Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Updated: Monday, July 13, 2020
“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.
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
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?”).
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 goCANA.org/CANA20
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.
processes and procedures
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020
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 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.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2020
More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."
A version of that is still true in today's digital marketing world. It can take many online mentions and a buildup of goodwill to develop a strong reputation. And while a single slip — or even a single negative review — won't bring the metaphorical walls of your deathcare firm down around you, online reputations can be fragile things.
One way cremation providers and other deathcare businesses can safeguard their online reputations is via proactive review management. That means actively encouraging clientele to leave reviews online while also interacting with those reviews in positive ways.
Why Are Online Reviews So Important?
It's no longer an option for any business to ignore the presence of online reviews. Local service providers in any industry are especially beholden to reviews. That's because almost all people (97 percent) read reviews as part of their research when choosing a local company.
Here are some other stats that drive home the message that reviews are must-haves for successful online marketing:
- According to BrightLocal, consumers consider review ratings when choosing a link from local search results.
- Review signals help you rank in Google local pack results, increasing your exposure in search results (aka SERPs).
- More than 90 percent of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions.
The Role of Online Reviews in Reputation Management
Simply getting seen online isn't always enough. Plenty of celebrities have had their careers derailed by scandals that pushed them into the limelight more than any of their positive achievements did.
You obviously don't want to be the deathcare firm that goes viral because your online reviews are terrible to the point of hilarity. But you also don't want to get fewer calls because a few online reviews make you appear less caring than your competitors.
The first scenario is unlikely; the second is very likely if you're not proactively managing online reviews. Here's why:
- More than 85 percent of consumers say negative reviews impact their buying decisions.
- Reviews are critically important as your target audience moves from Boomer and Gen X to younger generations; people age 18 to 34 trust online reviews as if they were personal recommendations from friends.
- Close to 90 percent of consumers look for and read a business's responses to reviews.
- Consumers want to engage with firms that have a 3.3-star rating or higher.
Improving the Quality and Quantity of Your Online Reviews
The takeaway here is that the overall quality of your reviews matters. And because it's unethical (and also banned by Google) to put measures in place to stop people from leaving negative reviews, cremation service providers and other deathcare firms must take additional actions to protect their online reputations.
The first step is to provide stellar service to all families. I'm sure you're already doing that, so I'll cover the other two steps for proactively managing your online reputation via reviews:
1. Try to get more reviews.
It's a numbers game based on the law of averages. If you need a 3.3-star rating or higher to help ensure people feel comfortable contacting your crematory, a handful of reviews can be dangerous. But if you have a large number of 3-star to 5-star reviews, you can weather several 1-star reviews without your average rating suffering.
A regular stream of reviews also demonstrates that your firm is active and serving plenty of clientele. Around 40 percent of consumers only pay attention to reviews from the last few weeks for exactly this reason.
Other reasons to chase more reviews include:
Most consumers want to read at least 10 reviews before making a final decision about a business
- Having more reviews will help your SEO
- Someone is almost 300 percent more likely to purchase services from you if you have just five reviews, as opposed to no reviews
How do you get these reviews? Simple: You ask for them. BrightLocal notes that close to 70 percent of people will leave reviews if they are asked nicely to do so. And you don't have to ask everyone; hedge your bets by requesting reviews from families that seem satisfied with your services.
2. Interact with your reviews
Leaving the review machine to its own devices isn't an option even after you've achieved a significant number of reviews. People expect to see businesses responding to reviews. Engaging with negative reviews in an effort to correct an issue actually helps increase your brand reputation in many eyes.
Plus, not all reviews are fair or true, and you can take action to report fake reviews or address untrue statements so other consumers are aware of your side of the story.
The conclusion is this: Crematories and other deathcare firms can't be passive about online reviews. They've become a critical part of online reputation, and how consumers view you through the lens of their internet search often determines whether or not they reach out to you for preplanning or at times of need.
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.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Updated: Monday, December 16, 2019
While we rarely know them personally, we often feel profound sadness when a celebrity dies. Grief experts say this sorrow is often tied to the influence these famous people can have on us, a connection to our memories of the past, or pervasive media coverage. These are people whose activities, opinions, and actions often spilled into our own lives, and we feel the loss when they are gone.
Celebrities also exert an influence through death. Many in the industry believe that David Bowie changed the course of U.K. funeral tradition by choosing direct cremation, demonstrating that it can be a challenge for death care professionals to encourage families to memorialize when their favorite stars don’t. And yet, people seem to know instinctively that memorials are important. Although many celebrities insist they want “no fuss” when they die, post-cremation memorial services in their honor are common. The fans themselves refuse to let the famous person’s death pass unmarked, often sharing meaningful tributes online or spontaneously leaving a mass of flowers in a location that has a particular connection to the person who died.
For this end-of-year post, we decided to look at a few notable celebrities who died this year and chose cremation for their disposition.
January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019
As a performer, Carol Channing is difficult to classify. She experienced 70-plus years of celebrity, and the description “entertainer” comes the closest to encompassing her decades of work as an actress on stage and screen, a singer, a book subject, a comedienne, and more. Carol had many ideas for her final resting place and envisioned a service as large as the life she lived. She wanted to be buried between the Curran and Geary theaters in San Francisco, with a “full-scale parade down Geary Street.” She was cremated and returned to her loved ones, perhaps to be scattered from the Golden Gate Bridge (another idea of hers).
photo source HuffPost: "Carol Channing's Colorful Life"
September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019
Mary Oliver was named “this country's best-selling poet” by The New York Times. Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, many people marked her death earlier this year by sharing Mary’s poetry on life, love, grief, and nature. While we are unable to provide details on her exact form of disposition, in 2005 Mary herself scattered the cremated remains of her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, mixed with leaves and petals. Her poem “Prayer” suggests she would prefer a similar experience for herself:
May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.
May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.
Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver
photo source TIME: "The Captivating World of Mary Oliver"
September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019
Karl Lagerfeld held the creative reins of the French luxury fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own clothing label. Revered for his style and vision, one might assume that the pomp of the fashion world would permeate his funeral service. On the contrary, he told an interviewer that he’d “rather die than be buried,” and asked for no public funeral. However, his stores were given instructions on how he wanted to be remembered: white roses with 120 cm stems in a transparent or white vase.
His cremation took place as a private ceremony among his nearest loved ones, and his cremated remains are believed to have been combined and scattered with those of his mother, Elisabeth, his cat, Choupette, and his longtime partner, Jacques de Bascher. The fashion world honored his life and career with a memorial event titled "Karl For Ever” as part of Paris Men’s Fashion Week in summer 2019 with an invite-only guest list of 2,500.
photo source People Magazine: "Karl Lagerfeld Cremation Ceremony"
April 3, 1922 – May 13, 2019
Doris Day was a beloved popular singer and the star of many films in the 1950s and 60s. She had her own television variety show and spent her decades-long retirement active in the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She performed with the likes of Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, and David Niven, which might lead one to think that she would choose a place of rest among the stars in some of the most famous California cemeteries. Instead, when she died this year at the age of 97, she left instructions to be buried with no funeral, no memorial, and no grave marker. To honor her wishes, her cremated remains were scattered in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, her home for many years. Her estate was announced to be auctioned off in support of her foundation in April 2020.
photo source: The Doris Day Animal Foundation
(aka Grumpy Cat)
April 4, 2012 – May 14, 2019
Tardar Sauce was a cat who took the world by storm under the name “Grumpy Cat.” A sweet family cat, it was her trademark frown that made her famous. May 14 was a day considered “grumpier than others” when she died at the age of seven. In August, the Cat Video Festival hosted her family for a “special tribute to Grumpy Cat, who meant SO much to cat video fans."
photo source @RealGrumpyCat
October 29, 1967 - June 26, 2019
Beth Chapman co-starred alongside her husband in the popular "Dog The Bounty Hunter" reality television series. After a long battle with cancer, Beth died with her family at her bedside. She was cremated and her remains divided to facilitate two separate memorials, both of which were open to the public per her wishes.
During the Hawaiian paddle out in June, some of her remains were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. The Aurora, Colorado service was packed with family and fans alike, but Beth’s husband wasn’t able bring himself to scatter the rest: "I looked at it and I thought, 'I'm not gonna throw you, like, away... and start over... I can't do that."
Her daughter has addressed fans: “Please don't ask me for my mother's ashes. Ashes are for family, no one else. No exceptions.”
photo source Taste of Country: "'Dog the Bounty Hunter' Star Beth Chapman Laid to Rest in Colorado Funeral"
May 28, 1999 - July 6, 2019
Cameron Boyce was already an established Disney star before his death at the young age of twenty from complications from epilepsy. He was cremated and his remains returned to his family. No funeral or memorial information was made public, his parents calling the process agonizing. Instead, his father entreated: “Let’s not talk about it, let’s BE about it! Let’s do good as Cameron would. Let’s keep his legacy alive!” They formed a charity in Cameron’s honor and celebrated the public service he performed during his life. When his final film, Disney's Descendants 3, was released, it included a special tribute in his memory.
photo source @theVictorBoyce
February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019
Working on Broadway by the age of 21, Peter Fonda continued his acting career until his death this year. Perhaps best known as the producer, co-writer, and star of Easy Rider, Fonda was a member of Hollywood royalty. He followed his family’s tradition “to be cremated without fuss or funeral.” His father, Henry Fonda, died in 1982 and also acted until his death (his final film earned him his first Academy Award, but he was too ill to attend the ceremony). Henry Fonda was cremated “within hours of his death” and had specified that he wanted his “ashes thrown out with the trash.” Fortunately, his family hated that idea and scattered his cremated remains in a meaningful place. Presumably, they will do the same with Peter Fonda.
photo source People Magazine "Peter Fonda on the Pain of Losing His Mom to Suicide — and How He Reconciled with His Dad Henry"
December 27, 1943 – September 17, 2019
A trailblazer for women in broadcast journalism, Cokie Roberts was considered a “Founding Mother” of National Public Radio. During her forty years in the profession, she anchored television programs, wrote news articles and bestselling books, and earned countless awards. Her cremation was followed by a series of memorials held for her colleagues, family, and the public. Her funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. and live-streamed on several networks. Her cremated remains are interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
photo source C-SPAN: "Funeral Mass for Cokie Roberts"
January 13, 1935 - October 6, 2019
Rip Taylor was famous for his larger-than-life personality as a comedian, actor, and television host. His memorial service in November was not short of confetti as he himself, dubbed the King of Confetti, would have wanted it. His longtime partner, Robert Fortney, and other loved ones plan to scatter his remains off the coast of Hawaii in January 2020.
photo source @greginhollywood
Celebrity funerals in 2019 reflect the personalization trends we see across society. The funerals of Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and U.S. Senator John McCain followed a more traditional model – and certainly a funeral director played a more obvious role – but the celebrities in this blog reflect an important finding in CANA's recent research regarding memorialization: People are interested in focusing on the person and the life they lived versus the body.
This post only captures a few of the many people we've loved and lost this year. For a list of celebrities and notable peoples' deaths and dispositions, we suggest FindAGrave.com.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
When I started in this profession, in 1991—remember there was less use of the internet then—funeral homes and cemeteries relied on loyalty and location to promote their businesses. Funeral directors and cemeterians were all involved in the local rotary clubs and chambers of commerce to connect with their communities. I’ve known a few funeral directors who even attended services at more than one church each week. That’s my memory of community outreach programs of that era.
In 1996 or 1997, I was working for Wilbert Corporate. One of our licensees in Minneapolis called me and said, “Julie, come with me tomorrow night because one of my clients is having their first-ever cremation seminar for consumers.” He and a Batesville representative were planning to talk about burial for cremation. I was so impressed with what I saw. That night, from 6-8pm, McReavy Funeral Home in Minneapolis had about 50 consumers come in, mainly couples, and the Batesville representative talked about cremation in general and the different things that you could do, and the Wilbert representative talked about burial as one of the final placements for cremation. Then, in one of their visitation rooms, they had products set up with coffee and soft drinks, and consumers could roam and talk. I was so impressed, I still talk about it to this day because I’m passionate about education, and to see that back then was wonderful. And that is just one example of effective community outreach.
Now, you all know that we live in a transient society and there are a lot of people who do not currently live in their hometown, so getting your company out there is more important than ever. When CANA asked me to facilitate this presentation, I started doing a little investigating. I was very surprised and happy to see some of the unique, creative community outreach programs that our profession is putting out there. You should all be really proud of yourselves. These events help to educate consumers that never would have known the different things that you do, so they can go, have some fun, learn something, and visit your business in happier times.
I have gathered some examples from CANA members on their successful community outreach activities. We’ll focus on events hosted by companies ranging from smaller firms to larger cemeteries. Our hope is that you don’t sit there and say that you can’t do that because you don’t have the time or the staff, but get sparked by interest and inspiration to do something—even something smaller in scale.
Why is community outreach important for funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories?
1. Educate the Public
There are so many people who want to be cremated, but they’ve never done it in their family before and they don’t understand. Being able to educate your community—it’s going to help—because when they come in they’re going to be better informed about their options.
A lot of the things we do, because we have so many active senior centers in our neighborhood, is to either visit them or have events at our locations. We have found that, when we get them out of their element, you can have a lot of fun and you can educate them. Afternoon Movies is exactly that. We partner with a senior center, they promote it by email, newsletter and bulletin to their members, and we meet up at the movies about a half hour before the show time. Then, we introduce Mountain View and educate the seniors on the value of preplanning. We keep it fun and they love the chance to see the movie for free, so they’re happy to listen. A lot of the local movie theaters are happy to let groups in on an otherwise slow Tuesday afternoon. We buy the tickets, popcorn, and soda, and they get the movie and information.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
2. Promote Volunteer Participation
How many of you in your firms have volunteer participation? I would think there would be a lot of you. Individuals all have their own different causes that they want to be involved in, and encouraging volunteerism means giving back to the community that you live in. I’ve read articles which state that many large corporations now are promoting that their staff do volunteer work and even paying for them to do so because they realize the importance of it. It’s also a stress reliever to have staff do something that they’re passionate about, and you know in our profession there is a lot of stress.
Cremation Society of Illinois has 10 different locations in and around the Chicagoland area. We attend health fairs, street festivals, and other expos near each location. We’ve opened it up to all staff so that, if they see something in their town, they are encouraged to sign up for it and attend. We provide information on pre-arranging and show different items for memorialization, and we really have great conversations with people who are looking to do something. It’s great to get staff out in the community and spend a couple hours outside talking to people.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
3. Boost Brand Awareness
This is no surprise.
We’ve been doing Wreaths Across America for several years and it’s a really great opportunity to reach out to the community and get them involved sponsoring wreaths that can be placed in our cemetery. The community member can place the wreaths or a volunteer will do it for them. We have a small service in our chapel where the wreaths for each branch of the military are placed in front of the chapel. It’s very touching service. Everyone processes out as a bagpiper plays and we have someone speak and place the first wreath. Each year it continues to grow.
– Megan Field, Evergreen Memorial Gardens: Vancouver, Washington
Our staff works very closely with many hospices in our area, so every month we choose both a hospice worker and volunteer of the month, which includes presentation of a cash award and a plaque. At the end of the year, we have an annual banquet for the hospice network we work with and we honor a caregiver of the year. This connects our business and staff with hospice and attracts press.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
People see funeral home at an expo and think “ew, I’m not ready for you” or “I’m not going to die, I don’t want to talk about that.” So we needed to figure out how to attract people to our booths at community expos. We hired a massage therapist who gives a 10 minute massage, and while people are waiting in line, we get to talk to them about what we do.
Similarly, parades are a big deal for us. We never pass an opportunity to get in front of everybody. So we pass out candy and our information as well. At the end of the parade is usually a luncheon that we help sponsor so that we get 5-10 minutes to talk about our business. Our staff sits in the luncheon and answers questions from the community who attends.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
4. Provide a Non-Death Experience
A lot of people haven’t been to a funeral home or cemetery in a long time, and they don’t want to go. You’ve experienced this: they consider it to be gloomy and depressing. By providing community outreach events in our profession, what we’re doing is bringing the community in in happier times. That way, when they see you, they’re not only going to think that this is where you go only when there’s been a death. You keep a connection with them throughout the whole year besides just when there’s a death of a loved one.
Some of the establishments are embracing celebration events that are not death related such as weddings or other family gatherings hosted in their venues. These are bringing people in for a non-death situation — it says you can have fun here too.
When we opened our pet crematory, we wanted to do something that would get the word out besides advertising and social media. So we decided to do this Doggie Wash at our facility in front of the funeral home and pet crematory. With my staff’s help, we had over 200 people attend and we washed over 75 dogs. I personally got to wash a 180-pound mastiff and learned quickly that there are places you don’t want to touch him. We invited some vets, we had a groomer there, someone micro-chipped the dogs, and it was a really fun event and a way to know more about our business. We served hot dogs (we thought that was appropriate) and ice cream and it was a great time.
– Rick Snider, Baker Hazel & Snider Funeral Home & Crematory (Snider Pet Crematory)
Of our locations, we have one in an artistic and trendy area, so we choose an artist and let them bring in their works and display them throughout the funeral home. We put the art in our event rooms, the lobby, and throughout the building and then host an evening event, typically a Friday from 6-10pm, with live music, in-house catering and beverages, and the artist present to discuss the art. The art hangs for a month and we will sell the art for the artist. We have new artists several times a year and attract 400 people to these events.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
Spring Grove Cemetery hosts Chocolate in the Chapel, an event that continues to grow year after year. We open the property and provide chocolate and coffee on a Sunday. Staff go out into the community and ask the local bake shops and confectioners to come and set up their tables with samples. People can taste and buy sweets. The vendors are assigned a famous individual buried at Spring Grove, called a Sweet Connection. It’s primarily women who attend the event, and they receive a handout about the famous person and the location of their grave, all branded with Spring Grove information. We attract about 350 people to a historic chapel which they can also rent for private events like weddings.
Moonlight Tours came about because there were quite a few incidents where security guards had a hard time getting people out of the cemetery at sunset. So we said, “Why not make an event out of this?” Tours are held between 9-11pm on full moon nights in July and we use a lot of volunteers because we organize twelve different tour groups, each with flashlights on different paths.
– Julie Burn on behalf of Gary Freytag, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum: Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Enhance the Well-Being of the Community
Almost every facility has some type of remembrance program: Valentine’s Day, Winter Holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.
All of Roberts Funeral Homes locations are small combos, and for Memorial Day we partner with the boy scouts every year. About 15-20 kids come out on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and place flags in the cemetery. We teach them to properly fold and raise the United States flag to provide a lesson on respect and the standards for the flag. They earn a badge and a good experience. Where staff would take days to place the flags, the kids accomplish in a few hours, running through the cemetery and getting hugs from the old ladies laying flowers. Their parents come out and we feed everyone pizza and pop.
Memorial Day Services take a bit more time because we put a program together. We have a pastor, a speaker who’s served in the military, and a couple high school students do a reading. It’s a great program that we’ve kept up for 60 years, which pre-dates the age of our cemetery. It’s a fun event, made more entertaining with families who come back on a celebration day when they’re not grieving. The widows come back to give us hugs and we build stronger relationships between the community and the cemetery. It offers an opportunity to showcase our cremation options – not a sales pitch, but to touch them with a service.
We’ve been doing an Easter Service about the same length of time. There are a lot of people who don’t go to church anymore, who don’t want to do church, but they come out to our Easter Sunrise Service because it’s not in a church. We’ll have a different pastor come out every year and do a little program about Easter on Easter morning. We’ve had as many as a couple hundred people, and as few as 75 depending on the weather. We have an inside/outside service. People are very picky about it – some people want to come out and watch the sunrise (and we’re in Cleveland and it’s often cold) so half sit outside and others sit inside the chapel. We have a piano player and singer and it’s over in about 30 minutes with coffee and donuts.
Our Luminary display is new. Our local Lions Club started a luminary project, and, when I heard about it, I said that we would co-sponsor and host it at the cemetery. We’d talked about having something like this at the cemetery but it’s difficult to get it started. The Lions Club put together the sales program and promoted it to the community, we included an order form in our Fall letter with options on placement at their loved one’s grave, on the path, or at our discretion. Many people would buy several, some to take home and some to keep at the cemetery. We had about 60 dozen, and it really only took our staff 30 minutes to light. People drove through the cemetery on Christmas Eve to enjoy them. It was difficult to get staff to volunteer because it’s on Christmas Eve so it requires more staff commitment. Some of our staff took ownership of it, bring their families out to make it a new tradition – light the luminaries on behalf of the families together.
– Alex Roberts, Roberts Funeral Home: Wooster, Ohio
The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is often considered too far to visit by our families, so we decided to host a bus tour to get our families out there to see the beautiful cemetery. We started with a local senior center, and we work with a local veterans group, and we filled the bus. We sponsor the entire event, coordinate with the cemetery to arrange a tour guide, and fill the bus every time we host it. The guide introduces them to the cemetery, explains benefits veterans receive from the government, and it provides an opportunity to get their name out there.
We do a luncheon every year around Veterans Day (not on the holiday – we found we competed with local restaurants offering free meals to veterans). We’ve done it for more than 7 years. We used to hold it at our funeral home, but it’s gotten so large that we have to rent a local church’s hall to hold everyone – around 150 people. We host the event ourselves, but invite local hospice centers and veterans groups to speak and explain their resources. We hire performers to sing and entertain at the event.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
Promoting the Outreach Programs
To many, traditional media means an ad in the local paper or a direct mail piece, but this is not where you’re going to get the most impact. Email newsletters are good, but only reach the people who already know you. I always opt for websites and social media, and you’ll all agree, these are the avenues that we should use to promote our events. Some funeral homes and cemeteries will include “events” or “community” in their main navigation to place these activities front and center.
With social media, you can reach the community and let them know what you’re doing—and it’s less expensive than traditional media. Plus, it offers the opportunity to talk to the community – to thank them for participating in an event, for supporting you, etc.
In closing, a lot of these programs might be intimidating. You may think you don’t have the resources, you’re not big enough, etc. You have to start by thinking that you can try just a piece of it, just a small component at a time. As Tony Robbins says:
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right.
…with your community outreach program.
Looking for tips and trends on planning your next event? Check out our Accidental Event Planner posts for resources to bring your next community outreach event, or your next service, to the next level.
This post is excerpted from Julie A. Burn’s facilitated discussion on Utilizing Community Outreach as a Communication & PR Tool at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium. CANA Members can get even more ideas to inspire their community outreach programs from our Technical Paper Library, compiled from their colleagues at the 2017 Cremation Symposium.
See what we have planned for CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium and join us in Las Vegas February 26-28, 2020.
Julie A. Burn is a cremation specialist with over 28 years of experience in the funeral profession. She has served as the director of cremation services for StoneMor Partners and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and as the manager of cremation services for Wilbert Funeral Services. Burn served on the board of directors for the Cremation Association of North America from 2000-2003, and currently serves as a consultant to CANA on their educational online training program. Julie holds the designation of Certified Cremation Executive and Certified Supplier Executive and is a Certified Celebrant.