10 Funeral Homes Putting the “Fun” Back in Funerals

innovation

When it comes to innovating the funeral industry, it isn’t easy to change a profession whose foundation is in tradition. But let’s be honest, during this time of change, we must be willing to evolve and change the way we work.

In the last couple of years, I have found some pretty amazing people who are doing awesome things for this profession. I like to call them the businesses who are “putting the ‘fun’ back in funerals.” And we want to tell you about them, because who knows, you might be inspired to make a change at your own funeral home.

So check out some of our favorite innovations in the funeral industry, and get inspired:

 

1. A Funeral Home With A… Winery?

Care to sit back for a glass of wine at your loved one’s funeral? It might sound strange, but Hodges Funeral Home recently made the decision to open a full service wine cellar at their firm. “Nobody wants to go to a funeral; nobody wants to stay at a funeral home. So we’ve been renovating things,” said Seth Minson, General Manager at Hodges Funeral Home in North Naples, Florida. “They still want to have a party, still want to celebrate and have the means to mourn their loved ones…but they don’t want to do it over a person’s body. For the younger generations, that’s become such an old fashion idea,” says Hodge.

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While his firm may be the first funeral home in the country to offer a winery, other funeral homes have brought on similar additions to their funeral home, like last year when Robinson Funeral Home opened up a Starbucks in their firm. Whether it’s going to catch on or not, I think it’s great to see funeral homes opening up their eyes to the different ways they can help their families celebrate the life of their loved ones in a unique way.

 

2. Now Offering Funerals AND Weddings

When you look at this facility, would you ever think it’s actually a funeral home? Probably not, and that’s why Washington Park East Cemetery’s “Community Life Center” (also called CLC) is a hot spot for weddings in their community. Paulita Flores, who was married there, says “I fell in love and thought it was the perfect place… it was breathtaking, so it (the funeral home aspect) didn’t cross my mind again.” Washington Park East built the facility in 2001 for $10 million, and they did have a slow start. In 2009, they reported only hosting 10 weddings. However, after hiring an events coordinator to manage the facility, they have found success. They now see nearly a dozen weddings every month.

And they’re not the only funeral home using their facility for weddings. When Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery started offering weddings at their funeral home, they got an amazing response from their customers. “We had one situation where a young woman wanted to be married near her grandmother’s grave,” he says. “It was meaningful to the family,” they reported.

As I talked about in a recent article “What Funeral Directors Can (And Should) Learn From Wedding Planners,” it’s not just about hosting events other than funerals at your firm. It’s about thinking like a wedding planner… or even better, an event planner. After all, getting married is as much of a celebration as a funeral is. So look into some tips you can adopt from wedding planners, and change your approach accordingly.

 

3. The Multi-Purpose Funeral Home

With all of these creative uses for funeral home facilities, it’s safe to say that funeral businesses are in the era of the multi-purpose funeral home. Even back in 2010, USA Today reported that 10 percent of funeral homes surveyed offered a “community or family center in addition to traditional funeral facilities.” One of my personal favorites comes from Wells Funeral Homes and Cremation Services in North Carolina. Their family-owned firm is renovating an old printing press building and plan to turn it into a multi-purpose events center for receptions, meetings, banquets and other such gatherings.

The venue is complete with a kitchen for catered food, a 125-seat reception hall and even a small chapel. “It’s a little look into the future,” says owner Wells Greeley. While some people might think it’s odd to get together at a funeral home, Greeley feels that a funeral, just like any other gathering, should be a celebration. Plus, he points out that “maybe it’s the first time that family has been able to get together — for the funeral.” Either way, we’re rooting for Wells Funeral Home because in a time of change, the expansion of their business could lead to not only more income, but the ability to serve more families (which is the point).  

 

4. A Crematory Sitting Room

When Cress Fose Funeral & Cremation Center completed a huge renovation at their funeral home, their most unique addition was their cremation area. Complete with a stained-glass window and enough room on their comfortable furniture for the whole family, it’s meant to be a place to gather. At Cress Fose, many families wish to remain with the body right up until the cremation, while some want to be present during it. Their crematory area is meant to provide a place for these families to gather to say their final goodbye.

Cress Fose says many families are putting it to use – one girl placed a teddy bear in her grandparent’s casket while being wheeled to the crematory, while others have read poems, prayers and light candles right before the cremation. Some even create unique rituals during and after the cremation, including families whose religion requires a ritual for the removal of the loved one’s ashes. Cress Fose expressed their excitement about the room when they said “That’s when we realized how important it is to have something like this room… when you witness all of that, you feel passionate about it and you want to tell their stories.”

 

5. A New Way To Help The Grieving

Vicki Lensing, co-owner of Lensing Funeral and Cremation Service, wanted to find an easy way for the grieving to seek inspiration and hope. So, she created her own free grief book library outside her funeral home. Often called the “Lensing Little House”, the decorated cedar box offers access to about 1,000 books kept in Lensing’s grief library. With a variety of books including poetry, novels, fiction, and even books for children as well. While it’s a small idea, we like the big impact that something as thoughtful as a grief library can make at Vicki’s funeral home.

 

6. Funeral Home Drive-Thru

Last year, Farmville’s Oliver & Eggleston Funeral Establishment decided to start offering a drive-thru viewing service for their families. While it sounds odd – and maybe even a little controversial, we have to give Oliver & Eggleston props for thinking differently. Plus, we appreciate their enthusiasm about celebrating life in unique way. President Carl Eggleston says that they’re “just offer[ing] the families something different, so they have options.”

7. Funeral Home Food Service

It all started when Virginia funeral home owner, David Storke, had an epiphany while arranging a service for his funeral home. He thought to himself that “there are plenty of ways to send flowers to the loved one’s family for the service, what about sending food?” When he couldn’t find many options to send sympathy meals online, he decided to start his own company called the TLC Kitchen.

The TLC kitchen offers home-cooked frozen meals to grieving people anywhere in the United States. Customers can choose from eight different meal options that can be sent within three days to those who are grieving.  

Similar to solutions such as The Sympathy Store, I think Dave’s idea deserves praise. He had an itch that he realized needed to be scratched, so he made it happen. And after six years of continuous growth, it’s safe to say this funeral home owner turned funeral eCommerce entrepreneur was a great decision.

 

8. Bringing In A Man’s Best Friend

Clinton Funeral Service is thinking about all of the different ways their funeral home can help families through the grieving process. That’s when they found Mollie, the grief therapy dog. Mollie is a 2-year-old King Charles Spaniel who is currently training for her certification. Some of her training includes obedience commands, overcoming fear of objects such as hospital equipment, how to recognize grief and how to comfort people.

Darriel Ezell, co-owner of Clinton Funeral Service, is proud to be one of the first in his area to offer grief therapy in the form of a fluffy friend. “I know of nursing facilities and doctors offices that have therapy dogs, but I do not know of any funeral home anywhere around that has one. We are the first in our area to offer this type of care to our families. The best medicine always wags its tail,” he says. We love Clinton’s approach to finding new, unique ways to help grieving people in-need of comfort.

 

9. Innovation As Simple As Changing Your Name

One funeral home realizes that innovation doesn’t always mean making huge changes – it could be as simple as changing the name of your firm. So, Daley Funeral Home decided to see how big of an impact changing their name to “Daley Life Celebration Studio” would make. “One woman in the neighborhood was furious when she saw the sign… then one of her friends died and she came to us. She was so excited about the way the person’s life was presented. She never said a negative thing. And then when she died we had a million and one things displayed at her life celebration,” says funeral director Judy Daley.  

The Daley’s have seen a huge difference in the attitude of the families who come to their home. “People used to come through the viewings and they used to holler at me, that they didn’t like coming in, that they didn’t like to see their friend like that,” says Daley. Even funeral homes in the surrounding areas have adopted similar mindsets, and it’s made all the difference.

 

10. The Anti-Funeral Home?

Sarah Wambold, an Austin-based funeral director, finds herself in the middle of a huge transition to open up her own funeral home. Her mission? To STOP thinking like a funeral director. We like her approach because she isn’t afraid to take a risk and try something completely new. During her journey, she’s met some pretty interesting people who seem to be on the same page as she is. One person who has truly inspired her includes Jeff Jorgenson of Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle, Washington.

His advice for her was this:

“I think that it’s critical for entrepreneurs to look across the boundaries of [an] industry to identify practices and procedures that can be applied in their own firm. As absurd as it sounds, you need to look to sheep ranchers and software developers, credit card companies and house cleaners — collectively — to identify components that will spur innovation within your own world. There could be a supply chain innovation in tulip farming that revolutionizes the cremation process. Who knows?! The fun part is that innovation isn’t planned; it is a bizarre organic process that unfolds in concert with the relationships that you build outside of your own island.”

I think Jeff’s advice is great, and even more, it’s a great way to conclude this post. It’s the funeral directors, businesses and entrepreneurs who will come together to find new ways (that actually work) to help families see value in our profession. All others will get left behind. Because, the truth is, if you’re not willing to put the “fun” back in funeral, why bother? A funeral is supposed to be a celebration, and it’s time we let families know that’s what we’re here to do – to celebrate life.

How is your funeral home putting the ‘fun’ back in funerals? Tell us in the comments below!

Joe Joachim

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  3. Kim

    It was nice to read your article.

    Thank you !

    Kim 🙂

  4. Kim

    I am trying to encourage people as well to Celebrate a Life
    along with the mourning.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-FUN-Funeral/272010122994195?sk=photos_stream

  5. Ashley Giddens

    These are certainly very innovative ways to celebrate a funeral.

    There are also funeral programs people can customize themselves to fit the deceased’s personality better, rather than going with the standard programs issued by funeral homes. Readers can find some at https://www.funeralpamphlets.com

  6. KIM HOGGAN

    I Love this article. It really gives a fresh perspective on how to embrace
    the Life of that person rather than just mourn. To be more accommodating
    to adults, children, and pets. 🙂