Blessing of the Animals in Portsmouth, NH

Pet funeral trendsFor many of us, companion animals are an integral part of the family; we take them on vacations, care for their every need and, in turn, they share their boundless affection and comfort with us. So it is not surprising that some people may want to keep their beloved companion close even after they pass, or keep them spiritually safe when they are living.

Recently, the Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, NH offered a touching Blessing of the Animals service, which allowed families to bring their beloved pets or representations of them to be blessed. The blessing is not limited to the more common domestic animals such as cats and dogs; snakes, turtles and lizards are equally as welcome to join the festivities and get their blessing. This blessing comes along with the opening of a special Pet Memorial Garden where loose interment of pet ashes may take place, watched over by the statue of St. Francis, known for his love of animals.

We have touched on the issue of pet burials on this blog before—some people opt to be buried with their pet, when possible, others feel that an animal has no place in a proper burial. There is certainly discussion and opinions on both sides. However, this touching ceremony and dedication can easily strike a chord with any pet owner. Forget about controversy, Christ Episcopal Church is saying that all life is important, all of our loved ones deserve to be remembered and treasured, whether they are four-legged or no legged. This is a philosophy we can get behind!

Both the blessing ceremony and the Pet Memorial Garden offer an excellent teaching opportunity for young people. The lesson may be kindness, compassion and the sharing of it with those in our care; or it may just be a chance to talk about grief and having a special place to go to say goodbye or reconnect with loved ones who have passed.

Most importantly, this is another great way to build community within the parish, to welcome an even broader range of people to the communal fold.

What do you think? Is this a ceremony that you would find useful? Would your children enjoy sharing such a special day with their pets and parents? Let us know in the comments section!

All Hallow’s Eve: A Time to Remember Our Loved Ones

All Hallow's Eve

Each fall, Halloween starts off the holiday season with season favorites such as jack-o-lanterns, candy apples and trick-or-treating. Although it’s inevitably one of the most fun and colorful holidays, Halloween has a deeper, more meaningful history than its bright and glossy image may suggest. In fact, it is a unique blend of Celtic and Christian beliefs, one that celebrates the remembrance of loved ones who have passed and touches on our ever-present wondering about the afterlife.

Originally known as the Celtic Samhain, the holiday celebrated the essential circle of human existence—life and death follow one another in a myriad of ways. In the fall, especially, this circle is underscored, while leaves turn and fall to the ground, we gather a final harvest of the summer’s growth. Human life imitates this pattern in nature, as the elderly pass, new babies are born to continue on their legacy.

Samhain, also known as the festival of the dead, was believed to be the time when souls traveled to the world beyond. Because the veil between the worlds was thinned, this was also the time when the living could connect more easily with their deceased loved ones. If regrets needed to be put to rest, if old sorrows needed to be communicated, Samhain was the time to do it.

As Christianity took root and blended in Celtic beliefs, Samhain became Hallows Eve—also a time when the dead visited the living, but now the connection was menacing, something to be feared. The supernatural took on a fearful cast and ghosts were no longer welcomed to visit or share this Hallowed day with us as freely.

Over time, what was once sacred turned scary, and eventually became a source of fun and games. Yet there is something valuable in seeing this holiday as it was once intended—a time of remembrance, a day to communicate with those who walked before us and send them our love and understanding. Halloween has a long and fascinating history, so as we gear our children up for a night of fun and get ready to open our door to share treats with the neighborhood kids, why not also take a moment to think about what it all means and from whence it came. And if it’s true and we indeed have this one day where we are a bit closer to those who have passed on, let’s make the most of it; let’s write them a letter, listen to their favorite song or indulge in their favorite meal—it can even be trick-or-treat candy.

Is Attendance at a Funeral Important? Rent-A-Mourner Will Eliminate the Concern

Lone mourner at Arlington Cemetary

Whom do you picture being at your funeral? For most people, it is friends and family, loved ones coming to say goodbye. But what if you don’t have many friends or family? Is there a stigma attached with low funeral attendance? It seems like this may be the case in the UK.

Rent-A-Mourner is a legitimate service provider in Essex, England—their service simply provides actors to attend a funeral. Not only are their people well-trained in the art of mourning, they are also generally briefed on the life and personality of the deceased so that they do not seem out of place should a conversation strike up with another attendee. Furthermore, they’ll take any direction that the family of the deceased chooses to share—for example, staying clear of real attendees or mingling as friends.

It may seem strange to some, but this practice of rentable mourners is actually no new occurrence. In many parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and the Middle East, this is common practice, dating as far back as the 1800s. In some countries, in fact, this is a much-desired job that pays rather well. While not common practice in the United States, some funeral directors have observed that it is not entirely unheard of either, especially in the south.  In Taiwan, the practice is so deeply entrenched in popular culture, that there is actually a famous mourner, known for her prowess at expressing grief on command.

It is not only for popularity’s sake that services such as these exist. More pragmatically, a person may not have many family members living or they may have newly relocated. In some Asian cultures it is believed that large and loud sendoffs are necessary for smooth crossover into the world beyond; this is a softer look at the practice—instead of being guided by vanity, hired mourners can also be considered a kindness, a way for even more people to be reached and touched by the deceased. Taiwan’s famous mourner explains that she is able to cry at every funeral because she listens to the stories around the room and connects with the grief that is surrounding her and in that way she is also affected by the death, also mourning the one who has passed.

While entirely unconventional in our culture, hiring mourners is simply another kind of tradition—it works for some and may seem entirely unnecessary by others. Some say that it is no different than burning money or offering animal sacrifices to commemorate or honor the death of a loved one. What do you think? Does this practice seem crass to you? Or Interesting? Would you ever consider hiring mourners?

Is Immortality Our Goal?

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Humanity has always been intrigued by the possibility of eternal life. From explorers searching for the Fountain of Youth to Silicon Valley spending millions on genome research, aimed at extending life, we have never given up the dream of living forever. But is this really what we want? Is immortality the end-result of a fully evolved human race?

Of course, there is no one answer. It is difficult to wish for death. For those of us who have watched loved ones succumb to illness or old age, it is inconceivable to wish that pain on anyone else. So it is no wonder, then, that when we are faced with people like Jeanne Calments, to date the person with the longest recorded lifespan, we wish for our parents, our grandparents, our children to be that lucky. We are obsessed with health fads like activity trackers and crash diets; we love the idea of a pill that will extend our vitality.

But on the other side—immortality has its downsides. Scientists project that severe climate change effects will be felt as early as 2036, not that far into the future! What’s more our planet is struggling to support a population that is at triple what it is able to handle. Humanity is facing some tough challenges ahead and beyond simply not wanting to see tragedy unfold, we might also consider how our longevity is contributing to these issues.

Yet still, the promise of immortality is alluring. And today, an even newer take on this old idea is emerging—maybe we don’t live forever, but we keep our fitness, our energy, our abilities well into old age. Maybe this is where science meets utility and practicality. The Methuselah Foundation is exploring regenerative medicine that promises to make a 90-year-old feel like a 50-year-old. Google-backed biotech company, Calico, is looking into ways to “cure” aging. While these organizations are promising results in the decades to come, Elysium Health is suggesting that their results are already here, quantifiable and attainable in the form of a pill. Users report having more restful sleep and significantly more energy, while the packaging and marketing goes a long way to making the claims seem legitimate. What’s more, the founder is the leading expert on aging at MIT—definitely an expert on the topic!

As we look to the future, how do these advancements fit in? We have been raised to believe that death is simply a part of life, it is the way the world works, but now we are posed with the possibility that maybe it isn’t. Is this an affront to science or is this simply the reaching of full potential? Where do you stand on immortality? Would you want to live forever or do you believe that everything, life included, has a season?

5 Reasons Cremations Are on the Rise

 

Cremation UrnsThis year, cremation has surpassed burial by roughly three percent in the United States. Currently 48% of Americans are being cremated, with estimates predicting that that number will rise to 70% by 2030. That signals a huge cultural shift an is reflective of the social norms that abound today. If you are wondering why the numbers have increased so dramatically, here are some reasons:

1. Cost

Cremation is undoubtedly cheaper; it is estimated that cremation will cost a third of the price of a burial. End of life costs are notoriously and rightfully a huge concern for families and individuals and cremation offers to lesson this stressor. Many individuals are even opting to make the decision to be cremated as part of their end of life planning, easing any unnecessary guilt their loved ones may feel for choosing the less costly option.

2. Grave site Maintenance

Not only is burial more expensive, there is also the consideration of grave site maintenance. For many, this is a substantial commitment, especially if the burial site is not or will not be near to their place of living. Cremation allows for more flexibility and addresses these concerns entirely.

3. More Acceptance from Faith

For some Americans, cremation was not an option due to the restrictions placed by their religious authorities. While this is still the case for some, in many cases the restrictions have been lifted, allowing for more end of life options. Furthermore, many more Americans have moved away from strict religious affiliation and are much more amenable to the idea of cremation.

4. Environmental Concerns

Although not all cremations are environmentally safe, it is certainly a more sustainable option than burial. Many people are not supportive of placing harmful chemicals, associated with embalming, into the earth and cremation assures that this will be avoided.

5. Flexibility and Personalization

Cremains can be scattered in various ways and in various places, they can also be taken along when a family relocates. There is also the option of creative disposals, including creating jewelry and art, or carrying on a legacy of environmentalism through being infused into coral reefs or grown into trees. The possibilities are various and many are much more likely to be in keeping with individual preferences and personalities.

Whether cremation is something that you have considered before or it is an entirely new thought, there is no denying that many more Americans are finding what they are looking for in this flexible and customizable option.

Social Media In the Grieving Process

Social Media and Grief

Most of us are all too used to complaining about social media. Even in the realm of death and dying, social media can cause trouble. But it can also be surprisingly healing, surprisingly helpful in a time of grief.

Going from “I” to “We”

Social media posts are essentially one big selfie—we post pictures of ourselves, share media that underscores our opinions and generally focus on what’s going on with us. When a death occurs, however, and someone happens to share that, that person’s entire network shifts focus, offering words and “likes” of support. Some may say this is a superficial way to show affection and comfort, but it is this very superficiality of the medium that allows deeper messages to be shared. People who normally would not find the words to speak are braver on Facebook; in the world of social media, barriers can be lowered more easily.

If nothing else, it is heartening to see that we can turn off our stream of self-examination in order to offer condolences, share words of wisdom and experience.

Eliminating Taboo Around Death

Although we have come a long way, there is still discomfort around death that sometimes prevents the topic from arising. As more and more conversations about grief and dying are cropping up on social media, that discomfort is slowly but surely dissipating. If these discussions can reach the entirely informal medium of Facebook or Twitter, then they are surely becoming more mainstream.

Getting rid of the taboo around death is a healthy pursuit and it is one we in the funeral services industry come across often. There is no getting around it, death will come and the more prepared you the better for everyone involved. If it takes Facebook to reach that goal, then so be it.

Web Memorials

It has become common practice for people to create Facebook memorial pages for a loved one who has passed away or, alternately, keeping an existing Facebook page as the memorial. This is yet another way in which social media is helping instead of harming; these memorials are often an excellent way to share your remembrance with others and connect with family and friends around a common grief.

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Although some of the social norms around death and dying are still being defined on the web, it seems that some things remain the same no matter the medium—grieving brings people together, helps to heal and reconnect.

Can You Trust Your Funeral Home? 5 Ways to Make Sure You Are Making a Good Choice

Tour the funeral home

If you are going through the difficult and heart-wrenching process of burying a loved one, the trustworthiness of a funeral home is probably not at the top of your list of concerns. Most funeral homes treat their customers with the respect and sensitivity that you would expect, however it is not always clear what may be going on behind closed doors.

In a shocking reveal, newly hired funeral home employee in Panama City, Florida found several decomposing bodies, improperly stored and mishandled in the funeral home’s storage area. Although it is nothing short of atrocious that something like this could happen, it is essential to be on the lookout for red flags. Here are a few ways to protect yourself when making this important decision:

1. Take a Tour of the Facility

This is especially true if you notice that the front of the house is not well maintained. In many cases, a funeral home will not only be happy to show you around, they will make a tour part of your consultation. Being wary of showing the facility is a sign that something may be amiss.

2. Find Reviews

Nowadays, it is easy to find reviews on just about every business; funeral homes are no exception. Take a look at the funeral home’s listing on Yelp or Facebook, or if you prefer an even more credible source, talk to others who may have been customers there. In most cases, if there is something to be concerned about, it will be flagged in reviews.

3. Consult the Better Business Bureau

The BBB is an excellent source of historical information about any complaints or issues that a business may have experienced. If there is any evidence of wrongdoing or if, on the other hand, a funeral home is doing a great job, you will be able to find out through the Better Business Bureau.

4. Check Out the Website

This may be something that you have already done, but reviewing a funeral home’s website could be a great way to find out how professional and reliable they are—is the website up-to-date? Is there credible information readily available? All of these can give you cues on whether or not a particular funeral home is a good choice for you.

5. How Long Have They Been in Business?

While it would be unfair to say that newer funeral homes are not providing good services, the length of time one has been in business is a legitimate way to gauge trust. Most reputable funeral homes have been operating for decades and have a strong, recognizable presence in their communities. If you find a newer funeral home, no need to automatically discount it, but you might want to look even closer at their website, their facility and their reviews.

A bit of research can go a long way in ensuring that you are dealing with an honest, respectable funeral home.

Phaneuf Named Top Family Business!

Phaneuf

Although our primary purpose on this blog is to provide resources and advice for our readers, today we wanted to share something of which we are very proud: we have been recognized as one of Business NH Magazine’s Top Family Businesses! We are the 14th oldest family business and among the longest-held family businesses in the state. Additionally, our company growth puts us among the top quarter of fastest-growing family businesses in the state, 36th of the 157 family businesses listed this year. We are enormously proud of our success and longevity in New Hampshire.

The reason this news is so important for us to share is because we never would have made it this far without the loyalty and support of our community and, by extension, our clients.

Keeping it in the Family

When the Phaneuf family first opened its doors in 1906, our primary goal was to serve the growing population in the area. Over the course of four generations and 110 years, we have grown quite a bit, but our mission has never changed. We still seek to provide the highest quality of service on all levels, still keep the needs of our clients front and center and we continue to evolve to meet varying needs, as they arise. In fact, being a fourth-generation family-owned business, gives us a rare clarity of purpose that dates back to our founder, Jean-Baptiste Phaneuf. We know exactly what we are about, and that is you, our clients.

What’s more, we are truly a family business. Phaneuf is not just a name to be used in our logo, nor is our family just a figurehead—we are actively involved in every step of the process. Multiple members of our family are fully immersed in the trade in a variety of capacities. We are also community-oriented and have always sought to immerse ourselves in community initiatives—providing charitable funding, hosting beneficial events and sharing free resources.

So what does this mean for you?

We understand that choosing a funeral provider is a difficult and sometimes overwhelming process; you may be grieving or particularly vulnerable after the death of a loved one or dealing with a terminal illness. We want you to be sure that when you choose Phaneuf, you are choosing a trusted business that seeks to offer you all the support and advice that you may need. With more than a century of experience, you can be sure that we will do everything that we can to lift some of the burden off your shoulders.

It is an honor to be on this list because it reinforces our values and our goals. It is heartening to know that doing what we love and doing it well has proven to be what it takes to propel us into the future. Still growing, still expanding, we are also always conscious of the needs of our clients. We will continue to provide you with excellent services, advice and resources and we intend to keep our family legacy alive and well for generations to come.

A Changing Landscape: Funeral Homes in the 21st Century

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Death is a given, yet many funeral homes are seeing a notable decline in business. Of course, lower death rates are hardly cause to lament, yet it is interesting to observe how an industry that has stayed essentially the same for decades is now tasked with the need for a significant evolution.  As culture shifts become ever more apparent, customers become more savvy in their end-of-life choices and religion becomes less of a concern, funeral homes must adjust to a new generation and, perhaps, a new business model. 

Meeting New Needs

This year, cremation surpassed traditional burials in popularity. People are more inclined to choose the more flexible, cheaper option that better fits faster-paced lifestyles. What’s more, religious restrictions around this formerly taboo option have been largely lifted or ceased to be a consideration. For many funeral homes, this means a decrease in traditional customers and a shift in perspective.

Beyond cremation, there is rapidly increasing interest in alternative ceremonies. It is no longer enough to prepare for two or three alternatives in the “traditional” funeral—today’s funeral directors must also be prepared to accommodate all manner of beliefs and practices. Without flexibility in this areas, it is likely that a funeral home will not survive in the long term.

Family Business Losing the Family

Funeral homes have historically been family businesses, passing down practices and business models from generation to generation. Yet with the wealth of opportunity and variety available to the next generation, the funeral business is not always their top choice. In many cases, this is a demanding job, requiring constant availability and a significant commitment to a community and its way of life.

Although, of course, funeral homes need not rely exclusively on family involvement, family-owned businesses do hold a certain trustworthiness and perceived reliability, features that may suffer if a change in ownership happens frequently.

A funeral home that is not willing to change to accommodate its new demographic may face difficulties ahead. Yet we maintain that change is fundamentally good. We are successful only because of our customers; their changing needs give direction and purpose to our business model. Phaneuf has built its reputation on our sensitivity to customer needs; we are always willing to personalize, always willing to listen to new ideas and practices. As the funeral industry changes, we are ready to change with it.

A Changing Landscape: Funeral Homes in the 21st Century

Phaneuf has many options for today's funerals

Death is a given, yet many funeral homes are seeing a notable decline in business. Of course, lower death rates are hardly cause to lament, yet it is interesting to observe how an industry that has stayed essentially the same for decades is now tasked with the need for a significant evolution.  As culture shifts become ever more apparent, customers become more savvy in their end-of-life choices and religion becomes less of a concern, funeral homes must adjust to a new generation and, perhaps, a new business model.

Meeting New Needs

This year, cremation surpassed traditional burials in popularity. People are more inclined to choose the more flexible, cheaper option that better fits faster-paced lifestyles. What’s more, religious restrictions around this formerly taboo option have been largely lifted or ceased to be a consideration. For many funeral homes, this means a decrease in traditional customers and a shift in perspective.

Beyond cremation, there is rapidly increasing interest in alternative ceremonies. It is no longer enough to prepare for two or three alternatives in the “traditional” funeral—today’s funeral directors must also be prepared to accommodate all manner of beliefs and practices. Without flexibility in this areas, it is likely that a funeral home will not survive in the long term.

Family Business Losing the Family

Funeral homes have historically been family businesses, passing down practices and business models from generation to generation. Yet with the wealth of opportunity and variety available to the next generation, the funeral business is not always their top choice. In many cases, this is a demanding job, requiring constant availability and a significant commitment to a community and its way of life.

Although, of course, funeral homes need not rely exclusively on family involvement, family-owned businesses do hold a certain trustworthiness and perceived reliability, features that may suffer if a change in ownership happens frequently.

A funeral home that is not willing to change to accommodate its new demographic may face difficulties ahead. Yet we maintain that change is fundamentally good. We are successful only because of our customers; their changing needs give direction and purpose to our business model. Phaneuf has built its reputation on our sensitivity to customer needs; we are always willing to personalize, always willing to listen to new ideas and practices. As the funeral industry changes, we are ready to change with it.