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Funerals are becoming family-oriented experiences

Monday, January 17, 2005

In the past decade, funeral homes have changed the services they provide to better meet the needs of the survivors. Local funeral home directors Rob Moore and Susan French recently discussed some of those changes.

Families no longer go through the emotionally charged experience of picking out a casket by looking at the funeral home's coffin inventory. French's provide corner panel caskets from which the family may choose. At Moores, coffins are selected completely through catalog selection.

Many technological innovations, which weren't available just a few years ago, have been added as part of the service. Memory boards are now common. Family members bring in numerous pictures of the deceased with family and friends or that highlight special occasions at various times of life for the deceased. They are placed on viewing boards throughout the funeral home.

Moore's produce a six-minute DVD, a movie of the life of the deceased. The video is shown at the end of the funeral and helps family and friends emotionally finalize the service.

They also tape the funeral. The family can view it later seeing things they might have missed due to emotional duress during the service. If a family member or close friend was unable to attend the funeral, the video helps give them closure.

How Americans allow children to deal with death has changed.

"It used to be that children weren't even brought to the funeral," Moore said. "Now they participate. And that's healthy."

Only ministers spoke at funerals in the past. Now family members and friends eulogize their departed loved one.

"Family participates in weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties," Moore said. "Now they participate in this family event."

Moore said a great deal of the population is unchurched. At the time of a loss they might flounder. That may be the only time they ask for help from a minister.

Some families do not want a minister involved or any religious reference made. Vanita Moore is a Certified Celebrant. This relatively new vocation allows a non clerical person to direct the service, celebrate the life of the deceased and address the emotional needs of the bereaved without a religious connotation.

Music commonly was provided by the playing of a piano or organ which frequently accompanied someone singing traditional hymns. Studio grade sound systems have changed that. While that choice is still available, now almost any recorded song can be provided at the service. And favorites of the deceased, with or without religious significance, are often featured.

Today funeral homes provide help before, during and after the funeral. Some of the traditional venues for support no longer exist. Families have dispersed. People are more transient and may not remain in one community for as long a period of time as they used to.

Moore offers the Circle of Care which addresses families' pre-service needs, at-service needs and continuing care after the funeral. They try to help families learn to cope with grief. Survivors receive AfterLoss grief recovery HelpLetters for six to 12 months after their loved one has died.

The French Family of Funeral Homes has a Grief Store at their French Funeral Home. It offers items family or friends may want to include in the service or something they can take home as a memorial of their loved one. They also have literature available to help with the grief process.

The manner used to dispose of the body has changed. Cremations have increased significantly nation wide. According to Moore, in states like Florida and California 50 to 80 percent of funerals are cremations.

Cost may or may not be the motivating factor in a family's choice of cremation over burial. French said the national average for a traditional funeral is about $6,000. Cremation, with a service and viewing, costs about $3,000.

The use of a vault is not required by law unless a cemetery requires it. However, in Clay County, all cemeteries do require one. Moore explained why.

"When I was a kid, graves were dug by hand," he said. "Now they're dug by machine. The weight of a back hoe or heavy equipment can collapse a grave. And old caskets collapse."

French said that vaults are needed to provide support of heavy equipment and it protects the casket from the earthload above it.

Both directors agreed that people today expect more from a funeral than they did previously. So the local funeral establishments try to do something very personal reflecting the life of the person who died. They focus on the celebration of that person's life. And people attending the funeral leave knowing more about the deceased than they did before the service.

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