Guest Blog: Our Failure To Communicate About Cremation

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.

Consumer Misconceptions

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.

02a404dAbout The Author

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.

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  1. Scott Anthony

    great blog, Jessica
    You hit the mark about the need to communicate and educate our families about their choices when selecting cremation.

  2. Joe Smolenski

    The numbers seem near accurate for us. The challenge lies in having the direct cremation families use the funeral home staff or facilities for the memorial service. Funeral homes need to be creative in engaging their families with reasons and value to their staff or facilities being used. Even then a good portion may still resort to doing things on their own. Transient high dollar areas will find the most difficult families to engage.

  3. Rick Bissler


    We have our own crematory on site and the biggest asset it brings is control. We are able to offer the families an open casket visitation, do the cremation overnight, and then have a closed casket (urn in the casket) service the next day…complete with procession to the cemetery. After everyone leaves the cemetery, we move the casket aside and bury the urn. This allows families to complete the “funeral rituals” that they want and need.

  4. Refuio Samaniego

    Hello Jessica , my name is Refugio and I really enjoyed your blog.I am new in the field of funeral career.I had been looking for a site as this one that could help me with questions about the path to take. As mentioned in your blog, the catholic community does have some misconceptions about cremation services. I have asked some of our local priest and he agrees that cremation is permited. The only thing he mentioned was that when family gets their loved one cremated remains back, they ask the family to keep the cremains together.

  5. Deanne du Preez

    The loss of a loved one is a sad and trying time for all. Funeral homes charge a fortune, and want you to buy the most expensive coffin, as well as having the service at their chapel, at your expense.

    This entire exercise could cost more than you bargained for. No matter what funeral cover says, it always lands up costing you more than you anticipated or expected.

    My Mother passed on in July 2011, and this is what we did according to Her wishes.

    I chose the least expensive coffin. Not out of disrespect for my Mother, quite the opposite. She would have had a heart attack if I chose the expensive one.
    We refused a service at the funeral home, opting for one on the farm, my Mothers most loved place on earth.
    I dressed my Mother in one of her favourite outfits.
    We chose to have a cremation. Well Mommy did. She wanted to be cremated and her ashes put under the willow tree on the farm.
    This was the least expensive and heart sore route to go, and it is what Mommy wanted.

    Then my sister chose a spot under my Mothers favourite tree, and I took the ashes to Natal.
    The minister in Natal, who knew my mother, was asked to officiate at her memorial service.
    He was told that he was not to speak longer than 5 minutes. He timed himself, and 5 minutes it was.
    This was not about religion, it was about a loved one and the impact she had on so many people.

    When he has finished, I stood up and spoke, then my sister did, and then the floor was open to the rest of the family and friends who attended her Service, a lot of whom we had never met. What a revelation! Instead of the tears of sorrow, there were tears of joy and good memories and camaraderie, brought together by the death of a loved one. It was a true celebration of my Mother’s life. Those she touched spoke about her and how she had impacted on them during their lives. We learned a lot about my Mother that day, things we might otherwise never would have known. Memories we now cherish.
    What followed was an afternoon of everyone remembering something about Mommy. We laughed and cried at some of the stories. Everyone had something to say about my Mother. She was well loved by all that knew her. Then we ate, everybody contributed something, and the guests left.

    When only the family remained, Mommy’s ashes were put into a prepared hole under her tree, and a memorial note was placed on a stone, a stone found on the farm, this was then leaned against the tree. It is gone now, but the words remain forever in our hearts.

    Be humbled,
    For within these trees and blessed grounds,
    Dwell the Love, Hope, Dreams, and Aspirations
    Of a true friend and Mother.

    Everyone said it was the most beautiful service they had ever attended. The minister cost us R300, while the entire cost including coffin and cremation was R11,000. Such a small price to pay for something so wonderful..

    The reason for a service, is to remember our friends and loved ones, not to spend a fortune on giving them a funeral that is going to take us years to pay off, or that we cannot afford. Our loved ones would not have wanted that.

  6. Heidi Smith

    Great blog Jessica.
    From my own personal experience, I am saying that Funeral directors are doing a great profession with service. And nowadys some software companies step forwarded to support funeral directors or Death care industry. they provided Software to manage cemetery, crematory information. To know more details about the funeral homes software visit

  7. john

    Communication is important. It helps me a lot to choose. I need to look for jewelry that holds cremated ashes. It is great. My mom passed away last week. We can bring it wherever we go. Checking at this link

  8. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks for sharing John, communication is KEY to any service or business! (or relaitonship for that matter)