Monday, August 18, 2014

A funeral director's take on cremation memorialization

This article originally appeared in the June issue of American Funeral Director.

Imagine you are helping a family celebrate the life of their matriarch. Grandma wanted to be cremated, but the family didn’t want a direct cremation. Instead, they had a visitation and memorial service. You created a powerful photo collage and video for them to help celebrate the life of their loved one.

The family picked out a beautiful urn for their loved one’s cremated remains. The daughter tells you she’ll be the one taking it home. She thinks she’ll place it on her family’s mantle with a picture of her mother. 

When the family leaves, each one of them hugs you. They thank you repeatedly for outstanding service. You anticipate glowing comments on their follow-up survey. You feel like you have done your job well. But have you really? 

Stop and consider your funeral home’s cremation rate? And of those families, how many go home with an urn, but without a plan? Is an urn on a mantle enough? Are you explaining the importance of memorialization and all of the options to every family?

Educate about scattering

When a family thinks about cremation, they aren’t usually thinking about a long-term plan for the cremated remains. We all know that too many urns intended for the fireplace mantle end up in a closet. 

If the family comes to you with any kind of plan, it often involves scattering. As you know, many families have a romanticized idea about scattering. They may have seen “Bridges of Madison County” many times and dreamed of releasing cremated remains from their own favorite covered bridge. But, let’s say ten years down the road, the family reunites at their loved one’s resting place and it has been turned into a subdivision or a supermarket. What do they do? Their special, sacred place is now commercial property. They no longer have a place to share memories and honor their loved one’s life. 

We need to be bold and educate the families we serve. Families need to understand why it is so important to memorialize their loved ones. Most families don’t lose a loved one every day. They often don’t understand how important it is to have a special, permanent place to share memories. It is our job to educate them. It is our job to help them understand.

Encourage permanent memorialization

When you let families walk out the door without understanding all of their cremation memorialization options, are you really doing your entire job? Of course it is our job to honor the family’s wishes, but we also need to teach them what they don’t know. 

Where do you start? Tell them about other families that have learned the importance of cremation memorialization. Share the regrets of a family who chose to scatter and now doesn’t have a special place to leave flowers on their loved one’s birthday. If you don’t have your own story to share, you are welcome to use one of mine. Email me, and I’ll send you a copy of a video called “Blake’s Story.” It’s a few years old, and I look a little different, but the message is the same: even after scattering, it’s vital to have a permanent place of honor.

Give families options
Once a family understands the importance of memorialization, explain their options. Tell them about the unique characteristics of a memorial rock that can hold cremated remains. Explain the benefits of a space in a niche tower. Talk about in-ground interment options. Show them a memorial bench in a cemetery or a bronze plaque on a memorial wall.

Does it feel overwhelming to have to know about more products, even on top of everything you already need to take care of? As a funeral director, it can feel like you always need to have all of the answers. While you are the family’s primary resource, you can – and should – rely on your business partners to give you the information you need. Ask your local cemetery what their most popular cremation memorialization options are. Ask your supplier for talking points when you meet with families who plan to scatter. You must also do your own research. I encourage you to go to conventions and read industry publications.

Believe in it
Offering an exciting variety of cremation memorialization products isn’t enough. The bottom line is that you have to believe in what you are doing. Do you believe that every person deserves a permanent place to honor their life – including those who choose cremation? Do you believe that a memorial helps the family heal? If we want to be effective educators and teach the families we serve about permanent cremation memorialization, we have to firmly believe that it is not okay for a family to walk out the door without a memorialization plan in place.

Rich Darby is Chief Operating Officer for Trigard and Trigard Memorials. He earned his funeral directors license from Southern Illinois University in 1987, and is licensed in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. His family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials, seven funeral homes and a memorial park across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. Email him at

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