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Does Funeral Service Have an Image Problem?

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Credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi / Foter / CC BY-ND

Jacqueline Kennedy once famously wrote that her aim was to be the “art director of the twentieth century.” Little did she know that some of the most enduring images she would help create would come from her husband’s funeral ceremonies after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. These images were so striking that they are etched in people’s minds as vividly today as they were 50 years ago. Those who have only seen photographs—many who weren’t born yet–feel as though they witnessed the proceedings: Black Jack the riderless horse with boots positioned backwards in the stirrups; six white horses pulling the caisson upon which the President’s flag-draped casket rested; John, Jr., donned in blue coat and shorts on his third birthday, saluting his father’s casket on its way to burial.

Mrs. Kennedy wanted to send a clear message to the world that her husband deserved to be remembered. She wanted people to come together to grieve a lost life. Drawing upon her art background, she recognized that people would be more likely to follow a path of healing and remember the President longer if visual images relating to his death stayed with them.  Read the rest of this entry »

Social Media: Who Needs It?

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A few years ago more than 500,000 fans of comedienne Betty White started a grassroots campaign on Facebook calling for her to appear on the late night television program Saturday Night Live. It worked. Ms. White was soon booked to host the May 9, 2010 show. After thanking Facebook users for their support in her opening monologue, she said “I didn’t know what Facebook was! And now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time!”

Photo credit: Peter Ras / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

For anyone over 40 years old, social media can be an enigma. Are Facebook friends real friends? Should I care what someone I haven’t seen in 30 years ate for dinner last night? Do I now need to follow Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google Plus+–and a host of ever-changing social media sites—to have a place in the world?

More relevant to funeral service, how does social media treat people who are grieving? A growing number of grief experts have commented on its utility as a way for people to express grief and reach out for comfort. Likewise, social media offers a way for friends and loved ones to offer words of comfort and encouragement without the awkward stumbling to find the right words. Simply erase and retype until your message sounds appropriate.   Read the rest of this entry »

Putting the “Fun” in Funerals: Yes, We Said It.

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I’ll avoid the obvious pun, but has anyone else noticed signs that more people are interested in having fun while planning their funerals? Okay, maybe fun is overstating the trend, but instead of avoiding final planning at any cost, it appears that more people are recognizing that death is, in fact, a part of life, and you might as well make the best of it.

Case in point: two professional baseball teams featured “funeral night” at games. Who saw THAT one coming? In both instances, “funeral night” featured drawing the name of a “lucky” fan to receive an all-expenses-paid funeral. The marketing masterminds behind these promotions were undoubtedly interested in drawing attention to their baseball games rather than promote the value of funerals. The interesting thing is that scores of people entered these contests with the sincere hope of winning. The two men who won funerals seemed genuinely grateful to have won something of value.

Of VALUE.

That’s where we’ve gone wrong in funeral service. We assumed that each generation explained to the next why funerals are important. They didn’t. Most Gen Xers and younger folks will tell you they want to be put in a shoebox while their friends have a blow-out party. They don’t see any value in having a “funeral.”

Photo credit: Simon Westlake / http://bit.ly/1FkhjOh

Back to fun. An Australian funeral home has had great success promoting advanced cremation planning through whimsical ads and billboards showing a naked elderly man sitting on a log by a campfire. The underlying message is that no one should feel uncomfortable with final planning because it’s our opportunity to plan a memorial service that reflects your life, your personality and your character. The same funeral home continues to push boundaries by creating marketing that communicates the reward funerals can offer to the person planning his or her own funeral. I won’t say it’s putting the fun back in funerals so much as putting the celebration back in funerals.

Not a bad concept.


 By Mark Allen, OGR Executive Director

How Joan Rivers Knocked ’em Dead In Her Final Act

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You’ve probably heard about the over-the-top funeral that comedienne Joan Rivers described as her ideal funeral in her 2012 book, I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me. She wrote:

I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action … I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing ‘Mr. Lonely.’ I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.

Photo attribute: !efatima / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

And she wasn’t kidding. So how did her real service on Sept. 7 at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side of New York City stack up against her fantasy funeral?

Pretty well, actually. One attendee told USA Today, “It was like a Broadway show with tons of humor, lots of tears, and ended with a standing ovation.” The celebrity guest list included Howard Stern, who gave the eulogy, Donald Trump, Sarah Jessica Parker, Whoopi Goldberg and Diane Sawyer, to name just a few. Hugh Jackman, Audra McDonald and the New York City Gay Men’s Choir sang during the service. At its conclusion, bagpipers burst out of the temple playing songs for hundreds of fans who yearned to be included in the ceremony in some small way.

Granted, Joan Rivers was not an ordinary person. Read the rest of this entry »