Putting the ‘Fun’ in Funeral?

We all know the expression ‘there’s no I in team’, but most of us haven’t heard anyone say ‘there’s no funeral without fun’. And why haven’t we heard this? Because loud, celebratory, fun-funerals are not as common in America as they are in other parts of the world. But we have been seeing a few movements and individuals who are trying to give people the chance to make that final goodbye as unique as possible, which sometimes means as fun as possible. Teddy Lee, a funeral home director and magician in the Bronx, is a great example of this fun trend because he combines his skills: he’s a mortigician. When his clients request his funeral homes’ services, they also sometimes ask that he incorporate magic into the service. He incorporates a respectful show element in the funeral that entertains and celebrates the life of the loved one who has passed. It’s through people like Teddy that we see how our culture is redesigning the classic funeral. These days, you can request almost anything – from specific music sets, performances, and themes, to dress codes or costumes for funeral attendees and/or staff. We are dealing with different generations who have different values and funeral needs, and I am excited to continue to see the growing demands placed on our industry, as well as the industry’s varied responses.

If you’re struggling with the idea of breaking the norm, but are tempted by it, you’re in good company. There are funeral workshops and cafés popping up around the country that help you figure out how to say a personal goodbye that suits you, but will also help your friends and family. While I understand that there is a fine line to walk with these ‘fun’ funerals, they can serve as one last thing for your loved ones to do for you, in a time when they might be feeling very helpless. Again, they are not for everyone, but they are a very good reason to start talking to your loved ones about your wishes and theirs. We understand that it can be a very hard conversation to have, but, because there are so many options, it’s important to find the right one for you and prepare your loved ones for your decision.

Aspiring to Work in Death Care

It seems a growing number of young people have been entering the death care industry in the last few years, and most don’t have a family background in the field. The funeral/death care industry has long been dominated by family-owned businesses, such as ours, who hand down the business from generation to generation, and very few who simply “choose” this career. But, times are changing and all too many family-owned funeral homes have had to close their doors or sell out to large corporations. Even still, I think that most find it interesting that one would choose this line of work.

After spending 25 years in the business, I can tell you that it is a calling and not simply a “job.” In fact, I wouldn’t consider it a job, nor would I call it a profession. If you are doing it right and are going to last for the long haul, it is a lifestyle. You need to have an understanding and appreciation of caregiving, and a desire to want to help people. You need to be stable, and be able to separate your personal life from what you see and do throughout your workday. You need to be able to offer a calm and caring voice, helping people have a dignified and well-run service. And, of course, you must have good business sense and keen organizational skills to be successful.

So what draws people to the death care industry? For most, I believe it is the concept of caregiving and being able to help grieving families. Whether they are looking to be a mortician preparing a body for the families viewing, or a funeral director executing a seamless service – those that truly have the calling want to help families receive closure, and to provide the deceased with a proper, dignified send-off.

DIY Caskets?

Do it yourself (DIY) projects are the classic money saving approach to life. We live in world that hosts television networks dedicated to showing you how to create your ideal living space, be it in your kitchen, bathroom or backyard, by yourself. There are also countless websites, such as Pinterest, that promote DIY designs for everything from earrings to baked goods. It seems anything can become a DIY project these days, so why not think about personalizing your own casket?

Building your own (or your loved one’s) casket from scratch can save money and help to reduce the overuse of natural resources. Many credible casket designs can be found for free on the internet, and most give you the option of building a Green burial casket that does not use any metal. The actual building of your own casket or one for a loved one can also be a therapeutic experience. You have the freedom to infuse the casket with the personality of yourself or your loved one through different stains, stenciling, burning or carving techniques and the use of photographs and bumper stickers – just about anything you can think of.

If you feel you don’t have the time or skill to build your own casket properly, there are businesses that build them for you and let you customize them. Colourful Coffins, a UK based DIY coffin/casket retailer, explains that ‘you were unique in life, why not be unique in death? While Colourful Coffins is an ocean away from New Hampshire, they set a good business model.  Every aspect of the casket will be environmentally friendly, from their inks to their 100% recycled cardboard casket. You can upload images or your own drawings and designs to decorate all sides of the casket.

DIY caskets, whether you build it entirely yourself or find a company to help you, enable you to have a creative outlet in a difficult time. If the casket creation is for a loved one, it gives you a chance to build something you can all be proud of. If it is for you, you have a rare opportunity to leave your mark and go down in style.

Empty Vases: Instead of Sending Flowers – Spread Goodwill

We are now about halfway through the year, and I have been reflecting on 2013 and some of the memorable trends I saw emerge in our industry. Many of us have, either directly experienced, or witnessed a friend or family member experience, the numerous floral bouquets that arrive when a loved one passes away, and we know how overwhelming these kind gestures can be for some.  Flower arrangements make a beautiful gift and do fill a home with color and life, but they tend to also be expensive, take up a lot of space, and require upkeep. Their beauty and vitality, which may offer comfort initially, does eventually fade, leaving the grieving family with the task of cleaning and disposing of them, and trying to figure out what to do with the many empty vases.

I am not looking to discourage flowers, but I wanted to share an alternative idea that I found to be a creative and thoughtful substitute for this traditional gift. If the loved one who has passed away has a charity or a cause that was near and dear to their heart, consider setting up a simple donation service in their honor online, and request that gifts be directed there. When an obituary is created for someone via Tributes, there are hundreds of preloaded national and local charities which allow the user to have a direct link to the donation page. Or there is a company http://givalike.org/ which will provide a link on the funeral home’s obituary page, to take you directly to the donation portal. They even allow you to sign an online guest book to leave a favorite memory or message of support.

I hope that this idea will help to provide comfort to the families and friends of those who have been laid to rest because they will know that generous support has been given to a good cause in celebration of their loved one’s life.

Keep Your Loved One With You Each Day

Buying a piece of jewelry is a common way to commemorate an event or an occasion, and the death of a loved one does not need to be an exception to this tradition. While jewelry is often purchased in a celebratory manner and may not seem the appropriate response to death, many find that keepsake jewelry is a meaningful way to celebrate the life of the one you have lost.

There are a lot of different customizable options out there, including companies that will produce diamonds from your loved one’s ashes or locks of hair. Since diamonds are known to last forever, this can be a fitting tribute to the person whose memory you would like to live on forever. The diamonds can be set in virtually any type of jewelry that you prefer, and can come in various colors, shapes and styles.

Using the fingerprints of loved ones is also a popular option, and at our firms, we fingerprint everyone that passes away. You have the option of using these fingerprints to create pendants and rings with the fingerprint etched into them. We also have lockets that can carry cremated remains and can work with a company that incorporates ashes into beautiful glass objects.

If you are unable to return to visit the gravesite or the place where your loved one’s ashes were laid to rest, having something that you can wear or keep with you each day, can be a great comfort.

NH is Aging – and It’s a Problem

According to two U.S. Census Bureau reports released in May, 20% of the United States’ entire population will be age 65 or older by 2030. Currently, here in New Hampshire, we are ranked the fourth “oldest” state in the country, with approximately 200,000 Granite State residents (15% of our total population) age 65 or older. This percentage is expected to continue to increase as there are not enough young people choosing to stay in or move to NH, to buy homes and raise their families. By 2030, New Hampshire is expected to have an estimated 437,194 senior citizen residents.

While this aging population signifies a great victory of medical, social, and economic advances over disease – which we should celebrate – it also presents incredible challenges. Population aging strains insurance and pension systems and challenges the current models of social support. This will have a major impact on our economy and the social landscape of the state as we will see a shift in the demand for services and Medicaid spending, as well as fewer people in the workforce.

So, as you would guess, Eldercare is projected to be the fastest-growing employment sector within the health care industry. Therefore, strengthening caregiving occupations is vital to our social infrastructure and improving the quality of care, as well as to potentially helping to drive long-term economic growth. I hope that policymakers are working diligently to address the issues of recruitment, increased compensation, retention and training for caregivers, as the growth of this profession is going to be critical in coming years.

Do You Know Your Rights?

Unfortunately not everyone in the funeral business is truly working to help and serve people in their time of need.  Most are good and honest people, but the sad truth is that there are some funeral directors that will simply try to swindle money out of people when they are vulnerable.  That’s why The Funeral Rulewas created in 1984 by the Federal Trade Commission, to protect consumers from these disgraceful funeral directors.  Currently, The Funeral Rule essentially only applies to funeral homes, therefore consumers who purchase funeral or final disposition goods or services from other third-party sellers are not protected. Luckily, there is a bill with the House of Representative to revise the rule to include all for-profit sellers of funeral or final disposition services or merchandise. I fully back this proposed legislation, as it would help to protect consumers from fraudulent and misleading practices.

All consumers should be familiar with this rule, so that you can be fully aware of what your rights are. For example, you have the right to choose only the services and merchandise you want or need, and to pay only for those you select – whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The Rule also allows you to compare prices among funeral homes.  This is just to name a couple.  I strongly urge all consumers to read a full explanation of your rights under The Funeral Rule, by visiting https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule.

So You Don’t Want to Die?

Well that’s no shocker, right? People don’t want to die. However, we all know that it is inevitable for each and every one of us. We don’t know how or when our time will come, but we do know that it eventually will. It could be tomorrow, next month, next year, or 30 years from now. So, why then is it that death is something that most people very fervently do not want to talk about? It seems to scare people to the point that they ultimately refuse to address the subject. I see this unwillingness to consider death quite often, particularly in our social media efforts, where our Facebook advertisements receive comments from people such as “they are not ready” and this is “unwelcomed” or even “inappropriate.” It amazes me how many people are truly appalled at the idea that they will someday perish and perhaps they should put plans in place now to save their loved ones the burden later.

This aversion to discuss death and dire circumstances poses many issues when they eventually occur – especially if it is a situation where you suddenly cannot speak for yourself and make decisions for yourself. If you haven’t created a living will, power of attorney, or at least started the discussion about your wishes should you become incapacitated, then you leave your loved ones in a tough position. Living wills and power of attorneys were created in response to the increasing prevalence of sophisticated medical technology, and the fact that 25%-55% of deaths in the U.S. occur in health care facilities. Most people (70%-95%) would rather refuse aggressive medical treatment than have their lives medically prolonged in futile or other poor prognosis states. Without a plan in place for what your preference is, your final days could be painfully prolonged, expensive for those you are leaving behind, and emotionally burdensome to both you and your family. Then there is the other issue of funeral arrangements, which when not planned in advance and pre-paid or insured, is another stressful burden to place on your loved ones during an already difficult time.

I strongly urge people to think about their final wishes, to get in place a living will and a power of attorney, and have these conversations with their spouses and/or loved ones, so that they know what to expect when the time comes. If you are an adult and your aging parents have yet to have this discussion with you, perhaps you should start the discussion for them? Maybe they have already made these plans and just not told you – but maybe they haven’t – and either way, you should know what their final wishes are. This is never an easy conversation, but you will feel much better once the subject has been brought out in the open. You can find some helpful tips for initiating the conversation here: http://dyingmatters.org/page/talking-about-dying.

One-Ply or Two? The Toilet Paper at a Funeral Home Can Tell You a Lot

As a consumer, there is a great deal to consider when shopping for a funeral home to service you and your family. You want to make sure that you are not only working with caring individuals that will treat you and your loved one with dignity and respect, but you want to make sure you are getting a good value, and not being taken advantage of in your time of need. You should be working with a funeral director and firm that you are comfortable with and that operates with very high standards and ethics. Someone that is serious about protecting you and your best interests, and is committed to helping you achieve your vision.

Bereaved families need to beware of funeral directors who will try to sell them more than they actually need and try to cut corners. It is best to shop around and/or pre-plan arrangements, so you or your family members aren’t too vulnerable to overspending. Ask plenty of questions so that you are educated and aware of what is required, and what perhaps you are not obligated to purchase. By law, a funeral provider needs to provide you with a price list. Be sure that this price list is straight-forward and that you have a copy that you can take with you or that you can access their prices online. You should also be asking questions about their processes and procedures. For example, if you are opting for cremation, you would want to know if they own their own facilities where the cremation takes place, or if they subcontract the cremation out to a third party – which means your loved one would be brought to an alternate facility where they would have little control over the crematory’s operating procedures or who performs the cremation. If you are grieving, bring a friend of other family member with you to help you sort through your options.

Unfortunately, there are some funeral directors and firms out there that simply do not operate under the highest of standards and cut corners, shedding a negative light on the rest of the industry. If you are shopping around for a funeral home to service your family, and aren’t sure if they are the best fit, a simple (albeit strange) test can tell you a lot about the firm that you are considering. Upon your initial visit to the funeral home, visit their bathroom first. If they are using one-ply toilet paper, it’s safe to assume that they will cut corners wherever possible and it’s best not to take that chance.

There are plenty of businesses that offer stellar services from the day they open their doors – and some that manage to operate for years despite a history of substandard service. However, a funeral home that’s been in business for a long time is more likely to provide dependable service and a list of clients you could consult with if you so choose. Be sure to exercise due diligence to ensure you are working with an upstanding firm.

Sympathy Gifts – Provide Comfort to the Grieving

The desire to ease another’s pain is a human trait, yet we are never taught the art of condolence. Until we have our own experience with grief, we can’t even guess the turmoil one’s heart will go through when someone they love dies. And although we can sympathize with them, we do not actually know how difficult and heart wrenching their loss is for them. What do you say? Or should you say nothing at all? When someone is experiencing intense grief, heartfelt thoughts and condolences can often fall on deaf ears or be misunderstood. Depending on your relationship with the person, sometimes the best thing that you can do is to simply show your support with a card, flowers, or a sympathy gift.

Although we seem to always feel a sense of urgency to send something upon hearing the sad news, remember that even if a card or gift is received after the funeral service, it can be very comforting. Especially since at this point, the flowers, phone calls and cards start to dwindle – making it the hardest time for those who are grieving, as their loss is fully realized. Your thoughtfulness and timing will be very much appreciated.