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Thursday, 7 November 2019

Oxygen, massage and puppies have got what to do with funerals?!

With over 28 miles of shoreline and more than 2,000 hot dog stands, Chicago was an interesting choice for this year's US National Funeral Directors Association. 

An oxygen bar, massage station and even a puppy parlor made for an enjoyable experience for funeral professionals from all over the globes to convene. One could spend an entire day on the expo floor checking out all the freebies, albeit these were offerings from the exhibitors and not the NFDA Convention itself who, in previous years, held cocktail hours, free lunches and handed out free knick-knacks at every turn. This year beer and pretzels with cheese dip, free wine, and cheese tastings and the famous Garrett Popcorn were offered as an enticement into booths. I personally do think these ‘gimmicks’ work but they need to be thought through. We went up to one exhibit and pulled at a Fortune Wheel to win a cruise (which plot twist..we didn’t win!) and we walked away not having any idea what the brand or business was. Now I also cannot stand the pouncing on you the second you browse past a booth. A colleague and I were unfortunate enough to pause for a catch up beside a gentleman’s booth and he promptly interrupted us without apology and even when we tried to continue our conversation after politely answering him, he plundered on with his sales pitch. Finding the balance is key.

The most popular booth by far at the show was Pause for Paws who provided cuddles and snuggles with therapy dogs. Ultimate Canine is an award-winning, internationally recognized company that provided therapy dogs, service dogs and family dogs to people all across America. 

So aside from eating my weight in deep dish Chicago style pizza, I was there to learn. One of my favorite moments, other than listening to the fabulous and incredibly motivational Seth Godin speak, was the video featuring a number of funeral directors talking about the aftermath of topics we sadly see all too often in the media these days - mass shootings and terrorism. Not something even I had considered or dealt with but a very real reality when a community is shaken to its very core. Check out the NFDA Instagram page to see the video.

Another great takeaway was the NFDA initiative of ‘Remembering A Life’ self-care box which contains a carefully curated collection of items to help a grieving individual find relaxation, reflection and remembrance following the death of a loved one. Containing a grief journal, memory jar, a candle, an oil roller, rose quartz stone, water bottle, and dragonfly keyring. While it definitely won’t be for everyone and I know some people may even find offense in some of the contents, I do think a care box is a lovely addition for a funeral home to give to grieving clients they think would appreciate its contents. Remembering a Life is online and a quick Google search will bring any funeral director worldwide to its wide and varied content. Worth a quick search!  

Reimagine the end of your life will you?

You are going to die. I am, too, and the thought of our inevitable demise is scary and unsettling. But, what if we were regularly encouraged to reflect on why we’re here, prepare for a time when we won’t be?

Reimagine End of Life, a festival that happens twice a year in the US - in NYC and San Fransisco, is doing exactly that with annual “death festivals” that inspire a community-wide exploration of death and celebration of life. The response to these weeklong gatherings has been tremendous with more than 20,000 people participating in 500 plus events presented by 300 plus collaborators in both locations in 2018. The organizers want to take the topic of death and dying out of the shadows through the mediums of art, music, comedy, and conversation.

The latest death festival took place in San Fransisco during the last week in October. Over 10 Days there were 250 Events, 52 Interactive Rituals, 24 Food Experiences, Comedy Shows and all with ONE Universal Topic. Venues include a variety of community centers, art galleries, churches, temples, parks, bars, concert venues, and even The Walt Disney Museum.

Previous Reimagine headliners have included Oscar winners Frances McDormand, ‘Coco’ director Lee Unkrich, The New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast and National Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith

Monday, 24 June 2019

The New Green Burial takes on a whole new concept!

Gas-fueled cremations and toxic burials in cemeteries are currently the only options available to Irish Funeral Directors and their clientele. But this will not forever remain the only ways we care for our dead. We all know this and there are so many options currently in prototype build, in pilot mode or a simple idea in someone’s head. So how might deceased people’s bodies be attended to, honoured, and better utilized in the future? Enter Katrina Spade from Washington State in the USA, the designer/entrepreneur behind the Recompose project.

Katrina Spade invented a system to transform a dead body into the soil while earning her Masters of Architecture. After years testing the concept, the Recompose project won the approval of Washington state’s legislature.

So what exactly is the Recompose project and what happens to the body? The unclothed body is placed into a cylinder vessel on a bed of a blend of woodchips, wet alfalfa and straw. The temperature of the body naturally rises over the course of a month and the vessel is aerated with oxygen. After one month, all that remains is soil.  The soil will be regulated as with current cremains.

While I believe it will be met with questions and I am sure Katrina has a fight ahead of her to get people comfortable with the idea, as, with all new ideas, it will be in the educating of the idea. It is certainly a fascinating conversation of how nature’s principles might be harnessed to more efficiently return deceased bodies to the earth, sequestering carbon and improving soil health.


Saturday, 11 May 2019

She has gone away, so smile....

You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live in yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Monday, 8 April 2019

ICCFA 2019

The ICCFA 2019 took place in Charlotte North Carolina. A pretty bland city, clean and efficient city but lacking character for me, Each year when I attend these events I am very focussed on what's new, what's gonna change, what's different and most years I have found seriously interesting stuff to report on. This year, I found the convention quiet and boring.

I did have to dig a little deeper to find something new and different to tell you about and what I did find definitely peaked my interest and will for you too I know, especially because rumour (and the Meath Chronicle!) has it that one of them is coming to Ireland....soon..... so watch this space!

Resomation, also known as Water Cremation and depending on who you are talking to - Aquamation, Bio-cremation, Hydro Cremation, Alkaline Hydrolysis etc etc is the process of body disposition with water instead of flames. I personally am not a fan of flushing granny down the loo but I wanted to know more and maybe you do too. Check out resomation.com if you want more than I give you here. First things first - resomation and aquamation and others are NOT the same. Not the same companies nor the exact same process which I find extremely confusing and therefore can only imagine how Joe Public feels. I spoke with the creator of RESOMATION, Sandy, a Scotsman - nice to here one of 'our' accents on this side of Atlantic. Legally, Sandy told me that Water cremation is approved in 15 US states. In the UK, plans to introduce water cremation are progressing, he told me that had 'done' two bodies just this week in the UK. Irish Mortician, Elizabeth Oakes, plans to offer water cremation as an alternative to flame cremation and burial in Ireland. More on that at another point. I was impressed by Sandy. I was impressed by the output of the process, it truly is less about flushing Granny down the loo and more about less interference on the body and more about saving the environment from mercury emissions and with water cremation, no airborne emissions are produced and the solid leftover mercury-containing amalgam is collected and safely recycled. I also did love the powdery finish to the remains and, weirdly, we all know that people are vain and particular about this, even in death. A beautiful white powder is better than black, rough grainy remains...no?

Other innovation discovered was Funeralocity - the Expedia of the funeral world! We have TheKnot.com for weddings, Hotels.com for accommodation, Expedia.com for travel, and much much more - it's about time a comparison site came to the funeral industry! That's the good news...for the consumer. The bad news is, its only US based. I know funeral directors will probably want to fight something like this but I think it's important and honestly, it's coming whether anyone wants it to or not.

What are your thoughts on Resomation and Funeralocity?

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Life Celebrations Ireland

A funeral is a service for respecting and remembering the life of the deceased. In order to fully remember their life in death, I believe that parts of their life should be entwined respectfully into their funeral service. If the person was musical, then music could play a large part in the service; if they liked books, someone could read from their favourite authors, books or poems; if they were artistic, perhaps works of art could be displayed. If they were a real ‘people’ person, perhaps friends could contribute to the service. Did they bake? Did they play golf or football? Did they act or dance?

Incorporate all that the deceased loved in life into the service that says farewell. This way, you will truly represent them and celebrate the presence they held in your life.

So, some ideas to consider:
• Transport: Instead of a hearse transporting the body, you could organise a motorcycle or horse-drawn hearse, or a favourite vehicle of the deceased. These are widely available and accessible in funeral homes across Ireland. The family could follow a hearse on horse, bikes, motorcycles, running, walking or whatever was personal to the deceased;
• Music: Have someone musical sing a song, play an instrument, compose a piece of music or even just organise the musical elements of the funeral service, or reception;
• Words: Usually, there will be a friend or family member who will feel comfortable sharing a story or an anecdote, reading a prayer or saying the eulogy. Involve as many of these people as possible, as it will make the funeral much more personal;
• Images: Most people have a wide variety of friends, clubs, family, networks, work associates and
colleagues and each of them know the deceased in a different way. Allow them to share through imagery their own personal memory of the deceased;
• Video: Similar to images, there may be videos of friends, family or work events that included the
deceased. Allow someone to take charge of compiling a video with music to showcase during the service or at the reception;
• Greeters: This can be a great way to involve children and teenagers who may not understand what is
happening or don’t know how to express themselves. It is a task that doesn’t require a huge amount of responsibility as they are simply greeting people as they enter the venue and guiding them to their seat or handing them an order of service. Including them in the service is very important for their grieving process and gives them something practical to focus on;
• Pallbearers: Typically, six men – usually close family or friends – fill the roles of pallbearer at the funeral. Don’t be afraid to deviate from tradition: if there are women interested, allow them to get involved;
• Service: Is there a friend or family member who can perform the ceremony or service? If so, inviting them to get involved in this capacity can be another way to personalise the funeral. Depending on the deceased’s religion, there may be freedom to personalise a service;
• Design: An artist in the family or a graphic designer colleague may wish to participate creatively in the funeral through using their skills and creating an
image for display, or designing the order of service booklet or a personal memorial favour for guests to take away with them;
• Reception: The reception allows a lot more freedom for personalisation as a service can be dependent on religious beliefs. Here you can become more creative, choosing to serve only the deceased’s favourite drink or food, play only their taste in music or hire their favourite band, etc;
• Graveyard release: At the burial, you might like to release some doves, butterflies or balloons to signify the release of the body, soul or spirit, depending on your beliefs.