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Can I Get a Witness (Cremation)?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Updated: Monday, July 13, 2020
Can I Get a Witness (Cremation)?

 

“Offer all of the options, to every family, every time.” Dave Daly

No matter a family’s religion or cultural background, there will be times when it is appropriate for a family to see the disposition to completion, wherever it may be. When I served my first Hindu family during my internship, I was struck by the reverence, the beauty and meaning imbued in the ritual of the sendoff at the crematory. Perhaps the West Coast is unique in that many of the families we served in that region were already familiar with witness cremation, even if they did not have a religious requirement to do so. It was not until I moved back to the Midwest that I learned that so many funeral directors and consumers found the concept of going to the crematory shocking.

Families’ imagination is often far worse than the reality of cremation. Many may envision a stark, cold, clinical environment that smells like a hospital. They may imagine a chamber full of flames, and that the entire process is short, lonely, and perfunctory. This is why families are less likely to ask, When will we be able to watch the cremation? as they would be to ask, When will we be able to watch the lowering of the casket into the grave? Typically, this is an offer that the funeral director poses to the family who may need time to decide if that is something they can handle.

A History

From the late 1890s until the 1930s, the profession had invited the family to attend the cremation, as many marble-walled crematoria began to be built in Europe and North America (Jupp, 2005). Early cremationists treated the cremation ceremony in a manner virtually identical to committals. However, postwar funeral reform in the U.S. began to treat cremation as a threat to the industry, with several professional associations focusing on how to deal with the “problem of cremation.” Too many American funeral professionals determined that cremation was ugly and even our contemporary books on cremation describe witnessing ceremonies in a negative tone:

“As late as 1932, the Forest Home Chapel and Crematory in Milwaukee was encouraging family members to witness the placing of the corpse in the cremation furnace” (Prothero, 2002).

Putting the Service Back in Cremation

Is the consumer to blame for direct cremations? Or, as a profession, have we urged families away from ceremonial cremation in the hope that families who desire more time and a chance to say goodbye will opt for casketed burial instead? It is my belief that we are doing a disservice to families who select cremation if we do not offer them an opportunity to witness their loved one being laid to rest. Most funeral directors will invite the surviving family to be present at the graveside service. Witnessing the remains being placed into the chamber is like watching a casket be lowered into the grave, but for cremation. Similarly, this event creates a lasting memorial and final farewell for the family.

Offering ceremonial witness cremations to families allows a unique, hands-on experience that creates an additional opportunity for the family to gain closure in a meaningful way. When we set up a graveside service, we plan for ceremonial comforts: a tent, chairs, perhaps an ice bucket filled with bottled water and, more often than not, someone to officiate the ceremony whether this is a clergy member, celebrant, family member or the funeral director. There is a prescribed and widely accepted order to the event. To appropriately create this memory of physical separation from a loved one’s remains for our families who select cremation, we need to ask ourselves some questions and shift our own perspectives.

A Standard of Excellence

When was the last time you had a client family ask for a three-day viewing in a Promethean bronze casket with limos for everyone and a plot in the highest spot in the cemetery that overlooks the lake? The fact is that we will continue to serve a growing number of cremation families in the future. Why not create a standard of excellence in your market for cremation ceremonies imbued with meaning and ritual.

Regardless of the type of disposition, families want to ensure that the remains they are entrusting into your care are that of their loved one. Witness cremation ceremonies offer both an opportunity to gather in remembrance of the departed as well as rapport-building transparency with positive identification of the deceased. Families will consider your firm as more credible if you have nothing to hide, and many will want to participate in the hands-on experience of saying goodbye. Seeing their loved one right before the cremation—and potentially participating by initiating the cremation process—will help create a peace of mind, dispel fears about the process, and create greater goodwill and trust. It will allow the families you serve to recognize the permanence of death (Wolfelt, 2016).

Witness Best Practices

As the public becomes more familiar with “do-it-yourself” and hands-on experiences, while self-educating about cremation, it makes sense to offer private crematory experiences as part of our standard services just as we include visitations and graveside ceremonies.

Let’s consider the optics of practicing witness cremation ceremonies. When my mother passes, I plan on being present at the crematory to see my mother one last time. Will I be comfortable with her being cremated in a cardboard alternative container? I consider myself a pragmatist, but it would be much harder for me to select a minimum cardboard container over an alternative cremation option that comes with a pillow and is the same color as all her furniture. Even though I know, rationally, that it will be consumed during the cremation, the likelihood of upgrading my mother to a ceremonial cremation container is 100%.

Even if not embalmed, setting a decedent’s features and performing a minimum preparation of remains should be planned for regardless of whether the family has expressed a desire to view the remains at the crematory. The majority of crematory operators I have worked with in the past have told me that if a family is willing to travel to the crematory, then there is a greater chance that they may wish to view the remains at the time of the cremation even if they were previously undecided about viewing.

As with planning any other type of service, it is important to allot enough time and set expectations and constraints to the family, the funeral home, and the crematory. This will require clear communication between all parties involved to schedule a well-organized event. Families want a memorable and favorable experience; they do not want to feel rushed.

As the families we serve become increasingly participative, including them in the planning and tone of this event lends them a greater sense of control. Survivors may opt to place special photos, letters, or trinkets into the cremation container; they may wish to have a significant song played while their loved one is being placed into the chamber. The benefits outweigh the additional time and effort spent planning the service.

Communicating with Families

Fear comes from a loss of control. Not having a realistic picture of what the crematory looks like, feels like, smells like, or sounds like will cause undue stress. It is important for practitioners to help their client families understand what to expect so they will know what the outcome of the event will be and rest at ease knowing that nothing terrible will happen, like their imagination suggests.

There are several opportunities to convey the value and experience of witness cremation ceremonies: wherever you explain what services you offer. This service should appear on your General Price List, under the Services tab of your website, and be addressed during the arrangement conference with every family who selects cremation. Several funeral homes have the witness cremation option built in to their cremation authorization form, where the authorizing agent will initial “Yes, we want to witness the cremation and here are the names of the people who will be present”, or “No, we would like to opt out of that ceremony.” If appropriate, a gallery of photos or YouTube video can give a sense of the crematory, so you do not have to schedule a pre-cremation tour of the space (although an open-door policy is a recommended best practice).

When making funeral arrangements, a consumer may not have enough background information to understand what you are asking if you say, “Do you want to witness the cremation?” Without context, this sounds more like a threat, rather than an invitation. Over time, a funeral arranger can become more familiar with how to present witness cremation experiences by explaining the ceremony and inviting the family to be present for the event. Here’s a sample script:

“The cremation will be held at our crematory, which is located at our funeral home and cemetery on the northside. There, your mother will be held until the day and time that the cremation will occur. Our crematory allows for immediate family to be present to watch the cremation container be placed into the cremator. We welcome you to be present for one last goodbye in your mother’s send-off, which is completely optional. If you are interested in this, please initial here on the cremation authorization where it says, ‘Yes, family present.’ I will contact the crematory operator to schedule a time. I will be there with you by your side and if you wish to start the cremation process, you have the option of pushing the button.”

Whether your crematory space is “industrial,” or built specifically to host families for witness ceremonies, managing that expectation is key. Would heavy rain deter you from attending the graveside of your spouse or parent? If not, then a “no-frills” functional crematory space should not be a deterrent for a family, but having a weather forecast and knowing ahead of time to bring rain boots is always appreciated.

In an ideal world, every family who selects cremation would be present to see their loved one. If that were the case, the chances of an erroneous cremation would be nearly impossible. Realistically, the percent of families who choose to be present at the graveside to see the casket lowered is likely what you can expect of families to witness cremations.

As with a burial or any ceremony in funeral service, there must be an order of events to ensure a smooth cremation. Funeral directors must partner with crematory operators and schedule times for witnesses at the crematory’s discretion (e.g., “The crematory operator says that we can plan the witness ceremony on Tuesday at 1:00 pm. Does that work for your family?”).

Overcoming Concerns

If you have a distrusting family who does not want to “receive someone else’s ashes”, crematory experiences are the solution. You can collaborate with the crematory operator to allow the family to be present for the transfer of their loved one’s cremated remains to the urn, giving the family a greater sense of trust and peace of mind. It is critical to coordinate the scheduling with the crematory. It may make sense to hold the witness cremation as the last one of the day and schedule the pickup of the urn for first thing in the morning; this gives the crematory operator ample time for overnight cooling and an additional opportunity for the family to watch the identification process post-cremation.

Many funeral service providers may be reluctant to offer witness cremation ceremonies because it is more work. But you would be surprised by the number of “direct cremation” families who are ready and willing to see their loved one, they just did not know it was an option. We don’t know what we don’t know. It doesn’t hurt or cost anything to ask those you serve if they want to press a button, place the cremation casket into the chamber, insert a letter or drawing from a child in the cremation container, or order flowers when they see a photo of an all-concrete crematory space.

Giving the consumer a say in the cremation service helps add value to the experience. It offers another opportunity to mourn and be together in a difficult time. Plenty of funeral homes routinely ask the family if they want to see the lowering of the casket during a graveside service. Why not start with witness cremation ceremonies?

 


Heather Braatz takes a deep dive into "Witness Cremation Ceremonies" at CANA's Virtual Cremation Convention on August 5. The session will focus on differentiating your cremation business by providing witness cremation choices to families and practical guidance on how to add value through ceremony.

See what else CANA has planned and register at goCANA.org/CANA20



Heather Braatz

Heather Braatz is a learning experience designer at Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, Illinois. She is a licensed funeral director in Washington State and has worked for low-cost cremation providers, family-owned funeral homes, and combo location corporations. She has arranged several hundred witness cremations with family present.

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  processes and procedures  services 

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Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2020
Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am reaching out to you because you have been a resource and guide for families.

Times are so very strange and challenging and fearful right now and we know that everyone is scrambling to figure out how we honor our dead and support our bereaved from a distance. This is our daily struggle. I know you are dealing with so many questions and unknowns and facing families on their worst day with very few answers to give them. I also know that many churches and clergy are not available to conduct funerals for anyone—even their own church members. Local governments across the world are already telling families they cannot attend funerals. Now we are faced with a world-wide experience that no one could prepare for. We are here, to care for the dead and speak for the bereaved. You are a hero every day, and especially today.

Now is our time to shine. Whether you are a licensed funeral director, a Celebrant, clergy, officiant, chaplain—or one of those myriads of other roles who serve families—we have a bunch of talented and creative people here. Let's think about how to create services that capture the moment and invite people to feel close even when they can't be there.

Download Free Resource Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From AfarWhat I want to offer to each of you is this—if you have families who would like to have a small service now, reach out to a Celebrant in your area, or use my free resource to inspire you, and find a way to connect families at this difficult time. Arrange to meet with them by phone or Facetime or Zoom and gather the stories and put together a service that you can give them now by webcast, or just by print.

Some of you may find yourself needing to do more family meetings by phone, Facetime or Skype. If you are not familiar with how to do those, ask a teenager—they are out of school with nothing to do right now so they can be your tech support.

Phone family meetings are challenging and you will need to work a little harder to connect with the family and to get them to open up. There's just nothing like face-to-face meetings, but that may not be possible right now.

Some of you may find yourself doing services via webcasting or video or for family only. These situations can also be challenging, but just keep focusing on meeting the needs of the family and the best way to tell the unique story of their loved one, no matter who is sitting in front of you. Or not, as the case may be.

For example—virtual candle lighting ceremonies—invite everyone who is watching to go find a candle/flashlight/something that can light up. Play some quiet background music to give people a moment to do that. Then have everyone light their lights at the same time. Even if you are not on a virtual platform where people can see each other, we can talk about the power of thoughts and presence being represented by our lights.

That's just one that popped into my head.

My thought is two-fold—the fear is, if they walk away now they’ll never come back. If they have a service already prepared and ready, they might be more willing to come back and actually have a chapel service. Or, at the least, they will just have the words to read that will hopefully provide some comfort and guidance for them in this very dark and lonely time and they will be grateful to the funeral home for providing this.

Grief does not wait and demands that we embrace it. We all are grieving our losses right now--loss of movement, loss of income, loss of friends and family, loss of security, loss of trust. A death just magnifies those feelings and the sense of isolation. As the people who are trained for this work, we can help families walk this path and give words of solace and comfort and ways to put the stories in a place that will help.

Every life deserves to be celebrated. Even when we are together from afar.

These are difficult times, for the families, for the funeral directors, for the Celebrants, for everyone. So, let's support each other, be kind, be generous, be vigilant—and wash your hands!

Let me know how we can stand with you in this uncertain time. We are all partners in serving families, even on the hardest days.

Take care and be well!!

- Glenda Stansbury and Doug Manning
Celebrant Trainers:  Kathy Burns, Matt Bailey, Cathy Nichols, Sara Brown

Suggestions for conducting services

The first thing to consider is how the services will be presented.

Some firms already offer webcasting and are comfortable and positioned for this situation. Others will be figuring out very rapidly how to procure the equipment and software and skills.

There are professional companies that offer streaming services on a per service or a monthly fee. You have probably already been contacted by some of these companies in the past few days.

There are public platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, Go to Meeting, WebX, etc. Consult with others who have used any of these platforms or services for advice or tips on what works or pitfalls to avoid. For example, Gordon Welch, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association informed us that Facebook routinely mutes music streamed on Facebook Live. Apparently, Facebook’s agreements with song producers require Facebook to mute music broadcast over the platform. Unfortunately, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC are not parties to these agreements so there is no way to solve the muting problems with Facebook. Therefore platforms like Zoom, Vimeo or Skype who are not parties to the same type of music copyright infringements agreements work better but still require a webcasting license.

Live Stream with family present with no participants visible on the screen.

Suggestions:

  • Give the family a moment to wave and express their thanks to the people who are joining them.
  • Ask the participants to type in their wishes or condolences in the chat function and take a few minutes to read some of them during the service.
  • Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
  • Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
  • Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
  • Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read along.
Live Stream with or without family present and participants are visible on the screen

Suggestions:

  • Ask the participants to write a note that can be held up to the camera for the family to see.
  • Have a ceremony (a few are included in this resource book) that everyone can do together.
  • Have a video tribute or pictures of the deceased visible on the screen next to the officiant.
  • Be sure that flowers or mementos or service folders are shown for everyone to see.
  • Have a favorite or familiar song played and put the words on the screen so everyone can sing along.
  • Put the words to readings or scripture or prayers on the screen so viewers can read/recite along.
Taping for later broadcast
  • This provides a little more opportunity for editing and smoother transitions to video tribute, music, flowers, service folders, etc.
  • The opportunity for real time participation and family involvement is sacrificed.
Outside Services
  • Have a “drive-in” funeral service with everyone staying in their cars. If you have not yet invested in portable microphone/speakers set up, now would be a good time.
  • Borrow a drive-in theater in your community and broadcast the service on the screen
  • Drive past the home of the family with the coach.
  • Encourage people to drive by the home of the family at a set time, so they can acknowledge their “presence” and wishes.
  • Gravesides with family standing by their cars. Again, a strong outdoor microphone/speaker system is very important.


Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times as a MS Word doc here.Download Free Resource Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar

With everyone seeking information on COVID-19 right now, CANA plans to host a weekly conference call for our members to convene and ask questions of one another, talk best practices, and learn together about COVID-19. Check your inbox for instructions to join, or contact Membership Manager Brie Bingham for more information.

CANA continues to frequently update a blog entry related to COVID-19 as new information becomes available. Be sure to bookmark the blog post and revisit as needed: GoCANA.org/covid19.



Glenda Stansbury

Glenda Stansbury is the Marketing and Development Director, InSight Books, and Dean and Training Coordinator for In-Sight Institute. She holds a BS in Special Education from Central State University, as well as a BS in Funeral Service and a MA in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining In-Sight Books, Glenda worked for 12 years for the Oklahoma Education Association as a trainer/facilitator. She has worked as Marketing and Development Director for In-Sight Books for 24 years and has been Dean of the In-Sight Institute for 20 years, co-training over 4000 Funeral Celebrants across North America with Doug Manning. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant; Licensed Funeral Director/ Embalmer, Oklahoma; Certified Funeral Service Professional; Thanexus, New Jersey Board of Director; and Full Time Instructor- Department of Funeral Service, University of Central Oklahoma..

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Tags:  arranging  celebrants  personalization  services  storytelling  tips and tools 

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Business Planning for Outbreak

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2020
Business Planning for Outbreak

 

At the end of February, CANA hosted our annual Cremation Symposium in Las Vegas. That’s right, we encouraged people to travel to meet up with more than one hundred people and network in a popular tourist destination — it was a different time. Unsurprisingly, the topic of discussion on the floor was the coronavirus pandemic, or the spread of COVID-19.

Fortunately, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidelines with information on handling infected, or potentially infected, cases at your funeral home, crematory, prep room, etc. These preventative measures align with current best practices in the prep room or crematory (i.e. wear universal PPE, limit exposure to the disease, and clean all surfaces carefully) that protect you from everything from the common cold to tuberculosis.

Current estimates suggest that more than 220,000 people will die from COVID-19 in the US by November. But your cases are not the only potential source of infection in your businesses. Of those that contract COVID-19, 80% are estimated to be mild which means they are more likely to transmit the disease. Experts are warning that rest of 2020 will be difficult depending on our response, and likely to continue until there is a readily available and adopted vaccine.

With state and local governments setting the current restrictions and guidance, current and accurate information is important to track. Consider designating one staff member in your office as point person to monitor reports and updates from the CDC and your local jurisdictions, at least daily, to make sure your business is operating with the best information. As this post is updated, newest content will appear in gold to highlight latest information.

So what do you need to know to prepare your business when an outbreak hits?

Make a Business Plan

Since "workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers" have been officially listed as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers, it is even more important to make sure your business is prepared for this challenge. Inform, educate, and train your staff of the CDC recommendations.

Now that this post is getting so long, we've added a Table of Contents linking to information below:

  1. Caring for the Deceased
  2. Operating the Crematory
  3. Business Support
  4. Serving the Living
  5. Managing Staff
  6. Directing the Funeral
  7. Supplies

As a reminder, if there are federal and local orders/laws in conflict, follow the most restrictive to ensure that you comply with both, and ask for additional guidance and support as needed. Some resources to consider are: your state governor, local mayor, local health agency, as well as the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (D-MORT), Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) plus the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). Be sure to check with health and government authorities any time you have questions to ensure safety and compliance for you, your staff, and your business. If you are designated an essential worker in an area under an enforced lockdown, consider carrying staff identification, state professional license, or some other information that demonstrates your status for ease of movement.

Caring for the Deceased

For any staff who handle the dead, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NFDA) and the Funeral Service Association of Canada (FSAC/ASFC) have useful resources for embalming, prep room, and removal staff in accordance with CDC guidelines (including specific guidelines for funeral homes) which clearly state recommendations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), transporting the deceased, and cleaning surfaces. Many authorities believe that cases and deaths are under-reported, so anyone coming in contact with the deceased should operate assuming that the case is positive.

In the case of embalming, funeral homes are encouraged to follow families wishes assuming that the firm and embalmer have access to PPE and the time to embalm safely. Remember, as important as it is to wear PPE when handling the deceased, it is also important to follow the recommended sequence for putting on and removing the equipment.

Cremation is a sure way to destroy any contagion on a deceased body, which is why it's preferred for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Ebola, but the WHO has stated that "people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. Confirm national and local requirements that may dictate the handling and disposition of the remains." The CDC has not released definitive information on how long the coronavirus lives in a deceased body, but they do say that "there is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19." As always, families should do what's right for them, which can include caring for the deceased themselves. They can have funerals and burials as long as they follow their state and local mandates regarding the number of people and social distancing guidelines.

^toc

Operating the Crematory

Most guidelines that have been released do not specifically mention the crematory or operator. The following assumes that the crematory operator does not come into direct contact with the deceased, rather handles the container. If the operator in your business handles the deceased, see above.

CANA recommends the following:

  • accept only cases in leak-proof, sturdy cremation containers per CANA Crematory Operations best practices
  • the use of Standard Precautions should ensure safest possible work conditions. This includes PPE, as mentioned above, which is in short supply so follow optimize your use per CDC guidelines.
  • clean all shared tools, equipment, and surfaces frequently - e.g. the cremation container, door or loader, refrigerator, door handles and light switches
  • maintain social distancing between co-workers and other people who may enter the crematory
  • Limit witnessed cremations to ten or fewer people total, including the funeral director and operator or other staff present.

Generally, viruses are killed above 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so the cremation process kills the coronavirus. There is no concern about virus exiting the building via emissions through the stack or remaining in cremated remains, however the operator should wear PPE to ensure transmission from operator to urn does not occur.

When releasing cremated remains to the family, limit the size of groups to ten or fewer, but also consider bringing the urn and paperwork to the client waiting in the car. Try to minimize physical paperwork with electronic documents and signatures, or providing gloves, to cut back on touching paper. Similarly, keeping clearly marked sanitized and used pens to take and return for cleaning will cut back on multiple use.

In this pandemic situation, some crematories are concerned about regulations which limit the cremations a business can perform. CANA is supporting state associations who are working with these regulators to address these permits in the hardest hit areas.

^toc

Business Support

With the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), passed March 18 and effective April 1 through December 31, 2020, businesses have new requirements for managing staff. All employers with 500 or fewer employees must provide paid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and paid sick leave – this is new for those who manage companies with fewer than 50 employees who were previously exempt from such requirements. The Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division has required posters and useful information to communicate with your staff.

As an employer who was previously exempt, this could be overwhelming, so it’s important to open lines of communication with your staff and establish a clear chain of command to address rapidly developing information. Don’t assume that all staff will immediately take advantage of these benefits and leave the business in a time of crises. Provide guidance and support in addition to addressing their concerns about what to do if they or a family member get sick. Don’t be afraid of questions or to admit that you don’t know. Importantly, communicate often to make sure staff are okay and keep lines of communication open.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed March 27 and retroactively effective to February 15, 2020, offers financial assistance to small businesses and large corporations alike. The US Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship has provided the Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act resource. If your business is having financial difficulty, you can apply for relief through the Payment Protection Program (PPP) with the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and your current bank. Alternately, you can seek support from the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), however a business cannot receive both the PPP and the ERC.

To better understand how both resources effect your business, CANA recommends contacting services who manage and administer your payroll, business insurance, health insurance, preneed providers, and bank. These are groups carefully monitoring how these regulations and opportunities impact your work in your area, and know your business best.

For those in need of extra staff support, state associations in hard-hit areas and the NFDA have organized volunteer programs to help. Reach out to these associations with your need or availability.

^toc

Serving the Living

But don’t forget that the living are actually your primary audience, and the ones your staff come into contact with every day. The CDC has special recommendations for the workplace in “Guidance for Businesses and Workplaces to Plan, Prepare, and Respond.”

Many of the roles at a funeral home, like funeral directors, embalmers, crematory operators, don’t do the kind of jobs that let you work from home. We cannot access the prep room from our living room, or arrange with families from our beds. So encouraging proactive measures to keep employees well, then being flexible when people are ill, is key to keeping your staff and the community safe in any outbreak.

By now, everyone knows the top four guidelines on personal safety:

  1. Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds.
    Are you sick of singing the A, B, C’s while washing your hands? The good news is some other popular songs have 20-second choruses, including Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, Raspberry Beret by Prince, Jolene by Dolly Parton, Fever by Peggy Lee, Africa by Toto, Mr. Brightside by The Killers, and Truth Hurts by Lizzo. Mix it up and keep scrubbing.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
  3. Cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard it.
  4. Maintain at least six-feet (2-metres) around others, particularly sick persons.

When making arrangements or directing a funeral, these measures are important. The CDC now recommends, and many states mandate, "covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others." Of course, the most vulnerable populations are typically older generations and those with pre-existing conditions (including smokers). If a staff member is concerned that they have been exposed, the CDC has issued guidelines for Safety Practices for Critical Workers which include frequent temperature readings, mask wearing, and frequent disinfecting of work spaces. The CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released joint guidance on appropriate disinfectants and cleaners. Shared work spaces include break rooms, vehicles, and any shared equipment. The CDC has developed a toolkit with language and posters you can use to communicate with your staff.

And don't forget your four-legged co-workers. Some animals have tested positive for the coronavirus, though it's unclear whether the virus can spread from pets to humans. To protect your pets, service animals, and your community, the CDC recommends limiting their interactions as well.

^toc

Managing Staff

In the event that someone does get sick, encourage them to stay home. This is a difficult argument to make with the existing workforce shortage on top of a potentially growing caseload, because these jobs rely on you being in person to serve your families. But with the COVID-19 pandemics, you cannot serve your community while being sick yourself. Sick employees need to stay home to recuperate and be well, but also to prevent the spread of disease in the community. As the disease continues to spread, you may encounter employee shortages from illness, school closures, and caring for loved ones. Your business must have a plan for what you will do if you have too few staff.

Death Care Services are deemed as a low risk sector, and typically exempt from reporting to OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), or state agency incidents of illness, however CANA Member Regulatory Support Services recommends making a record of all work-related illnesses and injuries and placing that record in the affected employee’s file. For confirmed cases of COVID-19 or an employee that shows symptoms of COVID-19, this would include the employer’s directive to an ill employee that he or she does not return to work until cleared to do so by health care professional.

The challenge with COVID-19, or any infectious disease for that matter, is knowing with absolute certainty that an illness is a result of exposure in the workplace. Especially with the high communicability of the coronavirus, sources of exposure outside the workplace must be considered when assessing whether to report any fatality or hospitalization of an employee as a result of contracting COVID-19. However, some states are presuming that any essential worker who contracts the disease to have become infected at work thus making them eligible for worker compensation. Check your state's department of labor for any specific requirements.

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Directing the Funeral

And don’t forget that you also host community events and services with their own considerations. The CDC has special, updated guidelines for “Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events” to help you plan and host safe services. Primarily, they recommend having posters and signs in addition to supplies on hand to keep everyone healthy, namely hand sanitizer, soap, tissues, and face coverings. Keep surfaces like door handles and light switches clean, and remember to talk to your community volunteers about being safe, too. The CDC even has a toolkit with posters and language you can use to communicate safe practices to your attendees.

With increasing emphasis on mitigating the spread of COVID-19, in areas with active outbreaks, the CDC recommends community-based interventions including "event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely," careful planning and communications with your families is important. Social distancing, in particular, runs counter to the spirit of the funeral by discouraging gatherings of more than 10 people, encouraging vulnerable populations to stay away, and avoiding direct contact with others. Fortunately, you are professionals trained in talking to families with compassion and understanding. For ideas on making your communications meaningful, watch a free, on-demand webinar from Lacy Robinson with "Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19."

Now that federal guidelines from the White House have sunset, state governors' and state and local health authorities are determining how businesses and communities can operate — you can find this list of resources above. In some areas, any visitation or service has been prohibited. White House guidelines to reopen businesses and services is recommended in multiple phases to keep employees healthy, prevent spread, and moderate hospital cases and is helping states set their own reopening procedures. These recommendations will require your business to develop plans and policies to accommodate your families' preference for service while maintaining the health of your community.

Guidance from the CDC for consumers is written to help you educate your families on ways to hold services safely and the importance of taking social distance guidelines safely. Ceremony expert Glenda Stansbury provided a free resource to help you and your families find creative solutions, such as livestreamed services, to protect your business and the communities you serve. Grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt shared his suggestions on holding some form of ceremony at the Center for Loss blog.

Develop a plan with recommendations from the CDC including how to communicate with relevant parties. Mostly, be in touch with state and community partners to help respond to changing needs of your community. Working together facilitates communications, response planning, and organizing when the need arises. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) has a list of who to contact at the state-level and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) is a good resource for local-level needs. These are great new additions to your connections with first responders, hospices, and other community leaders.

^toc

Keep Supplies Stocked

PPE and other safety materials have been difficult to source, so it’s a good idea to take stock of the goods you use frequently and make sure you have supplies. For those that are concerned about PPE supplies, the CDC has recommendations for Optimizing the Supply of PPE and and OSHA has issued interim guidance which brings their enforcement more in line with CDC recommendations.

The CDC has also provided a PPE Burn Rate Calculator to help facilities to plan and optimize the use of PPE. Also, reach out to suppliers, even those outside of mortuary supply, if your need is severe. As a final resort, reach out to your local health authority, coroner, or medical examiner to explain your need and ask for recommendations. One CANA Member suggested ordering smaller quantities to prevent large orders being flagged and redirected.

CANA Member Bass-Mollett shared their hard work finding the answer on how to request N95 masks as it was explained to John Flowers, CEO of Bass-Mollett:

  1. All N95s in existing stock and those being manufactured now are sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  2. FEMA allocates supplies to each state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) based on need
  3. Each EOC manages requests from entities within its respective state — including death care professionals
  4. To place a request for N95s, you’ll need to contact your state’s EOC.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued recommended Guidance for Extended Use and Limited Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators which suggests that equipment be alternated and discarded when damaged or dirtied. Some recommendations suggest to avoid wearing cosmetics, which could dirty the mask and reduce its effectiveness faster.

^toc

Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands

Situations like this, in times of increased caseloads and illness, require flexibility, patience and planning which is why you need to have these discussions and plans now. Like the radiation case study in 2019, we want to help you plan, be safe, and prevent panic and misinformation. As information continues to change rapidly, the best resource for the most current information on your business operations is your local government and health authority.

Predictions say that "prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022." Preparing now for the virus's resurgence in the Fall and Winter means you can protect yourself and your business with proactive plans and preventative measures.

Situations like this also require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. "Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation." Use the support resources from the CDC available by both call and text, and work together to stay healthy. Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. He wrote a post for us about taking care of yourself in these ever-changing times. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.

Thank you for the work you do.

^toc

Resources

For the next few months, CANA Members are invited to join us for monthly Open Forums to discuss how they're handling their response to COVID-19 and supporting their community. Check your inbox for instructions to join, or contact Membership Manager Brie Bingham for more information.

US Center for Disease Control (CDC)
US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Additional Resources

 


Barbara Kemmis

Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.

Tags:  business planning  events  processes and procedures  services 

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Takeaways from the First Ever Green Funeral Conference

Posted By Barbara Kemmis, Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Takeaways from the First Ever Green Funeral Conference

 

The pace of change driven by consumers is the greatest challenge facing funeral service. No option has fallen off the menu, and yet more options pop up each year. How is it possible to create or reposition a business to fulfill these diverse requests? The 70 practitioners, suppliers and explorers who convened in Albuquerque in October 2019 for the First Ever Green Funeral Conference were up for the challenge. Their interactive and engaging experience is challenging to reproduce in a blog post, but there is too much great content not to share.

Passages International was the obvious sponsor for this Conference. However, some potential speakers and participants and social media commenters—and even members of the media—weren’t so sure why CANA was hosting. Cremation is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, but where does it fit on the continuum of green funeral practices? That is the kind of conversation I like to start. CANA doesn't shy away from hard questions, or from asking those questions of itself. We're proud to provide the space to have these frank discussions and attract the right voices to contribute.

Set the Stage

Since this was the first conference of its kind created for funeral directors and cemeterians, it was important to establish context and the intention to be inclusive in our definition of green practices. I will attempt to follow the flow of the conference in this post. Glenda Stansbury served as our emcee and she set the stage from the beginning, establishing that this conference was an exploration of green practices along a continuum. In that spirit, I invite you, dear reader, to identify where you are on that continuum. Are you a light spring green with plenty of traditional burial and cremation offerings? Or maybe you offer eco-friendly products, but want to promote more family participation and natural burial? Are you a deep forest green and all in? This post is an opportunity to learn more about the Conference content and how it may apply to your business and community.

Ed Bixby, owner of Steelmantown Green Burial Preserve and President of the Green Burial Council, kicked off the Conference with a presentation describing the wide range of green burial practices he employs in his cemeteries and has seen around the world. He challenged the audience to recognize that the spectrum includes traditional burial as well as established businesses seeking greener practices—including cremation. Yes, the attraction of green burial is related to environmental concerns, but it also appeals because it is simpler, involves less fanfare, and facilitates enhanced participation from mourners. Ed said, “Participation changes everything. You have the right to care for the dead the way you feel they should be cared for.” He challenged us—and I extend the challenge to you—to shift the mindset. You can work within regulations and laws, but you can reconceive the services you offer to families. In CANA language, "find a way to get to yes for your families."

During Ed's presentation, the topic of embalming came up. Why are embalmed bodies excluded from green cemeteries? Is this based on science or policy? Embalmers in the room shared why embalming remains an important tool for some families, but others expressed the belief that preserved bodies had no place in a green cemetery. While no consensus was reached, it was refreshing to hear so many opinions and suggestions respectfully discussed. However, many questions remained unresolved:

  • People are buried with medicines in their systems and implants in place—so why is embalming prohibited?
  • Should formaldehyde-free fluids influence policies?
  • If embalming is required in order to transport a deceased person from the place of death to the natural burial cemetery, what happens then?
  • If green practices aren’t defined by law, but rather by policies and preferences, where do you land?

Next, Darren Crouch and Kilian Rempen of Passages International joined the conversation by discussing green products and marketing tactics to help businesses remain relevant and profitable. In the 20 years since Darren founded Passages International, he has learned many lessons. His customers are serving families that value green, but also unique and beautiful options. Darren asserted that the challenge of incorporating green options into businesses should feel familiar. It is similar to the challenge of embracing cremation 30 years ago. It was once controversial to add cremation to the sign in front of your funeral home and commonplace for funeral directors to send the rare cremation customer down the street to the cremation society. Ignoring cremation didn’t turn out well for funeral service, so Darren challenges funeral practitioners to not repeat past mistakes.

Darren offered practical advice, such as offering scatter-friendly urns for the 50% of your cremation customers who intend to scatter. He argues that scattering does not equal low-end, but rather that an urn that contains cremated remains for a time can be used as art or to hold keepsakes after scattering. Darren echoed Ed’s message of changing your mindset to envision new offerings.

Put It Into Practice

Once attendees considered the various aspects of green funeral practices and started to plot their positions along the continuum, they heard from cemeterians and a funeral director who have added them to their operations.

Jody Herrington described her success in converting funeral home selection rooms to include green merchandise. She acknowledged how overwhelming it seems to offer yet more options in an already crowded space. Jody shared that her success was directly linked to the communities she has served and their green values. Incorporating local artists along with eco-friendly products and more familiar caskets can be appealing, but every community is unique. You know the communities you serve and should reflect that knowledge.

Jody posed a challenging question for me to hear – Is cremation a fall back? At this point some of you are probably nodding your heads in recognition, but I didn’t get it at first. Jody asserted that when faced with traditional burial caskets and merchandise, some consumers know they don’t want that so they fall back to cremation. Her experience showed that offering more eco-friendly merchandise and caskets resulted in more personalization and more sales to a satisfied customer. This leads me to wonder if green burial will slow the cremation rate increases we have seen. Only time will tell.

Our practitioner panel featured Donal Key and Linda Canyon of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Salvador Perches of Grupo Perches and Recinto de la Oracion, Ed Bixby, and Jody Herrington—continuing the conversation around green burial practices and tips for creating and offering green options in existing cemeteries. It is impossible to summarize the rich content generated by the discussion between panelists as well as with participants. Each panelist shared specific examples of practices they employ to promote participation and innovate new traditions. The questions from participants did touch on business models, pricing, training and incenting employees to dig graves and assist families to dress their loved ones. The key takeaway is that you can get to yes with families. It may take more time and creativity, but you can and should do it.

Next up was Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who examined the legal trends surrounding green burials and green cemeteries. Tanya presented a framework for understanding green funeral trends. She started by sharing the macro trend of consumers looking for more control and input while also seeking authenticity and a meaningful experience. This is a trend influencing all aspects of our lives. And it poses a challenge for funeral directors and cemeterians who are typically risk-adverse.

Tanya outlined considerations to take into account when considering something new – i.e., natural burial or a new disposition.

  • Does the law prohibit it? The dead have rights, so that must always be considered, but there is very little cemetery law on the books.
  • Are you in a gray area where there is no particular law prohibiting or allowing? If the law doesn’t say you can’t, then you can, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for moving ahead without permission from the funeral or cemetery board or coverage from a court order.

The example she gave was natural organic reduction, commonly referred to as human composting. Washington state law explicitly stated that burial, cremation and removal from the state were the legal forms of disposition. This meant they needed to change the law in order to pave the way for a new form of disposition. In states that don’t affirmatively identify the forms of disposition, a court order or opinion from the board or attorney general may pave the way.

Tanya led a free-wheeling Q&A session that touched on grave reusage, family participation, disinterments, indigent cremations, and what happens when cemeteries are abandoned.

Consumer Insights

The last sessions focused on consumers’ experiences and insights. Gail Rubin shared her perspective on consumer views of death and mourning and emphasized the ongoing theme of promoting participation and education.

I moderated two manufacturer panels—Luis Llorens of US Cremation Equipment and Paul Seyler of Matthews Environmental discussed the environmental impact of cremation and made presentations on the macro and micro impacts of cremation on the environment. This warrants its own blog post and one is in the works for publication in 2020. Stay tuned!

A second panel, with Sam Sieber of Bio-Response Solutions and Nicki Mikolai of Resomation America, discussed the science and practical application of alkaline hydrolysis. There was significant interest in alkaline hydrolysis among the participants, with some current and future practitioners represented. The questions from participants ranged from inquiries about the fundamental science, presence of radiation and mercury, to viewings and zoning challenges.

Legally, alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be cremation, but the process that occurs in the machine is completely different than flame-based cremation. Does that make it greener? That depends on the formula that is used. Is there a lower carbon footprint? Yes—or probably. Fewer fossil fuels are used to heat the water or dry the remains, but water and chemicals are used—so how does one account for that in the green calculation?

While more questions were raised than answered on the overall environmental impact of all dispositions, Sam did point participants to an important a recent study conducted in the Netherlands by Elisabeth Keijzer, who attempted to calculate the true costs of different types of disposition. Sam presents a useful framework for understanding the various environmental impacts and “shadow costs” discussed in the study.

Consumers are significantly ahead of funeral directors and cemeterians in seeking, performing and creating greener end-of-life options, so this conference represented an opportunity to engage in facilitated conversation, query panel presenters, and learn from leading experts. All walked away with practical ideas to implement now, and probably some ideas they considered but discarded for their own businesses. Here are three of my takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Definitions Matter

Language matters and it was important from the beginning to tackle some tough topics in order to facilitate open conversation and advance our collective understanding. We named this meeting the Green Funeral Conference to encompass a variety of green practices, and people came with many different ideas and opinions on what “green” truly means. However, everyone left seeing the full continuum of green funeral practices.

So, what shade of green are you or do you aspire to be? Have this conversation with your staff and seek to understand what your community wants or will respond positively to. And then have this conversation with your vendors to educate yourself on more eco-friendly options. Figure out your carbon footprint and how you can offset or reduce it.

Are your own policies and procedures standing in the way?

Takeaway #2: Everything Old is New Again

For cremation, it took a few evangelists (and 100 years) to make cremation a tradition. Green funerals are completely different. For some, the practice is cultural tradition and anything else is desecration. For others, it's an attempt to mitigate their carbon footprint on the world by removing external interference (letting nature take its course). So, whether it's to save money, to save the planet, or to honor tradition, it means every option, every time. And providing that is hard work.

You know your communities and have served them for the length of your career or possibly generations of your family. Incorporating green funeral practices does not mean starting over from scratch, but it does mean shifting mindsets. You may consider following the path you took to embrace cremation.

Takeaway #3: Start now!

It took nearly 150 years, but cremation in the West evolved from a European fad to the dominant form of disposition in the US with the help from multiple types of leaders. First came the evangelists—those spreading the good news of the hygienic and aesthetic virtues of cremation. Then came the practitioners who formed CANA as a forum to share best practices and promote the practice of cremation. Those practitioners innovated products, technology and services to support cremation practice. Many of these practitioners ultimately formed companies that supplied practitioners nationwide. As those companies matured and merged and competitors formed, cremation products and services further developed to support the industry.

Will green funeral practices follow a similar pattern? Probably. Likely following a significantly shorter timeline, but it certainly will happen, thanks to a similar mix of contributors. Yet again, consumers are leading the way by demanding greener funeral practices. The participants and speakers in the Green Funeral Conference represented a mix of champions of funeral practices along the continuum, both current and future practitioners.

This conference was a true meeting of minds and collaboration in exploring green funeral practices. I'm proud of the conversations that happened at this meeting and have attempted to capture some of the content and the spirit of the event.

What's Next?

Consumers will continue to require and expect a wide range of options from you and your businesses. These expectations will evolve and advance as the media reports the unfolding story. CANA and Passages are planning the second Green Funeral Conference to provide an ongoing forum for practitioners to explore their responses to consumer demands. In the meantime, you can access the Green Funeral Conference content online. Most importantly, you can share this post with your employees and hold your own conversations about how you can incorporate green funeral practices in your business.

 

 


Want to learn more from the presenters and participants in the Green Funeral Conference? This is the shameless plug to buy the recordings and join in the conversation from the comfort of your office. Learn more: goCANA.org/GFC2019

Recent CANA research shows that cremation customers are less interested in body-centric products and services, and instead seeking experiences to honor a life lived. The presenters hadn’t seen this research at the time of the Conference, but their experiences and advice supported these findings. If the consumer wants to focus on the person and not the body, are you prepared to support with your services and merchandise? This research on "The Cremation Experience" took the cover story of the most recent issue of The Cremationist and will be featured in issues and blog posts throughout 2020. Join CANA to read the magazine, consistently voted the most popular benefit of membership, or follow The Cremation Logs blog to get the reports as they come out!

 


Barbara Kemmis

Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.

Tags:  alkaline hydrolysis  body preparation  cemetery  education  embalming  events  green practices  manufacturers  marketing  personalization  services 

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Event Tips and Trends for Funeral Service

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

Small Meeting Trends to Know

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

Experiential Get-Togethers

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

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

Customized Content

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

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

Smaller, shorter meetings

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

Use of Technology

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

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

Food and beverage trends

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

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

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

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

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

Try it out

What can you do to help make memories for attendees?

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

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

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

Participation in planning and the event

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

Select unique and interesting venues if possible.

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

Looking to the future

Immersive Sensory Experiences

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

The Holograms are Coming!

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

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

 

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

 


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

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

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



Dr. Rhonda Montgomery

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

Todd Uglow

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

Tags:  arranging  consumers  events  memorialization  services  storytelling  tips and tools 

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