My grandpa was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. Known to some as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS causes deadly paralysis in the entire body of its victims. One of the first things to go was my grandpa’s ability to speak, which was especially hard for him as he could “have a conversation with a post,” if you asked my grandma.
During his short, one-year battle with the disease he was lucky enough to be able to discuss his end-of-life wishes with my grandma. He ended up passing away suddenly at the beginning of May the following year, the same day I graduated from college. A visitation and funeral were held for him shortly after, but due to a very cold winter and issues with the headstone, his plot at the cemetery of his birthplace wasn’t going to be ready until Memorial Day, which will be three years ago exactly this weekend. After the service, his remains were placed in the pine box that he requested and stayed for a while on the floor of his and my grandma’s house. She once told me that he would get in the way of her vacuuming, as per usual.
The major reason my grandfather was cremated was to ease the burden of time. Not only did we have to wait for the cemetery, but my family also lives scattered across Iowa, Nebraska and Texas. We needed the time and flexibility to inter him when our family could be together.
When a preneed or at-need family walks through the doors of a funeral home, chances are they may know if they want their loved one to be buried or cremated. As a whole, funeral service is facing more requests for cremation. In fact, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) indicates that there was an annual growth rate of 1.57% between 2010 and 2015 for cremation in the United States. In some areas, cremation has already surpassed burial as preferred means of disposition, and CANA projects that cremation will account for more than 50% of all dispositions by the end of 2017.
Some funeral professionals have approached this shift as a possible headwind for business, seeing the reduced cremation costs as a loss of income due to client families looking for a less expensive way to celebrate the lives of their loved ones. However, over 50% of Homesteaders’ policy owners who chose cremation as their final disposition did so for reasons other than cost. Our policy owners’ primary motivations for choosing cremation range from having family members who live far away, like me, to being more environmentally friendly. Some respondents simply disliked the idea of being buried. Yet, too much of the time spent talking about cremation revolves around cost. One of the best ways you can serve families who choose cremation is to take price out of the equation. Here are a few ways to ensure these families receive the services they really want.
Don’t Assume a Cremation Means No Service
It’s easy to hear the words a client family uses about their disposition wishes but have the meaning get lost in translation. Terminology in funeral service does not always permeate into the general society, so a family that requests cremation might not mean direct cremation.
The term “direct cremation” comes from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Funeral Rule, which requires funeral homes to provide a general price list to client families before there is a discussion of services and merchandise. Funeral professionals understand that direct cremation means a bare bones (no pun intended) cremation package with no service. However, a direct cremation probably doesn’t mean much to the general public, so families may not understand everything you can offer them.
Many funeral professionals hear client families say ‘we don’t want a funeral,’ but understand that this can often mean ‘we don’t want a funeral like every other funeral we’ve been to.’ Ask questions that let the client families explain what they want rather than leaving it up to your interpretation.
Give Client Families Every Possibility
Many grieving families don’t understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to planning a service, whether or not they choose cremation. When a client family requests cremation, this can actually provide more time for planning unique, meaningful funeral services. Discuss whether or not they would like a visitation, wake or funeral, if they would like the loved one present, casket rentals, celebration of life services, interment services, etc. Some funeral professionals have had great success with these prompting questions.
Flex Your Creative Muscles
In an article in the March-April 2017 issue of ICCFA Magazine, Ann Marie St. George tells the story of her sister’s celebration of life service. Throughout the story, she details how her family chose cremation and decided to bury part of her sister’s remains in their Catholic cemetery with a bench as a marker.
The other parts of her remains were separated into bottles and handed out at the service to close family and friends. St. George said her sister had always loved travel, so at her request, friends and family took her remains with them on vacation and scattered them in exotic places. Her sister is currently scattered in at least 15 different countries.
To top it off, around the time St. George’s sister passed away, the cremation keepsake industry was just getting started. Some of her sister’s remains were also incorporated into hand-blown glass globes.
St. George’s story shows the breadth and depth of creativity that families can incorporate into their cremation services. Families today are not often content with cookie-cutter services or celebrations and look for funeral homes that can provide them with an experience they will remember.
Cremation is rising in popularity and funeral homes are being required to adjust with it. Learn more about the reasons our policy owners are choosing cremation with Homesteaders’ PreNeed Motivators.
Do you have a creative cremation service story of your own? Share your experiences in the comments below.