How To Bring Storytelling And Celebration Back Into The Funeral Home

celebration

As I walk into the funeral home for my friend’s visitation, I take a deep breath.

I lock arms with a friend, and we begin to do the same visitation dance that hundreds of other mourners had already done that day. Hug the people who’ve gathered out in the hallways, desperate to escape the unfamiliarity of the open casket inside. “Did you already go in? How is it? How’s he look?” Another deep breath, and we walk through the next set of double doors.

There’s a life timeline of photo boards that line the wall, at first wonderfully nostalgic (“Look how cute! I remember that!”), and then suddenly grim, as we realize that this life timeline doesn’t go past the age of 26. Another big breath and we walk deeper into the room.

Now all that there’s left to do is approach the casket… “Ready? Are you sure you want to?” The deepest breath of all. Step forward, pause, and then back out of the room as fast as we can.

Once we’ve made it outside of the funeral home doors, we finally take our first deep inhale of air. Freedom. Now we can breathe and go back to “normal” — laughing with family members over silly stories, pulling up favorite photos on our phones, and toasting to our friend that would be so mad at us for drinking cheap beer in his honor.

This is where the real celebration is taking place.

Where Funeral Homes Fail At Celebration

I’m not the only person who feels awkward and unsure of themselves inside of a funeral home. In fact, I would say that I do better than most, given my familiarity with the profession. But even after years of funeral trade shows, writing about death and talking with funeral professionals, I’m still not totally comfortable inside of a funeral home… at least, not comfortable enough to relax, open up or laugh with an open casket sitting a few feet away from me. And that’s likely the case for most of the people walking through your funeral home doors.

The truth is, comfort is very few and far between when it comes to funerals. Sure, you may offer plenty of comfortable seating, snacks and support… but that’s not always enough to transport someone out of the “unfamiliar” mindset and get them to a place of relaxation and ease. So instead, they head to their local restaurant, bar or recreation center to turn a drab day of mourning into a day of celebration.

How To Bring Celebration Back Inside The Funeral Home

Funeral homes do not have to be the dreaded first stop that families are forced to “get through” before they start out on the real road of celebration. Instead, they should be the place where the celebration kicks off.

So how do funeral directors transition families’ thinking from “creepy, uneasy, get me out of here” to “I don’t want this celebration to end?” It all starts with changing the way that we, ourselves, think about our services and what we can offer our families. Here are a few tips to get started…

1. Make your space feel personalized

The best type of funeral home decor is the kind that families don’t even notice. And that is nothing against the decor that many funeral homes use make their space beautiful… it simply means that the rooms in your funeral home shouldn’t have a distinctive style or feel. They should be a chameleon to each individual service that you are hosting.

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One way you could do this is by creating a frame gallery wall in your service room where you can swap out images and memories from service to service. Simply ask families to bring in some of their favorite photos of their loved one that hang on their walls at home, or even fill the frames with mementos or decor that reflect their loved one’s favorite things. (For example, a banner from their alma matter, or a framed version of their favorite quote.)

You could also decorate the tables and surfaces with the loved one’s own memories. Do they have any medals or trophies from their glory days? Show them off for everyone to see. Did they collect anything that was special to them? Put these items in a special display case. The options should be as unique and individual as the person they are celebrating.

2. Bring the post-funeral celebration amenities into your funeral home

Families are getting further and further away from the traditions of funeral services every single day. In fact, 30% of people surveyed last year said that they would prefer to have a party over a traditional funeral wake. So why not beat them to the punch and bring the elements of a party into your funeral service?

Some funeral homes have already done just that… one of the fastest growing trends in the funeral profession is the option to have a food and beverage station at loved one’s funeral service. This is a great way to really bring the all-in-one funeral experience into your funeral home, as it combines the tradition and healing of a funeral service with the memory sharing and celebration of a post-funeral luncheon.

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If your funeral home has the facilities and the ability to offer food and beverages, consider offering families the opportunity to host their post-funeral activities at your location. This could be a buffet meal inside one of your banquet rooms, or even a picnic table lunch right outside of your funeral home. These offerings are not only a great way to expand your service options and give today’s families a more complete funeral service, but they also bring all of the positive memory sharing, toasting and celebrating back to your funeral facilities.

3. Encourage memory sharing and celebration

There’s no reason why funerals can’t be just as much a place for memory sharing, celebration and merriment as a post-funeral gathering. In fact, funeral homes offer more opportunities for telling stories and reliving memories than a restaurant or reception hall could ever dream of, thanks to the many life celebration tools that are at your disposal.

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Sharing photos and videos throughout the funeral festivities, for example, is a great way for family and friends to remember their favorite moments with their loved one, or even hear new funny stories or memories that they might not have heard before. Memorial Videos can also help to put families on the path towards healing, as people can reminiscence and remember important life moments in a meaningful way. These videos can also go a long way towards creating a sense of community in times of a loss, because friends and family far and wide can get a high-level view of all of the amazing lives that were touched by their loved one’s presence.

To see for yourself how you can bring the power of healing and celebration into your funeral home, click here to sign up for a free 30-day trial of Life Tributes Memorial Software.

It’s time that funeral professionals stop accepting the idea that families are not comfortable in their funeral home, and instead start taking action to change their mindset. Do you have any other tips on how you think funeral professionals can bring celebration back into the funeral home? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Kyle Tevlin

    I am so happy to read this post by someone inside the business.

    “Funeral homes do not have to be the dreaded first stop that families are forced to “get through” before they start out on the real road of celebration.”

    That is one of the main reasons I started my fledgling business, I Want a Fun Funeral — because I couldn’t find any funeral homes that were different, unique, modern, and more focused on celebrating than mourning. What was expected and satisfying for our grandparents is no longer appealing. That old model needs more than a minor facelift, it needs a rebellion!

    “Instead, they should be the place where the celebration kicks off.” I wholeheartedly support this vision! Funeral professionals have so much to offer, and even though I am a fan of the DIY and home funeral movement, I understand that it’s likely to appeal to a minority of people.

    If our current longing for greater meaning, more personalized and unique sendoffs—and may I add, less expense in the way of “merchandise,” can be accomplished through a funeral home, then it’s a win-win. There will always be sadness and tears when someone dies, but the funeral should bring smiles of gratitude and joy…it should be supremely meaningful and memorable. Relying on the same old template, and just inserting a new name in the proceedings, is empty. The more the family can participate, be engaged, and have their unique values expressed, the more healing the experience is.

    Being passive observers of professionals carrying out a ritual isn’t fulfilling for people anymore. This post is right on the money… make it the new normal for every funeral to have its own distinct character.

    I’m so looking forward to seeing new and improved ways of saying goodbye!

  2. Rilee Chastain

    Great insights, Kyle! Thanks so much for sharing.