Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The pace of change driven by consumers is the greatest challenge facing funeral service. No option has fallen off the menu, and yet more options pop up each year. How is it possible to create or reposition a business to fulfill these diverse requests? The 70 practitioners, suppliers and explorers who convened in Albuquerque in October 2019 for the First Ever Green Funeral Conference were up for the challenge. Their interactive and engaging experience is challenging to reproduce in a blog post, but there is too much great content not to share.
Passages International was the obvious sponsor for this Conference. However, some potential speakers and participants and social media commenters—and even members of the media—weren’t so sure why CANA was hosting. Cremation is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, but where does it fit on the continuum of green funeral practices? That is the kind of conversation I like to start. CANA doesn't shy away from hard questions, or from asking those questions of itself. We're proud to provide the space to have these frank discussions and attract the right voices to contribute.
Set the Stage
Since this was the first conference of its kind created for funeral directors and cemeterians, it was important to establish context and the intention to be inclusive in our definition of green practices. I will attempt to follow the flow of the conference in this post. Glenda Stansbury served as our emcee and she set the stage from the beginning, establishing that this conference was an exploration of green practices along a continuum. In that spirit, I invite you, dear reader, to identify where you are on that continuum. Are you a light spring green with plenty of traditional burial and cremation offerings? Or maybe you offer eco-friendly products, but want to promote more family participation and natural burial? Are you a deep forest green and all in? This post is an opportunity to learn more about the Conference content and how it may apply to your business and community.
Ed Bixby, owner of Steelmantown Green Burial Preserve and President of the Green Burial Council, kicked off the Conference with a presentation describing the wide range of green burial practices he employs in his cemeteries and has seen around the world. He challenged the audience to recognize that the spectrum includes traditional burial as well as established businesses seeking greener practices—including cremation. Yes, the attraction of green burial is related to environmental concerns, but it also appeals because it is simpler, involves less fanfare, and facilitates enhanced participation from mourners. Ed said, “Participation changes everything. You have the right to care for the dead the way you feel they should be cared for.” He challenged us—and I extend the challenge to you—to shift the mindset. You can work within regulations and laws, but you can reconceive the services you offer to families. In CANA language, "find a way to get to yes for your families."
During Ed's presentation, the topic of embalming came up. Why are embalmed bodies excluded from green cemeteries? Is this based on science or policy? Embalmers in the room shared why embalming remains an important tool for some families, but others expressed the belief that preserved bodies had no place in a green cemetery. While no consensus was reached, it was refreshing to hear so many opinions and suggestions respectfully discussed. However, many questions remained unresolved:
- People are buried with medicines in their systems and implants in place—so why is embalming prohibited?
- Should formaldehyde-free fluids influence policies?
- If embalming is required in order to transport a deceased person from the place of death to the natural burial cemetery, what happens then?
- If green practices aren’t defined by law, but rather by policies and preferences, where do you land?
Next, Darren Crouch and Kilian Rempen of Passages International joined the conversation by discussing green products and marketing tactics to help businesses remain relevant and profitable. In the 20 years since Darren founded Passages International, he has learned many lessons. His customers are serving families that value green, but also unique and beautiful options. Darren asserted that the challenge of incorporating green options into businesses should feel familiar. It is similar to the challenge of embracing cremation 30 years ago. It was once controversial to add cremation to the sign in front of your funeral home and commonplace for funeral directors to send the rare cremation customer down the street to the cremation society. Ignoring cremation didn’t turn out well for funeral service, so Darren challenges funeral practitioners to not repeat past mistakes.
Darren offered practical advice, such as offering scatter-friendly urns for the 50% of your cremation customers who intend to scatter. He argues that scattering does not equal low-end, but rather that an urn that contains cremated remains for a time can be used as art or to hold keepsakes after scattering. Darren echoed Ed’s message of changing your mindset to envision new offerings.
Put It Into Practice
Once attendees considered the various aspects of green funeral practices and started to plot their positions along the continuum, they heard from cemeterians and a funeral director who have added them to their operations.
Jody Herrington described her success in converting funeral home selection rooms to include green merchandise. She acknowledged how overwhelming it seems to offer yet more options in an already crowded space. Jody shared that her success was directly linked to the communities she has served and their green values. Incorporating local artists along with eco-friendly products and more familiar caskets can be appealing, but every community is unique. You know the communities you serve and should reflect that knowledge.
Jody posed a challenging question for me to hear – Is cremation a fall back? At this point some of you are probably nodding your heads in recognition, but I didn’t get it at first. Jody asserted that when faced with traditional burial caskets and merchandise, some consumers know they don’t want that so they fall back to cremation. Her experience showed that offering more eco-friendly merchandise and caskets resulted in more personalization and more sales to a satisfied customer. This leads me to wonder if green burial will slow the cremation rate increases we have seen. Only time will tell.
Our practitioner panel featured Donal Key and Linda Canyon of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Salvador Perches of Grupo Perches and Recinto de la Oracion, Ed Bixby, and Jody Herrington—continuing the conversation around green burial practices and tips for creating and offering green options in existing cemeteries. It is impossible to summarize the rich content generated by the discussion between panelists as well as with participants. Each panelist shared specific examples of practices they employ to promote participation and innovate new traditions. The questions from participants did touch on business models, pricing, training and incenting employees to dig graves and assist families to dress their loved ones. The key takeaway is that you can get to yes with families. It may take more time and creativity, but you can and should do it.
Next up was Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who examined the legal trends surrounding green burials and green cemeteries. Tanya presented a framework for understanding green funeral trends. She started by sharing the macro trend of consumers looking for more control and input while also seeking authenticity and a meaningful experience. This is a trend influencing all aspects of our lives. And it poses a challenge for funeral directors and cemeterians who are typically risk-adverse.
Tanya outlined considerations to take into account when considering something new – i.e., natural burial or a new disposition.
Does the law prohibit it? The dead have rights, so that must always be considered, but there is very little cemetery law on the books.
- Are you in a gray area where there is no particular law prohibiting or allowing? If the law doesn’t say you can’t, then you can, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for moving ahead without permission from the funeral or cemetery board or coverage from a court order.
The example she gave was natural organic reduction, commonly referred to as human composting. Washington state law explicitly stated that burial, cremation and removal from the state were the legal forms of disposition. This meant they needed to change the law in order to pave the way for a new form of disposition. In states that don’t affirmatively identify the forms of disposition, a court order or opinion from the board or attorney general may pave the way.
Tanya led a free-wheeling Q&A session that touched on grave reusage, family participation, disinterments, indigent cremations, and what happens when cemeteries are abandoned.
The last sessions focused on consumers’ experiences and insights. Gail Rubin shared her perspective on consumer views of death and mourning and emphasized the ongoing theme of promoting participation and education.
I moderated two manufacturer panels—Luis Llorens of US Cremation Equipment and Paul Seyler of Matthews Environmental discussed the environmental impact of cremation and made presentations on the macro and micro impacts of cremation on the environment. This warrants its own blog post and one is in the works for publication in 2020. Stay tuned!
A second panel, with Sam Sieber of Bio-Response Solutions and Nicki Mikolai of Resomation America, discussed the science and practical application of alkaline hydrolysis. There was significant interest in alkaline hydrolysis among the participants, with some current and future practitioners represented. The questions from participants ranged from inquiries about the fundamental science, presence of radiation and mercury, to viewings and zoning challenges.
Legally, alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be cremation, but the process that occurs in the machine is completely different than flame-based cremation. Does that make it greener? That depends on the formula that is used. Is there a lower carbon footprint? Yes—or probably. Fewer fossil fuels are used to heat the water or dry the remains, but water and chemicals are used—so how does one account for that in the green calculation?
While more questions were raised than answered on the overall environmental impact of all dispositions, Sam did point participants to an important a recent study conducted in the Netherlands by Elisabeth Keijzer, who attempted to calculate the true costs of different types of disposition. Sam presents a useful framework for understanding the various environmental impacts and “shadow costs” discussed in the study.
Consumers are significantly ahead of funeral directors and cemeterians in seeking, performing and creating greener end-of-life options, so this conference represented an opportunity to engage in facilitated conversation, query panel presenters, and learn from leading experts. All walked away with practical ideas to implement now, and probably some ideas they considered but discarded for their own businesses. Here are three of my takeaways.
Takeaway #1: Definitions Matter
Language matters and it was important from the beginning to tackle some tough topics in order to facilitate open conversation and advance our collective understanding. We named this meeting the Green Funeral Conference to encompass a variety of green practices, and people came with many different ideas and opinions on what “green” truly means. However, everyone left seeing the full continuum of green funeral practices.
So, what shade of green are you or do you aspire to be? Have this conversation with your staff and seek to understand what your community wants or will respond positively to. And then have this conversation with your vendors to educate yourself on more eco-friendly options. Figure out your carbon footprint and how you can offset or reduce it.
Are your own policies and procedures standing in the way?
Takeaway #2: Everything Old is New Again
For cremation, it took a few evangelists (and 100 years) to make cremation a tradition. Green funerals are completely different. For some, the practice is cultural tradition and anything else is desecration. For others, it's an attempt to mitigate their carbon footprint on the world by removing external interference (letting nature take its course). So, whether it's to save money, to save the planet, or to honor tradition, it means every option, every time. And providing that is hard work.
You know your communities and have served them for the length of your career or possibly generations of your family. Incorporating green funeral practices does not mean starting over from scratch, but it does mean shifting mindsets. You may consider following the path you took to embrace cremation.
Takeaway #3: Start now!
It took nearly 150 years, but cremation in the West evolved from a European fad to the dominant form of disposition in the US with the help from multiple types of leaders. First came the evangelists—those spreading the good news of the hygienic and aesthetic virtues of cremation. Then came the practitioners who formed CANA as a forum to share best practices and promote the practice of cremation. Those practitioners innovated products, technology and services to support cremation practice. Many of these practitioners ultimately formed companies that supplied practitioners nationwide. As those companies matured and merged and competitors formed, cremation products and services further developed to support the industry.
Will green funeral practices follow a similar pattern? Probably. Likely following a significantly shorter timeline, but it certainly will happen, thanks to a similar mix of contributors. Yet again, consumers are leading the way by demanding greener funeral practices. The participants and speakers in the Green Funeral Conference represented a mix of champions of funeral practices along the continuum, both current and future practitioners.
This conference was a true meeting of minds and collaboration in exploring green funeral practices. I'm proud of the conversations that happened at this meeting and have attempted to capture some of the content and the spirit of the event.
Consumers will continue to require and expect a wide range of options from you and your businesses. These expectations will evolve and advance as the media reports the unfolding story. CANA and Passages are planning the second Green Funeral Conference to provide an ongoing forum for practitioners to explore their responses to consumer demands. In the meantime, you can access the Green Funeral Conference content online. Most importantly, you can share this post with your employees and hold your own conversations about how you can incorporate green funeral practices in your business.
Want to learn more from the presenters and participants in the Green Funeral Conference? This is the shameless plug to buy the recordings and join in the conversation from the comfort of your office. Learn more: goCANA.org/GFC2019
Recent CANA research shows that cremation customers are less interested in body-centric products and services, and instead seeking experiences to honor a life lived. The presenters hadn’t seen this research at the time of the Conference, but their experiences and advice supported these findings. If the consumer wants to focus on the person and not the body, are you prepared to support with your services and merchandise? This research on "The Cremation Experience" took the cover story of the most recent issue of The Cremationist and will be featured in issues and blog posts throughout 2020. Join CANA to read the magazine, consistently voted the most popular benefit of membership, or follow The Cremation Logs blog to get the reports as they come out!
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
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.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2019
John Cassavetes once said “Film is, to me, just unimportant. But people are very important.” Gail Rubin’s article, first appearing in The Cremationist in 2015, shows us how we can use movies to get a glimpse into the human experience in all of its variety. The chance to see peoples’ journeys and the many ways they express grief provides us all useful perspective long before they sit at an arrangement table.
Lights! Camera! Action! Movies are a great way to teach, learn and tell stories that people remember. Studies indicate most humans are visual learners, so movies are a powerful medium to make a memorable educational impression – especially on touchy topics like death and grief.
Movies can be a great way to introduce funeral directors and cremationists, especially those new to the industry, to the diverse reactions that families may exhibit after a loved one dies.
When you look at examples from movies, coupled with background information from thanatology – the study of death, dying and bereavement – you can learn about the different ways people express or repress their grief. You can better understand grief responses without fear of offending a client family.
Consider these movie scenes and the types of grief they illustrate.
Elizabethtown — Instrumental Grief
Drew, a young man who lives in Oregon (Top 5 in cremation rate), has come to his father’s home town of Elizabethtown, Kentucky (Bottom 5 in cremation rate). Dad had unexpectedly died of a heart attack while visiting family there. Mom instructs Drew to have Dad’s body cremated and return with the remains to Oregon. The family in Kentucky wants to bury Dad in the centuries-old family plot.
In one scene, he’s having a phone conversation with Mom in Oregon about the cremation choice. She says, “Honey, I don’t know when I’m going to crash, but as of right now, we are learning about the car, and I’m learning organic cooking, I’m going to tap dance, and later on today, I am going to fix the toilet. It is five minutes at a time.”
Drew says, “Mom, I think you need to slow down.” She replies, “Look, everybody tells me that I should take sedatives, but hey, I am out here and I am making things happen. All forward motion counts.”
The instrumental grieving style focuses on practical matters and problem solving.
Mom is busy, busy, busy – that’s her way to deal with grief. This reaction is not determined by gender, as reported in the book Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn by Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin (2010).
You might think men are more inclined toward the practical approach, but Doka and Martin found it’s a pretty even split for men and women to experience an instrumental grief reaction. If you see a family member working a list of things to do prior to the funeral, understand that person is likely an instrumental griever.
A Single Man — Intuitive Grief
At the opening of A Single Man, George, a gay man mired in grief over the death of his partner, wakes up and gets ready for his day. He gets out of bed, showers, shaves, gets dressed, and goes into the kitchen. He narrates his thoughts in this monologue:
For the past eight months, waking up has actually hurt. The cold realization that I’m still here sets in. I was never terribly fond of waking up. I was never one to jump out of bed and greet the day with a smile like Jim was…. It takes time in the morning for me to become George…. Looking in the mirror, staring back at me, isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament. (Aloud) ‘Just get through the goddamn day.’ A bit melodramatic I guess. But then again, my heart has been broken. I feel as if I’m sinking, drowning, can’t breathe.
An intuitive grieving style emphasizes experiencing and expressing emotion. Rather than getting busy with activities that may distract or channel emotional pain and sadness, the intuitive griever is immersed in mourning. While we may think of women as emotional, men are just as likely to embrace this style of grieving, although they may retreat to the privacy of a “man cave” to mourn.
Overt sadness, tears and withdrawal in the arrangement conference or at the funeral/memorial service are signs of an intuitive griever.
In the film, George is experiencing profound sadness eight months after his partner’s death. While there is no timeline for grieving, at this point, he may be experiencing complicated grief – when deep mourning is unremitting. Addressing complicated grief is best handled by working with a trained grief therapist.
Because A Single Man illustrates mourning for a partner in a homosexual relationship, it’s the perfect segue to discuss disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is “the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.” (Kenneth Doka, 1989)
While people may be more understanding of mourning the death of a same sex partner now, A Single Man is set in 1962, well before homosexual relationships gained acceptance. Other examples of disenfranchised grief: a mistress unable to publicly mourn the death of or breakup with an illicit lover, mourning other losses, such as jobs, health or friends, or pet owners who are devastated by the loss of a beloved companion animal.
The Jane Austen Book Club — Disenfranchised Grief
At the opening of the film, friends gather for a graveside funeral, complete with a celebrant, flowers and a photo of the deceased. It turns out the funeral is for a woman’s dog. One attendee checks her watch. Others roll their eyes.
At the reception afterward, a man says, “Let’s get some perspective here. I mean, do you think if Jocelyn was married with kids she’d be giving her dog a state funeral? This whole thing is warped.”
The love of a pet is intense, and with the loss, there is intense grief. Yet, grief over the loss of a pet often does not get the same level of public recognition given for the loss of a person. Mourners may turn to social media sites like Facebook to receive supportive comments from friends.
Savvy funeral homes are expanding their services to include sensitive death care to help pet parents. Such services can provide an opening and connection with families that leads to human death care business later on.
Other films cover the many faces of grief, including Grief and Past Trauma (The Big Lebowski), Grief and Talking and Repressed Grief (This Is Where I Leave You), Processing Grief (Walk The Line), You Can’t Tell Someone How To Grieve (Six Feet Under), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages (All That Jazz), and Moving Beyond Grief (Gravity). I have a presentation called The Many Faces of Grief: Mourning in the Movies which offers two CEUs through the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice and looks into all of these films in-depth to help funeral professionals see different forms of grief on display.
Join Gail and CANA in Albuquerque on October 2-4, 2019 to discuss consumer insights she’s gleaned from the increasingly popular Death Cafes and consumer oriented Before I Die Festivals at the first-ever Green Funeral Conference. Learn more and register: goCANA.org/gfc2019
Gail Rubin is a Certified Thanatologist (a death educator) who teaches about pre-need funeral planning and end-of-life issues, using humor and funny films to reduce resistance to discussing death. An award-winning speaker, she “knocked ‘em dead” with A Good Goodbye, a TEDxABQ talk which provides a compelling online video supporting pre-need funeral planning. She’s the author of three books on end-of-life issues, one of the first people to hold a Death Café in the United States, and the coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Many funeral directors are facing more and more direct cremations with no services. They are at a loss as to how to overcome that trend. There are many ideas, theories, notions and educated guesses as to why families choose cremation. Cost. Environmental footprint. Control. Convenience. Lack of information. Religious affiliation, or lack thereof. All of those certainly are factors and can play a part in any one person’s decision. So we are going to look at the three Big C’s in Cremation.
I would like to go back in time to the early ‘60s when cremation first came on the profession’s radar, and find that first funeral director who said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t charge as much for this since I’m not embalming or casketing” and take him out. I’m not a violent person by nature, but really?? That idea got started somewhere and we all just went along with it. Sure, let’s charge less for something that takes just as much time to accomplish, has much more liability, and requires just as much staff involvement. That makes perfect business sense.
Within that nonsense also was created the message to families that they were somehow lesser-thans or 2nd class funeral customers. I actually worked for an owner who said to families, “We bury our dead, we burn our trash.”
Because we didn’t take these families seriously and did not take their needs for a meaningful funeral service to heart, they left. Why would I pay $8,000 to someone who thinks I’m not as important as the people who buy the box? I can be ignored at the $695 box-and-burn immediate disposer who is more than willing to take my money and do nothing else for me.
Families are hiring us to perform a service. If I hire an orthopedist to perform surgery on my shoulder, his price is for the surgery. He doesn’t talk about which instruments he might have to use or the amount of time it might take or how many nurses will have to be in the room. He says, “This is my price to fix your shoulder.” Why can’t we have a price for body preparation? Yes, we’d have to figure out the correct GPL language but we could certainly have more productive conversations with our client families if we didn’t have an if/then/or approach to pricing.
Yes, for a small group of people the cremation choice is made based upon cost. But the large majority are choosing cremation based upon control. These people have attended bad services in their past and are determined that they are not going to go to another one. If I have a burial, then I’m beholden to the funeral director to get the casket from point A to point B and so I’m stuck with whatever service is offered to me. I can’t throw the casket in the back of my car and drive off and arrange a service that fits me. But I can walk out with an urn in my hand and have control over the type of service that I hold.
We’ve all been to “bad” services. The cookie-cutter, insert name here, hope someone says the name correctly, impersonal ritual that offers nothing about the person and what his death will mean to those mourning his loss. Every time one of these boring, hurtful or meaningless services occurs, another immediate disposition/no service is created. People say “When I die, don’t do that!”
Cremation offers a choice, a sense of control over what happens in a memorial service. Does that mean that most are held at someone’s house or at a bar or a restaurant with toasts and stories? Probably. Does that mean that the value of having a gathering that celebrates the life and explores the grief and provides a guidepost for mourning the loss is lost? Definitely.
Once I served as a Celebrant for an 80 year-old-man who died of suicide. It was a difficult service, but we honored his life and talked about the depression over health issues that caused him to make such a choice. We discussed what the grief journey was going to look like for those who were trying to make sense of the death. We encouraged the standing room only crowd to be an integral part of the family’s next steps as they turned tears into memories. It was a pretty good service.
That afternoon I received an email from a woman who was in attendance begging me for a copy of the service. This lady tracked me down and said she needed a copy of my words. So, I asked the family for permission and I sent her a copy.
Her backstory was this—her son died of a heroin overdose and her daughter, his twin, died of suicide four years before. They did not have funerals either time. They cremated, then met at a restaurant and told stories. They did not trust that someone could handle such delicate and hard situations, so they just avoided. She needed those words to help her on her own grief journey. This happens hundreds of times across the country to our Celebrants.
Because the celebrant is a ceremony expert, focused solely on the ceremony and often devoting much more time to the ceremony than funeral directors and clergy can, the celebrant can be a tremendous resource. What celebrants offer can even be attractive to those who initially think they don’t want a ceremony at all.
—Diane Gansauer, Director of Celebrant Services, SCI Colorado Funeral Services in Metro Denver
Until we change the service experience for those families, they will continue to walk away. Our pricing, our lovely chapels, our offers of assistance—they’ve been there and done that and don’t trust us to be able to do something that is meaningful.
Which brings us to the final C:
My bedrock message is “Celebrants can change your business, Celebrants can change your families, Celebrants can bring your cremation families back to your firm.”
The religious landscape of our country is changing. The percentage of people who identify as a “None”—not religiously affiliated, not engaged with a church—is rapidly growing. Statistics from the Pew Research report show that almost 25% of the overall population now considers themselves “nones” and over 35% of millennials are disenfranchised with religious experiences.
This has incredible implications for funeral service. Some funerals homes have stained glass windows, Bibles in the foyer, hymns on the speakers and scriptures on their websites. There is nothing wrong with having an ability to serve your religious families, but today anywhere from 25% to 80% of your community does not identify or resonate with those representations. If all you have to offer is a minister and a religious experience, they are going elsewhere.
High “nones” equal high cremation rates. It’s just that simple.
The greatest impact a Celebrant can have with a family is the one on one interview time, an opportunity to sit down and become part of the decedent’s family, by hearing and learning first-hand about the life of their loved one, and sharing a personal glimpse into the life of the decedent with friends and family at the funeral service. That is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to the family. Out of that experience comes the most gracious of compliments that you will ever receive, which is to hear at the conclusion of the service how well you knew the loved one. The Celebrant experience gives you that opportunity to serve the family in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
—Kevin Hull, Vice President and Location Manager, Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home
Celebrants are the answer for a majority of your cremation families. So many of them are not offered any options by their funeral professional. So, they either opt for the rent-a-minister or do nothing. Another immediate disposition walks out of the door.
When someone attends a service where every word of the service is focused on the life, on the family, and on the grief experience, their decisions can change significantly. “Oh. . .we can have this kind of service? Then I’m willing to talk to the funeral director about paying for THAT” Over 50% of the services I perform through referrals from funeral homes in my city come from someone who attended another service and came back and asked for that Celebrant. People pay for value. People pay for meaning. People pay for gatherings that heal.
My friend, Ernie Heffner from York, PA, ran numbers on his Celebrant services and found that cremation families who used a Celebrant spent 36% more on other goods and services. It’s not about the money. It’s about the value, the experience, the assurance that someone is going to hear their stories, to honor the life and work with them to put together a service that fits them. People pay for meaning.
I did a service for a man in his 40’s who drank himself to death. He left an estranged wife, a 19 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and a brother who was a recovering alcoholic himself. This meant two hours of slogging through a lot of baggage and feelings to get to the stories and to give them permission to say what was needed. But we put together a service that honored his life while being honest about his struggles and his demons.
After the service, the brother handed me a thank you card with $300 in it. The funeral home had already given me a check for my Celebrant fee of $400. I said, “Oh, you’ve already paid me.” He said, “Please just take it.” The card read “Thank you for performing J’s service and I especially thank you for the time you spent with us Sunday evening. I’m hoping it provided as much healing to the others as it did for me. Thank you.” People pay for healing gatherings.
In today’s world, the most crucial element in helping a family lies in the ability of the Celebrant to actively listen and recreate what they have heard into something with meaning and value. Celebrant Training is funeral service’s best option to develop the skills to become an outstanding funeral professional. At our firm, all of our funeral directors must go through the Celebrant Training so they can understand the importance and value of working with our Celebrants to help the families have a truly outstanding experience. This is especially important for cremation families that are looking for something other than traditional services. Celebrant Services play a major role in making Krause Funeral Homes a place of exceptional funerals.
—Mark Krause, President
Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service
We’ve been saying this since 1999: Families need a service to begin their grief journey in a healthy and honest way. Unless we are willing to provide the professionals and the services that they are looking for, they are going to walk away. When families have options, funeral homes are going to lose every time unless their option is better, more appealing and soul touching.
Looking at everything we do when it comes to serving the cremation family—pricing, style of service, presentation of choices, availability to Celebrants who can do exactly what the family wants and needs – is the only way that full-service funeral professionals are going to stay in business. How we deal with all of the C words will determine how much farther down the road we get to travel.
CANA is partnering with Glenda Stansbury and the InSight Institute for the second time this July to offer Celebrant Training. Limited to 40 attendees, this course packs a lot of information, emotion, and training into three days but is increasingly considered a must for the most successful businesses in the US.
Learn more about this class coming to Louisville, Kentucky from July 29-31 and register online.
Glenda Stansbury joined InSight in 1996 as Marketing & Development Director. She has worked as an educator, teacher trainer, and seminar developer. She is a practicing Celebrant, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Funeral Department and is a licensed funeral director/embalmer. Glenda is available for speaking to funeral professionals at state and national conventions or for private staff training. For more information, contact Glenda at email@example.com.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Arguing. Fighting. Physical violence. Destruction of property. Extreme denial. When I ask funeral professionals about their most difficult challenges, I frequently hear about extreme behaviors in the arrangement room. Not only are the stories jaw-dropping, but they seem to be getting worse and more common over the years. In the face of anger and rudeness, it can be difficult to generate empathy for the bereaved. That’s why I think it is valuable to do our best to understand the source of these extreme behaviors. We may be able to be more patient and gracious if we understand what is causing these behaviors.
One way to make sense of these behaviors is through the lens of “defense mechanisms” – a concept originally developed by Freud. When you hear the name “Sigmund Freud,” you might immediately dismiss anything developed by a pipe-smoking, sex-obsessed, Viennese physician from the early 1900s. Even as a psychologist myself, Freud isn’t my favorite guy; I believe many of his perspectives are outdated, misogynistic, and outright wrong. However, some of his theories and perspectives have stood the test of time and can provide valuable insights into human motivation and behavior. I hope you will continue reading to discover if these 3 examples of defense mechanisms match your experiences in the arrangement room. I suspect you will discover that you actually agree with Freud on several of these concepts.
While I love giving a good lecture on Freud (seriously, just give this former college professor half a chance…), we don’t have the time or space for a full exploration of defense mechanisms. In a nutshell, Freud said all people use defense mechanisms to reduce anxiety or mental discomfort. Most of the time, these defense mechanisms are relatively normal and healthy; they only become problematic when they are used in extreme ways. For example, “denial” is one of the most commonly used defense mechanisms. A common experience of denial related to bereavement is when you reach for your phone to call a loved one, only to quickly remember they are deceased.
There’s absolutely nothing abnormal or pathological about this – our brains are simply used to them being alive and it takes a moment for that reality to reappear. On the other end of the continuum of denial is an extreme reaction. For example, when the police find that a family still has grandpa sitting at the dining room table – eight months after he died. All defense mechanisms can be viewed on a continuum; mild and common uses of reducing anxiety and pain or extreme situations when the individual’s reaction is much more dramatic and often pathological.
It is important to note that defense mechanisms are largely unconscious responses. Or put another way, these are not deliberate or premeditated strategies. They still hurt if you are on the receiving end, but I don’t want you to think these are intentional efforts designed to attack others. They are the unconscious reactions of someone trying to deal with painful thoughts and emotions.
Although Freud and his daughter, Anna, described several dozen defense mechanisms, we are going to focus on three that you may see in the arrangement room: displacement, projection, and reaction formation.
Like denial, displacement is a very commonly used defense mechanism. Displacement is when we take the angry or aggressive impulses toward one person and “displace” them on another, usually safer, target. For example, let’s say your boss yells at you and it makes you angry. You realize that it isn’t smart to strike back at your boss, so you go home and yell at your spouse, yell at your kids, or kick the dog as a way to displace your anger onto a ‘safer’ target. (I fully realize that getting angry at your spouse may not be a “safer” target – this is just an example. Also, don’t kick dogs.)
A common example of displacement in funeral service is when the bereaved are angry at the deceased. Perhaps the deceased wasn’t a kind person. Perhaps the bereaved are angry that the deceased didn’t take better care of themselves or go to get a check-up when they suggested it. But even though they are angry, Western culture states that it is not acceptable to “speak ill of the dead.” So where does that anger and frustration go? Sometimes it goes to a “safe target” like the funeral professional. They may assume they won’t see you after the services conclude and therefore you are a safe target for their anger – even if you haven’t done a thing to deserve it. Have you had situations where the bereaved are angry at you for no apparent reason?
Have you ever had someone accuse you of only caring about money? A second defense mechanism, projection, might be a part of their response. Projection is the process of taking our own feelings and thoughts that make us uncomfortable and then dealing with them by projecting them onto someone else. A common example of projection is when we deal with our own self-hate by projecting that view onto others. Projection takes “I don’t like myself” and turns it into, “He/She hates me for no reason” or “Everybody hates me.” It reduces our anxiety and negative self-worth to suggest it is coming from others, not from oneself.
Here are some examples of what a person might be feeling and how they may project that onto the funeral professional:
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m curious about death and death-related procedures, but am worried about how others will judge my curiosity.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you so obsessed with death!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m so angry at my mother for not taking better care of my father and look what happened.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you treating my mother so badly!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I wonder how much this is going to cost. I could desperately use some extra money right now.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “You’re only obsessed with money!”
A third defense mechanism that may arise in funeral situations is the use of reaction formation. Reaction formation is when a person takes a thought or feeling that is uncomfortable and attempts to convince themselves (and others) that they don’t really have that view by making an extravagant display that is the opposite of their true feelings. For example, if a man found himself sexually attracted to his best friend’s wife, he might deal with the anxiety caused by those feelings by suggesting that he doesn’t like her at all. (We see an example of this exact scenario in the movie Love Actually: It’s a self-preservation thing, you see.).
In funeral scenarios, reaction formations arise when the bereaved hates the deceased yet acts as if they were perfect. The bereaved reacts by choosing extravagant funeral products and having an elaborate funeral. Freud would suggest this individual is attempting to convince themselves that their feelings of hate don’t exist. Of course, later the bereaved individual may resolve those feelings of hate and wonder why they spent so much on an elaborate funeral. I suspect this is when they unfairly turn the blame on the funeral professional and say things like, “You tricked me into spending a fortune on the funeral!”
In the Arrangement Room
While many other defense mechanisms come into play, these are three that appear frequently. After learning about these defense mechanisms a natural question is, “How does a funeral professional respond in these situations?” That is the focus of my presentation: “Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Strategies from Family Therapists” at the CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. I will be reviewing how funeral professionals can better understand the conflict that sometimes arises in the arrangement process as well as strategies funeral professionals can use to defuse these situations. I hope to see you there!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention features sessions from presenters carefully chosen to make the most of your time away from the office and ensure you leave with practical takeaways.
We can’t wait to welcome Dr. Troyer to the CANA stage in Louisville this August. See what else CANA has planned for our 101st Cremation Innovation Convention: goCANA.org/CANA19.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor, and therapist. He provides grief support newsletters, Facebook content, and informational videos at www.GriefPlan.com/funeral. He also provides community presentations, professional workshops, and trainings on behalf of funeral homes and cemeteries. Dr. Troyer can be reached at DrJasonTroyer@gmail.com.
tips and tools