The ‘My Way’ ap­proach grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity

Record Observer - - Senior Satellite - By RYAN HELFEN­BEIN

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.

RYAN HELFEN­BEIN

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