Monday, August 18, 2014

Scattered remains today... supermarket tomorrow

This article originally appeared in the June issue of Canadian Funeral News.

It is a beautiful fall afternoon. The leaves are turning, and you can smell the crisp, autumn air. You are driving back to your childhood home to visit with some old friends. On your way, you decide to stop by your mom’s favorite meadow just outside of town. Before she died, she told you that she wanted to keep her funeral simple. She wanted to be cremated and scattered in her favorite meadow.

You can remember scattering her cremated remains as if it were yesterday. The smell of fresh flowers and how it felt like she was standing right next to you while walking through the tall grass. The flood of memories brings a smile to your face.

As you drive, you notice bright, fluorescent lights beaming into the sky where the meadow should be. The lights get closer and you realize that the meadow has been replaced with a supermarket. The beautiful flowers no longer bloom. It is now just a place to get your milk and bread built on top of where you scattered her remains.

Tell families what they need to know

Scattering seems like a simple solution to families, but do they understand all of the implications? Do they know the very real risk of their resting place being replaced with a gas station or supermarket? We need to be bold and educate our families and help them understand all of their options. Instead of telling them what they want to hear, consider telling them what they need to hear.

Families need to hear why it is so important to memorialize our loved ones. Most families don’t lose a loved one every day. They 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.

Alternatives to scattering
Some families may not realize that scattering isn’t their only option after cremation. A family might be delighted to hear that the cremated remains of their grandmother can be buried in an urn vault inside a grave next to their grandfather’s grave. Maybe the family has never seen a niche tower, a cremation memorial or a memorial rock. Take them on a tour of their cemetery of choice to see their options in person. It’s one thing to look at a picture of a memorial rock in a booklet, but another thing to touch and feel one nestled under a tree in a beautifully landscaped cemetery.

A permanent place to share memories

If the family is set on scattering, I encourage you to be bold enough to introduce the idea of scattering only portion of the cremated remains. The rest could be safely stored in a niche tower, memorial rock or even in an urn on the family’s mantle. If the family can’t agree on a single location, you can suggest cremation jewelry or keepsakes so that everyone can honor their loved one in the way that feels right to them.

However, some families are not comfortable dividing the remains. They may have seen “Bridges of Madison County” many times and dreamed of replicating the scattering scene from the movie on their own covered bridge. This is when we, as funeral professionals, need to be the most bold. It is our job to honor the family’s wishes, but to encourage them to add a place of permanent memorialization. Whether it is a bench in a cemetery or a bronze plaque on a memorial wall, we need to tell them the story of the supermarket from the beginning of this article. We need to tell them about other families that have learned the importance of memorialization first-hand. The options for permanent memorialization are endless, limited only by the imagination and wishes of the heart. It is our job to know the options. If you attend any funeral service convention, you’ll find many suppliers offering cremation products. Companies around the globe are coming up with unique ways to memorialize. It’s a lot of information to take in. But if you’re overwhelmed by the options, imagine how the families you serve feel.

As a resource for families, we have to be committed to providing a variety of options. We have to be bold enough to educate the families we serve and offer suggestions. What is the worst that can happen if you make a suggestion? They say no?

Remember and be remembered

It’s been said that we all have two basic desires – to remember and to be remembered. Much like a book, a memorial can tell the story of someone’s life. We want our story to live on, and we want to make sure the story of our loved ones live on as well. 

I encourage you to resolve to educate yourself about more cremation options. Go to conventions, read industry publications and ask your suppliers for more ideas. And the next time you’re with a family who plans to scatter, be bold enough to tell them what they need to know.
Linda Darby is Chief Executive Officer for Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across the United States. Her family has been in the funeral industry for four generations, helping families remember, celebrate and heal. Learn more at

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