Why Isn’t Funeral Personalization Being Driven by Funeral Directors?

Funeral personalization


A few weeks ago an article on funeral personalization made the national news about the “King of Beers.” I found it deeply concerning, but not for the reasons you probably think!

Here is a quick re-cap: a man from Louisiana requested that he be buried in a casket adorned with the logo of a prominent beer. There were t-shirts, red-cups and 20 cases of beer at the funeral service.

Your first thought might be that I’m critical of the alcohol theme, but I actually think anything legal that authentically remembers the life is fair game.

I am a little concerned that a beer themed funeral service may leave a bad taste in the mouths of the national public, but I think we have a much bigger issue to worry about.

The hard truth about funeral personalization

About 14 years ago, I participated in a “funeral-of-the-future” research project. During the research phase, we asked the best-of-the-best about personalized funerals.

We made two conclusions:

1) At most, only 5% of all services were personalized to any significant extent. The rest of the services were pretty “vanilla”.

2) Of those personalized services, the personalization was driven by the families and just accommodated or allowed by the funeral director. So our estimate was that funeral directors were responsible for personalizing less than 1% of funerals in the U.S.!

Connecting funeral services to the life lived is at the core of the value we deliver to our families.

Today, I believe the number of personalized funerals driven by the funeral director has increased. But, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that this number is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of our current families.

Many directors will point at their military services replete with honor guard and bag-pipers as being excellent examples of a personalized service.

But doesn’t every life deserve the respect and honor that we bestow on our fallen heroes? What about the rest of their lives? Most people live multidimensional lives, where service to their country is one part (albeit an important one).

I believe the memory of the entire life should be honored and symbolized during the funeral service. In fact, I have often wondered if we are actually doing a dis-service to the families left behind by not recognizing all the impact that life had on them and the world.

How to create an authentic personalized service

As funeral directors we need to redouble our efforts to learn all the important aspects of their life.

You will be amazed at the things you will learn (even about someone you think you know) if you sit patiently with the family, ask a few open-ended questions and listen carefully. Take what you learn from families and build up the courage to suggest ideas on how to uniquely honor the life lived.

Many things can be done at very little cost, but will have tremendous impact on the value of your funeral service.

Playing the loved one’s favorite music, providing their favorite candy or inexpensive keepsake, or writing a paragraph in the obituary are a just a few easy ways to express who they were and how they lived their life.

Take the time to learn who the person was, help the family express that, and you will have helped them heal from their loss that much better.

What you can learn from the King of Beers

I understand that the King of Beers casket accurately reflected his wishes, but I am sure there were other contributions that he made to the world. The beer element was newsworthy, but the rest of his life was just as meaningful.

We must get out of our passive, safe mode. Take a few risks by proactively helping families express and symbolize the memories of their entire life rather than allowing them to focus just on the loss.

Too much value exists in remembering the life lived fully and authentically. If we don’t provide that value and authenticity, figuring out what a tasteful service will be the least of our worries!

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  1. rolynn anderson

    Hear, Hear! When I helped my brothers and sisters plan my father’s funeral (in Wisconsin), it was truly up to us to personalize the ceremony. In fact, because so many young children were coming to the event, we decided to create a teachable moment for them with the memorial. This led to my writing a series of suspense novels about a boutique funeral planner…that’s how stoked I was about individualizing a service! Crazy how experiences like this get our ire up, isn’t it? Thanks for the article. Rolynn Anderson

  2. Joe Pray

    What is the title of the Novel, Is it available on the market? I found one of yours, Last Resort, on Amazon. Funeral personalization is indeed an interesting topic. As a funeral director in a small town we strive to make each service memorable and meaningful. In some cases we are able to put together some over the top services that families from what they have shared and what we can dream up. Thinking like a Creationeer rather than a Funeral Director has helped. I’d love to chat about your views of creative funerals.

  3. Phil Zehms

    While not every family wants “over the top” personalization; they all want it to be special for the person who is important to them. As an arranger, timing is everything. Asking in the right way, at the right time is important. Too soon and they may think you are trying to make a show of the funeral and not reverant. Too late and they are set and comfortable with what they have. The small items, candy bowls, golf balls etc. can be added as a suprise or at any time. The BIG items need delicate timing. After asking, and getting rejected (and it happens all the time) ask again in a different way to make sure they get every opportunity to make the funerla as unique as the person it is meant to honor. The key to the family feeling it was a good funeral is the personal connection and comfort they feel with the event and the staff regardless of the level of personalization.

  4. Krystal

    Great feedback, Phil. Timing is key, and so is the way you present your personalization options.

  5. Krystal

    Joe, thanks for the comment. And also, glad to see you’re focusing your efforts on making the service memorable. Good advice to live by – thinking as a “creator” rather than a funeral director. I’m the blog manager and you can email me personally at [email protected]. If you’re interested I’d love to chat and even have you write a guest blog on personalization!

  6. Krystal

    Wow what an interesting story, thanks for sharing! What’s the title of the series? I Would love to read it some time!

  7. Brian Broughan

    If we listen and advise families of the options available to them that would reflect the life of their loved one, I believe we are then truly offering professional service and advice. The problem might be that there are too few visionaries and too many that are just willing to follow what the industry is trending.

  8. Sarah

    As an intern at a very progressive funeral home in South Dakota. We try to say update, we are always looking into what’s new, such as green funerals, what are the familes wishes? We have stayed up with technology. I must say the Budwiser casket while unusal would not be anything, most local funeral homes kept on hand. But our funeral home would certainaly work with a family wishes if that was what they desiered.

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