedures – the IAOPCC requires almost 300 standards be met and documented. So why pursue Accreditation? Members of the IAOPCC began asking that question of themselves early on. Our family has been in the pet aftercare business for more than 46 years. Since 1972, we have taken care of pets and the people that love them. My father, Doyle L. Shugart, spent his life as a human funeral director in Atlanta, during which time he started Deceased Pet Care Funeral Homes. As a second-generation family business, we understood cremation and we felt sure we already had the very best procedures and processes in place, so what could Accreditation do for us? Turns out, it taught us more than we realized!
Once we began the process of reviewing all of our systems, processes and procedures, we quickly realized we actually had many of these in place – we just needed to document them! It gave our family and staff a tremendous sense of pride in evaluating ourselves at the highest level. Some other benefits we found during the experience:
It provided us with challenging benchmarks in which to strive and achieve;
We improved and refined many of our procedures, and this in turn resulted in our overall operations becoming more efficient;
We saw immediate enhanced credibility with our clients, our community, and peers;
It inspired pride among our Staff Members – There were “high 5s” all around;
Our Staff members were encouraged in their leadership abilities and development and it was wonderful to have the teams’ achievements recognized once we received our Accreditation.
As Members of the IAOPCC for over 40 years, we’ve spoken to many members who have experienced the same results in seeking and achieving Accreditation with many questioning, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” I recently read an article that appeared in Slo Horse News regarding one of our long-time IAOPCC Members, Christine Johnson of Eden Memorial Pet Care. “There needs to be a standard Code of Ethics in our industry,” explains Christine. “It just makes us all better and that is good for the Pet Cemeteries and Crematories industry.” Now that Eden Memorial Pet Care has set the bar for other California Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, their peers are coming to them for advice on how to get accredited too. This keeps Eden at the top of the pack when it comes to proper care and processes. “Now we have an association which says we are the best,” Christine states. “This means our customers, and the Veterinarians we work with, know we are doing what is best for the pets we provide end-of-life care for.”
Putting Standards into Practice
Accreditation can seem like a daunting task, and it certainly takes a lot of work, but the end result is worth the effort. The best way to begin is one standard at a time. Not sure where to begin? We suggest the standard that states that crematory operators should be certified. In 2016, CANA and the IAOPCC collaborated to create an all new Certified Pet Crematory Operator Program (CPCO), which has been offered annually at the IAOPCC Conference. Two years later, both groups are excited to announce the availability of this program online, making it even easier to meet the standard. And whether or not you go for the full accreditation, it’s best practice to train your operators. So take advantage of this new pet specific cremation program today, learn more at www.cremationassociation.org/PetCremation.
Being IAOPCC-Accredited demonstrates to your community and to your clients your ongoing commitment to excellence in every aspect of pet cremation care and management. So, why wouldn’t you do it?
For more information regarding the IAOPCC Accreditation Program, contact the IAOPCC Home Office at 800-952-5541, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpts taken from The Cremationist, Vol 50, Issue 1: “Pet Death Care: The Standard of Practice” by Chris Farmer. Special thanks to the IAOPCC Accreditation Committee for lending their experience and expertise to develop these standards, an important facet of our profession.
Announcing the Online Certified Pet Crematory Operator Program developed in partnership with IAOPCC and CANA. Pet crematory operators can now get certified online, on their schedule, at their pace and at home! This course coming soon – learn more at www.cremationassociation.org/PetCremation.
Donna Shugart-Bethune is part of the Shugart Family business of Deceased Pet Care Funeral Homes and Crematories located in Atlanta, Georgia. As one of the largest pet funeral homes in the nation, Deceased Pet Care has served pet parents for more than 46 years. Donna, who grew up in the family business, pursued her BBA from Georgia State University. Over the past few years, she has concentrated her efforts as the company’s Public Relations & Marketing Director.
In addition to the family business, Donna has served as the Executive Director for the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) for more than 8 years. Donna is a member of the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA) as well as the GVMA Industry Council. Donna is certified as a Pet Bereavement Specialist, a Registered Pet Funeral Director, Pet Celebrant, and Pet Crematory Operator. Deceased Pet Care was voted Best Pet Cemetery in Atlanta Magazine, Nominated for Georgia Business of the Year, and is the recipient of the Chamblee Business of the Year Award.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
One of the best parts of an industry event is the opportunity to hear from your peers. We are a network of industry leaders who have seen it all, tried it, and know what works best. Fortunately, we’re almost as verbose in print as we are in person with hundreds of blogs from funeral director fashion to meticulous legal interpretation. So we decided to collect some of our favorite blog posts – the ones we recommend to others – into one list. No two voices are the same, and all offer a valuable perspective on our industry and some food for thought long after you’re done reading.
This post is tagged "business" and "cremation" and that's an apt description. Tom Anderson admits that updated pricing is not a cure-all for falling revenue, but he explains how a deliberate and thoughtful evaluation of your policies can lead to careful reasoning that will support your cremation families and encourage memorialization. There are ways to add value to even direct cremation packages without significant cost, which in the end often pays off as additional revenue.
The Bottom Line: Do you make it easy for families to plan with you? Do you educate while you assist in the arrangement room?
Short answer: sort of. Nathan Nardi post's stuck out to us because his look at social trends in US CDC data aligns with some of CANA's own research into the demographics of cremation families. Cremation families are typically highly educated and higher income while casketed burial families are typically homeowners who have lived in their communities for multiple generations.
The Bottom Line: What community are you serving and how does understanding them help you meet their needs?
Larry Stuart, Jr. knows exactly what the details of his service will be and, no surprise, he’s not shopping for the low-cost cremation provider. Like one of CANA’s most popular posts, Just Cremate Me, Larry reminds us that we can’t lessen the pain of those we leave behind, especially not through cremation-and-landfill method.
The Bottom Line: How can you show your cremation families that they are valuable and worth remembering?
You've heard it a million times, you have to educate cremation families. Whether it's because death is too sanitized, we're not trusted, general fear of mortality, or something else, as a society, we don't like to think about death. To many, cremation seems like the simplest way to avoid it but it can't be avoided. So Mark Allen of the Order of the Golden Rule provides a script to help.
The imagined conversation with John Q. Public (fully-bearded and chest out, no less) is as informative as it is funny.
The Bottom Line: What has worked best for you to tell cremation families why they matter?
Family protectiveness meets "professional empathy" in this post where Matthew Morian of the Millennial Directors, reminds us that it's the little things that make a difference to our families – even the direct cremation ones. The little details surrounding the arrangements become second nature to funeral directors and we often forget to discuss them with the family. But it's all those little details that the family craves, and often misunderstand or misconstrue when we gloss over them. Taking time to explain them is one way to set yourself apart from the competition when it comes to exceptional service.
The Bottom Line: You know that a typical work day for you is far from the typical day for the families you serve. How can you keep the boring part of your work fresh for the experience of your families?
Many people have theorized that our society experiences many "little deaths": moving away, our own or a loved one's divorce, changing jobs, and, in this case, the donation of a favorite stuffed animal. The CANA Historian, Jason Engler, is particularly suited to reflecting on how quickly things can change and encourages us to make each goodbye count for the families we serve.
The Bottom Line: No one wants to say goodbye, so what can we do to make that goodbye just a tiny bit easier?
Like most funeral directors, Glenda Standsbury hadn't preplanned. And that's surprising -- funeral directors advocate for preplanning, see too often the questions that pile up without a plan, and are reminded of mortality daily. After walking away from a major accident, Glenda felt that she'd escaped death once and reminds us all that "none of us should assume that we'll be here tomorrow to take care of the details."
The Bottom Line: It's not just your funeral to pre-plan, but your business and estate. Do you have a succession plan?
One of biggest values of choosing cremation is the time it gives the grieving to make decisions. ASD's Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Farren, shares her deeply personal story of grief and remembering her father for who he was. Her honest reflection and her descriptive style makes this story vivid and relatable.
The Bottom Line: Cremation is not just a cost consideration -- it's an immediate answer to a question of "what now?" that allows for services months, years, or a decade, after a death. How can you support cremation families throughout their grief journey?
This blog post from the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ) addresses a problem we’re all too aware of: cremated remains going home. The post highlights a creative ad campaign run by Athos asking “Is this your last wish?” and encouraging people to contact a cemetery (in this case an Athos one, of course) to find a “placement of dignity and respect.”
The Bottom Line: We know from several recent headlines that risks of keeping the urn at home can lead to dramatic and depressing indignities — and that too many consumers don’t know their options for placement. How can you help your cremation families connect with the urn and educate about memorialization?
This new podcast from Wake Forest Law Professor Tanya Marsh is a new favorite among CANA staff. We couldn’t single out just one — simply take a look at the guests and you’ll see why. Tanya does a great job of surveying the wide range of death care movements and activities and providing balanced attention. Best of all, she doesn’t accept the press release story – she pushes for more, for statistics, and asks questions we all have. There have been just 13 episodes when we wrote this so choose whichever sounds most interesting or listen to them all – you can’t go wrong! (PS – Stay tuned and you may get to hear CANA’s Executive Director Barbara Kemmis soon! 😉 )
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2018
The triumphant opening of The History of Cremation exhibit culminates more than three years of work under the guidance of several dedicated people, including CANA Historian Jason Engler, Genevieve Keeney, President and COO of the National Museum of Funeral History, and CANA’s own Executive Director, Barbara Kemmis. On September 17, 2018, the National Museum of Funeral History recognized their achievement with an opening celebration and ribbon-cutting. For many, the cremation exhibit represents the newest addition to the funeral story. For others, it is an event more than 100 years in the making.
Much of the collection on display embodies the lifelong passion of Jason Engler. A cremation enthusiast since he purchased his first urn at the age of 14, Jason has assembled an array of books, photos, urns, and pamphlets—and even the cremated remains of Baron DePalm—to tell the complete story of cremation in the United States. From DePalm’s cremation in 1876—the nation’s first—to a look at present day products, services, and statistics, the items comprising the exhibit span nearly 150 years.
As he developed the exhibit, Jason discovered that much of cremation’s history is intertwined with CANA’s history. The leaders of the national cremation movement also came together to share knowledge about best practices as this new technique grew. These men and women laid the sturdy foundation of the cremation profession, rooting it firmly beside the idea of memorialization.
The exhibition presents the work of our industry as a whole, from the care of the funeral director to the artistry of the suppliers. By showcasing the work of these dedicated cremationists throughout history, it tells the story of the past and provides a guide for the future. The visiting public will walk away knowing more about cremation, understanding that it isn’t a mere means of disposition, but the beginning of memorialization.
How to Donate to the History of Cremation Exhibit
Financial or artifact contributions are what make the History of Cremation Exhibit possible. Please consider donating to the History of Cremation Exhibit today.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2018
The Cremation Logs presents the first in an occasional series featuring guest posts from industry experts. Cody Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and Distance Education Coordinator at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook. He is also a licensed funeral director/embalmer and a certified crematory operator.
We may see a time when burial becomes the new cremation – something chosen by only a handful of families. This was the norm for cremation only a few short years ago, and the same could be coming for burial. The trend toward cremation is nothing new, but what are cremation families doing? And what are we offering cremation families to achieve their goals?
Cremation families who keep their loved one’s cremated remains on display at home are willing participants in selecting merchandise, but scattering families (or the undecided) present a situation that can be vexing for both you and the family. Without a firm plan in place, how can you effectively guide them to a decision that makes sense? Should they even buy an urn, and if so, what type and when?
Plastic is a Choice, Not a Default
When an urn is not purchased at time of arrangements, most families receive their loved one’s cremated remains in the plastic “temporary container.” This gray or black plastic box can be presented to a family in a velvet bag, but it is still nothing more than a plastic box. Many cremation families are offered a package that includes a “temporary urn.” They may not be shown an example of a temporary urn and may not realize it is a plastic box, but they know they don’t want an urn from the selection room. Offering a temporary urn in a package is a business decision made by the crematory or funeral home; normally due to cost or necessity. On the other hand, some forward-thinking businesses have chosen to provide a spun bronze or cultured marble base option that can be upgraded or personalized. However, the decision to stick with the bare bones (pun semi-intended) should not be made in haste.
Of course, the funeral home wants the scattering family to get an urn because it can help pay the bills for the month and it’s also a more dignified choice, but choosing an urn is often the best choice for the family, too.
Before scattering, many families have a service of some kind to memorialize the deceased. If the cremated remains will be present for the service (e.g. a ceremonial scattering or memorial service), then a dull plastic box may not be the best option.
A family can report that their loved one preferred scattering, but we all know that services and merchandise are for the living. The deceased is no longer here to care. So, when you hear the word “scattering,” do not automatically assume that the family understands what that entails or is choosing a plastic box over an urn. The voice of practicality will say that a simple and disposable plastic box is all that is needed without the knowledge that these can be difficult to open and are not always resealable.
Remember that there should be some thought that goes into choosing the container that will hold what is left of a family’s loved one. This is especially true for scattering since the exact date and time of that event is normally set much later. In fact, internal industry research has shown that roughly 80% of families that say they will scatter have not done so by 5 years after the death occurred. This means that if the plastic box was chosen, then it will be sitting on a shelf for some time.
Urn Options as Solutions
If we assume that a family has not scattered before (yet is planning to scatter their loved one), then they may not fully grasp what is entailed. So you, the funeral director, are just the expert they need. For the scattering families that desire something a little more, there are actually quite a few options that can be presented, for example:
Asking a family where the scattering will take place is a great question with which to start. If they plan to do it on the water, then many suppliers and vendors now offer biodegradable urns that will actually float, sink, and/or disintegrate. Using one of these will keep the shore winds from blowing grandpa back onto the deck or into the crowd of family members.
If the urn is to be opened for scattering, then ease of entry will be of great importance to the family. That $1,200 piano wood urn may look pretty, but the family may not want to remove 6 screws and scratch up the bottom before they are able to scatter. A good rule of thumb is to show scattering families urns that can be opened easily. Screw-top and chest urns are great examples.
Most funeral homes do offer scattering urns, but they can have an inherent flaw that is unnoticed until the scattering occurs: What does the family do with it after they have scattered the cremated remains? This is an opportunity to present the features and benefits of different styles of urns for scattering.
A family may not realize it at the time, but the oblong, sliding-top box that they purchased has no purpose to serve after scattering.
The benefits of chest urns include attractiveness, utility, and (often) reasonable prices. Many chest urns either come with a plastic container already inside or they will fit the one from your crematory. Using these urns will allow the family to have a presentable container until scattering can take place, and then once it is empty, the chest can be used for a variety of other things, such as mementos of the deceased – old childhood photos, mom’s seashells, vacation matchbooks, dad’s army medals, etc.
Psychologically, the empty container can serve as a quasi-replacement for a grave or niche.
Obviously the two are quite different, but the positive benefits can be generalized to both. An urn (although empty) that held cremated remains is a tangible and physical reminder of a loved one. It’s an object around which survivors can reminisce and provides that missing link to the cremated remains which are now irretrievable.
An Opportunity for Education
In a world where cremation is taking over, we funeral directors need to change our thought process. The revered casket is now being replaced by the once-inglorious urn. Traditionally, picking out a casket was an integral and prominent part of the arrangement conference. This is now transitioning into the selection of an urn, temporary or permanent, for cremated remains. It is essentially the same concept (a vessel that will hold earthly remains) but on a much smaller scale and with nearly endless options. This is where a funeral director’s experienced advice can really be helpful. Scattering families (and those that are undecided but may scatter) often think that they do not need an urn. The passive funeral director will take this as a cue and move on without any more conversation on the topic. The active funeral director will discuss the options available to a scattering family and educate them so that they can make an informed decision.
Some client families may choose cremation because of the price, but that does not mean they want or need a plastic box – even scattering families. A funeral home’s operational success and sustainability will become reliant on the ability to properly offer and promote cremation merchandise and services. One area within the broad umbrella of cremation in which many funeral homes may fall short is with families who intend to scatter. It is easy to dismiss them as simply another family not getting an urn, and then, they in turn are led to that conclusion by the funeral director’s subtle cues and passive approach, but that is a missed opportunity. This is not simply about the bottom line but rather an opportunity to do what you do best – educate your client families and present appropriate options that meet their needs. If done correctly, this can make both sides of the arrangement conference happy.
Yes, some families will still go with the temporary container, but with proper guidance, the curse of the plastic box can be broken.
Cody Lopasky has an M.A. in Psychology and History from the University of Houston-Victoria, a B.A. in Psychology from Texas State University-San Marcos, and he is an A.A.S. graduate with honors and distinction from Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. As a student at Commonwealth, Lopasky was a member of the National Funeral Service Honor Society. He is a Texas-licensed funeral director and embalmer as well as a certified crematory operator. Starting in high school, and continuing after licensure, Lopasky worked at Schmidt Funeral Home in Katy, TX. He was employed there as a funeral director and embalmer for several years before joining the education side of funeral service in 2016 when he accepted a full-time faculty position at Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service. Currently, Lopasky is the Associate Dean of Academics and teaches both face-to-face and online courses. Lopasky enjoys writing and academic research; especially in regard to funeral service. He has published numerous articles, written a continuing education course for funeral service practitioners, and was a contributor for a funeral service education textbook.
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