Posted By Jason Engler, CANA Historian,
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Updated: Monday, May 7, 2018
It is impossible to pinpoint a single reason that the rite of cremation gained any acceptance during its early years in America. It was not a popular option and tradition ruled out crematories in many areas of the country. Several of the early crematories were built on a grand and beautiful scale, and this might have influenced public attitudes. However, with only the most basic research, one could easily attribute cremation’s growth to an idea that gripped all areas of death care: the “Memorial Idea.”
The Memorial Idea
The Memorial Idea began in the cemetery. The establishment of a memorial identity for each person who lived and died was the most important part of the rite of passage called death. Cremationists quickly adopted the idea to include cremation, but the obstacles they faced were harder to overcome than those of their cemeterian counterparts.
Clifford Zell, Sr., owner of the Valhalla Chapel of Memories in St. Louis, was the originator of the slogan of the Cremation Association of America (CANA’s original name), a variation of which is still the mantra of our association today. It was during the 1933 convention that Clifford Zell made the statement: “There is one thought I hope that I can impress most deeply on all crematory men – cremation is not the end – cremation alone is not complete, but is only an intermediate step towards the permanent preservation of the cremated remains.”
The Memorial Idea stated simply that no cremation was complete without inurnment, which always included ALL of the following:
- A memorial urn of imperishable material
Cremation urns have been utilized in one form or fashion since the dawn of civilization. Greeks placed their dead in urns of various materials most often terracotta. The Romans placed their dead in urns of semi-precious stone deposited in columbaria. After cremation’s modern revival began in the U.S., urns still were not uniform in size or composition. By the early 1900s, urns of various metals, including copper and tin, were frequently used. In the 1920s, as cremation began to stabilize, bronze urns became the norm.
For many years, the urn memorial was so important to cremationists that CANA’s logo, as the Cremation Association of America (CAA), featured illustrations of an urn in a niche.
- The engraving of the memorial urn
When a bronze urn was engraved indelibly with a person’s name and dates of birth and death, the urn became part of the memorial. Together with the other urns in a columbarium, they lent their beauty to add to the overall experience of a columbarium.
- The permanent placement of the memorial urn
Just as every person who lives must die, so too should every person who dies have a permanent resting place. Just as the ancients inscribed names on the urns of their loved ones, the ancient Greeks erected Tumuli in memory of their dead, the Egyptians erected the pyramids, the Romans inurned in columbaria, Kings and Queens entombed in Westminster Abbey, so the placement of the urn became the permanent memorial that cremationists required. This was the utmost concern of the cremationists who were active in the Cremation Association. The inurnment of cremated remains was not always a priority for cremationists, but became the sole purpose of the plight of the association beginning in the late 1920s.
Scattering cremated remains, permanent destruction of cremated remains, and home retention of cremated remains were all in direct conflict with the Memorial Idea. Often, the practice was equated with desecration and was fervently discouraged.
Standardizing Crematory and Columbarium Practices
The conventions of the Cremation Association were breeding grounds to further the Memorial Idea to those who chose cremation. Lawrence Moore, long-time president and operator of the Chapel of the Chimes in California, was the most instrumental character in the cremation world – he coined the word “inurnment,” invented the first electric-powered cremator, and began the practice of including a unique metallic disc used in every cremation to identify cremated remains. He also was the first to suggest using a cardboard temporary urn to encourage the selection of a permanent urn.
Throughout the meetings of the Cremation Association, there were frequent discussions about standardizing the practices of crematories across the country. Many ideas were exchanged on how this could be effected to encompass the cremation customs from the east coast to the west coast and the mix of both in the Midwest. A committee was formed and, after much research, in 1941 the Manual of Standard Crematory and Columbarium Practices was adopted.
This manual was considered the textbook of the operations of the modern crematory and columbarium, and became the bible by which cremationists promulgated the Memorial Idea. Throughout the manual, sections dealt with all aspects of operating a crematory and columbarium, but the sections that discussed the handling of cremated remains and the permanent placement of memorial urns were the most doctrinal in nature.
During the Memorial Idea era of cremation’s history, most cremationists refused to pulverize, crush or grind cremated remains to reduce their consistency to the cremated remains we picture today. It was the belief that the reduction of the remains to the finer consistency was a desecration to the remains and gave the impression of valueless ash. Their stance also enforced the need for a permanent urn and to aide in the prevention of scattering.
The Manual of Standard Crematory and Columbarium Practices spelled it out clearly:
Never Crush or Grind Cremated Remains
This is very important. We have no right to crush, grind or pulverize human bone fragments. They should be placed in the temporary container or urn, just as they were removed from the cremation vault… To do otherwise encourages desecration, gives an impression of valueless ash, and will eventually destroy the memorial idea. There is usually sentiment for the cremated remains of a loved one, but it frequently disappears when desecrated. All crematories should adopt this same policy, so the practices are the same everywhere.
This was further supported by the suggestion for reverent handling of the cremated remains:
Cremated Remains Should be Carefully Prepared and Handled Reverently
Cremated remains are human remains and are deserving of careful and reverent handling. The attitude of the individual toward cremated remains is oft-times represented by the way he handles them, and the attitude of the crematory-columbarium is definitely expressed by the way remains are prepared and handled by its employees… How can we expect a family or interested party to recognize the fact that cremated remains are human remains and are deserving of proper memorialization if, as crematory-columbarium operators we fail to express by action as well as by word and thought that the remains are sacred?
The admonition regarding scattering was perhaps the most doctrinal statement of the entire manual, and carried with it the most important ideal for the cremationist’s purpose:
Never Scatter Cremated Remains
Cremated remains are not a powdery substance, but the human bone fragments of a loved one. They will not blow away… but will remain where strewn...
A request to scatter is frequently made with the supposition that it is the kindly thing, least expensive and least trouble for those remaining. In fact it is usually the most difficult and unkindly request that could be made. Certainly the deceased would not have requested it had they realized the possible heartaches that it would cause. There is comfort in being able to place a flower, on occasion, at the last resting place. Scattering makes this impossible. [There will be] no tangible memory where a flower may be placed in memory. When cremated remains are once destroyed, regrets cannot return them…
Much of this may seem like heavy cremationist doctrine, but the cremationists were quite successful in their endeavors. This time frame in cremation’s history in America caused some of the most beautiful memorials imaginable to be created, and they remain beautiful to this day. The idea also caused some very successful revenues for the cremationists.
The Memorial Idea revealed the heart of the true cremationist in every way. It took cremation from the hands of reform societies and placed it in the gentle care of business men who brought the idea to life. Unfortunately, by the 1970s, a new idea in cremation began to move in. The face of cremation was about to change drastically.
Cremation’s transformation began in the 1960s. Although influenced by many factors, this change was primarily due to a movement toward simplicity. It was in 1963 that Jessica Mitford wrote her satirical expose, The American Way of Death, lambasting all aspects of the allied funeral and memorial professions. Urged by the excitement that her book spawned, businesses formed to advocate for simple direct cremation and provided easy avenues for those preferring minimal services.
The Memorial Idea began to lose hold, and, as it did, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), led by Genevieve “Jinger” Zell, daughter-in-law of Clifford Zell, Sr., mentioned above, did everything possible to maintain the integrity of what CANA viewed was right: the permanent memorialization of cremated remains. National ad campaigns were initiated and the association’s trade magazine began publication in 1965 to disseminate the news and advocacy of the association.
The simplification process that cremation underwent was underscored by the general public’s idea of death care practices. However, this movement did not only affect the memorialization side of cremation – all areas were affected. Cremation chambers were manufactured to ship to different locations, where they had been previously constructed on-site. The first modern crematories were constructed in the basements and wings of chapels across the country, but soon were moved from chapels to garages and metal out-buildings.
During the transformation, scattering cremated remains became more and more popular. Crematories installed “cremulators” and processors to reduce the consistency of the cremated remains in order to facilitate cremation. Did scattering encourage processing or, as was the fear of Lawrence Moore in the Memorial Idea period, did processing encourage scattering? The answer is unknown. However, it is clear that the two went hand-in-hand during this time.
With the focus of cremation changing from disposition and memorialization to cost-conscious simplicity, the cremation urn industry changed as well. While a majority of urns sold during the time of the memorial idea were constructed of fine cast or spun bronze, aluminum and wood now became popular options.
Through all the changes that the cremation profession has faced over the years, the constant underlying ability to succeed amidst the challenges of doing business has proved stronger with membership in the Cremation Association of North America. Since its inception, the association has maintained cremation as its theme, and no other professional association has the roots, track record, singular focus, or knowledge that ours does. All of this has been gained by experience and by maintaining the ability to adapt to the needs and desires of those our members serve.
What does the future hold for cremationists? That is entirely dependent on the attitude of the cremationist. If we simply measure how far our profession has come in the years since America’s first modern cremation in 1876, and review how CANA has guided this profession for more than a century since its formation in 1913, we will quickly realize that our true potential lies ahead. In reading the proceedings of almost 40-years-worth of annual conventions of the Cremation Association, I have learned some very important lessons that I can use in my daily dealings with families choosing cremation.
Paper dissolves, computers crash, but when a name is engraved on a permanent memorial urn made of material that will last, or on a stone marking a place of rest, these permanent, tangible signs provide stepping stones for future generations. May we never lose sight of the ever-present necessity of our association and our calling, and may we never fail to put families and their needs and desires ahead of our own. We must do all that we can do to maintain the heritage of our ever-changing culture. To do so is to fully serve those who call on us in times of need. It is, after all, what our life’s work is all about.
This post is the second in our series on the history of cremation in preparation for the opening of The History of Cremation exhibition at the National Museum of Funeral History. Catch up with the first article and the women who contributed to cremation and CANA. Learn more about the exhibit and how you can contribute on the museum’s website.
Jason will present on the history of cremation and our association in honor of CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention this July. Celebrate with us while learning from the experts on where cremation is going and how your business can continue its success. Learn more and register: gocana.org/CANA18
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 49, Issue 3: “Memorialization: The Memorial Idea” and Vol 49, Issue 4: “Simplification: The Cremation Movement Since the 1960s” by CANA Historian Jason Engler in honor of CANA’s Centennial celebrated in 2013.
All photos from the Engler Cremation Collection, courtesy of the author.
Jason Ryan Engler is a licensed funeral director and is known as the Cremation Historian. His interest in the funeral profession came at an early age in his life and his intrigue with the practice of cremation memorialization has put him on a journey of appreciating the beauty of the torch over the spade. Not only is Jason a practicing funeral director, he is also a speaker for local, state, and national associations. He also serves as the Cremation Historian for both the National Museum of Funeral History and the Cremation Association of North America. Mr. Engler’s articles have appeared in regional and national funeral and cremation trade journals including “The Dead Beat,” “The Cremationist of North America,” and “Funeral Business Advisor.” Additionally, he is author of the book "Body to the Purifying Flame: A History of the Missouri Crematory, St. Louis, Missouri."
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Scan some recent headlines and you may see a recurring problem:
BCSO Looking for Owner of Abandoned Urn
Searching for Ashes Within Ashes
Salvation Army Receives Donated Urn Filled With Ashes
If cremation is final disposition, we cannot fully serve our communities when they need us most.
Legally, cremation is regarded as final disposition almost everywhere. However, even in places where there are laws on the books requiring placement in cemeteries, such laws are typically not enforced.
Historically, these laws were promoted by funeral directors and cemeterians who held certain assumptions about cremation families. Conventional wisdom dictated that cremation families didn't want ceremony and were focused on price—and therefore not worth the attention of an experienced funeral director. Thus, the laws were designed to protect traditional funeral service elements: casket, wake, clergy service, burial, graveside. Even the FTC Funeral Rule was created along those lines, requiring price disclosure of funeral elements but only addressing cremation as one item—direct cremation.
Our assumptions that cremation and funeral were diametrically opposed created the concept of “direct cremation.” On top of that, the laws that were enacted did more to teach the public that cremation doesn’t need service or burial than they did to prevent cremation’s rise in popularity. And the public continues to choose cremation.
So, after decades of telling the public that they don’t need our service and treating cremated remains as final disposition, how do we expect to change public perceptions now?
I’m not the first to say it, but this is a polarized profession. On one side, there are those who embrace the whole spectrum of cremation, from direct disposition to full service. The other side doesn’t believe in cremation and doesn’t understand the experience of the family beyond the transaction. Unfortunately, you can’t sell what you don’t believe. Tacking “Cremation Services” on to your company name by contracting with the local third party doesn’t mean cremation families will flock to your business—especially if you don’t understand why they’re choosing cremation in the first place.
For too many in the industry, cremation is fine on their terms: “Cremated remains can be buried—in fact you can even place two sets in one space!” Or “A wooden casket can be cremated and you can have the body present at a visitation and service prior to cremation.” Both of these statements are true and many families may find comfort in these rituals—but they aren’t the only truths. They’re not the only path toward healthy grieving and gathering.
Other providers segregate our communities by the labels of “traditional” or “cremation” because they “figured out what cremation families want” and it’s a transaction, not an experience. The resistance to creativity and personalization under the guise of ritual and dignity has done even more damage to consumer attitudes than regulation has.
Consumer watchdogs reinforce the assumption that cremation is merely disposition. Their arguments make cremation about price, where “dealing with the body” should be as cheap as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by funeral directors. Worse, funeral directors reinforce this by starting the conversation with pricing and not service. Low-cost, direct disposers succeed by speaking directly to cremation families in the same language as the media and watchdogs, reinforcing that funeral directors and cemeterians are mercenary and superfluous.
All this propaganda leaves consumers fearful and confused. Cremation is supposed to be simple! Complete some paperwork, make a few basic decisions, and take home a box—with little guidance and support, let alone memorialization ideas (and forget about any mention of permanent placement altogether).
In pop culture, memorialization is reserved for the military or the wealthy and scattering is the option for everyone else—other than maybe a fancy urn on the mantel. The funeral director’s expertise is absent.
Then there is the stereotypical funeral director. All stereotypes have a kernel of truth, otherwise they would be absurd and implausible instead of funny. The creepy, morbid, silent man in a black suit standing in the back of the room is funnier than a man or woman directing and educating the family in options to create a meaningful experience and finding a meaningful place for the remains to rest.
But we created this problem. There is no point in blaming hospice, Hollywood, or the watchdogs. Funeral directors, cemeterians, death care trade associations— we created this problem, and we need to find the solutions.
Strategies and Solutions
- Public trust is at an all-time low for institutions across the board. This is hard for funeral directors as first responders relied upon to serve people at need and anyone in the industry trusted with the memory and the finances of a loved one. Building trust is about transparency, communication, and apologizing when you’re in the wrong. In our industry, we have to go one step farther and educate the consumer about what we do. We can’t let watchdogs and the media tell our story and we have to demonstrate how we contribute to the public service.
- Building hospice and health care partnerships centered around grief services is brilliant. Maintaining a level of continuity builds the trust in the expertise of professional care. Too often, when somebody dies, health care’s job is done except for the paperwork. The grief services dictated by Medicare, delivered in conjunction with funeral homes, provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with a family and educate them about options. They’ve become used to the level of support and care of the medical profession, so abruptly turning the conversation to the transaction of a direct cremation is too jarring. We can do better.
- Funeral home and crematory staff are more than happy to help a family to their car with a box of cremated remains. Would you do the same with the casketed body of their loved one? Why are cremated remains so different? Where is the reverence and the ceremony? Expert Celebrant Glenda Stansbury’s concept of infusing ceremony into every interaction with families includes the moment the cremated remains are retrieved from your care. We need to remind ourselves to maintain the respect for the cremated remains. Knowing you’ve helped to lay remains at a gravesite offers a sense of closure and security, so why not ask where the cremated remains are going? Chances are good that you’ll be able to provide the same closure and security if you offer useful ideas.
- Cemetery placement is only possible if the cemetery embraces cremation, too. Cemeterians—have you truly updated your cemetery rules and regulations to accommodate a cremation age? Do you offer multiple memorialization options—burial, above ground niches, benches, ossuaries, scattering, and memorial walls for those who scattered elsewhere? If 60-80% of cremated remains go home, there are millions of boxes sitting on shelves and guilty family members cringing every time they see that box. They have a problem and you have a solution. You can help remove their guilt, offer closure, and lay their loved one at peace—even years after the death. I recognize that this is the toughest market in which to communicate value, but the recent consumer media frenzy about maintaining clean cemeteries demonstrates that people worry about perpetual care and they abandon their loved ones at funeral homes because they know they’ll be safe there. A recent speaker at a CANA event called cemeteries the “biggest museums in the world” with “more history in them than a lot of other places” and genealogical information for generations. Your role has never been more important, and framing it that way is key.
You’ll notice none of my proposed solutions attempt to convince the consumer they’re wrong. That tradition is the best, that cremation is bad. Partially that’s because I work for the Cremation Association of North America, but mostly it’s because cremation is a bell that cannot be unrung. The cremation rate passed 50% in 2016 and will not revert.
In our industry’s past, we tried to partition families by their burial and cremation preferences. Now, we have to unteach the public and ourselves. There’s no such thing as “just cremation.” Compassion, service, options, grief, problems, solutions, and placement are relevant to every death, no matter the disposition. But solutions only work if we believe we can solve the problem, and if we can meet the family’s needs.
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
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Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2017
What do Canadians know that might benefit their colleagues across the border? In order to try and answer that question, The Cremationist contacted successful members from the three most populous provinces— Louis Savard (Quebec), Laurie Cole (Ontario), and Ryan McLane (British Columbia)—to ask them for their opinions on factors contributing to Canada’s higher cremation rate, how that rate has affected the way they do business, how they approach cremation and talk to cremation families, what their experience with direct cremation has been, and what advice they might give to a U.S. colleague.
Market Director for Quebec, Service Corporation International
The impact of rising cremation rates began for Canada in the 1980s and 90s. Since then, we’ve learned to live with the high rate. Because we’ve been experiencing high cremation rates since the 90s, it’s not a big deal for us. It’s just our day-to-day operation. We are living with it. Back then, it changed everything we did.
Celebrating the life of a loved one is the same. Cremation doesn’t mean people don’t want to make an investment. It’s not just disposal of the body and it doesn’t mean they don’t want to get together. There is the same need to celebrate the life of a loved one. Today, cremation and burial in Canada are the same. Visitation in Quebec is the same. Celebration and services, people meeting and talking together to celebrate the life of a loved one.
The cremation rate in the U.S. is going through what we went through 20-25 years ago. I work with an international company that serves the U.S. and Canada. The company only began adding catering services a few years ago in the U.S., but we started catering in Canada 20 years ago. It’s a big, big piece of the service we provide and adds a lot to our revenue. People sharing a glass of wine, being all together, having a eulogy at the same time as the reception.
We need to adapt ourselves to what people want, because we have to create all kinds of ways to have a life celebration. We need to have an open mind. If each life is unique, each celebration is unique. If you have an open mind, you can do everything, listening closely and carefully and working with the family to celebrate a unique life. You cannot be trained for that—you have to be a person who is creative, working with families and listening attentively to build that honor.
People want to celebrate life. The funeral home is not where they live, where they meet with their families, where they have fun. They want to celebrate a life where they are comfortable.
With cremation we can do whatever we want. Not so much with a burial.
President and Owner of Cole Funeral Services
Cremation has become a choice for many families, religious or not. It really is not a cost issue: people truly just want to choose cremation as part of the service instead of choosing traditional burial. With an onsite cemetery, we offer many options for memorialization for cremation burial. Some families do choose to keep the urn or scatter the cremated remains, but we also have a lot of heritage at Pinecrest, so many families do have the option of placing urns with family members who already rest at Pinecrest. That being said, even if there is no room in a family plot, families may still choose to purchase land for the urn burial based on the heritage affiliation as well.
With cremation, families can also focus on more details and options for the service. They have more time to plan the event with us rather than with the more “traditional” type of service. They can turn their attention to items such as linen color, personalization of the photos, stationery, food and alcohol selections, and creating their own floral arrangements or music playlists and the like. A cremation family may choose a simple container or casket, but they tend to focus on the urn and possibly an urn vault. They don’t see the value in an ornate casket, but may find value with the urn, jewelry, an urn vault for mementos, the memorial cards, or the land/monument or niche.
When a family says, “We just want cremation,” as service providers, we should not assume this means direct cremation. It oftentimes means that they want cremation and not traditional burial, but they still want some sort of gathering with food and beverages, a service, and a viewing to honor their loved one. Yes, 80% of our families choose cremation. But of that 80%, only 10% request a true direct cremation—and I always share that fact with colleagues in the industry.
My advice is to communicate all the choices to a family, regardless if they say, “We just want cremation.” We are doing a disservice to our families if we do not show them all the options available, for some simply may not be aware of their choices and may see value in them once they know about them.
Market Manager for Vancouver Island, Service Corporation International
I have been witnessing requests for direct cremation for 20 years now in British Columbia. I don’t think this is a U.S. phenomenon in any way. This direct cremation concept begins with an active increase in cremation requests as a whole.
The cremation rate has been considerable for a long time now in British Columbia. Over the years, many people have discussed the reasons for this and agreed that a number of important factors come into play. The most common suggestion is the nature of our transient society in British Columbia. We have had a very high rate of immigration over the years, as well as a very high mobility rate among people retiring to British Columbia from other parts of Canada. This leads to fewer people in their social network and less family around them. When a death occurs, cremation is viewed as a way to ensure that end of life is “not so complicated” or a way to “keep it simple.”
Funeral directors can never assume that they know what the family is thinking. The most difficult thing to overcome is the perception that the family wants nothing but a direct cremation. So many times the family doesn’t even know what they are asking for. Many request cremation and nothing else. But what does “nothing else” actually mean to them? How can the funeral director be more involved? Families want to keep it simple. But what is your definition of simple?
I see a difference in the need for explanation to what is available to almost every cremation consumer. Many people who select cremation are not aware that they can still have a visitation, or still have a service and still have a cemetery plot. Once you start to explore the options with a family, they will want to create a personal service for their loved one. Many times this is independent of any mainstream religion, and oftentimes families have no affiliation with the local church.
Over the years, it has been evident that the cremation consumer is looking for value. That does not mean that the consumer is cheap but rather that they are focused on purchasing items or services that are meaningful to them. Personalization is very important, as well as efficiency. As time goes on, requests for embalming have been replaced with requests for catering. We’ve also had to adapt and create new traditions for the families that are not affiliated with organized religion and who want chapel services with or without viewings.
Funeral directors have to educate families. The cremation concept is not a new concept but people just don’t know realize all the options they can have for arrangements. Families need to make educated decisions with a funeral director. As traditions evolve, we as funeral professionals need to take the lead to educate and to continue to help create meaningful events for families to say goodbye to their loved ones.
This post has been excerpted from Vol. 53, No. 4 Issue of The Cremationist and edited for length. Members can read the full version and insights on cremation traditions around the world in the original issue.
The CANA network is one of the most powerful benefits of attending a CANA event and membership with the association. CANA provides the space where cremation professionals can share important conversations with people who get you and your business. Consider connecting with CANA and other industry experts at the 2018 Cremation Symposium for topics that inspire innovative thinking.
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Louis Savard, Service Corporation International’s Market Director for Quebec and Vice President of SCI Canada, entered funeral service in 1985. He was the National Sales Director for Atlas Casket and worked for three years at Lepine Cloutier Funeral Home as a sales manager in preneed before moving on to SCI in 1992, where he was involved in corporate development.
Laurie Cole, President and Owner of Cole Funeral Services and Secretary-Treasurer/Director of Operations for Pinecrest Remembrance Services, is a fourth-generation descendant of John Cole, founder of the original Pinecrest Remembrance Services, established in 1924. In addition to her tireless service to Ottawa through the Rotary Club of Ottawa Kanata Sunrise, a supporter of the Live/Work/Play program, she has also served on the Board of Directors of the Cremation Association of North America. A mother of two, Laurie is a country girl at heart and has even earned a college diploma as a veterinary technologist.
Ryan McLane is the current Market Manager for Vancouver Island with Service Corporation International. He has worked both in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island for over 20 years. He is also a Past President of the British Columbia Funeral Association.
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Posted By Administration,
Friday, November 10, 2017
Recently, Michigan consumer media was alarmed to learn that a funeral home had stored cremated remains in a storage locker. Worried about nefarious dealings, reporters asked if this indicated criminal activity. Asked for comment, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association assured that possession and storage of unclaimed cremated remains is common.
Indeed, the new owners of the funeral home had followed best practices by identifying the cremated remains and attempting to find families. The previous owner encountered what many do – the families had abandoned the cremated remains at the funeral home. Under Michigan law, cremated remains only need to be stored for six months before they can be respectfully placed, but the staff at many funeral homes balk at taking further action. They are troubled by the idea that cremated remains could be irrevocably separated from loved ones.
A recent issue of The Cremationist discussed this very topic. The answer, simply, is to take proactive steps to emphasize the value of permanent placement in all discussions with families and to encourage them to make a deliberate decision. For many, cremation is valued because it adds time and flexibility to make these important decisions, so they tend to endlessly defer them. Three industry professionals offered their recommendations for helping families make a choice that is right for them and appropriate for the storage space available in their funeral home.
A Question of Value by Steven Palmer
The question I pose to families choosing cremation is, “what would you do for a final decision if you hadn't selected cremation?” Now ultimate determinations must be considered.
To assist them in this thought process, I tell them not to think in the short term, but think eternally. If a casket is placed in a permanent resting place, why not an urn? Scattering is an option only to be chosen when it is well thought out and meaningful. It should not be performed because “we couldn't think of anything else.”
Other options to suggested may be:
Family Heritage Plot: Where are your grandparents or great-grandparents buried? In a large family lot back home? I am sure that there is space for an urn to reunite family.
Veterans Cemeteries: When an employee's husband died and was cremated, I suggested he be placed in a local national cemetery, taking advantage of this no cost benefit he had earned. She mentioned his mother's urn needed final placement somewhere. I inquired whether her father-in-law was a veteran. He was, an honorable discharge and marriage certificate were produced and, even though the father-in-law was interred in another state, she was eligible. Son and mother were placed in side by side niches without additional cost to the family.
Other more contemporary placements such as niches along a cemetery walkway or base of a statue or even being part of a reef placed in the ocean. Creative thinking can solve this indecision.
Dealing with Cremated Remains by Daniel M. Isard
I have a very dear friend whose mother was dying. Not understanding what I did for a living, but knowing it was in the funeral profession, she called me to help her plan her mother’s disposition. She wanted her mother’s body to be cremated. We went through the process of planning the funeral service.
Before the cremation I asked, “Mary, who do you want to take possession of your mother’s cremated remains?” She said, “Oh we don’t want them. Just tell the funeral director to do something with them!” I said, “The funeral home can place them in a cemetery for perpetual keeping or give them to you to dispose of as you see fit.”
Many consumers don’t care what happens to the cremated remains of their loved one’s body. There are added decisions they don’t want to deal with. These cremated remains can be converted into diamonds or potting soil but the consumer doesn’t want to make that decision.
One technique that I have found to be successful involves building out the cremation authorization to include the return of the cremated remains. The family is told that they can either pick-up the cremated remains from the funeral home or the funeral home can deliver the cremated remains to the appointed family member. The key points are the date range for the retrieval.
Offering Guidance on Cremation Options by Mark Zimmer
We acquired firm a few years ago, and during our due diligence, discovered a cupboard containing 16 cremated remains that were unclaimed. They had two crypts at a local cemetery into which the unclaimed urns were entombed, reopened as needed to add others. While this is an effective way of placing unclaimed urns in an accessible place, it is costly and in my opinion, not an option one wishes to exercise!
We have all read the professional journal articles suggesting that the funeral director needs to offer guidance to families. I agree and feel it is imperative to discuss what the family’s decision on final placement of the cremated remains will be at the arrangement conference. In the arrangement conference I have heard such remarks as, “don’t you get rid of them?” and “I never thought of that!”
Winter time in Wisconsin can be brutal. Frost can go as deep as 5 feet, with 25 inches of snow on the surface. Families who desire a service in January many times wish to postpone any committal or military honors until spring. They also feel uncomfortable about keeping their loved ones cremated remains at home.
It occurred to me some time ago that we needed to create an option for those at-need families who were not sure of what to do with the cremated remains. Our firm developed an “Urn Repository” which holds cremated remains on agreement with the family regarding final placement, how long the urn will remain at our firm, and how we will contact the family regarding a service at a later date. We then track aging, just like receivables, and send reminders as well as phone calls. It is a system that has proven effective!
Lending your company’s authority and your personal experience guides families to made decisions to honor their loved ones in a meaningful way. Working together to honor families’ wishes and ensure the deceased is properly cared for is paramount to CANA’s Code of Cremation Practice. It’s our duty as a service industry to find balance and peace for our communities.
Members can read the full article with complete introduction and additional solutions from Chris Farmer of The Farmer Firm in Vol. 52, No. 2 Issue of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.
Steven Palmer entered funeral service in 1971. A funeral director in Massachusetts and California, he purchased the Westcott Funeral Homes in Arizona in 1997. He is a past president of the Arizona Funeral Directors Association and current National Funeral Directors Association Policy Board Representative for Arizona. He has been a columnist for the Nomis Funeral & Cemetery News (former YB News) since 1996 and has contributed to other funeral service publications.
Dan Isard, MSFS, is a writer, educator, and management and financial consultant. He is the president of The Foresight Companies LLC, a Phoenix-based business and management consulting firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, valuations, accounting, financing HR services, and family surveys. He can be reached at 800-426-0165 or email@example.com. Connect with Isard and The Foresight Companies by following them on Twitter at @f4sight or on Facebook.
Mark Zimmer, President of Zimmer Funeral Homes, Inc., attended Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago in 1977. Mark moved to the Sheboygan area in 1983 after purchasing the former Ahrens Funeral Home in Howards Grove. In 1996, he acquired the former Gerend-Habermann Funeral Home in Sheboygan. In 2003, work was completed on the new 8500-sq.-ft. Westview Funeral & Cremation Care Center. Mark is a past president of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association and a past president of the Lakeshore Funeral Directors Association.
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