Guest Blog: Our Failure To Communicate About CremationFebruary 10th, 2015
A couple of years ago, my grandmother’s sister – my great aunt – died. Per her wishes she was cremated. A short memorial service – with the urn present – for family and close friends was held at the cemetery. Prayers were said and those who were there to say goodbye were invited to share a memory or offer a few words of reflection.
It was a nice service that fulfilled her wish to be cremated and met the family’s desire to gather together to honor her life.
At a luncheon hosted by the family after the service, I sat with my grandparents. They began talking about their own wishes. They are Catholic and it didn’t surprise me that they want a visitation and viewing before a funeral Mass, followed by a private committal for immediate family only.
But, they specifically mentioned that because they were Catholic, they couldn’t be cremated like my grandmother’s sister.
Naturally, I clarified that they could indeed be cremated – that it was now permitted by the Catholic Church. I further explained that a viewing – with the embalmed body present – and mass could precede cremation, something that they thought was an impossibility.
They were a bit surprised by this new information and, while they didn’t change their mind about their wishes, it did open up their eyes to other options that existed.
I don’t think my grandparents are unusual in thinking that their choice is limited to having a funeral or a cremation.
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
That line, uttered by actor Strother Martin as “The Captain” in Cool Hand Luke, for me, sums up the communication gap between the funeral profession and consumers when it comes to discussing cremation.
The Point of Failure
I don’t want to suggest that everyone has failed to communicate – many funeral directors do an excellent job of presenting cremation for what it is: another option in additional to burial, entombment or donation. Cremation is never discussed as an alternative to a service.
But, there are those who fail to communicate. They write-off those who say “I want my loved one to be cremated.” There’s an assumption that the family is of limited financial means and wants direct disposition. They don’t initiate a discussion about how the funeral home can help the family honor their loved one with a viewing, a funeral or memorial service.
Consumer research proves that a preference for cremation isn’t always based on a family’s financial circumstances. According to the Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s (FAMIC) most recent “Attitudes Toward Ritualization and Memorialization” consumer survey, less than one-third (32%) of respondents indicated that price was a reason for preferring cremation.
This FAMIC survey also shows that people who prefer cremation do want some sort of service, regardless of why they prefer cremation. The survey said:
- 31% want a service with the body present prior to being cremated
- 23% want a service with the cremated body present in an urn
- 40% want a service without the body present at all, maybe just a photograph
- 2% wouldn’t have a ceremony at all
- 4% don’t know what they would want
Yes… you read that right. Only 2% don’t want a ceremony at all; 94% want a service before or after cremation!
Think about that… you could be directing funerals or memorial services for nearly every single one of your cremation families.
Inform Your Families
Engaging in a dialogue with families about their service options isn’t about selling more tchotchkes and memorialization items … it is about creating an opportunity for a family and friends to come together and support one another in their grief. It is about helping to create opportunities for healthy healing for all who experience the death of a loved one.
I know so many funeral directors who have told me that they chose this profession because they want to help people – and that desire to help keeps them in this profession. Make sure that you are doing all you can to help every family that walks through your door … no matter what form of disposition they choose.
Jessica Koth is NFDA’s public relations manager and has been on staff for more than eight years; her career in public relations spans more than 15 years. In addition to managing NFDA’s media relations efforts, she also serves as the staff liaison to the Pursuit of Excellence program, manages NFDA’s social media presence, edits the NFDA Bulletin, assists members with communication issues, and coordinates many other communication projects on behalf of NFDA.