How Cremation Services Can Be Opportunities for Funeral Directors

Cremation rates have increased dramatically in the last 50 years. In 1965, less than four percent of all end-of-life services in the United States included cremation services. This year, cremation rates are expected to surpass those of traditional burials, and industry experts project that over 70 percent of all burials will include cremation by 2030.*

Historically, many funeral professionals assumed that families who select cremation for final disposition did so solely to control the cost of end-of-life arrangements. As a result, many funeral providers offered only direct cremation (rather than holding any sort of memorial service prior to cremation or disposition), due in large part to a misassumption that the added cost of traditional services would be unattractive to these families.

As the cremation rate has risen, however, more and more families are choosing cremation services for reasons that have little to do with cost. Rather, today’s funeral professionals find that cremation services offer families an enormous gift: the time and means necessary to think creatively about memorial services.

I recently spoke with Robert Fields, President and Owner of Brown Funeral Home in West Virginia, about ways he and his staff serve the needs of families who select cremation for final disposition. After noting that approximately three-quarters of these families elect to hold traditional services, Fields explained, “We work hard to create an environment where families are comfortable asking questions. We never want to miss an opportunity to serve a family because they were afraid to ask about our offerings.”

Crediting his 34-person staff for their willingness to go above and beyond to help with these requests, Fields described a service they recently held for a motorcycle enthusiast who chose cremation. “We wheeled his Harley-Davidson into the funeral home and set the urn on the driver’s seat,” he recalled. “That’s how he lived his life, and that’s how the family wanted to remember him.”

Funeral professionals like Fields are finding that cremation services present opportunities to plan memorable and meaningful experiences for families. Consider the following:

  • When Princess Margaret died in 2002, the funeral was attended by 450 mourners including the British royal family. After the service, her remains were transferred to a local crematorium before being laid to rest inside an urn and placed in the royal vaults at Windsor Castle.
  • Christopher Reeve’s memorial service in 2004 was attended by 900 people, including several celebrities, politicians and activists. The service lasted three hours and invited his close friends and family to share memories and a collective hope for a cure for spinal cord injuries. Following the service, Reeve’s cremated remains were scattered to the wind in honor of his years of “flight” portraying America’s iconic Superman.
  • When American newscaster Walter Cronkite died in 2009, his family titled his funeral service, “In Thanksgiving for the Life of Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr.,” and invited friends, family and colleagues to pay their respects. Following the service, Cronkite was cremated and interred next to his wife in Kansas City. Two months later, a special memorial service took place at Lincoln Center in New York City, attended by countless friends and colleagues including Katie Couric, Buzz Aldrin and Jimmy Buffet. During the two-and-a-half-hour service, Cronkite was eulogized by over a dozen people, perhaps most notably by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and many praised his enthusiasm, integrity and dedication to traditional journalism.

Today’s funeral professionals understand that end-of-life services offer a memorable, meaningful way to commemorate the lives of our loved ones, regardless of the means of final disposition. We encourage you to view cremation services as opportunities to better serve your client families and to continue to look for ways to creatively meet their specific needs. Not sure where to begin? Start with these memorial service ideas for families who choose cremation.

* According to the National Funeral Directors Association’s 2014 cremation report.

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