It’s very easy to fall into the depressing mindset that the future of funeral service is grim, with more and more families choosing less expensive options, or forgoing funeral services all together. We see it in our own experiences, and it seems like its mentioned regularly in the trade publications. Sometimes we even overlook how many ‘traditional’ families we still serve, because of this preoccupation.
That’s why I was surprised when I watched part of a 3-part series on CBS’s Early Show called, “Funerals to Die For”. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/25/earlyshow/series/main3872511.shtml)
The series profiles the many elaborate, unique, and often expensive ways individuals are choosing to honor their loved ones- and more often- themselves. It mentioned that the elusive Baby Boomer generation grew up watching the elaborate funerals of Princess Grace, President John F. Kennedy and even Princess Diana on TV, and more and more want a similar send-off themselves. After all, aren’t their lives just as interesting and worthy of a tribute?
When I first started watching this, my first thought was, “Wow, we couldn’t write a better commercial for ourselves if we tried.” But as I continued watching I realized I was stuck in the bad mindset I mentioned earlier. Not all clients are focused on direct cremations with no or little services. There is a huge segment of the population out there of people who want funerals as unique, flashy and individual as they themselves were in life.
It seems as though these individuals are using independent contractors like The Funeral Concierge (http://www.everestfuneral.com/trialoffer/) or the Memorial Space Flights (http://www.memorialspaceflights.com) because they are under the impression they can’t get the service they’re looking for at their local funeral home.
Are we not able to handle the needs of someone who wants a service on the 18th hole of his favorite golf course? Aren’t we equally capable of hosting a visitation with the deceased’s favorite easy chair sitting in the corner, and their favorite music playing in the background?
And realistically, is it always so difficult? I’ve dealt with plenty of at-need families who wanted a procession of classic cars or motorcycles for instance, and there was almost always an eager friend or family member who wanted to help make it happen.
We’d all do well to think critically about how we’re addressing the needs of these families.
In the movie Pretty Woman, there’s a scene in which Julia Roberts, dressed scantily, walks into a store with the intention of spending a lot of money, but can’t get service because of the judgements passed by the sales clerks. Later on, she returns to the store dressed to the nines and loaded down with shopping bags, to tell the clerks what a big mistake they just made.
When someone walks through our doors and asks for a cremation, do we assume they mean a direct? When someone makes a request for something a bit outside of the norm, is our gut reaction to say no, or probably not, before giving real thought as to what the request would involve?
We’re funeral directors. There should be no one else out there better prepared to handle the needs of the families who wants something unique or outside of the norm. We’re the experts. So let’s not open the door for someone else to step in and fill that need.

michellecarter.jpgMichelle Carter is the former owner of the Center For Transition, a grief counseling and funeral consulting company.  A licensed funeral director, Michelle is now the Assistant Manager of the E.O. Curry Funeral Home in Peekskill, NY.