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Event Tips and Trends for Funeral Service

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019
Event Tips and Trends for Funeral Service

 

Today, more and more funeral industry professionals are becoming “accidental” event planners due to the ever-changing nature of funeral practice. In part 1, we talk about best practices from the event industry, standardized forms used by both event planners and suppliers, ideas on how to make your events successful, examples provided by attendees for how they have made their events successful in the past, and tips for avoiding common mistakes.

Part 2 covers event trends to inspire you when planning your events.


As more millennials become consumers of your business, they aren’t wanting the traditional. They’re not thinking about that at all. What they want is experiences. Think about how Pokémon Go was able to get nerds out of their homes and running around, chasing after ridiculous phantoms. That’s what the events industry saw. Pokémon Go reached out to every generation, but millennials are going to change the way all of us have to do business.

In preparing for this presentation, we met with CANA members in Las Vegas. One member said his career has been traditional funerals followed by cremation. Now, families combine memorial and reception with island music playing with a bar and a food buffet of shrimp with a slideshow playing. Fill the chapel with silk plants and soft lighting – people love it. It’s a meaningful experience. The family then invites attendees to share words of remembrance, not a clergy member.

One member said that they had just spent a lot of money renovating their funeral home, because they want to keep families there. They offer food and families can BYOB since the business can’t have a liquor license. So they emphasize convenience – it’s all here, simplifying the decision-making for their families and keeping the service in-house.

If the other option is to lose the business, become an event coordinator. Think about your direct cremation families. Let’s say 25% aren’t using your facility. So, how can you get them to come back? Don’t think about the families you’re doing well with, think about the ones you’re gaining by planning events that mean something to the families.

Small Meeting Trends to Know

In preparing for this presentation, I spent a lot of time reading about what is coming down the pike for us. These are the trends we’re talking about in the events industry, but you can see how many they apply to the modern funeral.

Experiential Get-Togethers

This means people being involved – the talking heads, the powerpoints, that’s not what people are looking for anymore. We are talking about an experience that translates to a memory. More than anything else, events are about memories.

And a funeral shares lifelong memories. There are ways to do that through technology, but it’s really important to sit down and talk to the family about what they want to get out of this gathering.

Customized Content

The most fundamental question you can ask is “How does this event succeed?” No two events (including funerals) are the same, so don’t make assumptions about them or the funeral, but ask the family what they envision for the event.

Here, you can tell a story about someone’s life. Sit down with the family and ask them about the experience they want people to have and make it a personal experience for them and the people that gather.

Smaller, shorter meetings

While this one might be more obvious for the corporate event, it really means that people don’t want to sit in a chair for three hours. People prefer events that are small, shorter, and invite interaction or keep a variety of speakers talking all day.

Use of Technology

This has been around for a while, but the technology changes every year. In events, we use technology throughout the planning process from designing the space and layout, through the way that it contributes to the experience at the event. Technology enables the use of emotional memorial videos, favorite songs, and even controlled lighting to set the atmosphere of the space.

But don’t use technology just to have it, and don’t have it just to say you do. There must be a reason behind it and it must be used to make the event and the experience better. Whether it’s used to improve event planning or in the production of a keepsake video, technology can enhance the experience.

Food and beverage trends

If you’ve ever planned a big event in a special location – think a wedding at the Bellagio – there are specific rules about food and beverage. They don’t want you to bring in an outside caterer – they want to keep that revenue in-house. If your facility is large enough to add catering, this can be a great service to add to your business. If it’s not, you can work with local catering companies to develop special relationships that add value to your services.

One of the most important things we think about in events is the food. It’s one of the most common memories from an event – we congregate around food. Adding food to any of your packages is a great idea, especially if your family is not affiliated with a church group that brings food to the family. Gourmet nostalgia – a new twist to an old favorite (e.g., lobster mac-and-cheese, chocolate chili) – is really in. Growing up in Indiana, some of the best food I ever had was at funerals. What kind of foods are you seeing served at your events?

The local and sustainable “farm-to-table” has been around for a while, and people and chefs are very interested in buying locally and sharing the best that they can. The grass-fed beef raised without hormones is healthier and tastier.

We’re moving away from processed foods as the general population becomes much more interested in eating healthy. We’re seeing new cuts of meats and chefs are moving toward using the entire animal. Catering menus, and your own menus, now involve bone marrow, chicken skins, pork neck. I know that my family, in Tipton, Indiana, went to the Pork Festival every year (my mother was actually Pork Queen!), so being able to involve the foods that address the culture or the person is very important in your events.

One of the trends is do-it-yourself cocktails and mocktails, and some funeral homes have even acquired a liquor license. I don’t know about you, but I think liquor would make a celebration of life a lot more fun. I can imagine mine being my favorite drink – vodka tonic – and my favorite foods, and everybody just has a great celebration. Do-it-yourself cocktails and mocktails – if you don’t have a liquor license cocktails are hard, but mocktails are easy.

Try it out

What can you do to help make memories for attendees?

Get them involved in the planning process. This is a way they can feel like they’re contributing to the legacy of the deceased. Solicit input from the larger family to make it special. Music, photos, fragrance – these can raise memories for attendees and make a lasting impression.

Much of the direction of the event is determined by tone. We talk a lot in the event industry about tone and theme. They’re related, but not the same. Tone is how people feel when they’re in the room, the atmosphere of the event. Tone can be defined by lighting, ritual, language, and the design of the event is defined by and reinforces the tone.

I haven’t been to a lot of funerals, but, at the best ones, I learned a lot I didn’t know about the person who died. Finding ways to bring that out, to show different sides, is valuable and what I think the person would have wanted. Themes can be defined by the interests and hobbies of the deceased – fishing, motorcycles, and related mementos.

Participation in planning and the event

This is not only a great way to be inclusive, but also a great way to increase attendance and make memories that are long-lasting. Since funerals have tight timelines, it can be difficult to get many people participating – in some cases, waiting for families to get back to us can slow us down – this is where technology is key. An event planning portal, or even a private chat on Facebook, can keep everyone informed and attuned to the schedule. The benefit of their participation will out-weigh the inconvenience of the family being involved if you can manage them. And be up-front. Ask if these tools will help gather the key voices that should be heard.

Select unique and interesting venues if possible.

This is a trend in every industry, and funerals are no exception. For team-building events and corporate conferences, planners are looking for interesting places (and it’s not just physical challenges – cooking a meal can be a great team activity.) Similarly, destination weddings and funerals are growing. Developing a relationship with venues in your area and they will become your partner in making memorable events. Get to know them, their space, and preferences and they will bend over backwards for you when you need them.

Looking to the future

Immersive Sensory Experiences

Today, 3D Mapping is possible for most events and venues. This technology combines the use of fabrics used as screens with projected imagery. It may seem out of financial reach, but it will only continue to drop in price and rise in popularity. Imagine how powerful it could be to create this for your families and embody the tone and theme of your event.

The Holograms are Coming!

Some of you are going to think this is too out there, but I still want to mention holograms. People are still talking about Tupac performing at Coachella in 2012, years after his death. More and more deceased celebrities are performing at events. Now, it’s still very expensive – you can’t set up shop and do this now – but it too will come down in price. There’s already technology where you can open a book and enjoy a hologram.

It’s going to happen. I can see a day where the decedent could eulogize her own funeral or perform her favorite song. Maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s their favorite companion, or another person, but it’s out there.

 

I’ve been fascinated with your industry ever since HBO’s series Six Feet Under. I thought it did a wonderful job, and I don’t know if it’s realistic, but it took away the fear about this experience for me and everyone I knew. I know I’m going to be cremated and I’ve got it in my trust that I’m going to fly my closest family and friends to the Four Seasons in Wailea and have my cremated remains scattered there. It’s going to be an event. I’ll need an event coordinator to do that for me – or, do you want to do that in-house? Have you done something like that? That’s a package. That’s an opportunity.

 


This post is part 2 of our two-part event planner series excerpted from the 2017 Cremation Symposium presentation “Best Practices for the ‘Accidental’ Event Planners” by Dr. Rhonda Montgomery and Todd Uglow of William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Read part 1 here.

You can learn more about event planning and access useful resources from the Event Industry Council:

See what CANA has planned for the 2020 Cremation Symposium: goCANA.org/cgt



Dr. Rhonda Montgomery

Rhonda Montgomery, Ph.D. is the Department Chair of the Food & Beverage and Event Management Department in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. She conducts research and has written articles on the social psychology of purchasing decisions and customer loyalty for meetings, conventions and festivals. She has also written numerous books in the areas of meetings and conventions, private club management and the first-year experience.

Todd Uglow

Todd Uglow is an assistant professor, faculty in residence of event management in the UNLV Harrah Hotel College. He has been a member of the UNLV faculty for over 10 years and focuses on event management & marketing, having expertise in festival design and entertainment management. Former clients of Mr. Uglow include the NFL, Professional Bull Riders and Major League Baseball. He is certified by the courts to testify on matters of celebrity and brand valuation. He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management, with a marketing emphasis from Cal State San Bernardino and a Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  memorialization  services  storytelling  tips and tools 

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The Accidental Event Planner

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2019
The Accidental Event Planner

 

Today, more and more funeral industry professionals are becoming “accidental” event planners due to the ever-changing nature of funeral practice. Industry professionals are being asked to produce events in venues outside of their facilities and to work closely with suppliers not traditionally associated with their business. This post, derived from a presentation at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium, provides best practices from the event industry, standardized forms used by event planners and suppliers, ideas on how to make your events successful, examples provided by attendees for how they have made their events successful in the past, and tips for avoiding common mistakes.


As a funeral professional, you’re planning events every day – coordinating supplies and products, preparing for attendees, crafting a memorable experience. This is a space you can comfortably own, so there’s really no reason to let it go to an outside planner. With the right tips and tools at hand, you can be a success.

Events 101

There are two common complaints regarding events, backed up by lots of research, and they’ve been standard for quite a while:

#1 : Why am I here anyway?
#2 : Wow, This is boring.

Why am I here? This should be pretty obvious for a funeral or memorial service, but you don’t want the only connection people have to event being obligation to attend. The best way to change that is to make the experience worth their time. Make sure they receive something they can use – for a funeral, this may be a memory or keepsake – so they leave with a positive outcome.

Wow, this is boring. You may have heard that goldfish have a memory span of 9 seconds, but the average human has an attention span of only 8 seconds. So how do we keep them engaged? Everyone takes in information differently so it’s crucial to understand what families want. Rather than starting with the budget (a limiting question), ask them a foundational question: what would a successful event look like? Then you can reflect what they told you and attempt to deliver exactly what they want.

Ask lots of questions, don’t make assumptions

In every industry, there will be mistakes. But in the event industry, the biggest mistakes made are based on the planner’s assumptions of their client’s needs – what the purpose of the meeting was, how they defined success, what they wanted, how much money they had – and the way to eliminate that is to have an in-depth conversation and then confirm what you’ve heard to make sure you’re on the same page. Maybe you have a preliminary form to get them thinking. Your goal is to avoid an unhappy client who got something they didn’t want or didn’t get something they did.

Most Fundamental Issue of All

How does your client define event success?

Four ways in the traditional event planning industry to define success:

  • Achieving certain financial goals.
    For conferences with tickets or tradeshows with booths, you budget and plan to profit.
  • Meeting certain attendance goals.
    For conferences, you want to build attendance every year by providing and experience and takeaways.
  • Attendee satisfaction.
    This is particularly important for the hospitality industry, but the challenge is how do you measure if they were satisfied. An ideal survey is 5-10 questions.
  • Media coverage/social media “likes”.
    This is a common way that families are connected and can be a useful tool in the planning process. For a conference, they want to know about the buzz and the online engagement.

For a funeral service, success might be defined by:

  • Finding a convenient location to attendees.
    Being creative, even leaving the funeral home, can make the experience.
  • Focusing on celebrating a life, rather than mourning it.
    Remembering loved ones they way they want to be remembered.
  • Correctly performing required religious rituals.
    When ritual is key in event planning, professionals often bring in consultants to make sure this part goes right.

While your goal for any event is meeting the needs of the family, their concern is their own experience, and that of everyone who came – what was their experience and what did they think? The best way to meet their needs is to know what the family wants.

Personalized experiences require research of the subject matter and, in the case of funeral events, the subject matter is the decedent. You will want to ask questions of your families about the deceased individual. Have them bring photos, mementos - things that mean something – starting with the first meeting. It’s essential that you get to know the person. Be sure to research him/her yourself online – find the photos and stories people are sharing online to get even more information.

You may not have much time to gather everything, so ask your client who you should talk to outside of the arrangement room in order to enhance the experience. Relinquish a bit of the control and partner with the family to get these other people involved.

Consider developing a theme. What was important to the decedent? What made this person happy? You don’t often get a readymade idea from the deceased about what they wanted, and you can’t ask, so get creative. From there, incorporate appealing décor and music, and even a nearby club, team, or group, based on what you learn about this individual.

Use of Technology

Using technology may not always be appropriate or feasible, but most attendees today expect some level of technology for virtually every event. This can include the use of simple AV equipment to play a video retrospective or a slideshow of favorite photos. It can be more elaborate, such as a video “invitation” about the upcoming service shared on social media or your website.

Technology also allows planners to be in contact and interact with the families online throughout the planning process. With a custom, private portal, family members can to communicate budget and vision, and see project status on their schedule. Many families don’t know exactly what they want – they don’t know how much it will cost, the options that are available, or how long it will take – but they have a general sense of what it should look like. Sitting down and committing ideas through their portal, especially with families spread across the country or the world, can keep everyone informed and facilitate these conversations.

Best Practices of Meetings and Events

For most people, the opportunity to celebrate someone’s life is coming at them at the deepest of their grief. The more examples you provide, the easier it may be for them to choose. We go back to “What is the take away from this event?” Wedding planners say to the couple, “What do you want your attendees to leave thinking about?” Some people will say “I want them to remember the food” or “I want them to remember how beautiful the room was.”

Location, location, location.

The venue should mean something to the family and friends. Don’t hesitate to look beyond the funeral home or rely on outside help. If you are facing a limited timespan to organize things, partner with venue managers and planners to make it happen. But be upfront about cost. If you’re talking about doing something original – a barbeque at a gravesite – you may need time to get the permit, the space, but the family will remember how meaningful it was.

Take time to visit local venues to get to know the space. When choosing a venue, you really want to think about the ambiance and its impact on all five senses. Does it smell musty or fresh? Does it look bright or dim? Is the furniture soft or uncomfortable? In Las Vegas, a casino will spend millions to place diffusers in slot machines, cushions on chairs, the right lighting, etc. to make sure that their visitors stay at the machine or table just a little longer.

If you establish relationships with local venues, you’ll know what you can offer and have concrete examples for your families. And cultivate the relationships with the local venues to keep the planning in house. If your space is booked, then you can refer your families to the outside venue and build a local partnership. And if families prefer another space, you won’t have to relinquish your role in planning. You can build on the relationship with the space, caterers, tech, etc. to work together.

Always walk through your event from the attendees’ perspective. What are they thinking about? If you walk through thinking about that, you’ll have a better understanding of exactly what is going to take place. And you’ll see the pitfalls, the challenges.

It’s all in the Timing

A detailed planning timeline is a best practice to keep in mind. The more details you include, the more helpful it will be in helping to organize the family members and your staff.

Traditional funerals give you a three-day timeline, but many CANA Members report that cremation expands the time to plan. A cremation arrangement doesn’t need to be condensed into three days, so you can continue working with the family and get creative. Since Saturday is the most popular day for a service, the timeline might naturally expand up to five weeks until the next available weekend.

If you’re helping a family celebrate, you have to keep them informed of the timeline. Some families wait two weeks while some wait six months until the weather clears. That’s the family’s decision – the more you push, the more uncomfortable they’ll be. Let them know the pitfalls of waiting three months for burial. Communicating to everybody involved in an event frequently and transparently is very important.

The Event Industry Council is an association of hospitality companies that focus on events and they have come together to provide a collection of templates and forms. With these, and your newfound event planning knowledge, go out and start looking at venues that are outside of your normal facility. Look at them, and imagine what an even would look like there. Then, when you hear what the family wants to their service, you can have options and ideas for them ready.

 


This post is just part 1 of our two-part event planner series excerpted from the 2017 Cremation Symposium presentation “Best Practices for the ‘Accidental’ Event Planners” by Dr. Rhonda Montgomery and Todd Uglow of William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Part 2 will be published soon, so check back.

You can learn more about event planning and access useful resources from the Event Industry Council:

See what CANA has planned for the 2020 Cremation Symposium: goCANA.org/cgt



Todd Uglow

Todd Uglow is an assistant professor, faculty in residence of event management in the UNLV Harrah Hotel College. He has been a member of the UNLV faculty for over 10 years and focuses on event management & marketing, having expertise in festival design and entertainment management. Former clients of Mr. Uglow include the NFL, Professional Bull Riders and Major League Baseball. He is certified by the courts to testify on matters of celebrity and brand valuation. He holds an undergraduate degree in Business Management, with a marketing emphasis from Cal State San Bernardino and a Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law.

Dr. Rhonda Montgomery

Rhonda Montgomery, Ph.D. is the Department Chair of the Food & Beverage and Event Management Department in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. She conducts research and has written articles on the social psychology of purchasing decisions and customer loyalty for meetings, conventions and festivals. She has also written numerous books in the areas of meetings and conventions, private club management and the first-year experience.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  personalization  services  tips and tools 

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Navigating the Green Funeral Landscape

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Navigating the Green Funeral Landscape

 

All around the country, cremation rates are continuing to steadily rise. If you are reading this, you will already know that this change is an almost daily conversation for those of us in the industry, and understandably so; in 2016, the national cremation rate hit 50%, a landmark meaning that for the first time, the majority of families going through the funeral process had their loved one returned as cremated remains, while a minority of the deceased were buried in a casket. Since then, this upward trend of the cremation rate has continued, and everyone has been working out how to address this change while keeping their businesses – often businesses that have been in the family for generations – successful.

There are a host of factors encouraging families to find new, creative options for their funerals, and green values are a key influence. People are generally living more eco-conscious lives, and prefer not to contribute to the large environmental footprint left by grave vaults, hardwood caskets, embalming fluids, etc. And, with life moving at internet-fast pace, people value simplicity. To most, the simplest option for a funeral is to get a cremation and have an intimate service, rather than taking the time and going through all the variables that are involved in a traditional funeral.

Cremation as an Opportunity

While any change in customer demands can be frightening, the way our industry is evolving opens up new avenues for businesses that previously did not exist. 10% of funeral homes may have closed between 2005 and 2015 (the recession in 2008 can be given a good part of the blame for that), but the number of deaths in the USA rose nearly 11%, from 2.45 million in 2005 to 2.71 million in 2015. For lack of a better way to put it, the customer base in the funeral industry is rising, but what they are buying has changed. Even with the rising popularity of non-traditional options, funeral homes and crematories are still the experts that we go to when a loved one passes away, and the drop in traditional burials leaves a massive opportunity to offer people something new and different.

Now, let’s look at the environmental reasoning behind non-traditional options. The world is becoming more eco-conscious, and people are taking steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint wherever they can. Electric cars and green energy sources are more popular than ever, many stores now charge for plastic bags to reduce waste, and even single-use utensils and plastic straws are being removed or replaced with biodegradable options. The entire City of Malibu recently banned all plastic straws and utensils to reduce waste from the thousands of visitors passing through every day.

If people are taking this much care in reducing their carbon footprint, why wouldn’t they also want to leave a minimal impact after life? Cremation is perceived as the greener alternative to burial, because it does not require the cement, toxic fluids, hardwoods, or physical space of a burial, and this opens up another opportunity to generate business from families. Plastic temporary containers can be replaced with biodegradable options at a very low cost, and will leave green-minded families satisfied. More importantly, while these families would not consider a marble or metal urn, there are many Earth-friendly urn options in the same price range as more expensive permanent options, which can be presented to families.

A beautiful urn hand-made from a natural gourd or carved from salt may be the best option for families that don’t want to purchase a permanent urn, but still want to place their loved one’s remains into something special. And, using unique biodegradable urns can open the door to some amazing services. We once had a family perform a ceremony at sea with one of our Turtle Urns, and they were joined by real sea turtles, resulting in an unforgettable experience for all involved. We have found that most members of the public didn’t know that these better options even exist, so by suggesting these options to families that see little or no value in a permanent urn, you can create a new revenue stream and provide unparalleled value to your families.

Through my work at Passages, I’ve come to learn many reasons that people choose to cremate and scatter instead of a traditional burial. More than ever, people are moving to new cities for work or family, and it has become rarer for a family to remain in the same place for generations. This means that visiting grave sites of parents or grandparents is harder. Often, people who are moving would rather not add an urn to their already heavy load, viewing it as “just another thing to carry.” Non-traditional options make more sense for these families, who may choose to get together once to scatter and celebrate a life, before going their separate ways. Offering higher-end biodegradable urns can help families make this a proper, memorable experience, whether they choose to scatter at sea or on land.

Green options don’t have to be low-tech or cheap; at Passages, we recently released a contemporary new urn that allows families to keep a loved one’s remains inside their home while they begin the healing process, but will be buried and grow a memorial tree. The family plants a memorial tree in the top half, with the remains in the bottom, and after some time the outer shell of the urn begins to crack. We like to see as the loved one telling the family it is time to bury the urn that holds their remains. The design of the urn neutralizes the pH of remains to allow healthy root growth, and it includes a unique geotag to mark the final planting location of the remains and memorial tree, with an online platform for families to create a memorial.

The final major reason cited for the shift to cremation and non-traditional funeral options is that people are attracted to the simplest option or whatever is the least amount of work and worry during an already difficult time. This is becoming truer in all aspects of life: ordering a rideshare service has become hugely popular due to the simplicity over a traditional taxi, and people have become used to shopping online with their purchases being delivered to their doors. So, when going through the funeral process, people expect a similar level of ease. If you improve your basic cremation package with natural, sustainable cremation containers and dignified temporary urns, families will feel taken care of. Those families that need something cheaper can ask for cardboard, but by offering something more in your “base” package, the simplest option that families can choose will also be a more profitable, more meaningful package.

If Someone Wants to Buy a Bike, You Won’t be Able to Sell Them a Car.

In our rapidly-changing funeral environment, it’s more important than ever to really understand how families are thinking and what it will take to provide them with a personal funeral experience. Many families today simply are not looking for the traditional funeral services that have been offered for generations, and we have to understand that those customers won’t be convinced to go that route due to a lack of other options.

Does your selection room reflect what over 50% of your cremation families are planning to do? Scattering is what over half of cremation families intend, a recent report from NFDA states. And most urn selection rooms offer a very small selection of urns intended for scattering of remains or burial in the earth or sea. If a family declines a permanent urn, it’s up to you to offer a non-traditional urn that they will see value in. If not, the opportunity for a sale will be lost, along with the opportunity to provide the best in the eyes of the family.

Passages International has partnered with CANA to host the first-ever Green Funeral Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because we want to take a deeper dive into where the industry is heading. Green funeral practices are being driven by consumer demand and, for the most part, progressive funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories are finding a way to say yes to greening funeral arrangements. Participants in this Conference will learn current green funeral practices and, through interactive sessions, apply innovative ideas to their businesses. This isn’t just lecture, it’s interactive solution-sharing with colleagues from across the profession and around the world.

This event will include presentations and panels with experts in the non-traditional field, and will help funeral professionals understand how to market and offer green and non-traditional options to families successfully. You can find more information and register at the CANA website or the Passages International website. The event will coincide with the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and participants will be invited to take a tour of the Passages International facility in Albuquerque, to learn more about biodegradable urns and eco-friendly caskets.

 


Kilian takes the stage at the first-ever Green Funeral Conference this October 2-4. See other eco-experts coming for this unique opportunity to discuss green funeral practices on our website. Register soon, because this is an event you won't want to miss!



Elisa Krcilek

Kilian Rempen is the Marketing Manager at Passages International, leaders in the green funeral sector for 20 years. Kilian has been published in multiple major funeral industry publications and helps spread the word of greener alternatives in funerals and other areas.

Tags:  consumers  events  green practices  memorialization 

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Cremation for a Growing and Diverse Population

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019
Cremation for a Growing and Diverse Population

 

The 21st century is changing North American life. There are more of us, and more different kinds of us, than ever before. Our traditions are numerous and varied, and, in many ways, the marketplace shifts to address this new reality. No facet of our culture is immune to this transformation—and certainly not the way we memorialize loved ones who have passed on. In 2015, CANA Second Vice President and Funeral Director Archer Harmon told the cremation symposium audience how Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home responded to changing demographics.


Know Your Data

Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home and Crematory is located in Fairfax County, a suburb just eleven miles from the border of the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C. is a very, very diverse community. Government jobs bring people there, embassies bring people there, a booming economy brings people there. In a very short time, in the ten years between 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white population decreased in Northern Virginia by 10% percent to be replaced by an Asian population of 12.5% and a Hispanic population of 4.8%. In just ten years, that population change is incredibly rapid.

I got these data off of websites from Fairfax County, the federal government, and the media. This information is free, it’s readily available to you, and it’s a road map for you to understand what’s going on and why your business is changing. You can look at these data and see where your business is going to go. At our funeral home the software we use tracks everything. Our directors and apprentices are trained that there are specific things that are entered into our computer program. I can tell you where our deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, I can tell you the race—I can tell you all of this with just a few requests through the software program.

If you don’t know your past or your present, your future can be uncertain. Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home opened in 2003, within a couple of miles of well-established funeral homes in Northern Virginia that have been there 60, 70, 80 years. So it was a pretty big risk for the Doherty family to open a funeral home in 2003 when cremation rates were skyrocketing. But their risk paid off, and we served almost 900 families last year.

A lot of you have cremation rates of 60-80%, but there are many populations out there who want ceremonies. If you try to discuss direct cremation with them, they just don’t get it. How do you locate, serve, and track these groups for whom direct cremation is not an option?

The Importance of Outreach

When we first opened, I met with the funeral preparer for a local Buddhist temple. She came to us to inquire about using our funeral home because it’s close to where the population served by her temple lives. She helped me get set up with all of our Buddhist equipment and helped me to tailor a package to accommodate the needs of her families. What all this means for our industry, with our shrinking profits, growing cremation rates, and how diverse we’re becoming as a population in North America, we learned to reach out to specific groups. Now, Fairfax Memorial has created packages tailored to a specific temple that uses our services.

You have to have an outreach program for various groups so you can have a dialogue with them. You need to have a way to tell people what you can do for them. Our website is a great way we reach out to a particular population. The populations we are talking about are very savvy with technology, so we include specific religious and cultural keywords to help people find us. That way, when someone in Northern Virginia Googles “Buddhist funeral,” “Hindu funeral,” whatever the case may be, our information pops up. We are in the number one position with this.

If you look at a map that shows an overview of what your area looks like by the fastest growing religions, you can see where to put your efforts. Looking at the information on the national map, if I owned a funeral home or crematory in Washington State, Nevada, Arizona, and California, I would be knocking on the doors of these temples saying, “I have a funeral home and we’re here to help.”

The Laotian Buddhist Funeral

I think most of the directors at my funeral home agree with me that the Laotian funeral is one of the most interesting funerals we do. When we first opened in August of 2003, I was at the funeral home and we had a Laotian family walk in. They wanted to have a funeral. They liked our chapel because it was big and could accommodate 200 people. It was our first Laotian funeral and we didn’t know anything about a Laotian funeral. They helped us and they were very kind. To this day, we still have Laotian funerals and I still see some of the same people who were there for the original funeral service. We did something right the first time, and it has paid off.

Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordering Thailand and Vietnam. In a traditional service, relatives of the deceased serve in Laotian funerals as novice monks, or “monks for the day,” and this is a great honor – but one they have to shave their heads and their eyebrows for. In addition to the novice monks, full Laotian monks from the local temples are the ones who do the chanting for the deceased during the ceremony. Services are very beautiful. The Laotians bring in their own Buddha. It’s a Thai Buddha and it’s very thin. It doesn’t have the Chinese characteristics to it.

After the funeral has ended, the monks from the temple hold a rope. The rope is tied to the casket, and they lead the casket out our chapel door, through our front door, and throughout our entire funeral home. They make their route to the crematory where they witness the cremation.

As part of the procession, there’s a family member behind the casket with a bowl of money that’s wrapped in foil. The packets are thrown up in the air, and if you are the funeral director or funeral assistant or apprentice on that casket, you will get pelted with money. The family throws the money to distract the attention of the evil spirits away from the deceased so the loved one can be cremated and move on to the next world. The rope signifies the monks pulling, and the indirect route taken to the crematory is meant to confuse the spirits.

There are wreaths carried by family members with money attached to them. The family folds paper money into triangles and affixes it to the wreaths. This is for the temple monks. At the end of the ceremony, there’s a wreath for each monk as alms, or an offering to the monks, thanking them for their participation in the journey of the loved one from this life into the next life. The last Laotian funeral I had, there were ten wreaths. I counted one wreath and it had over a thousand dollars in twenties folded in triangles. Each of the ten wreaths was presented to the monks, so that is their form of payment, thanking the monks for what they have done for the family.

If you ever have the honor to serve a Buddhist family and they give you a tip, take it. If you don’t take the tip, you’ve insulted the deceased and you’ve insulted the family. It’s the same as the alms for the monks. The family is thankful for everything that you do for them.

Learning to Listen

It’s interesting to talk to people about their different cultures and religious traditions. It’s similar to the way people share food recipes. They want to share these things with you, and the more interest you have, the more they will tell you. And that’s how we’ve all become experts in this. Listening to the families we serve and putting it back together for them and giving them everything that they want. When we hire a new director, especially if they’ve come from another area, it can take a while for them to acclimate. I see them sometimes, just standing there wondering, “What’s going on here?” But in six months to a year, they’re fully immersed.

In Northern Virginia, we have a huge Asian population. In many of these cultures, cremation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years. Sometimes they choose burial, sometimes they choose cremation. We can accommodate them, and anyone else in our community, with whatever their needs are, by being willing to listen to their needs and learn.

 


The data referenced in this post is based on the most recent US Census in 2010. The 2020 Census will provide even more perspective on how our communities are changing. CANA will continue creating innovative content about how change can work for traditional funeral homes facing new and different clientele.

This post excerpted from Archer Harmon’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America, as transcribed in The Cremationist magazine Vol. 51, Iss. 2 titled “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” which includes more photos and traditions from services of many different cultures. The Cremationist is an exclusive benefit to CANA members — explore our website to learn about the other resources CANA provides to members.



Archer Harmon

Archer Harmon is a licensed funeral director and embalmer and the General Manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. With over 30 years of experience, Archer is well versed in many funeral traditions, including military funerals and state funerals for dignitaries. He has attained a vast amount of invaluable knowledge regarding the funeral customs of highly diverse populations. Archer serves on CANA’s Board of Directors as Second Vice President.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  personalization  public relations  services  statistics 

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Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Defense Mechanisms the Bereaved Use

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Defense Mechanisms the Bereaved Use

 

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.

Defense Mechanisms

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.

Displacement

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?

Projection

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!”

Reaction Formation

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

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.

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