By Andrew Clark , Chief Customer Officer, Foundation Partners Group
My grandfather, Herbert George Clark, was a Naval flight mechanic who died in a plane crash off the coast of Newfoundland while traveling home from Morocco in January 1961. I never met him and his remains were never recovered, however, he has a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. I have visited it several times and, while his body is not there, I am so grateful he has a permanent place of memorialization.
Every life makes an impact on others and deserves to have a permanent, public place of memorialization – a place where family, friends and future generations can go to visit and remember. It also provides comfort after services and the funeral are over.
While research from both the National Funeral Directors Association and the Cremation Association of North America confirms that cremations have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, that increase is part of the overall upward trend in cremations we’ve witnessed over the past 20 years. The North American cremation rate increased from 31.2% in 2004 to 47% in 2014 and 54.6% in 2019, according to the CANA 2020 Annual Statistics Report. It’s projected to be 63% by 2025. These numbers only increase the importance of discussing permanent placement of cremated remains with families in both preneed and at-need meetings.
Here at Foundation Partners Group, where cremation makes up 86% of all dispositions across our more than 150 locations, the pandemic has had very little impact on cremation rates. Although many final placements of cremated remains have been delayed due to restrictions around gatherings, we continue to experience a 1.5% to 2% annual increase in cremations, which is at or slightly above the industry average.
According to CANA research, a wider range of memorial options is one of the key reasons Americans choose cremation over traditional burial. Many families elect to take cremated remains to their homes. While it may be comforting to have grandma’s urn on the mantel, the ability to “go and remember” doesn’t extend beyond immediate family members. In addition, over time, an urn passed from generation to generation can be lost or even forgotten in an attic or closet.
Even families who choose to scatter their loved one’s cremated remains in a meaningful location should consider having a permanent place of memorialization. I know many individuals, for example, who have found great comfort and peace in visiting places like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
Deciding on the type of final memorial placement is a very personal decision and, as funeral service professionals, it’s our job to help each family find the right place to honor their loved one where they can find comfort for generations to come.
The options can be as varied as the individual lives they honor, and our Foundation Partners properties are a perfect illustration of that fact. From our Cremation Garden at Greenlawn Memorial Park, in Columbia, South Carolina, to historic Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Mausoleum in Portland, Oregon, families can find comfort in knowing they have chosen the right places for the permanent remembrance of their loved ones.
Many families are surprised to learn of the personalization that is possible when interring cremated remains. The Celebration of Life Room within the mausoleum at Highland Memorial Park in Ocala, Florida, for example, gives families an opportunity to tell a life’s story through personal mementos and decorations within beautiful glass-front niches. And, in perhaps the country’s most unique final resting place, Lane Memorial Gardens in Eugene, Oregon, offers families the opportunity to inter cremated remains in the Peace Columbarium, a 1960s-inspired repository housed in a renovated Volkswagen van with an eye-catching psychedelic paint job.
I spent the first 10 years of my career as a funeral director in Central Florida and whenever I talk about permanent memorialization of cremated remains, one particularly heartbreaking story comes to mind. It involves a husband and wife who lost two young children in a car crash with their grandparents. The parents selected cremation due to the condition of the remains and, at the time of the arrangements, were not sure what they were going to do with the cremated remains.
After we completed the funeral ceremony and the cremation, they decided to pick up the urn and take it home. After about two weeks, the mother called me and said it was too emotionally difficult to have the children’s remains in her home. The parents came in and we discussed permanent placement options. Their only request was to find an option that allowed them to be together with their children when they themselves died. We reviewed ground burial, private family estate and columbarium options.
Ultimately, they selected the Celebration of Life room at Highland Memorial Park, where their niche could be next to their kids forever. This room is private, requiring a key code to enter, and climate controlled. The glass niche plate allowed the parents to decorate the inside of the niche with pictures and personal items. We used to hold quarterly events there and allow owners in the Celebration of Life room to change out the niche displays. The parents always attended these quarterly events and put things in their children’s niche to celebrate birthdays and holidays. They found great comfort in surrounding their kids with meaningful items and in knowing that, ultimately, their remains will be next to them forever.
Whatever option a family chooses to memorialize their loved one, the process is always made easier when the decedent had the foresight to preplan their final arrangements.
I remain very thankful that in my family’s case, my grandfather’s headstone provides a permanent place for us to visit and remember. I look forward to taking my sons – his great-grandchildren – to visit his marker and telling them his story.