January 2008


Just when I’m about to fall victim to the “direct cremation will kill us all!!!” rant spouted by some funeral industry folks, I read or hear stories like this one from England:

Yesterday I went to the funeral of Ralph Brown at St Peter and St Paul′s Church in Wem, Shropshire. 

The service itself was a good one and was quite light, nothing to heavy.

Ralph′s coffin was covered in the paddock sheet of the horse he used to look after who was called “Call It A Day”. It was the sheet that the horse had worn when he finished 3rd in the 1999 Aintree Grand National.

The cortege moved from Wem and on to the Emstrey Crematorium at Shrewsbury where Ralph was cremated.

You can read the entire story by Richard Bevin on the Sports News website.


The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889)

I point this out because England has been dealing with high cremation rates for much longer than the United States.  And it’s comforting to know that even with cremation as a viable option, folks are choosing more than just disposal.

Unfortunately, the reaction of funeral professionals to requests about cremation (“You want to do WHAT?”) or the practice of flat-out ignoring a client’s interest in cremation have done more to harm the higher-paying traditional cremation services than the public’s move toward it.

For too long, the folks who championed cheap cremation at the detriment of traditional funeral providers were the only ones speaking out about cremation.  And where there is silence, people often see guilt.

Funeral consumer groups and direct cremation providers have accused funeral directors of jacking up prices and exploiting guilt for a profit, with no rebuttal offered by the accused.

Interestingly, most of the folks I talk to about cremation only know the “cheap” half of the story.  They have no idea that cremation can include viewing or embalming; they don’t realize that caskets can be rented or that their family can attend the cremation process.

It’s time you make an effort to educate your community about ALL the options regarding cremation.  It’s the only way you’re ever going to make money from what is the biggest trend in funeral service in our lifetime.

A friend and I went shopping at Wal-Mart last week, when I pointed out all the people who carry six-packs of Gatorade, soda or water on the edge of their shopping cart and marvelled at how wide that particular “meme” had spread.

He was confused and had a question and a comment.  First, he hadn’t seen the practice of putting the bottles on the cart, but he liked it.  Second, what’s a meme?

If you don’t know about the bottle placement on a shopping cart, here’s a simple diagram.

shoppingcartbottles.jpg

By wedging the six-packs over the top edges of the cart, the user frees up space for other groceries.  I’ve seen folks pushing carts where the top edges were completely covered with six-packs.  Made the cart look like a boat with too many bouys and bumpers!

But back to his question.  A meme is an idea that gets passed from human to human.  First described by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a meme is anything (song, joke, religion, tool or process) that gets passed around the culture either by conscious transmission (“Check out this cool new song!”) or non-deliberate transmission (like wearing your collar turned up).  You can read the full Wikipedia entry for meme here.

When I was a teenager, the cool kids wore their pants folded over and rolled at the bottom.  I have no idea why, and when I see it now, I wonder about the collective mental health of my generation. 

But pegged pants were a meme, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.  Other examples?  How about beehives, The Macarena or Who Let the Dogs Out?

There are even memes in funeral service.  Direct cremation is a meme.  How many times have you heard “just bury me in a pine box” from a potential client?  That’s a meme.  Color photo memorial folders?  A meme made possible by the advent of cheaper color printing.

We can recognize memes pretty early, if we’re looking for them.  But let’s face it:  most funeral professionals haven’t even figured out that a memorial tribute video is NOT a strange request!  (one of the biggest firms I know still forces their 12+ firms share a single flat screen television and DVD player for services!)

So take advantage of your competitors’ blindness and let your community know how in tune you are with their “memes.” 

If you need a hint, here’s a partial list of new(er) funeral industry memes and some potential ones:

Memorial videos
Cremation jewelry
Online memorial tributes
After-funeral receptions
Attended cremations
Funeral home concierge services
Pet memorialization services from funeral homes
Video tombstones

I recently sold a cot cover to a funeral professional in Gainesville, Florida.  Home to the University of Florida and the famed Shands Hospital, Gainesville boasts its share of funeral homes and, hopefully soon, a removal service.

Joby wrote this letter about the quilted cot cover he recently purchased:

I am finally getting around to writing you after ordering my first cot cover from cotcovers.com.  As you may remember, we spoke a couple of times prior to the holidays as I was in the process of establishing a removal business in Gainesville, FL.  I have successfully jumped through the hoops of Removal Service Licensure with the final “embrace” (I couldn’t resist) on Feb 6th, when the funeral & cemetery board meets – and hopefully gives me their stamp of approval. 

I wanted to let you know how much I love the cot cover “Old Glory” I purchased from you.  As a funeral home employee, it was fitting when the very next call we received after “Old Glory” got here was at the V.A. Hospital where I had the opportunity to show it off to the staff members who loved it.  Since then, Old Glory has been working hard, clearly standing out – and definitely outshining the tacky, 1960’s “fuzzy wuzzy” covers it sees in the hallways of most healthcare facilities.  I get a chuckle when I see the outdated covers – complete with their firm name proudly emblazoned on the side, as if passersby were going to see this and exclaim “Look honey, its Smedlap and Son’s Funeral Home! Let’s call them if Aunt Matilda dies…”

On a more serious note, I do want to thank you for your progressive, yet, tradition-honoring vision by bringing us your beautiful covers.  What you have done, in my opinion, is take a standard, funeral industry piece of equipment and create a head turning, comment generating work of art.  I even had a group of medical students at Shands Hospital stop me and ask for my funeral home name and business card because they wanted to know which funeral home thought enough to ditch the old covers and use these more gentle, appropriate covers. 

Here’s the kicker: They wanted to bring it up in class!  How is that for great marketing?  A bunch of soon-to-be Doc’s subconsciously getting our business name in their minds as the funeral home of choice when a loved one’s family asks for their recommendation.  I know, they aren’t suppose to recommend one particular firm, but I do wonder how many can only recall one funeral home name when a family asks for their opinion…

As soon as I am formally “board approved,” I will send you a card and will be ordering an additional cot cover from you.  My only problem is, I can’t decide which one.  Seriously, they are all so gorgeous – and with the recent new editions, I’m even more befuddled.  I think I’ll take a poll of family and friends and see what non-industry folks think.

 All the best,
Joseph “Joby” Wise
Wise FirstCare Transport
Gainesville, FL
(352) 339 – 4536

If you need a removal service in Central or North Central Florida, consider calling Joby.  He’s extremely professional and has already proven himself to the folks at Milam Funeral Home in Gainesville.

I’ve been taking a bit of flack lately (mostly from Jose) about political comments I’ve made on the blog.

So I want to clear this up and tie it back into funerals, as I originally intended before I got sidetracked answering comments from readers.

In the post, It’s Florida Election Time Again, I detailed some of the annoying and frankly, underhanded recorded phone calls I was receiving from political candidates.

I intended to follow up that post with a longer discussion of invasive advertising techniques and how extreme competition between firms can actually damage the customer base.

But before I wrote that piece, I chose to answer a few comments.  Lenette took the time to comment on the blog, which is a rarity.  So I explained why I am a Republican in a post titled, How I Voted in Florida.

Jose’s reaction was to call my writing “rhetoric” and to complain about my post. 

Now, I take reader comments very seriously, and answered him with the post, I Didn’t Mean to Use “Rhetoric”.

Jose responded again by saying:

Enough of these political diatribes sir! I will continue to faithfully read this blog, but I’ll look forward to when you are feeling better and concentrating on your strength – commenting on this great profession of ours. You are a great asset to our funeral industry and I hope you will return the focus soon.

Fair enough, Jose.

As I was saying (or writing) earlier, too often hateful words or strife between competitors can turn off the customer base.  While I tweak (between sniffles) a longer post about this destructive practice, check out the posts, Daily Nag: Love Thy Neighbor and Stop Badmouthing the Competition!

My recent post, How I Voted in Florida, has stirred some debate about the purpose of this blog.  Jose wrote:

I know you included a disclaimer, but I come here to read about your expert opinions on funeral service sir, NOT politics.

I hope you’ll refrain in the future from the political rhetoric and stick to your great funeral service tips and commentary.

Yes, I did include a disclaimer.  And I did speak about politics.  However, the term rhetoric suggests I was over-the-top with my language (dictionary.com says “the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”) or was attempting to be overly persuasive.

Now, I am not shy about my beliefs or my morality.  My steadfast faith in the sanctity of personal property and contract law guide me as I run a business and interact with others in the world.  So while I can’t apologize for living by a code, I can promise that I have no plans to turn this into a political blog.

And my post were in response to a comment left by a valued reader.  I have held off sharing my views because I don’t want to displease my regular readers.

Of course, Jose has every right to complain.  But I own this particular “printing press” so the best he can do is stop reading.  Of course, I’d hate to see that, as I have worked hard to make Final Embrace (the blog) a valuable place for funeral professionals just like Jose.

I promise to continue to bring you the latest in funeral industry news and opinion, but I can’t promise that I won’t occasionally throw in a personal statement or an experience from my own life.  I am, after all, the person who generates the majority of the content you see here and I cannot, however much I try, remove my personality completely.

Unfortunately, I can’t promise you much in the way of brilliant funeral industry insight today, as my nose won’t stop running and I’ve got a wicked cough.  So check back for more tomorrow.

If I hadn’t already made up my mind about who to vote for, I’d be crossing John McCain and Mitt Romney off my list today.

I went home sick today.  In fact, I’m only writing this post because I’m so annoyed by all the phone calls I’ve been getting.

First, Mitt Romney (pre-recorded) calls to tell me why it’s so important that I vote for him tomorrow.  He even called me by name, which had to have taken a long time for him to record so many different names so that the computer could pick the right one when it dialed my number.

Twenty minutes later, John McCain calls.  Once again, a recording.  Did you know he served in the military?  (Sarcasm intended)

Ten minutes after that, someone sounding like Florida governor Charlie Crist calls.  He tells me that John McCain is wrong for our country because he supports ILLEGAL immigration.  Everytime the voice says “illegal” theres a huge emphasis on it.

Fifteen minutes later, the real Charlie Crist calls me to say that he’s supporting John McCain and that, as my governor, he strongly urges me to do the same thing.

If I can get past Charlie using the office of the governor to stump for a specific candidate, I still can’t believe the amount of money and effort being expended to ANNOY THE CRAP OUT OF ME!

Of course, my guy’s polling at less than 10% in Florida. 

One more dumb note:  I can see why John McCain is spending so much money; people are finally starting to send him some through fundraising.  But Gov. Romney is, according to reports, burning through a large chunk of his own cash.  I guess he REALLY wants to be the president.

WARNING:  This is a political post, which explains Tim’s personal beliefs.  Don’t read it if you are offended by clear thinking. 🙂 

One reader (Lenette) expressed her surprise that I’m a Republican. 

All I can say is that while the current Theocracy that has strangled the party does not represent my views, the bedrock principles of the GOP are in line with my own ideals.

I believe that:

1.  The rights of the individual are more important than the good of the state (see the Declaration of Independence).

2.  The Constitution limits the size and scope of the federal government.  Issues like education, property/income taxes and marriage are matters for individual states to decide.

3.  The federal government’s job is to protect our country.  But not by seeking out conflict and meddling in the affairs of other countries.

4.  Congress (alone) has the responsibility to declare war.  It cannot be handed over to the president, who, as commander-in-chief, directs the war after it has been declared.

5.  Worth (money) has to be backed by something of real value.  Until the early 1970’s, U.S. dollars were backed by gold. 

6.  Our elected politicians constantly destroy the Social Security System and devalue our dollar, causing real economic pain for the poorest of our citizens.  By constantly stealing money from Social Security to pay for social programs (and now, war) our representatives destroy a safety net that many low-income Americans are relying on to help them through retirement.  And by printing more money or borrowing money from the Chinese when they want to help the poor with new programs, they actually devalue the money (more supply = less value) that’s already in poor people’s pockets.

7.  People in Florida shouldn’t have to ask folks in California or Indiana how to raise or educate their kids.  Each state has its own constitution, which enumerates the rights of it’s citizens and the restrictions on its government.  It makes no sense for us to gather money from each state (income taxes) and then make states beg to get money back to fund fire stations or schools.  If folks in Montana want to build fancy schools, let them spend their own money, not money that was taken from folks in Mississippi.

Of course, this puts me at odds with the current leadership of the Republican Party.  George W. Bush, who gained power by appealing to religious conservatives who push a moral agenda, failed to reign in out-of-control spending, started a distracting war on false pretenses and advocated larger federal government which deprives citizens of civil liberties and aims to decide issues like marriage and morality on a nationwide level.

After sizing up the current field of candidates, including the Democrats, I found only one candidate that fit my philosophy and who advocates smaller federal government and a return of the civil liberties that have made our nation stand out in the world.

That candidate is Congressman and Doctor Ron Paul.

Sure, he’s been portrayed as kinda kooky by the media.  And his debate responses are so different than the soundbites being offered by the other hopefuls that it gets confusing, but a thorough review of his thoughts and ideas make me excited enough to donate ACTUAL MONEY to his campaign.

Dr. Paul lost quite a few of the established GOP voters during the first debate, when he suggested that our own actions in the Middle East provided a motive for terrorists to attack us on September 11th.  Of course, Rudy Guiliani, the reigning “King of 9/11,” accused him of blaming America for being attacked.

Rudy got a nice bit of applause, but his “don’t pick on my little brother” stance neglected to acknowledge that the CIA, the FBI and the 9/11 Commission all made the same conclusion.  Turns out that American foreign policy, which has meddled in the affairs of Middle-Eastern countries for decades, does piss off the Muslims.

Although he wasn’t given the chance to further explain himself at the debate, Dr. Paul has since elaborated that while our foreign policy of intervention has given motive to terrorists, the responsibility for their actions lies solely with the murderers who carried out the attacks.  And Dr. Paul voted to go into Afghanistan and hunt down the people responsible for September 11th.

Dr. Paul was, however, one of the few congressman to vote against the aggression in Iraq, warning, way back in 2003, that an undeclared war in Iraq would distract us from capturing Osama Bin Laden and prosecuting Al-Qaeda operatives.

In my estimation (and I defended G.W. for years after the invasion) Dr. Paul was absolutely right.

Our deficit (money which we have to pay back some day) is close to 10 TRILLION dollars.  Every day, we borrow over 1 BILLION dollars from foreign countries, mostly China.  We regularly STEAL from the Social Security Trust Fund, meaning that our children will not only have to pay back TRILLIONS of dollars in debt, but will have no retirement to show for it.

We have spent more than 500 BILLION dollars in Iraq so far.  We throw 1 TRILLION dollars a year away on policing the world.  We have 700 military bases in over 100 countries on this planet.

All the while, our Constitution, the rulebook we’re supposed to follow, warns us to have “friendships with all and allegiance with none.”

All the while, folks at home suffer under oppressive taxes (it’ll take most of us ’til May to make enough money to satisfy our tax bill) and heavy-handed government.

Dr. Paul wants to abolish the IRS.  No, not replace it with something else; abolish it completely.  “But we won’t have enough money,” you say?  We already tax goods being imported (that’s called tarriffs) and we have the second highest corporate taxes on the planet, so abolishing the money taken from your paycheck would still leave the federal government with as much money as they collected in 1999.  Hardly a time of “small government.”

Am I worried that Dr. Paul’s low poll numbers mean he can’t get elected?  No, because while I used to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” I’m voting this year for the best person for the job.  Plus, he’s beaten Rudy Guiliani in four of the primaries so far, he’s come in second in Nevada and may have won Louisiana (they’re still counting votes).  He raised $20 million dollars in the last three months of 2007 and has a sizable amount of money in the bank right now.  Furthermore, he’s polling above 12% in Georgia, even though the media seems to forget that he’s even running.

But don’t take my word for it and don’t allow the television media’s reluctance to decide your vote.  Check out all the candidates and see who fits you best.

You can read Dr. Paul’s ideas and thoughts on everything from abolishing the IRS to creating effective healthcare for all Americans by visiting his site:  www.RonPaul2008.com

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