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New Trends In Funeral Homes

By Cindy M. Clark

For centuries families have joined together for ceremonies and rituals to help them make meaning of their loss. Funeral professionals are all too familiar with leading these types of remembrance services, as well as the rising trend of personalization. By offering a variety of choices to families you'll find that in addition to helping them commemorate a loved one, you are inviting a variety of opportunities to connect and build a rapport. Asking open-ended questions during arrangements for instance allows a funeral director to not only get to know more about the deceased, but also to observe the ways in which families interact. More importantly this becomes the ideal setting to transform family conversations into ceremonial creations.

How is Memorializing Different than Personalization?

Although very similar concepts, personalization in the funeral home tends to focus more on how the deceased is represented. I'm sure you've found that involving family members or friends in this process creates a sense of unity and ensures that the personality of the deceased is kept alive. Memorializing goes above and beyond personalization. The act of memorializing pays tribute to a person's life and gives loved ones and friends the opportunity to recall memories. Funeral professionals who offer suggestions and facilitate such conversations can actually help family and friends capture even more memories. Recalling memories helps to build stories about the deceased, therefore the likelihood of preserving memories increases as more stories are generated.

Helping someone say goodbye to a loved one is an important service provided by funeral professionals and the cornerstone to any funeral home business. The care, compassion and empathy you exude at such a delicate time in a person's life, is not likely to be forgotten. Now-a-days, most people are familiar with photo boards, familiar music and small mementos that honor the life of someone when they enter the funeral home. Taking the leap from personalization to memorialization is not complicated, it simply involves providing tools, suggestions and handouts to show family, friends and the community-at-large that you are thinking of them and that you recognize that everyone's life is special.

Helping Families Memorialize

During a wake, why not have small pieces of cardstock just the right size for people to write down their favorite memories of the person who died? Having discussed this idea with family or friends during arrangements, you may want to walk around during calling hours with some cards and pens in a small basket encouraging others to share memories. These memories, funny stories or special recollections can be gathered at the end of the services and either given to family or friends in a special box or displayed in an album. If you don't feel comfortable walking around encouraging participation, you may want to check to see if the family would like a child or someone else to do the honors.

Of course there are many variations to this type of activity. You could have a box or basket of cards with directions displayed near the guest book on a separate table or you could have the directions with a poem or special phrase or prayer printed on the back of the cards and hand them out with a pen (imprinted with your name/logo) to people as they walk in. Encourage visitors to hand in their memories before they leave and to take the pen home with them as a gift.

This memorialization technique can be modified even further for children visiting your funeral home, however, try and buy larger cardstock pieces (found in the scrapbooking section of most arts/crafts supply stores) since children tend to need more room to write and draw pictures. Another suggestion for children: pre-cut shapes out of construction paper, such as butterflies, hearts or flowers. Children can then write, dictate or draw their favorite memories on these cut-outs to have as keepsakes, place in the casket or share with others.

Giving families the tools to help their children memorialize a loved one is truly priceless. Whether you are providing children with an all-inclusive grief-related coping kit or just a pencil and a paper, you are providing them with an opportunity to create lasting keepsakes in the memory of their loved one. This is so important especially for families with young children, since sadly, the average young child will forget precious memories as early as a few months following their loss.

Families with children of all ages may be interested in a special children's service to help memorialize a loved one. Together they can choose songs or readings that pay tribute to their loved one. Children may also want to write a story, poem or song that can be read or sung aloud. They may also want to perform a little skit or play that highlights the personality of the deceased or favorite memories. Creating a goodbye poster is also a nice way to involve children in the memorialization process. Encourage families to use poster-board or long butcher paper, words/pictures from magazines, copies of photographs and a variety of arts/crafts materials such as ribbon, paint and stickers. It is always interesting to see a tribute to the deceased through the eyes of a child. Encourage a family to bring in their poster so that you may display it for visitors entering your funeral home.

The possibilities are endless, but you don't necessarily have to stretch your imagination to help adults and children memorialize a loved one. Many funeral directors ask certain questions to illicit conversations about memories during arrangements. You may already ask these types of questions to get to know a family better or as a first step for personalization. Try encouraging family and friends to share stories with you about the person who died. By connecting some of this information, you are well on your well to helping a family memorialize a loved one.

Suppose during arrangements someone mentions to you that their loved one enjoyed cooking. Why not offer to print a favorite recipe in the memory of the deceased? If food is allowed at your funeral home, why not offer a copy of the recipe and a sample of the dish itself? There are so many variations to this memorialization technique. Explore ideas with families and friends and you may be surprised at what they come up with!

Candles are another way to help connect stories and help people memorialize. Since there are now virtually hundreds of scents to choose from, a family can most definitely find a scent that reminds them of their loved one. Whether it is the scent that reminds them of grandma's banana bread, the scent of autumn leaves that is reminiscent of dad hunting in the woods or the smell of pumpkin that reminds a family of a child's favorite holiday, Halloween, ideas are plentiful. You may even want give visitors a special votive candle with a sticker placed on the back with your name and logo and a special inscription in memory of the deceased. It goes without saying that these special give-a-ways not only provide lasting memories, but they also provide a subtle marketing opportunity as well.

Many funeral homes offer journals, albums or family tree memorabilia which become lasting memories and family heirlooms. Other funeral homes offer coping kits, pre-printed coloring pages or coloring books to children. Memorialization doesn't have to be expensive. If you can not afford to give away small gifts like the ones mentioned above you may want to consider offering photographs to the family or friends, handprints, footprints, locks of hair or video taping the ceremony. These items are especially precious for children. Remember, as they grow older, children have a limited ability to recall their involvement in wakes, funerals or memorial services. By providing special opportunities to honor their loved one, you are actually helping to decrease the likelihood of secondary losses associated with loss of memory.

Most likely you will find that a brief conversation about memorialization will spark many creative ideas from family and friends. Over time keep a list of these ideas to add to your repertoire of suggestions and to pass along to others. You may even want to add memorialization as one of the many services offered. Children and adults undoubtedly benefit from a variety of memorialization ideas and activities. It is a gentle way to begin the grief process, especially if someone was not able to say goodbye to their loved one before he/she died. I'm sure you will agree, as the needs of families become more diverse, so should our range of products and services. By supporting those left behind and encouraging conversations about memorializing you not only enhance communication amongst family and friends you also provide an avenue to help them share memories and create lasting keepsakes.

Below are some additional suggestions for memorializing you may want to pass along;

o Create a storybook, memory book or memory box about your loved one who has died. Write down important things that you would like to remember about the person who died. Interview family members and friends to find out about their favorite memories and more information.

o Write a message to the deceased. Each night light a candle and remember your loved one while placing your message in a special box.

o Create a special memorial area in your home or display items in a shadow-box frame. Include some favorite things or special mementos from the time you spent together.

o Carry a lock of hair or portion of a loved ones cremated remains in tiny container or locket.

o Provide a dedication at your loved one's favorite place with a specially engraved bench or stone or some other type of marker. Celebrate your loved one's life by visiting or having a picnic at this special place.

o Encourage children to draw pictures or write stories inspired by their memories of the deceased.

o Make a donation to a charity or create a scholarship in the name of the person who died.

o Plant a tree, shrub or flowers as a living symbol to honor the life of the deceased.

o Make a collage about the deceased using magazines, photos, stickers, etc. Frame portions of goodbye posters or photo boards used during funeral services.

2008. Hoping Skills Company, LLC

Cindy Clark, MSW, CCLS is a social worker and certified child life specialist in addition to being a funeral home consultant and grief counselor. She is also the co-founder of Hoping Skills Company near Boston, a sympathy gift and grief resource center. In the past, Ms. Clark spent several years as a child life specialist in hospice and hospital settings working with children and families dealing with end-of-life issues. She now utilizes her expertise in death and dying to develop consultations and children's programming for funeral homes. With nearly 15 years in the field, Ms. Clark now lends her expertise in the field of grief and bereavement as a professor at Mount Ida College in Newton, MA, a world-wide speaker, author and therapist. To contact Ms. Clark or for more information on the types of memorial products, funeral home consultations or grief-related services offered by Hoping Skills Company, go to [http://www.griefgifts.com] or call 1-888-815-HOPE


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