traditional funeral

2016 Trends that Shaped Funeral Service–Part II

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2016-trendsLast week we began a review of 10 developments in funeral service that caught the attention of national–and sometimes–international media. Coverage focused on changing trends, occasionally on what went wrong, and often what were the most outrageous ideas. Here are another five topics that demonstrate what is catching the attention of media outlets and their readers.  Read the rest of this entry »

2016 Trends that Shaped Funeral Service–Part I

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In many people’s minds, 2016 will be remembered as the year celebrities dropped like flies. According to Legacy.com, the number of celebrity deaths was comparable to previous years, but three factors made it appear that celebrities were dying in droves: 1) a higher-than-average number of those who died were either A-list or legendary stars; 2) many musicians died who had extremely loyal fan bases; and 3) the average age of celebrities who died this year was about 10 years younger than usual.

Aside from celebrity deaths, growing pains continued to reach every aspect of funeral service. During the last 12 months we saw some outrageous trends, some of which have already used up their 15 minutes of fame. Other news stories highlighted shifts in public preferences that merit our continued attention, even if these changes seem undignified to some traditionalists.

Part I of this blog will examine five topics which drew national, and sometimes international, attention to funeral service in ways that are relevant to serving families in the near future. Next week, Part II will examine five more topics.  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Things I’ve Learned from Working with Funeral Directors

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Here’s a typical conversation that I have when I’m out with friends, meeting new people.

“What do you do?” asks someone who doesn’t really care but feels obligated to engage me in conversation.

“I work for a trade association that works with independently owned funeral homes. I’m a meeting planner.” I respond to cut to the chase.

“Oh! So you plan funerals? Do you embalm bodies?” returns the individual who now has a stronger interest in hearing what I have to say and obviously wasn’t listening.

“No. But I know quite a few people who do. Why? Do you need a discount on an urn?”

The asker typically turns pale and isn’t sure where to go from there.

So goes many a conversation at cocktail parties and other events when I have the opportunity to interact with anyone who doesn’t work in funeral service. It’s made me stop and think about what funeral directors face when they share their story with others.

Since I joined OGR’s staff four years ago, I’ve learned quite a bit about funeral service professionals and have found that they have a pretty challenging job. They work long, irregular hours around strange smells, extreme emotions, and lots of paperwork. They respond to phone calls in the middle of the night, often miss holidays with their families, and care for dead bodies. They maintain composure and professionalism in the midst of family conflict, inclement weather, and national tragedies. A lot of what they do is behind the scenes, unseen and unheard.  Read the rest of this entry »

Advice for Funeral Directors Working with Donor Families

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Photo Credit: Laura Demby      Jeni Stepien with Arthur Thomas after he walked her down the aisle at her wedding last Friday.

Jeni Stepien’s father was murdered ten years ago, but his heart lives on in the body of donor recipient Arthur Thomas. When Ms. Stepien  got engaged in October, 2015, she struggled with deciding who would walk her down the aisle. The thought that a piece of her father could be present during her wedding ceremony led her to ask Arthur if he’d be willing to escort her.  Mr. Thomas agreed, and after he walked her down the aisle on Friday, Jeni shared “My dad is here with us, and this man is here because of us.”

Such a beautiful story has us wondering what role the funeral director played in the Stepien and Thomas story. How can funeral service professionals serve families like the Stepiens? Funeral directors are well-positioned to provide donor families with the support and information they need and make a powerful impact in each family’s life, but is there anything they can do specifically?  Read the rest of this entry »

How to Write Better Obituaries

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This article originally appeared in the March issue of Mortuary Management. Writer Kim Stacey will be hosting OGR’s June 16 webinar and takes the time to share how to write a better obituary.

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Late last year Jessica A. Smith of the Order of the Golden Rule (OGR) asked me to be a course leader for a 2016 OGR-sponsored webinar about writing obituaries. The webinar, titled “How to Write an Obituary Worth Reading,” is slated for mid-June, and “will look at the factors which make a good obituary” as well as “provide a forum where funeral professionals can share their obituary-writing experiences and learn from one another.”

The topic was prompted, in part, by the recent rise of the “viral” obituary, where the story (or the personal agenda of the writer) resonates so deeply with readers that the obituary is shared — using popular social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter — by millions of Internet users.

article-0-1BC0557D000005DC-592_634x403You know the ones I’m talking about. Think back to 2013 when the obituary of Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick was published. This scathing “tribute,” written by her surviving adult children, included sentences like these: “Everyone she met, adult or child, was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit,” and “We celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children.” It also featured a call for “a national movement and dedicated war against child abuse in the United States of America.” This lurid story, combined with the expression of vengeful desire and the direct “call-to-action,” made this obituary an overnight global sensation.  Read the rest of this entry »

8 Easy Ways Your Funeral Home Can Adapt to Change

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It’s not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.
–W. Edward Deming

Funeral directors often tell me they don’t need to change because their customers don’t want change. The same people used to tell me their cremation rate would top out at 10 percent, their average sale would never decline and their profit margin would always remain positive. I have no doubt that everyone has a pocket of families who never want funeral service to evolve. It’s the other 90 percent we have to Read the rest of this entry »

5 Reasons to Consider “Family Desairology”

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Desairology? Is that a thing? According to uslegal.com, “The art of Desairology involves caring for the hair, skin and nails of the deceased in a funeral home preparation room. The specialty is performed by a Desairologist who is licensed in cosmetology under state law.”

But wait! Like everything in funeral service, Desairology is in the process of morphing.

In her commentary for Mortuary Management, Kim Stacey describes how a young woman named Monica Torres, a licensed funeral director, embalmer, Desairologist and owner of NXT Generation Mortuary Support Services, is pushing the boundaries.  Monica agrees with many funeral professionals who believe poor feature setting and terrible body appearance have helped push people away from traditional funerals. She integrates her skills as embalmer and cosmetologist to create a life-like look that will leave families with positive memories of their loved ones. It’s a blend of restorative arts, embalming and cosmetology. Read the rest of this entry »