Flashy Funerals – A Last Chance to Make a Good Impression

September 23, 2009
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The hunter’s family came in with a simple photograph of the deceased, snapped during a trek through the woods. The funeral director asked the family members to describe the man in the photo.?

“They said he worked hard all his life, but when he had time off, he just loved to go to the woods and hunt,” recalls Michael Register, senior funeral director at the Dorsey-E. Earl Smith Memory Gardens Funeral Home in Lake Worth.

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Intrigued, the funeral director, a genial man of 38, asked the hunter’s wife if there were any other commemorative items she’d like to bring in. She came in with her husband’s camouflage garb, his favorite fishing pole and mounted animals, including a large alligator head that was placed next to the funeral guest book.

With the family’s help, Register and his staff transformed the funeral home’s large chapel into a hunter’s shrine for the visitation some months ago.

“It was something. It looked like a cigar den,” says Jack Di Giacomo, the funeral home’s area sales director.

By offering the customized touch, the funeral home tapped into a national trend toward highly individualized funerals, tailor made to reflect the personality, passions and quirks of the deceased.

“We’re not just doing the canned funeral service. We’re trying to capture the best memories,” says Register, the Lake Worth funeral director.

The gray, fill-in-the-blanks funerals of 20 years ago have been replaced with a new standard: photo-lined memorials featuring hand-picked music, DVD slide shows, and multiple eulogies.

“Twenty years ago, the focus was on the person’s death. Now we celebrate the person’s life,” says Gary Quattlebaum, president of Quattlebaum Funeral Home in West Palm Beach. “We’ve had golf carts in here, motorized, customized golf carts. Tennis trophies. Mounted fish.”

At the funeral of one vintage car collector, the family brought in the deceased’s Model A antique car. It was the car that led the funeral procession.

“We are a society of individuals and the funerals reflect that now,” says Quattlebaum. “It becomes more of a Thanksgiving ceremony. It becomes a better mechanism for healing.”

The customized touches have jazzed up an $11 billion-a-year funeral industry in a nation where 2.4 million people die each year and where the average funeral costs about $7,300, according to the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.

Embracing the creative wave, the association awards annual “Keeping It Personal” awards to funeral providers who have staged distinctive memorials or services. One Colorado mortuary arranged an extravagant send-off for one life-of-the-party sort. They pumped up the M

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