The ‘My Way’ approach growing in popularity
Perhaps Frank Sinatra was not only a singer but a visionary when he recorded the lyrics of his classic, “My Way,” in 1968. This song is about a man reflecting on life as his end nears. As the song goes, he walks you through his story of trials and tribulations, but coming back to that oh so famous line – “I did it my way.” What is an interesting tie with this classic to the death care industr y is not only has this become an extremely popular song to close out funeral services, but it truly defines the modern day funeral and cremation experience.
We saw this first hand with the passing of Joan Rivers – an iconic comedic star who was of the Jewish faith, which has traditional rituals and customs when a death occurs. According to US Magazine, Joan wrote to her daughter Melissa prior to passing ”…”I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing ‘Mr. Lonely.’ …And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.”
We not only see these unique requests from Hollywood, but right here in our home town. Farmers having tractors carrying the casket, rather than being escorted by the hearse. Friends and family gathering in a comedy club rather than a church or synagogue for a service to honor the love of laughter by the recently departed. Perhaps this unique way to experience a tribute to a life lived is brought about by the increasing popularity of cremation, or is it just simply the fact that todays consumer wants a unique experience? A recent survey conducted by the funeral industry answers this for us. It found that nearly three quarters of its respondents do not want a typical funeral. In addition to this, it found that the future of the funeral and memorial experience will become a time to share in that person’s life adventures, and in a sense, walk into that person’s life one last time. In other words, it doesn’t always have to be the traditional way of things…and as the industry survey, and Joan Rivers’ last requests prove, the majority of us will want it done “My Way”.
Services can be uniquely designed “My Way,” but there still lies an even bigger question … what do we do with the casketed remains or urn after the service? Better yet, can a final resting place incorporate this “My Way” theme as well?
For most of us, we have the choice of either ground burial at a cemetery or a niche in one of those columbarium walls. These typically only provide the personalization option of engraving one unique design on the monument, marker, or niche plate in attempt to tell the story of that person’s life. However, there is more to a life than just a name with dates of birth and passing. Fortunately, cemeteries are starting to turn an eye to these demands and are beginning to provide a unique experience for their consumers as well. Today we are finding some cemeteries to offer scattering ponds that are inhabited by black swans to even a memorial garden surrounding a putting green, all on the grounds of the cemetery. In a South Carolina cemetery there’s early design for a lazy river to be winding its way through the cemetery grounds. Closer here to home, in Annapolis, we have a themed Chesapeake Bay Cremation Garden, consisting of a nearly 9 foot tall memorial in the shape of a Chesapeake Bay lighthouse, surrounded by oyster shells and grasses native to our area. Lazy rivers and lighthouse memorials, putting greens and black swan inhabited ponds are only a few of the examples we are finding in an attempt for cemeteries to offer “My Way” options. Each attempting to provide a story of a life lived and not just a standard of rest.
If this is not your cup of tea or just a tad over the top, monuments can be crafted today for traditional grave sites that can be “My Way” creations that tell a person’s story as well. We have seen monuments created in the shape of a fireman’s helmet with a life like fireman standing next to it for a local firefighter who was laid to rest after passing in the line of duty. Another example is located in Bestgate Memorial Park in Annapolis where a 6 foot monument was created as a replica of a tree with the individual’s initials carved into it as high school sweethearts might do in the schoolyard.
Today, almost anything can be done in order to keep a person “living on” in both areas of end of life commemoration — the funeral service experience and now even the cemetery. The goal behind funeral service today should be to tell that person’s story in a way that may be remembered for generations to come. One can only imagine what Joan Rivers may have requested if she had known the unique offerings cemeteries can accommodate today. Perhaps Sinatra was far beyond his time when he sang those famous lyrics, as “I did it my way” seems to be the common approach when it comes to a cremation, funeral and even cemetery experience today.
Ryan Helfenbein is a licensed funeral director, certified pre-planning counselor and partner in his family’s businesses Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, P.A., FHN Insurance Co., Inc. and Lasting Tributes by Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Cremation and Funeral Care, P.A.
Reprinted from Nov. 25, 2015.