Have You Had the “Talk of a Lifetime”?

How well do you know your parents, grandparents or your spouse? I am sure you would say that you know them very well, and that you talk about just about “everything.” However, do you know how this person wants to be remembered when they inevitably reach the end of their life journey?  Do you know if they would like to be buried or cremated?  Do they want a simple or elaborate memorial service?  Most people have not had those conversations.

It’s not easy to talk about death, but it really is an important conversation to have.  I often talk about the importance of pre-planning your services, as it alleviates the burden placed on family members when that time comes.  But, just as significant is talking to your loved ones about what matters most to them.  A person’s memorial service is an opportunity to reflect on their life, morals, experiences and interests.

The Funeral & Memorial Information Council has created a great campaign focused on educating people about the importance of having this discussion.  I encourage you to visit their website http://www.talkofalifetime.org/, where you can download a brochure for more information that includes tools to help you broach the subject and the right questions you should be asking.

Honoring America’s Veterans –Through to Their Last Day

This week, in addition to celebrating Veteran’s Day, we also held a seminar to help end-of-life care providers and health and human service professionals, by enhancing their sensitivities and understanding of veterans, and to provide them with new tools to better serve dying veterans and their families.  The seminar was very successful and each person walked away with invaluable knowledge that they will surely use going forward, as they interact with veterans and their families.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 25 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are veterans.  That’s 1,800 people a day; more than 680,000 veteran deaths every year.  It’s wonderful that we honor veterans each year on Veteran’s Day, but what is even more important, is that they deserve to be served with dignity and compassionate care, every day – straight through to the end of their life’s journey.  For veterans who were in combat or were witness to other traumatic events, this sensitivity is even more important, as they have very unique needs and require a unique approach to care.

The program we hosted was created by the Hospice Foundation of America and geared towards hospice and health and human service professionals.  However, I feel that everyone that interacts with a veteran – in any capacity – could benefit from improving their understanding of what veterans have been through, and perhaps how that has affected them.  I urge anyone who is interested to stay in contact with their local VA Medical Center, as they are a great resource for support and educational opportunities. And if your questions are regarding the death of veteran, our staff is able answer questions regarding recognition and the benefits that are owed to veterans at the time of death.

Deceased Facebook Users Predicted to Outnumber Living Users – Eventually

I read a very interesting blog the other day that discussed a morbidly fascinating prediction that at some point, the number of dead people on Facebook will outnumber those that are alive.  The rationale may make sense – if Facebook stays around. According to this person’s calculations, there are about 10 to 20 million Facebook users that have died since they originally created a profile.  Although the median age of users still skews to the young side, all of those original Facebook adopters are aging – and it seems that the parents of that generation have also signed on to the social media site.

So unless Facebook can continue to add new, younger users, at a steady rate to outrun the death rate of current users, they are predicting that this crossover could occur as early as the 2060’s, or as late as the 2130’s.   Of course, this could be a moot point if the social network debunks. However, it certainly is an interesting thought process.

Read the blog:  http://what-if.xkcd.com

The Importance of Checks and Balances in the Cremation Process

You may have heard in the news this week that a mix-up by both a Massachusetts state medical examiner’s office and a Boston area discount funeral home, resulted in the wrong body being cremated.  It was a series of mistakes that began when the state medical examiner’s office mixed up two bodies, both with the same last name.  One was to be buried and the other was to be cremated.  When a representative from the funeral home came to pick up the body, they only looked at the last name, and didn’t check to make sure that the identification matched up – nor did they check the first name.

It is a terribly sad mistake that should never have occurred.  This should serve as a reminder to all in the death-care industry as to why it’s so important to have a strict process in place to guarantee the integrity of the cremation process from start to finish, with several redundant checks and balances.  Providing families with the peace-of-mind they are entitled to is paramount. We have established the most rigorous set of operating policies and procedures in order to maximize our level of service and minimize the potential for human error.  Long ago, we implemented a Ten Step Peace-of-Mind Cremation process, which includes many safeguards that aren’t even required by law.  For example, not only do we double and triple check names and identification numbers, we monitor and record all activities in our crematory 24-hours per day using a closed-circuit DVR system.  With the responsibility that is entrusted in your cremation provider, why should you expect anything less?   I strongly urge anyone that is planning to cremate a loved one, to first ask the provider what safeguards they have in place to prevent human error.

Read the entire article here:


What Makes a “Good Funeral”?

I recently read a very interesting story on BostonGlobe.com that is an undertaker’s impression of the current day memorial service in America.  Thomas Lynch, who also is a poet, along with theologist Thomas G. Long, have published a book entitled “The Good Funeral.”  The book sheds light on  memorial services, which stray away from more traditional, somber religious rituals in many cases, and have become celebrations of life.  In Lynch’s opinion, this shift is due to American’s lack of desire to confront loss.  And with cremation becoming the more popular choice for more than half of American deaths, he feels that the lack of a body at memorial services doesn’t properly give loved ones closure.

Over the years, I certainly have seen this shift in the types of services, and cremation is continually on the rise.  I can’t say I completely agree with their viewpoints, as these celebrations are what work for many people.  Not everyone can afford a full traditional funeral, nor is that what everyone wants; therefore it is important that there are choices available.  I did however find his perspective to be very fascinating and there to be some validity to it.

Read the entire article here:  http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/10/20/why-funerals-demand-body/nepmNQdKobLgIbdnu1aTDP/story.html?s_campaign=8315

What a Funeral Company Can Learn from Zappos

A few weeks ago, while at a conference with other funeral directors, we did a case study of Zappos.  The popular online shoe and apparel merchant has grown to be the biggest online shoe retailer since its inception in 1999, thanks to its excellent customer service and commendable marketing strategies.  I found it extremely interesting to study their business model and walked away with many lessons that I can and will apply to my business practices.  Here are just a few of the key lessons that I learned:

  1. Make sure to align business decisions with core values.  This is important in ensuring that implementation is feasible and to have buy-in from employees.
  2. Company culture is critical.  If the company culture is correct, than everything else will fall into place.  It’s much easier to change process, procedures and business practices than it is to change company culture.  So it’s best to get a good handle on that right from the start.
  3. Staff should be a technical fit, as well as a cultural fit.  Hire for attitude, train for skill.
  4. There is always room for improvement to customer service. Staff should be empowered to make decisions, to increase customer service levels.  Organizations should assess all their options to maximize the level of customer service that they can provide.

Since this exercise, we have enhanced our on-line customer service by adding a chat feature to the Cremation Society of New Hampshire website. This feature allows our visitors to get immediate answers or assistance in navigating the site at any hour of the day, without the need to email or make a phone call and thus increasing their on-line experience and level of satisfaction.

One may assume that it would be unlikely that funeral directors could relate their business practices to an online shoe retailer, but it seems that their formula could apply to just about any industry.

Writing a Eulogy

I always wondered why eulogies aren’t written until after someone has passed, because it would be great for that person to hear all the wonderful things we think about them.   Writing a eulogy is an extremely challenging writing assignment for most people, especially since they are writing in a time of stress and grief.  However, it also provides an outlet to the writer/speaker, as it allows them to reflect on their loved one’s character and all the memories and humorous times that they experienced together.  The eulogy not only provides comfort to the writer, but can also provide a great deal of comfort to the audience as well.

When we are approached by families with questions about how to write and deliver a eulogy, we suggest that they not only reflect on their personal memories, but also speak to others close to the deceased about their memories.  A eulogy is not an obituary – it is a personal touch – a celebration of the deceased’s memory and their life.  The tone it will take is the writer’s preference.  It could be serious, lighthearted, somber or humorous.  But no matter what direction the writer goes in, it is always best to keep it short and sweet, as anything too long will be hard to deliver.  Practicing is extremely helpful, whether in front of the mirror or friends and family.  A eulogy doesn’t have to be stiff and formal – it is best to relax and make eye contact with the audience when presenting.

The most important thing we remind people is this that there is no wrong way to eulogize someone.  Just write and speak from the heart and you will deliver a very enlightening eulogy that would make your deceased loved one proud.

Spending Eternity With Your Pet

Just this month, The New York Department of State said it will now permit pet cemeteries to accept human ashes for people who want to spend eternity with a pet.   Animal-lovers won the two-year battle with the state, to lift the ban on burying human remains at pet cemeteries, which began when a former New York City police officer wanted to be cremated and buried in a Westchester, N.Y., pet cemetery alongside his predeceased wife and their three dogs.   Now, state funeral regulators will permit all six of the New York’s licensed pet cemeteries to accept human ashes for burial alongside a family pet.

In New Hampshire, pet cemeteries are not governed or regulated by the state; therefore humans have always been able to use discretion when burying human ashes in pet cemeteries.   There is a genuine interest in the service, as pet lovers are known to go to great lengths for their beloved pets.  Proctor Pet Cemetery in Nashua for example, has always allowed the practice, and is currently undergoing a beautification project that will include a separate area built specifically to accommodate human/pet joint burials, and will soon thereafter begin promoting this offering.

What is interesting is that there is still much controversy over allowing pets to be buried in human cemeteries.  Although it is permitted in a lot of cemeteries, many people are insulted by the idea.

Watch the recent news report regarding the NY state ruling on Yahoo:  http://news.yahoo.com/video/pet-cemeteries-allowing-humans-burried-134050635.html

Green Burials – A Meaningful Sendoff


Green Burials aren’t a new concept.   What is relatively new is that people now choose this eco-friendly option for personal preferences, rather than for religious reasons.  As we become more conscious of our impact on the planet, we continue to find ways to help preserve it.  Green burials don’t utilize any hazardous chemicals to embalm the body, and use simple caskets made of biodegradable materials with little to no metal.  Traditionally, headstones or vaults aren’t used, however most cemeteries require a cement vault to house the casket.

Green burial practices have countless benefits, including helping to reduce carbon emissions, conserving natural resources and restoring natural habitats.  Additionally it provides the opportunity to occupy land with inherent ecological quality and important social value.

Currently, we are the only funeral home in NH approved by the Green Burial CouncilTM, a non-profit organization, to offer a green burial package.  It is a slow trend, but we expect to see more people deciding to leave their final resting place to Mother Nature.   It may be scary to think about how your body will impact the environment when you pass.  However, we don’t have control of when or how we pass on; therefore it is very important to begin considering burial options as early as possible, to ensure that all of your final wishes will be fulfilled.

Friday the 13th – Just Another Day

Today is the formidable, Friday the 13th.  Can you honestly say that you have never felt a twinge of concern in the morning when you realize it is Friday the 13th? For some, the phobia of this day is so real, that they forego their normal activities and don’t leave the house.  I found it surprising to read that an estimated 17 to 21 million Americans suffer from “friggatriskaidekaphobia”, the official name for the phobia.  Frigga, being the name of the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named in English and triskaidekaphobiameaning fear of the number thirteen.

Psychologists would say that bad luck is more often a state of mind.  If anything negative happens on this specific date, people automatically make a permanent association between the event and the date in their minds, conveniently forgetting all those times Friday the 13th has passed uneventfully.  Unfortunately, bad things happen every day and it seems that this date is no different than the other 364 days.  Yet some feel that there is no coincidence and it is merely destiny.   You may be comforted to know that I don’t see any trends in my industry surrounding this date.  The way that I look at it, it is just another day.