Celebration of Life can help with mourning the loss
Societal views on Death Care and end of life rituals are changing, whether we admit it or not. Some in our industry have identified and changed their operations to reflect this change, but many have fallen behind the time. The one thing I want to focus on in this blog is that a majority of families are rejecting the black clothed mourning funeral, and instead of seeking a celebration of the life their loved one lived. I suspect many reading this will say, “This isn’t new”; however, I think the reiteration is important and if one person who currently doesn’t view it this way starts to understand it will be worth writing.
We are at a time in Death Care when families are interested in and requesting more and more unique service ideas. I have seen many remarkable ways: taking the procession through Burger King drive-through, having a putting green at the visitation, having the whole congregation sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game, etc. The old model was to meet with a family talk to them about some pictures and then invite them and their friends and family to come into our establishment dressed in dark clothing to mourn the loss and show respect to the family who lost their loved one. The new model is must more appealing and exciting; we ask the family what their loved one liked to do, what their hobbies were, and then we create a unique service around these things and invite the loved ones, their family and friends, to come to our establishment to take part in an experience that truly reflects who the loved one was.
Some reading this are probably wondering about this process and have many questions, so below I have listed some answers!
Why would I want to do a Celebration model vs. what I am currently doing?
First, I would like to think that you are in the Death Care industry because you want to help people during their time of need. Over time the needs of those experiencing a death have changed, thus we should be changing our way of doing business to best suit these new needs.
What customization do I need to do to have a “Celebration”, I already customize?
My personal feelings are that a casket cap and picture boards are not customizations. I would suggest you allow the family to decide what they would like to do, and work with them on how to achieve it. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that” or “we don’t have that kind of service available”, you figure out a way to help the family within reason. If the person who passed loved going to Hawaii, I would suggest you work with the family on asking everyone to come in Hawaiian shirts to the service and create a beach theme to service. If the loved one loved to garden maybe you work with a local florist to get some plants for the day to create a sitting garden to have the service is. There are many ways to customize including offering new technological based services, changing the venue of the service to something more reflective of the person, etc. Think of this as creating an event experience for the loved ones.
Won’t these things cost more money, how we account for the extra costs?
In many cases, I have seen and worked with families on a very lost cost customization. It can be as simple as asking the family to bring a collection to the visitation so that everyone can see it. However, I would be amiss if I didn’t say that people will find value in the customization you are offering. You can certainly, and tactfully, let the family know that you can accommodate their wishes but there will be a cost associated with what they are requesting. Again, I would focus on how to say yes, rather than saying no or we can’t.
How do I approach this topic with the family?
My favorite way to start the customization process is right when the family comes to your office. Push the paperwork aside, give your condolences and ask one of these questions:
“I did not have the honor of knowing your loved one, could you please introduce me to (him/her)?”
“I only knew your loved one through your family/friends; could you please reintroduce me and tell me more about them?”
“I knew (name) very well, however you spent far more time with (him/her), can we spend a moment talking about (his/her) hobbies and what they liked to do?”
What I have found is when you allow the family to start talking about their loved one with the questions above, several things happen. An emotional roller coaster happens in which they start by telling simple things, which leads to some tears and more in depth emotional stories about who the loved one was, and then it typically will result in some funny stories being told and the family laughing. This eases the tension of the situation and will allow you some ideas about what to suggest to the family. Almost always when something service-wise is recommended to the family their response is, “I didn’t know we could do that.” Start with simple things that they can do to create an experience of their loved one’s life, and work with them on starting to build a bigger experience if that is what the family wants. We have experienced people changing from direct burial to visitation and service because they were able to customize how they wanted the service.
I am certain that if you give it a try on a few services you will see a difference. That difference could come in many ways, but most importantly it will come in the experience the family has and how it will help them with their grief and mourning.
Written by PICLIF Guest Blogger
Forest Park Cemeteries & Funeral Home
Vice President of Operations & General Manager