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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Speakers at the Digital Legacy Conference 2018

The Digital Legacy Conference, chaired by Jennifer Muldowney aka The Glam Reaper. Jennifer gave an overview of the subject of Digital Legacy and a summation of each speakers anecdotes rounding the conference to a close.
Jennifer Muldowney, Tedx survivor, author of book ‘Say Farewell Your Way’, event planner and spokesperson worldwide on death, funerals and end of life planning. She has been called a ‘refreshingly honest voice of the funeral industry’ and become the go to ‘Irish celebrity’ of the funeral world. Her blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts help her to help others as she forms the bridge between the often scary idea of funerals and the misconceptions and questions of Joe Public. She is a presenter on the ‘Farewell’ vlog where she provides information about funerals, memorials (both pet and human), life/bucket-list planning and encourages pro-active and creative funeral planning. Her voice has been published worldwide, including a Tedx talk about grief and the critically acclaimed ‘Before I Die’ book by fellow Ted Speaker Candy Chang.


Key Note Speakers: Facebook's Shelby and Kim explored the policy and product design behind Facebook’s Memorialization and Legacy Contact capabilities.


Shelby Lindblad is a Product Designer at Facebook working on issues related to memorialization. Prior to joining Facebook, she worked at Method, a global design firm with clients such as Google, HP, and the San Francisco Ballet.


Kim Malfacini is Associate Manager of Product Policy at Facebook, the team responsible for developing Facebook’s Community Standards governing what is and is not allowed on the site. Kim focuses on stakeholder engagement, ensuring Facebook’s policies are informed by experts across the globe.


James Norris is the one who brought it all together. He is the founder of the Digital Legacy Association, The Digital Legacy Conference and DeadSocial. James’ goal is to help raise awareness and provide support around digital end of life planning. James explored how the Digital Legacy Association innovate with healthcare, social care, legal and funeral professionals to evoke behaviour change and develop best practice. He also relaunched DeadSocial, planning app for the Digi-conscious.


Dr. Carla Sofka is a Professor of Social Work here in Siena College, NY. A former medical and hospice social worker, she has been teaching death education courses since 1993. Carla coined the term “thanatechnology” in 1996 to describe the role that online resources were playing in death education and grief counseling and co-edited the book Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe.
Carla used this experience to tell us how technology is changing grief and the ways in which we grieve.

Lee Poskanzer is the CEO of Directive Communication Systems. He has been successfully leading product innovation change at Fortune 500 companies including American Express, Safeway, PolyGram and Staples that have evolved to becoming industry standards and practices.
Did you know the average person has over 150 online accounts? And that number is expected to grow to over 200 in the next year. Lee presented on how financial and sentimental online property can easily be hidden, lost or forgotten about. He told us about new and existing privacy laws, along with Terms of Service Agreements (that we all agree to) that can prevent access to much needed information.

Antonio Estevan Huerta is a singer/songwriter and avid marathon runner from Texas who brought us a beautifully REAL penned letter to David Bowie from Palliative Care Doctor Mark Taubert. David Bowie died from Liver Cancer in January 2016. Antonio’s father, also named Antonio, died from the same tragic disease in the summer of 2018.

Stephen Hans is a licensed funeral director and owns and operates Hans Funeral Home in Albany, New York. He is a member of the New York State Funeral Directors Association. 
Stephen focussed on what he knows best - the funeral profession and research carried out in NY around death and digital legacy.

What is our Digital Legacy?

1.8 million facebook users will die in 2018.

Gone are the days that the attic stored thousands of photos and letters and memories. These are all online now in email accounts, on Facebook, Instagram, in clouds and elsewhere. These photos, videos, tweets, blogs and emails are digital or online assets that may have significant value for family and friends of the deceased.

On October 27th 2018 in Albany, New York, The Digital Legacy Conference took place, which brought together an eclectic group of academics, industry professionals and experts from around the world with a view to raising industry standards, sharing best practice and engaging with the subject of death and digital.

In a study, published in the journal NATURE HUMAN BEHAVIOUR, data from more than 15,000 social media networks of people who died were examined during a 4-year period. They examined how people interacted on those networks both before and after a death. The result was that people are indeed now grieving ONLINE and use online channels to stay connected to networks of the deceased. Online death needs to be addressed, both in terms of our legacies left online, how we grieve online and how people can be negatively affected by online trolling during times of grief.

The idea of using your phone to take ‘selfies’ with an app that has features like dog-faced filters and an obsession with hot dogs and glittery halos seems to go against the etiquette of a typical funeral. But these times, they are changing and funeral etiquette is evolving and revolving around social media as is the case with all celebrated life events like weddings, bar mitzvahs etc

Funerals and funeral planning have taken on an entire new meaning as people factor in online social identities and ways of communicating a moment of loss around the world.

Funeral homes have had to ‘get with the times’ as they try to hold fast to their historically steady business. Digital marketing for them can mean moving forward and engaging with their customers on a whole other level not before seen in the death business OR online can mean negative reviews and stale websites and pages because if you choose to go online, as we all know, it is a full time commitment. Facebook pages and Instagram accounts cannot be started and just left to ‘do their own thing’. A carefully strategized digital communications plan can boost awareness of your funeral home, dispel myths of the grim reaper and show the general public the true heart of a funeral home. People buy from people, people whom they know and trust and this is no different in the death business.

Millions attended Whitney Houston's funeral and listened to "I will always love you" as her body left the local church. Just recently the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin exited stage left in front of millions all around the world in a four day funeral extravaganza. The church had set up a huge screen to livestream the service at a local gas station parking lot for her local community.

EVERYONE can be let in to experience these historically selective events.

When it comes to celebrities, the public want closure, according to the Famous NYC Funeral Home to the Stars – Frank E Campbell. The funeral home stood as a backdrop to those who came to mourn Heath Ledger in NYC in 2008. 

The intense dedication and unity of the mourners, the familial connections felt for people they have never met, the volatility of grief was apparent for all to see and this is not just reserved for Heath Ledger and his fans but to every "celebrity" or person in the public arena. 

They need to be a part of that life that they have never touched personally, individually, privately, and in person — but through the media, through television, through the movies, it was very much a part of their growing up and their life. They want closure. People from every walk of life."

And we have almost all become celebrities in our own right. A teenager today can have over 1000 friends on Facebook and yet a baby boomer may have only ever had 5 friends growing up, it puts it all into a weird perspective.

Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter have also made us much more comfortable with sharing intimate details about ourselves online with strangers on a constant basis. Many deaths and funerals are reported, commented on, tweeted, snapped, recorded and posted online before even their loved ones have heard of the news. This poses positive and negative repercussions. A number of people are finding out about friends and family members deaths via social media. An emotional blow and not purposefully revealed to cause pain but none the less this is a new trajectory to navigate.

An entire new industry has been created with our Digital Estate in mind – these days there is such a thing as digital executors, Digital estate planning, post death planning, online memorials, QR codes for headstones, cemetery mapping, virtual attendance at funerals, life after death in the form of holograms and so on. This industry will only increase as more and more innovation surrounds the death industry in the digital space.

Preparation for end of life has also gone digital with Google recently announcing a new AI tool that is able to predict the death of hospital patients with 95% accuracy, palliative care with digital music therapy to help slow breathing rates, ease anxiety and soften the path to end of life.

Bob Dylan said it best :
Come gather round people, wherever you roam
And admit the waters around you have grown
Accept it that soon youll be drenched to the bone
If your time is worth saving then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For times they are a changin’

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The funeral reception

In simple terms, your choice of venue for a funeral reception is between holding it at home (the deceased’s home or that of a close relative) or in an external venue (a hired hall or hotel,
restaurant, club or pub). Sometimes it is not an easy choice but often the choice has already been decided, through the deceased’s requests or ‘because that is what he/she would have wanted’. This can help relieve a great deal of decision-making. But for those that still have to make the choice or would just like to know what each option holds, below I have detailed the issues to consider with each.

House versus Venue

House:
• Transport to and from the house: Where is the house located? Is it on a quiet street without much parking or with ‘pay and display’ parking? Is it down a very tight country lane where accidents are common? Does it have a large driveway that will accommodate some cars? How far from the church or funeral service is it? Is it easy to find? Perhaps a few designated directors
can guide people to the house from the service;
• Need to put certain areas ‘off limit’: This is someone’s home, maybe the deceased’s, or their family home. Either way, you need people to be respectful and to facilitate that you need to set some boundaries. If possible, lock bedroom doors or any ‘off limit’ areas. Put any and all valuables or precious items into these locked rooms;
• Provide maps: Even with all the technology around today, it never hurts to supply people with a physical and easy-to-read map with directions to the house, to make sure you don’t lose anyone en route;
• Immediate family only or all invited: This is a personal decision to make but also one to think about
logisitically. How popular was the deceased? Will everyone who was at the service attend the reception? Will people who could not make the service come to the reception? How many can the house and the food / drink cater for? Would a more quiet, ‘family only’ affair be more respectful and more tasteful?
• No peace and quiet: A common issue with having a reception in your own home is that there is no escape. You cannot retire to bed or relax on your couch and collect your thoughts, cry, laugh, reminisce or scream if you have invited people into your home. Everywhere you go in the house, you will find people who will want to sympathize with you;
• Marquee option: Having a reception in your home is a lovely idea but, if you expect numbers to exceed space you have available to cater for them, consider the option of hiring a marquee and placing it in the back or front garden. It will still have that homely feel but will ease the impact on your home;

Catering: 
Another critical aspect of having a reception in a home is catering for everyone. Typically, people are hungry after a funeral service – thirsty, too. Can you afford / do you have the space to cater for them all? Do you have the kitchen facilities to do it? Will it be finger food, buffet or a three-course meal? Can friends, family and neighbors bring a dish or some sandwiches and help out? It will certainly ease stress if a caterer can come and have all the food and drink (including cups of tea and coffee – a favorite at events such as funerals) prepared for you when you arrive home from the service and will clear up when you are finished. They also can supply the extra cutlery and glassware that would otherwise have to be rented or borrowed.

Venue:
• Transport to and from: Often a central venue in the local town or city center can be the best choice when it comes to transport. Typically, there is ample parking, directions to the venue are known, and roads and paths are well-lit and secure.
• Local or long distance: Did the deceased drink in a particular bar or visit a particular hotel or restaurant regularly? This could be ideal for the reception. Another option is to think of a venue where perhaps the deceased always wanted to visit. Choosing venues can be dependent on whether you wish to ask people to travel long distances. Elderly people may not be able to commit to the travel;
• Book accommodation: Depending on how far people must travel for the funeral service, you may have to provide them with accommodation information such as local bed and breakfasts or hotels. If you are holding the reception in a hotel, you might be able to negotiate a discount on rooms booked;
• House-sitters: If you choose to have the reception in a local hotel, it is sad, but often burglars are aware of this fact. The deceased’s details have been printed in the newspaper and this house is now empty, with potentially dozens of others on the same road or in the same estate as the deceased. All of these home-owners will be at the hotel at the reception. Safeguard yourself and your home against these opportunists and have a house-sitter mind your home, leave a radio or a TV on, make sure an alarm has been fitted to your home and leave some lights on. Give the impression someone is
home;
• Opportunity to get away if needed: A bonus to having a reception in a hotel, club, bar or local restaurant is that it is easy to slip away for some peace and quiet if you need to. Funerals can be very tiring and emotional experiences and while some people will wish to celebrate the deceased life long into the night, others will feel tired very fast and require some sleep or just a few moments alone;
• Music and entertainment: Having an external venue look after the reception also means that you can hire professionals to provide entertainment for your guests – maybe the deceased’s favorite band or trad singer or pianist?

Catering: 
Again, choosing a venue takes care of the catering issue. Professionals will cater to everyone’s taste and price. You can choose to pay for everything, or allow everyone to order for themselves or you can order some smaller items and if people wish to have more they can pay for it.

Regardless of which option you choose, home or external venue, there are still more decisions to make. Food and drink options will be similar whether the reception is held in the home or in a public house:
• Will you have a special toast for the deceased?
• Is there a special menu you would like to supply in honour of the deceased?
• Will you supply a buffet, finger food or sit down menu? What time will it be served at?
• Will you supply a free bar/limited bar or have people pay for/bring their own?

Another option could be to have a family sit-down dinner immediately after the service and meet up with everyone else in a broader reception afterward. Always keep some food aside; this might seem like a waste but it will not be. This food is for the immediate family who may or may not eat during the reception as they will be chatting with everyone and accepting sympathies. This food will be greatly appreciated after the reception when everyone has gone home.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Online Legacy Part 3/3 - Death on Instagram and Snapchat

Social media platforms can be used to communicate online the details of a funeral service, receive sympathy messages from those abroad who cannot get home for a service and to mourn a loved one online. Displaying photos of the deceased, their recipes, songs, art or photos on Facebook, Instagram,
Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter or YouTube can provide comfort to some.



Instagram’s  ‘death policy’ aligns closely to that of its parent company, Facebook. Users’ accounts can either be memorialized or removed BUT unlike Facebook, where you can decide pre-demise which YOU would prefer Instagram leaves it up to your loved ones to decide on how you should be remembered.

Similar to Facebook a Memorialized account will not show up in public spaces or suggested searches. To memorialize an Instagram account you need to provide:
  • Fill out a form on their site
  • Their name and username
  • Their email address
  • Date they died and a link to their obituary

The other option is to Permanently Remove an Instagram Account. Only verified immediate family members are able to make a request for removal of the account. Upon submitting a deletion request, Instagram requires individuals present proof of immediate family relation, which would be the deceased person’s birth certificate, death certificate or “proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or their estate.” More info here

According to Bloomberg, there are 150 million people using Snapchat every day and YET Snpachat has failed to provide any ‘death policy’. The ONLY current method of memorializing or deleting your Snapchat account upon your demise is providing a loved one with your login and password. NOT something many people are comfortable doing BUT if you have this information and want to delete then….

First, log into Snapchat here, with the person’s username and password. Then simply check the box confirming you are not a robot, click submit, re-enter the username and password and click continue. After following these steps an account is deactivated for 30 days, which involves individuals not being able to interact in any way with the person on Snapchat. Then after the 30 days, the account will be permanently deleted.

As always my suggestion is PREPLAN!!!!

Other issues in the online space include:
  • Access to the deceased’s email accounts and subscription sites: Do you have the necessary user/account names and passwords? If you have usernames and passwords, it will make account access and deletion much easier. If not, there is still the option of contacting the service providers as mentioned above; 
  • Blog posts: People blog for both personal and business reasons and a regular action online is to ‘schedule’ your blog posts so that they are spaced out over the course of a month or a year. However, if posts are scheduled to appear after the person’s death, this can cause discomfort, pain and upset if regular readers receive blog posts posthumously;
  • Online business revenue: Whether this is online advertising revenue, eBay sales, Paypal accounts or other, you should inform the deceased’s solicitor and accountant, as well as whoever is taking responsibility for the deceased’s business affairs;



Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Bio/Water/Hydro...etc...Cremation! OR Alkaline Hydrolysis OR Resomation

Known by a million different names, Resomation (that's what I am sticking to for the purpose of this article) is definitely a hot watery topic in the funeral world. ;-)

At the ICCFA in Las Vegas earlier this year, there was a workshop early one Saturday morning talking all things resomation in the pet world. I went to update my knowledge.

So what is it? From what I gathered at the show and from previous informative workshops and a little research, it produces less carbon dioxide than cremation and would be considered more environmentally friendly as there is no fire or smoke emissions as it 'dissolves the body's tissue'. It uses a combination of heated water and potassium hydroxide (or the cheaper sodium hydroxide) to liquefy the body, leaving only the bones behind. The bones are then pulverized, similar to regular cremation, and these are fragments returned to loved ones.

There is a choice of two different types of machines - one using high temperatures and one using low. There is a 'cycle time' for the typical body of a pet of 8-20 hours which seems like a fairly broad estimation of time so clearly, there is no 'average' yet. For pets, about 2-6 pets can be put through each 'cycle'. For humans it appears the cycle time is 3-4 hours as there is a higher temperature use.

While considered environmentally friendly and research has proven the destruction of all pathogens (things that cause disease), there is still a concern over prions (deadlier disease-causing creeps that mostly reside in the brain). The speaker at this particular Vegas workshop, Seyler, said he had not ever witnessed the destruction of prions and was curious to hear more on studies of it using resomation.

The first human 'test' was completed in the Mayo Clinic in 2005 and it slowly gained traction in the US, reaching a height of...morbid curiosity maybe...in 2011 and it continues to grow. As far as I am aware, however, it is not legal in every State in America but is gaining traction outside of the US, in the UK and Canada.

It has been described by those looking to promote it as a 'gentle reduction process', however, I have heard, on fairly good and accurate authority, that to begin the process and help it along, the skull which protects our most valuable accessory, the brain, must be cracked open so the brain can be dissolved in the liquid. Otherwise, there are times when some brain tissue is left because of the hard protective nature of the skull. There is an issue with fully dissolving the liver also. On the plus side, operators of the machine can open and see the machine running - although I'm not quite sure why this is a positive because you're hardly going to stick your arm into a solution that dissolves tissue to prod or move things around are you?

So the big question - What happens to the wastewater? Apparently, it can go down the drain but what about the pH balance? Surely the same solution that dissolved the body would corrode the infrastructure and the sewer plant and anything else it passes through?

Prices for resomation seem to average at similar, if slightly more expensive than regular cremation.

In summation, I'm not a fan of knowing granny or indeed puppy's head will be caved in before she gets dissolved and then flushed down the drain and I'm not entirely sold on the benefits to the environment but as always, I am open to suggestion and discussion so if anybody can inform me differently, please elaborate!

Friday, 20 April 2018

ICCFA Convention 2018 Las Vegas


The ICCFA 2018 Annual Convention took place in sunny Las Vegas!

I was happy for an excuse to take me to some sunshine after a pretty long winter in both Ireland and New York.

I flew in a day early to gather myself and get some Vitamin D because I know, from previous conventions in Vegas, that you can get so involved in work and networking that you may never leave the adjoining hotels or see daylight!
 I had hardly walked in the door of the convention and I met the infamous Funeral Commander, Jeff Harbeson. Always a laugh to catch up with him and his bright colourful suits!

I love coming to the ICCFA and the NFDA annual conventions because twice a year, every year, the funeral professionals gather to educate, innovate, network, eat, drink and rarely sleep!! Always a chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones in the process! I even got to catch a few shows with friends while I was in town too which was great, considering Vegas is THE go-to spot for any show!





Sadly, Innovation at this year's show, along with attendance, was slow and seriously lacking. I was hard pushed trying to find something new to report on. There were SongPods of Solace which contain cremated remains, locks of hair/fur or feathers of a loved one. They are handmade and considered a musical memorial. Shake them and hold to your ear to hear a unique chime!

Then there is commemorative rosary beads which are made from flowers - from a wedding, a funeral, a birthday or anything. A good way to 'recycle' flowers and keep a memorial of the date.

A very girly innovative find this year, lastly we had Phyll The Love. A company set up, when she found herself limited according to Jewish customs to throw something onto her mother's coffin as it was being lowered into the ground. A series of hurried questions to the rabbi later and colorful sand was the chosen love token! She now provides beautiful little bottles of coloured sand that funeral directors or family members can hand out to graveside goers to toss onto the casket in lieu of flowers. Innovative and creative? Yes, however, when I asked a number of my followers on Instagram their thoughts on usage, the result was a resounding NOPE. Ah well.










Other interesting things to note from the show was innovation in marketing or lack thereof. According to big players Funeral One and their attendees, marketing remains to be a funeral homes biggest challenge.

People WERE trying though, with Virtual Reality games happening and a giant colouring board to name a few fun things I spotted.


My first time Insta Story-ing the convention and the reactions were priceless - people thinking things were creepy AF (see below) or fascinated with the fact that there was such a thing as a funeral convention and wait...what...they have fun at it??! Noooooo.

I think we need to look at marketing for the industry from these people's perspectives and stop hiding our heads in the, even colourful, sand!
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