Times are changing in funeral industry | NevadaAppeal.com

Times are changing in funeral industry

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal FitzHenry's Funeral Home and Crematory funeral director Jim Smolenski talks Thursday about the renovations under way that will allow the company to offer more options and peace of mind to grieving families.

For centuries, funerals for the dearly departed have been long on ceremony and mourning. Recently, a more popular choice has become a celebration of life or tribute.

Other trends funeral directors are seeing are that cremation is growing in popularity and some families are opting not to hold any service at all.

Jim Smolenski, general manager of FitzHenry’s Funeral Home and Crematory, said the industry is trying to bring back the importance of some type of memorialization.

“The person may have had a bad (funeral) experience, and therefore chose not to want one,” Smolenski said. “It used to be death, cremation, boom, all was done.

“Cremation is only a method of disposition of the body. The family can still have a viewing, and more.”

FitzHenry’s is remodeling a section of their building to allow a viewing window in the cremation area. It allows a member of the family to verify the person entering the cremation chamber is their loved one.

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“It is a very dignified process,” Smolenski said.

John and Debbie Lawrence, owners/operators of Autumn Funerals and Cremations in Carson City, said the biggest change they have seen over the past 17 years in the business is the increase of cremations.

He said about 90 percent of the families they’ve served asked for cremation. Of that 90 percent, 30 percent do not request a service, and 10 percent of their business is completed by fax, phone and/or e-mail.

“But we see the reason as more families do not have roots here or a family plot at the cemetery,” he said. “Northern Nevada is a transient area.”

He said families are also requesting a more “simple” service. A special time when they can still say good-bye to their loved one.

“With that, we, as an industry, are trying to provide more of what the person would have wanted by personalizing the service,” he said. “We do this through pictures, DVD presentation, a memento table with some of their personal items like craftwork if they were a carpenter, or gardening tools.”

Walton’s Chapel of the Valley has been in Carson City since 1965 and is the only funeral business in Carson City with a cemetery. Manager Rick Noel said he has seen a transition from the focus on mourning the death of a person to a celebration of life lived.

“People still grieve, but the life is honored and celebrated,” Noel said. “But a change that concerns me is the families who don’t celebrate or honor a life. To me, every life needs to be celebrated.”

Noel said in the past, funerals weren’t personalized. Now people are sharing personal moments and engage in the ceremony.

“In 2005, the percentage of cremations across the U.S. was 31. By 2025, it will be 51 percent,” he said.

“But what is most important, is for the family to have a ceremony to cope and deal with the grief. I feel very strongly about that because grief will rip you apart.”

Area funeral home managers say any service held helps the survivors deal with grief and allows for closure. And once the body is cremated, the survivors still have options as to what to do with the remains. Ashes may be placed into creative pieces of jewelry, beautifully crafted and decorative urns, a box, memory bench, niche pavers – the possibilities are numerous.

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.

Fast facts

In 1999, there were 1,468 crematories and 595,617 cremations, or 25.39 percent of all deaths in the United States.

– Source: Cremation Association of North America

• In a number of areas in the nation, particularly the West Coast and Florida, cremation is the preferred method of disposition.

• In England and Japan, where cemetery space is at a premium, the cremation rate is close to 90 percent.

– Source: http://www.funerals.org/faq