Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Memorial Urn

A selection of permanent urns from
American Funeral Supply
(As published in The Dead Beat, Fall, 2012)
In the twelve years-or-so since I served my apprenticeship and received my funeral director’s license, I have had the privilege of arranging cremation services ranging from simple to extravagant for countless families who have chosen the “path of luminous light.” I have often been asked by my colleagues to share why I have had the success in urn sales that I have enjoyed. I am always eager to give my suggestions on how they can achieve similar results in creating a meaningful cremation-related memorialization for the families they serve.
And why have I had this success? The answer is simple, really: I believe in cremation, its merits over burial, and the value of creating a permanent memorial for a life well-lived. A major step in the direction of memorialization is the selection of a permanent vessel for cremated remains.
When a family comes in to make arrangements and you hear they are selecting cremation, what is your first thought? I’m not asking what the trade journal and continuing education say that your reaction should be, or how the owner of the funeral home says you should respond – I mean what is your own gut reaction? For a number of you, I would venture to say that the response falls somewhere in the neighborhood of apathy – if not disdain. This is the stumbling block that must be overcome: embracing cremation. Appreciating the merits of cremation even if you would not select that method for yourself or a member of your family is the most important step toward the perception of trust by your client families.
There is a common idea that a permanent cremation urn is a declinable option for families choosing cremation. Is a casket an option for families choosing burial? Absolutely not! So why is the selection of an urn unnecessary for families choosing cremation? Better yet, why is it that the cardboard or plastic container that comes from the crematory is deemed a worthy vessel for the remains of a human being? The lament and negativity of funeral professionals toward cremation for the last several decades is largely due to their own inaction. Obviously there are times when the temporary container is unavoidable, but I have heard and experienced funeral directors making the statement to a family that the temporary container is sufficient in and of itself for a particular purpose, even when the family is open to the purchase of a permanent memorial urn. Families who choose to bury or scatter cremated remains should be afforded the same option of selecting a memorial urn. If scattering is popular with your families, have a variety of urns including those that can be used for other purposes – such as keeping photographs or other mementos. The bottom line is that allowing human remains to leave a funeral home in the possession of a family in a cardboard or plastic container is inexcusable and is in direct conflict with all ideals of the value of our profession.
If you insist on the temporary container, at least allow the family to make the choice from a selection of containers – reaffirming that they understand that it is the minimum container. This is no more of a sales pressure tactic than requiring a family to choose a casket and/or burial vault for non-cremated human remains. Regardless of the final disposition of the cremated remains, making the assumption and causing the family to believe that a permanent container is not necessary is a detriment to all that our profession stands for – and gives the impression that these remains are not the cremated body of a person who has lived in the midst of their family and friends – but is, instead, merely meaningless ash.
Perhaps it is not the erroneous idea that cremation itself devalues our profession – rather it is the devaluation that funeral professionals have given cremation. It is imperative to overcome negativity in order to be everything that each of your client families demand – regardless of their preferred choices in memorialization. We must all believe in the value of our profession and the necessity of dignity and respect for all human remains.
At least, that's my perspective…