Funeral services becoming more unique

January 05, 2004|EMILY BURTON

A wise person once observed the only sure things in life are death and taxes. As a growing number of final memorials shift toward the unique and personal, the funeral scene is becoming more, er, alive.

"Families are wanting more than just the cookie-cutter funerals, they want something more personal," said veteran funeral director Susan Hunt, of Preston-Pruitt Funeral Home in Danville.

No longer do funerals mandate dark clothing and "Amazing Grace." The process of mourning our dead has grown little, yet the act of honoring our loved ones has evolved from black-clad mourners contemplating mortality to a celebration of a life well-lived.

Locally, funeral trends have grown to reflect this shift in focus. Services have become more personal, including fishing poles, favorite hats and even a beloved motorcycle in the chapel. It has become as much a service for the living as for the deceased.


Always a trend setter, Old Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra's funeral was a personal affair. He was entombed with a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes with a Zippo lighter and 10 dimes, which he always carried in case he needed to make an emergency phone call, reports

The act of bringing the life of the dead to the chapel has grown in popularity in the interim.

During the visitation of a local longtime Baptist minister, loved ones used his Sunday wardrobe as a tribute to his life.

"Each member of his family incorporated one of his neckties into their outfit," said Hunt.

"Picture boards have really become a big thing," said Jayme Phillips of Fox Funeral Home. "They really try to personalize the life of the person who's passed on."

One classic car buff took his final ride in a refurbished Model-A pickup. So many of those in attendance at the Stanford service drove classic cars to the funeral that the townspeople thought it was a cruise-in. It was exactly as he would have wanted it, said family members.

Personal funerals have now evolved to include unique casket designs. Coffins have passed on from simple pine boxes to mahogany and chrome works of art. They come in hundreds of styles and sizes, including theme coffins of nationally ranked universities, popular hobbies or sports teams.

At the graveside, final services are also departing from tradition. The dreary stereotypes of graveside services are being lightened with the addition of helium balloon releases.

"What they do is when they get to the cemetery and have a committal service, the pastor will make a mention of going up to the heavens, and they will release balloons at that time," said Phillips. "I think in the near future we will see more and more of it." Such popular personal touches "makes it a celebration of life that's been lived rather than a mourning of a loss."

Part of the loss felt after a funeral resides in the wallet. With the national average for a funeral reaching $7,000, more people are looking for ways to pinch pennies without cutting corners. In part, this is one reason many families are opting for cremation.

"Mainly because your cemeteries are filling up, and secondly, it's less expensive," said a funeral director at McKinney-Brown Funeral Home in Liberty who asked not to be named.

The popularity of cremation has grown, and traditional multi-day services are falling from favor. Area funeral homes are reporting a three-year trend of abbreviated services, "more same-day services, with visitation and funeral services on the same day," said Hunt.

She attributed the change to migrating families, those who live in remote cities and have to travel to a loved one's services.

That, said Hunt, and "they don't want to prolong it."

"Twenty or 30 years ago, they used to have them laid out two or three nights before the funeral, and that was usually at home," said the McKinney-Brown director. "It's just a change in tradition."

Unlike taxes, death is not so certain anymore as a growing number of funeral services are no longer so cut and died, ah, dried.

But don't expect to hear the Grateful Dead rock a wake any time soon. As with many traditions in central Kentucky, funerals will continue to evolve slowly.

"Of course, we're still in a very traditional area," said Hunt. "Changes are going to move slower, but things are changing."

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