Monday, June 16, 2014

Have you mastered the burial vault conversation?

This article originally appeared in the February issue of Catholic Cemetery magazine. 

By Rich Darby, Trigard Chief Operating Officer

Imagine you are sitting in an arrangement room, speaking with a family that has just lost a loved one. Before you dig into the checklist, remember to be patient during this process because in the next thirty-six hours the family will have to make about seventy-five different decisions regarding the death of their loved one, including the ceremony, casket, flowers, and music just to name a few. It’s been an hour and a half and you are just now getting to the burial vault selection. The family is starting to get a bit overwhelmed, and you are losing their attention. Sound familiar?

As a funeral director and co-owner of a burial vault company, I am always looking for better ways to explain the importance of a burial vault. How can I help a family understand why it is important to have a clean, dry casket space? A burial vault protects their casket investment, prevents the grave from collapsing and gives them peace of mind. But what’s the best way to help an overwhelmed family choose the right lined, sealed burial vault?
It begins with our own beliefs as funeral professionals. When you walk a family through your selection of burial vaults, do you honestly believe that you are helping them find value in the product? Or do you think of an outer burial container as just something the cemetery requires? The families that you serve count on you to educate them and show them the best “bang for their buck.” They want to know that they are being given something of value. 

When I am with a family, I begin by explaining the difference between a concrete box and a lined, sealed burial vault. A concrete box has holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. It prevents the earth from collapsing, and it may break down over time. Concrete has a compressive strength, but it doesn’t allow for any bend. While it meets the minimum requirement for many cemeteries, and is often the least expensive option, it does not give the families you serve much value.

A lined, sealed burial vault offers real value and peace of mind. It provides layers of protection by including a polymer lining that works with the concrete to help prevent breakage and ensure a clean, dry casket space. The more layers of protection, the stronger the vault. It also has a strong seal to help protect against outside elements. 

There are many posters, videos and booklets to help explain how a burial vault’s layers work, but something as simple as “the pencil test” can be very effective. Place one pencil in a family member’s hand and ask them to break it in half. They should be able to do this with little effort. Explain that a single pencil is much like a single layer of protection from a concrete box; it’s not strong enough to withstand much pressure. Keep adding pencils for them to try to break. The more pencils (or layers of protection) you add, the harder they are to break. 

Once the family understands the importance of layers of protection, show them your selection of vaults. This could be on a wall display, video monitor, or even an iPad®. I recommend presenting only three vaults: good, better and best. Too many options can overwhelm a family.

Once they have decided, they can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that they have made a good decision based on value. And you should also rest easy, knowing you have given the family all of the information they needed to make a wise decision.

Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. Email him at

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