Some of the Funeral Business Just Left the Funeral Business
By Amy Cunningham
I've launched a new entity called Fitting Tribute Memorial Events, LLC, to better address the New York market's demand for memorial services without an urn or casket present. I'll have two firms, two bank accounts, and two corporate tax filings. Nevertheless, I think all will go well.
Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, LLC, my first company, will continue to assist a growing number of families with eco-friendly burials, at-home funerals, and crematory-chapel services with casket present prior to cremation. But perhaps one quarter of my calls as funeral director and celebrant will entail end-of-life tributes with slideshows of the deceased person's life, rented venue, catering (with some of the deceased's favorite foods), linens, flowers, live or cued music, clergy or secular celebrant, spoken family remembrances, and printed programs with an order of service we'll help families set--all of which I was offering as funeral firm owner but that now will fall under the auspices of a proper memorial event company, legally detached from my funeral business. Previously, it was a contortion act to conform these highly personalized memorial tributes to the funeral home's generalized price list (GPL).
The consumer demand for life tribute support and memorialization is not unexpected. Funeral homes in Pennsylvania and Minnesota and more states have launched separate "Celebration of Life Centers" (sometimes with liquor licenses) to accommodate requests for post-cremation memorial events. The market's desire for something bright, deep, and life-affirming isn't going away. Traditional funeral homes must seriously rethink their heavy drapery and dreary decor if they wish to stay afloat and relevant.
My commitment to empowering families to spend more time with the deceased at time of death hasn't wavered, and I believe in showing people how to spend those moments in the home after a hospice-supervised death in a residence has occurred-- to bathe, shroud, sing, read scripture and poetry at the bedside. I even show motivated families how to set features and place the deceased on dry ice for a longer home viewings. Additionally, my funeral firm sometimes transfers deceased people who've died in hospitals back to their residence for a visitation there, like an old-fashioned Irish wake, if that's the family's preference, and we still provide space in our funeral home, of course, for open casket visits, perhaps twice a year with embalming, but almost always not. (While I am not Jewish, I happily hang my license and registration at an old, established Jewish firm where embalming is rarely requested.) I encourage the next-of-kin to come to the crematory when cremation is the family's choice, to say goodbye to the closed, covered cardboard casket in the chapel there, eliminating the "Where is grandma now, I wonder?" mystery of the direct cremation with no service. Significant also is the surging leap in calls for green burial within the five boroughs of New York and upstate. Simple burials in shroud alone, without a casket--in natural cemeteries or in progressive city cemeteries now allowing shrouds alone--are ravishingly gorgeous, still poignant, but also uplifting and natural, sometimes ecstatically so, in keeping with the wish to tread lightly on the planet.
That's Fitting Tribute's brand, we're clear on that. But we'll now have a second company to help folks orchestrate memorial services.
I don't want to compare what my assistant Lauren Guida and I do, with open hearts, to what lavish wedding-planning services assemble for movers and shakers. In fact, why did I even mention that? Here's the truth: if a family has had a good long period of time to say goodbye at the bedside, followed by a green burial or cremation chapel service or "witness" (when the closed casket is viewed going into the retort), the decision to resolve all that later--with a larger, perhaps more public off-site memorial tribute--can be the perfect formula for a meaningful send-off. That's what we'll now offer and price fairly under the second firm. This is an exciting move.
Fitting Tribute is there and available, whatever the need. We recently supervised a memorial service for 300 with food and drinks at the Brooklyn Museum. The doting husband gave the most compelling eulogy to his late wife in the form of a large-screen Powerpoint of family photos--humor, tears, memories all mixed. The deceased woman's piano instructor played Chopin on a rented grand piano. It was gorgeous, we were helpful and humbled, so proud to have been an important part of it.
--Amy Cunningham, owner, licensed funeral director
Brooklyn, New York