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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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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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Body Preparation Best Practices

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Updated: Monday, June 24, 2019
Body Preparation Best Practices

 

This year at the CANA convention, I’m proud to cover a new topic on how we all serve our cremation families. As a group, we value the presence of the person and often encourage the family to see their loved one for not only identification purposes, but also because we know that the experience can be valuable in grief processing. We discuss this concept from a “front of the house” perspective often, but what does it mean to our prep room staff?

All of us who are in funeral service and caring for the dead are well aware that they come to us in various conditions. We also know that it is our job to observe these various conditions and prepare them in a way that is suitable for whatever disposition they are going to have. The industry term for preparation without embalming is “minimal care” however, that does not mean our efforts should be minimal. If we consider the most thorough method of preparation embalming, we can use it as our benchmark. However, not everyone gets embalmed, but that doesn’t mean that any preparation we do should not meet the highest level of care that embalming provides.

An Ethical Approach

Those of you who are reading this are likely embalmers (or know embalmers), so you are well aware that embalmers feel very strongly about giving the correct treatment to the deceased in their care. However, what does that actually mean, and how does it apply to preparing someone who is not going to be embalmed?

Cleanliness

The first step of any thorough embalming is to bathe the person. Not only do we do this for safety reasons, but also to conduct case analysis (see the next section), and have a better understanding of what we are dealing with.

Embalmers are sometimes told by institutional care staff, death investigators, and even sometimes the family that the condition of the body is worse than it actually is, and a thorough bathing can actually create more of a peace of mind rather than reveal problems.

During this phase, all medical devices should be removed whether the person is going to be viewed by their family or no one other than the person placing them in the cremation container. We do this for safety in the crematory, because some implants can explode or melt, but also because used medical devices are trash and should be disposed of properly. A reasonable embalmer removes all of the medical devices they can from a person before presenting them, and if this is our ethical standard of care, then this should be done regardless. You wouldn’t expect a person to be buried with garbage, in fact the idea is repulsive.

Case Analysis

One of the first things embalmers do when presented with a body is their case analysis. We observe the physical condition of the body in order to decide our strategy for fluid selection, feature setting, and dealing with any possible unknowns that may occur during the embalming such as swelling, purge, etc. But, if we are not embalming, what can we do? In this case, we still observe any pathological or other medical treatment outcomes this person may have. Medical devices should be removed and dealt with, and lesions should be treated appropriately with surface preservation (if allowed), sutured, or wrapped in bandages to prevent leakage.

Bedside Manner

By definition, embalming is always mutilation, which is one of the reasons we have to receive permission from the family before doing it. However, we embalmers bristle at this idea, because we are not in the business of mutilating people, we are preparing them for the most difficult event in a family’s life. We rectify this more negative perception by always minimizing the number of invasive procedures necessary, and we do so in a way that is careful and surgical.

Believe it or not, embalmers must have a bedside manner even though their patients have no idea how – or even that – they are being treated. We know how they are being treated. When we are preparing an individual who is not going to be embalmed, we always have to consider the technique we are using and recognize what is surgical and what is mutilation.

Further, perhaps one of the reasons a family is choosing not to have someone embalmed is because they do not recognize the care we put into it. Exceptional care of the deceased and proper bedside manner in any invasive procedure is not only ethical but respects the family’s wishes as well.

The Practical Approach

So now we have established three points on what to set our benchmark at when caring for an individual, but how do we apply this to a more practical manner? Presupposing compliance with all OSHA regulations and Universal and Standard Precautions, as well as observing the family’s wishes, providing minimal care does not mean compromising the quality of your care for their loved one.

To create a basis for our continued conversation on best practices of care, I have created an outline for you to consider. The outline described below is just that, an outline. This list is not meant to define limitations on best practices, but rather create marks on a spectrum.

Cleanliness

When it comes to embalming, the word “clean” is often used interchangeably with the word “disinfected.” So how does that apply here? Closely observing and cleaning the person often uncovers medical outcomes such as bedsores or fluid pockets that are the result of the ante mortem or post mortem settling of fluids. Furthermore, moving the body from one side to another will reveal possible purge that may have not been otherwise apparent when the person was lying supine. There are different levels of cleanliness that may be available based on what the family wishes and what is possible based on the condition of the body.

  1. Basic disinfection: Basic disinfection procedures should be taken regardless of whether or not a family is planning to view their loved one. This would include the removal of all medical devices and bandages, surface disinfection using a spray, and removal from a soiled container into a clean one.
  2. Mid-Level disinfection: This would include all of the above listed steps in addition to bathing the person, including washing their hair. Once the person has been thoroughly dried, it would also include the replacement of bandages over punctures from medical devices, and suturing of any surgical incisions. It would also include the draining of any fluid pockets that have formed. Orifices should be packed with cotton.
  3. Thorough disinfection: Thorough disinfection includes all of the above steps, but it would also allow for some chemical preservation. While it may not call for vascular injection of embalming fluids, there is the possibility of surface embalming of any lesions, treatment of drained fluid pockets, the chemical cauterization of any surgical incisions, and the chemical treatment of any artifacts of medical device removal. Cotton for packing orifices can be coated in a topical preservative.
Case Analysis

When preparing an individual at any level of service, we must consider the techniques we are using and ensure that they are appropriate based on family directions.

When caring for a loved one whose family has requested minimal care, we have to be sure not to be mired in our own hubris, but rather consider if our course of treatment is going to go well for our case. We must also consider our bedside manner matches the wishes of the family; are the procedures we are using in accordance with their wishes? If a family desires to view their loved one prior to disposition, but requests the least invasive techniques possible, do we understand what that means and are we able to execute that? For example, when closing the mouth in this situation, are you using a dental tie as opposed to a needle injector? Are you opting to use cotton to close the eyes as opposed to an eye cap? This is evaluated during case analysis and applied through bedside manner.

As funeral service purveyors, we are all very cognizant of the importance of the body and how it is honored. Just because a person has chosen not to be embalmed, does not mean we need to negate the philosophy of care that embalming entails. By observing these best practices, we can provide better customer service to our families in the assurance that their loved one will be cared for in a skilled and thoughtful manner.

 


Join embalmers and educators Damon de la Cruz, PhD and Ben Schmidt as they discuss best practices for preparing a decedent for identification, short term viewing, and cremation at CANA's 101st Cremation Innovation Convention. This lecture will include a discussion of safe handling procedures, the removal of medical devices, dressing, and cosmetizing deceased individuals. Ben and Damon will also differentiate between invasive and non-invasive procedures and the grey areas in between, sponsored by Ring Ring Marketing.

CANA's Annual Cremation Innovation Convention heads to Louisville, KY to bring together professionals across the funeral profession – funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, cremation societies, and combos. Like CANA, Louisville celebrates a storied history even as it embraces its exhilarating future, making for the perfect pairing of location and association. Whether your thing is horse racing, whiskey, baseball, or shopping, you’ll find it in this charming city. Convention activities including social events, programming and exhibit time in the cremation innovation trade show merge seamlessly, keeping you on your toes and focused on the finish line.

Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.



Ben Schmidt

Ben Schmidt is an instructor at Worsham College of Mortuary Science where he teaches Embalming Theory and Lab, Restorative Art Theory and Lab, Funeral Directing, and Funeral Service History. In addition to his duties there, he is the co-creator of MorTraqr, a web application for tracking embalming and funeral directing tasks. Furthermore, he is co-author of the textbook Creating Natural Form; Restorative Art Theory and Application. Follow the creation of the textbook, the further developments of Mortraqr, and the antics of his two year old son on Instagram @mortraqr.

Tags:  body preparation  embalming  guest post  personalization  processes and procedures  tips and tools 

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The 3 Big C’s of Cremation

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
The 3 Big C’s of Cremation

 

Many funeral directors are facing more and more direct cremations with no services. They are at a loss as to how to overcome that trend. There are many ideas, theories, notions and educated guesses as to why families choose cremation. Cost. Environmental footprint. Control. Convenience. Lack of information. Religious affiliation, or lack thereof. All of those certainly are factors and can play a part in any one person’s decision. So we are going to look at the three Big C’s in Cremation.

Cost

I would like to go back in time to the early ‘60s when cremation first came on the profession’s radar, and find that first funeral director who said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t charge as much for this since I’m not embalming or casketing” and take him out. I’m not a violent person by nature, but really?? That idea got started somewhere and we all just went along with it. Sure, let’s charge less for something that takes just as much time to accomplish, has much more liability, and requires just as much staff involvement. That makes perfect business sense.

Within that nonsense also was created the message to families that they were somehow lesser-thans or 2nd class funeral customers. I actually worked for an owner who said to families, “We bury our dead, we burn our trash.”

Because we didn’t take these families seriously and did not take their needs for a meaningful funeral service to heart, they left. Why would I pay $8,000 to someone who thinks I’m not as important as the people who buy the box? I can be ignored at the $695 box-and-burn immediate disposer who is more than willing to take my money and do nothing else for me.

Families are hiring us to perform a service. If I hire an orthopedist to perform surgery on my shoulder, his price is for the surgery. He doesn’t talk about which instruments he might have to use or the amount of time it might take or how many nurses will have to be in the room. He says, “This is my price to fix your shoulder.” Why can’t we have a price for body preparation? Yes, we’d have to figure out the correct GPL language but we could certainly have more productive conversations with our client families if we didn’t have an if/then/or approach to pricing.

Control

Yes, for a small group of people the cremation choice is made based upon cost. But the large majority are choosing cremation based upon control. These people have attended bad services in their past and are determined that they are not going to go to another one. If I have a burial, then I’m beholden to the funeral director to get the casket from point A to point B and so I’m stuck with whatever service is offered to me. I can’t throw the casket in the back of my car and drive off and arrange a service that fits me. But I can walk out with an urn in my hand and have control over the type of service that I hold.

We’ve all been to “bad” services. The cookie-cutter, insert name here, hope someone says the name correctly, impersonal ritual that offers nothing about the person and what his death will mean to those mourning his loss. Every time one of these boring, hurtful or meaningless services occurs, another immediate disposition/no service is created. People say “When I die, don’t do that!”

Cremation offers a choice, a sense of control over what happens in a memorial service. Does that mean that most are held at someone’s house or at a bar or a restaurant with toasts and stories? Probably. Does that mean that the value of having a gathering that celebrates the life and explores the grief and provides a guidepost for mourning the loss is lost? Definitely.

Story 1

Once I served as a Celebrant for an 80 year-old-man who died of suicide. It was a difficult service, but we honored his life and talked about the depression over health issues that caused him to make such a choice. We discussed what the grief journey was going to look like for those who were trying to make sense of the death. We encouraged the standing room only crowd to be an integral part of the family’s next steps as they turned tears into memories. It was a pretty good service.

That afternoon I received an email from a woman who was in attendance begging me for a copy of the service. This lady tracked me down and said she needed a copy of my words. So, I asked the family for permission and I sent her a copy. Her backstory was this—her son died of a heroin overdose and her daughter, his twin, died of suicide four years before. They did not have funerals either time. They cremated, then met at a restaurant and told stories. They did not trust that someone could handle such delicate and hard situations, so they just avoided. She needed those words to help her on her own grief journey. This happens hundreds of times across the country to our Celebrants.

Because the celebrant is a ceremony expert, focused solely on the ceremony and often devoting much more time to the ceremony than funeral directors and clergy can, the celebrant can be a tremendous resource. What celebrants offer can even be attractive to those who initially think they don’t want a ceremony at all.
—Diane Gansauer, Director of Celebrant Services, SCI Colorado Funeral Services in Metro Denver

Until we change the service experience for those families, they will continue to walk away. Our pricing, our lovely chapels, our offers of assistance—they’ve been there and done that and don’t trust us to be able to do something that is meaningful.

Which brings us to the final C:

Celebrants

My bedrock message is “Celebrants can change your business, Celebrants can change your families, Celebrants can bring your cremation families back to your firm.”

The religious landscape of our country is changing. The percentage of people who identify as a “None”—not religiously affiliated, not engaged with a church—is rapidly growing. Statistics from the Pew Research report show that almost 25% of the overall population now considers themselves “nones” and over 35% of millennials are disenfranchised with religious experiences.

This has incredible implications for funeral service. Some funerals homes have stained glass windows, Bibles in the foyer, hymns on the speakers and scriptures on their websites. There is nothing wrong with having an ability to serve your religious families, but today anywhere from 25% to 80% of your community does not identify or resonate with those representations. If all you have to offer is a minister and a religious experience, they are going elsewhere.

High “nones” equal high cremation rates. It’s just that simple.

The greatest impact a Celebrant can have with a family is the one on one interview time, an opportunity to sit down and become part of the decedent’s family, by hearing and learning first-hand about the life of their loved one, and sharing a personal glimpse into the life of the decedent with friends and family at the funeral service. That is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to the family. Out of that experience comes the most gracious of compliments that you will ever receive, which is to hear at the conclusion of the service how well you knew the loved one. The Celebrant experience gives you that opportunity to serve the family in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
—Kevin Hull, Vice President and Location Manager, Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home

Celebrants are the answer for a majority of your cremation families. So many of them are not offered any options by their funeral professional. So, they either opt for the rent-a-minister or do nothing. Another immediate disposition walks out of the door.

When someone attends a service where every word of the service is focused on the life, on the family, and on the grief experience, their decisions can change significantly. “Oh. . .we can have this kind of service? Then I’m willing to talk to the funeral director about paying for THAT” Over 50% of the services I perform through referrals from funeral homes in my city come from someone who attended another service and came back and asked for that Celebrant. People pay for value. People pay for meaning. People pay for gatherings that heal.

My friend, Ernie Heffner from York, PA, ran numbers on his Celebrant services and found that cremation families who used a Celebrant spent 36% more on other goods and services. It’s not about the money. It’s about the value, the experience, the assurance that someone is going to hear their stories, to honor the life and work with them to put together a service that fits them. People pay for meaning.

Story 2

I did a service for a man in his 40’s who drank himself to death. He left an estranged wife, a 19 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and a brother who was a recovering alcoholic himself. This meant two hours of slogging through a lot of baggage and feelings to get to the stories and to give them permission to say what was needed. But we put together a service that honored his life while being honest about his struggles and his demons.

After the service, the brother handed me a thank you card with $300 in it. The funeral home had already given me a check for my Celebrant fee of $400. I said, “Oh, you’ve already paid me.” He said, “Please just take it.” The card read “Thank you for performing J’s service and I especially thank you for the time you spent with us Sunday evening. I’m hoping it provided as much healing to the others as it did for me. Thank you.” People pay for healing gatherings.

In today’s world, the most crucial element in helping a family lies in the ability of the Celebrant to actively listen and recreate what they have heard into something with meaning and value. Celebrant Training is funeral service’s best option to develop the skills to become an outstanding funeral professional. At our firm, all of our funeral directors must go through the Celebrant Training so they can understand the importance and value of working with our Celebrants to help the families have a truly outstanding experience. This is especially important for cremation families that are looking for something other than traditional services. Celebrant Services play a major role in making Krause Funeral Homes a place of exceptional funerals.
—Mark Krause, President Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service

We’ve been saying this since 1999: Families need a service to begin their grief journey in a healthy and honest way. Unless we are willing to provide the professionals and the services that they are looking for, they are going to walk away. When families have options, funeral homes are going to lose every time unless their option is better, more appealing and soul touching.

Looking at everything we do when it comes to serving the cremation family—pricing, style of service, presentation of choices, availability to Celebrants who can do exactly what the family wants and needs – is the only way that full-service funeral professionals are going to stay in business. How we deal with all of the C words will determine how much farther down the road we get to travel.

 


CANA is partnering with Glenda Stansbury and the InSight Institute for the second time this July to offer Celebrant Training. Limited to 40 attendees, this course packs a lot of information, emotion, and training into three days but is increasingly considered a must for the most successful businesses in the US.

Learn more about this class coming to Louisville, Kentucky from July 29-31 and register online.



Glenda Stansbury

Glenda Stansbury joined InSight in 1996 as Marketing & Development Director. She has worked as an educator, teacher trainer, and seminar developer. She is a practicing Celebrant, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Funeral Department and is a licensed funeral director/embalmer. Glenda is available for speaking to funeral professionals at state and national conventions or for private staff training. For more information, contact Glenda at glenda@insightbooks.com.

Tags:  arranging  celebrants  consumers  education  memorialization  personalization  professional development  services  storytelling 

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Personalization Is More Than Products

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Trade shows make for a great opportunity to check out innovations in memorialization—scattering urns, the latest keepsake jewelry, contemporary stationery designs, and cemetery monuments. These products offer new ways for you to match the unique personalities of families and their loved ones.

But true personalization is so much more than products. From the moment you answer the phone, you have the chance to differentiate yourself from your competition and enhance that family’s experience. Then, once they walk in the door, you have the opportunity to infuse ceremony in each interaction and make a difficult process meaningful to the family.

Extracted from examples provided when Lindsey Ballard facilitated an interactive discussion on Best Practices in Personalization and Ceremony at CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium, we offer the following ideas as inspiration.

Removals

Transfers and removals offer a unique opportunity to gather helpful information about the family through observation of the home and the items of comfort that surround the deceased. Encourage your staff and removal technicians to take notice of décor, family photos, items on display that might reveal a passion or treasured activity, and even the colors that fill the space. Empower your staff to engage with the family—it’s here they can learn some of the stories behind these beloved objects and see what motivated people in life. These initial impressions can help start the conversation about ways to make a service personal and demonstrate that you care.

Symposium attendee Franklin Rainier, of Franklin J. Rainier, Jr. Funeral Home, shared a story about entering the home of a 95-year-old woman and finding it decorated with Pink Floyd memorabilia and album covers. When asked, the woman’s son confirmed that she had been a true fan. Back at the mortuary, Franklin and his staff played Pink Floyd and lit candles to honor her as they prepared her body.

Arrangement Conferences

For some families, such as those who make a direct cremation choice, the arrangement conference may be the only time they will be acknowledging their grief before moving on. Sometimes, a special window opens up during these conversations and it’s important to pay close attention. Attendee Rita Alexander, of the Cremation Society of Illinois, recommended being especially sensitive to the pauses in the conversation and allowing people as much time as they need to grieve in the safe space you’ve provided for them.

Attendees agreed that a primary strategy is to make the arrangement conference into a conversation, to put the pen down and get to know the family before filling out the forms. You can introduce yourself and your company and describe how the process will work, then invite them to converse and share. Ask them about themselves, the deceased, and family and friends—that’s the time to take notes. At Simon Dubé’s funeral home, a Dignity Memorial location, these notes are discussed in staff meetings to brainstorm how arrangers can make sure the family’s experience is special. Not everyone on staff is equally creative, but together they can design the meaningful service that each person deserves.

Attendee Keith Charles suggested keeping the acronym FORM (part of the word information) in mind to guide your questions: F” is for family and their relationship to the deceased. Make sure to acknowledge every single person in the room. O” is for the occupation of the deceased. What type of work did they do and what was its impact? R” is for recreation. Where did they go on vacation as a family and are there photos to use during the ceremony? And lastly, M” for motivation—what put meaning in their life? With this acronym to guide you, you’ll be sure to touch on the major aspects of someone’s life and gather valuable stories to create a meaningful service.

Viewings, Visitations, and Services

Attendees agreed that getting the family’s permission to personalize the service is the first step to providing a unique and memorable experience. Many attendees shared stories of services they’d performed that conveyed real meaning to the family they served. A signature purple door for a Friends fan, a dress carefully chosen and displayed with a tuxedo to re-create a meaningful dance memory, or the seemingly modest touch of preparing the body’s fingernails with a signature teal polish and passing it out to the family to wear, too. Never underestimate the power of the small gesture of service: accents of a favorite color, the gift of a small pin (such as an American flag pin in the case of a service for a U.S. veteran) distributed to each guest, and other touches go a long way to demonstrating you listen and care.

Simon Dubé explained that taking time to requires a lot of work, but staff that are motivated by family service are willing to make the extra effort. Word of mouth is your most powerful advertisement. When you create an unforgettable experience, the conversation keeps going and spreads the word about how your firm goes above and beyond for the families you serve. Simon had many useful tips, including the recommendation that you invite the family to view the set up of the room an hour ahead of the service to make sure that they are comfortable with what you’ve done. This leaves plenty of time to remove a display if the family disagrees, and also provides them an opportunity to grieve and remember with the memorabilia in private.

Facilitator Lindsey Ballard pointed out that every moment can be an opportunity to turn service into ceremony. Handing a flag to a veteran’s family can be more than a simple keepsake if you use it to bring the family together to reflect on the symbol the flag holds. Lindsey does this by inviting close relatives to lay a hand on the flag while she recites a few words about commitment: a veteran to his country and theirs to his memory. In this way, a service for the family is transformed into a ceremonial experience they will remember.

Committal and Scattering

Be sure to inject ceremony at every pivotal moment, even during scattering. With a water scattering, you can pinpoint the GPS coordinates and give them to the guests. Balloon or butterfly releases can accompany an event. Processions will provide a really special memory for those in attendance. Don’t be afraid to ask local groups related to the deceased’s passions or occupation to participate as an honor guard. That could be firefighters, motorcycle groups, or high school athletic teams. At the end of a committal or scattering, as people are standing awkwardly, unsure about what to do next, give them an invitation to do something to finish with ceremony. For instance, they can leave a “handprint” by stepping up to touch the casket or urn before they leave.

Transfer of Urn Into Family’s Care

The urn transfer can provide an opportunity for ceremony, too. If the family is open to it, you can schedule a military honors ceremony for veterans with the military present and a flag-folding presentation. Another idea is to hand-deliver the urn along with the death certificate. You can wear a jersey when the family of a deceased fan comes in to pick up cremated remains.

Aftercare

It’s important to stay in regular contact with families before, during, and after the services. Suggestions for accomplishing this goal include memorial service for donors, annual remembrance events, and mailing special cards to the family on the date of the deceased’s birthday or the anniversary of the death.

This presentation included many images and stories that had several professionals tearing up in the audience. Interested in hearing the recording? The 2019 Symposium Recording is available for purchase. Visit the event page to learn more.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  personalization  services  tips and tools 

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