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Theme Funerals Catch On

With theme funerals, families are finding new and different ways to memorialize their loved ones.

Wade Funeral Home in St. Louis, Mo., is one of several funeral homes offering its clients a wide range of service options.

Mourners no longer have to suffer through somber eulogies and dimly-lit wakes.

In “Big Mama’s Kitchen,” loved ones could play cards near the open casket. According to CNN.com, “guests sipped iced tea and Kool-Aid near a stove with a platter of real fried chicken and a couple of fake pies. A loaf of Wonder Bread sat atop the refrigerator, and dishes were in a drainer near the sink.”

No, this isn’t an old-fashioned wake set up in an old woman’s kitchen, but a room at Wade Funeral Home.

And according to Wade’s Web site, the possibilities are endless. They also offer themed services for gardeners, military folks, sports fans, woodsmen and much more.

“In order to make your loved one’s funeral service an authentic celebration of their life, Wade Funeral Home will work with you to create a unique and non-traditional ceremony,” reads the site. “With the use of imagery, custom caskets and merchandise and appropriate decorations, we can assist you in creating a service that will evoke the fondest memories for those in attendance.”

While hoping to maintain a certain level of professionalism and respect, Wade stated on its site that “there is no request that will not be met.”

CNN.com reported that roughly half of Wade’s customers choose these themed services.
Bob Vandenbergh, head of the 13,500-member National Funeral Directors Association, told CNN.com that these “vignette” rites are really an “extension of personalized services that the $20 billion-a-year industry has offered for years.”  Vandenbergh, who owns three Detroit-area funeral homes, said he didn’t mind the unique service options.

“A funeral should be a celebration, a recognition of someone’s life,” he told CNN.com. “It’s not people sitting solemnly in a pew or chair listening to ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ type of thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it doesn’t reflect on who the person was.”

One woman chose to have her cookout-loving husband memorialized in front of a picture of a barbecue grill and next to a cooler stocked with soda and iced tea. The room also had a distinct smell of roasting corn.

CNN.com reported that Joe Queenan wrote in his book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short But Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, that people have “transformed the traditional funeral service into a ludicrous stage show.”

“Funerals are no longer somber rituals where we pay our respects to the dead. They are cabaret. They are parties, fun-fests, or what used to be known as happenings,” he writes.

Themed funerals aren’t the only new innovations on the old somber services. With 26 percent of all people who die being cremated, families and loved ones are also on the lookout for creative ways to save the deceased person’s ashes.

According to the Ledger-Enquirer, the Neptune Society of Northern California recently unveiled its new yacht—a 56-foot-long fiberglass boat that accommodates twice as many mourners scattering remains at sea as its old boat did.

“In a nation that has scores of different car styles, dozens of soda flavors and more than 500 television channels, it seems inevitable we would tire of the modest choices available for the big farewell,” read the Ledger-Enquirer. “While casket makers have gotten inventive with logos and secret keepsake drawers, and a few cemeteries have gone for high-tech headstones, the biggest change by far has been less in the dust-to-dust area and more in the ashes department.”

Many industry entrepreneurs are finding new ways to encase ashes in everyday items like violins and garden gnomes. Others are on the hunt for unique places to dispose of ashes, whether that means scattering, burying or sinking them.

A San Diego company even “packed remains into fireworks and provided a Fourth-of-July-like farewell, complete with choreographed music,” the Ledger-Enquirer reported.

Creative Cremains creates urns that “reflect the personalities of those they will hold. From bronze busts to carefully replicated ceramic ruby slippers.”

The Ledger-Enquirer reported that Eternal Reefs, based in Georgia, has some staying power. “Remains are mixed into concrete and used to form artificial reef balls, which are placed off shore where the underwater habitat needs a boost,” it said.

“The funeral industry is so slow to change,” Tom Simonson, president of the Cremation Association of North America, told the Ledger-Enquirer. “It’s just at a snail’s pace. We’re just not seeing the innovation and creativity that I think we need to push us over the edge. I can feel it coming, but it’s not there just yet.”

But, it is in a new movie by Miramax. “Plots With a View” is about rival funeral directors trying to beat out the competition. Part of that competition, according to Pan Terra Film Company, involves using themed services as an alternative to the hum-drum traditional services.

The film stars Alfred Molina and Christopher Walken.

According to CNN.com, Mary Wong, a Florida grief counselor, author and developer of a national directory of bereavement support groups and services, questioned the wisdom of such services.

“The last thing we want to do is have the image of a casket in a kitchen replayed in a survivor’s mind every time they think of their loved one and every time they enter a kitchen in the future,” Wong told CNN.com.

She suggested consulting children and teenagers, as well as other family members, to make sure they are comfortable with the idea.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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