On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down. Woody Allen
Gerry Lougheed Jr. has been a funeral director in Sudbury for 36 years and he’s seen a number of changes in the funeral industry.
“The traditional funeral has changed tremendously,” says Lougheed, who notes many church rituals have been replaced by chapel services, personalized touches, and even wine and cheese receptions.
He remembers when it was normal to have two days of visitation with the funeral on the third day. Today planning the visitation and funeral on the same day is common.
In the “old days” visitations were often grim experiences. “People would whisper and I could never understand that. It’s like they thought they would wake the dead person, which is crazy. That was never going to happen,” says Lougheed.
Twenty-first century funerals often have an “open mic” where people can get up to say something about the deceased. Special music, videos and photographs add to the celebration of life. Collecting photographs and making collages have become a valued part of the grieving process.
“Fifteen years ago when you said ‘start bringing your pictures in,’ people looked at you like you were from Mars,” says Lougheed.
When it comes to death, the veteran funeral director says the challenge is to find the balance of celebrating life and grieving.
“I think if people understand it’s still OK to grieve and at the same time celebrate life, they’ve got it right.”
He recalls a particularly creative funeral for an artist. The artist’s wife took the casket, a natural wood Enviro-Casket, back to her husband’s studio and invited friends to paint on it. The artists painted images of angels, aboriginal icons and shining suns to represent the friend they had lost.
Another funeral that stands out in his mind is one for a NASCAR fan. His wife purchased a metal casket and brought it to a local body shop to have it detailed into a race car complete with NASCAR logos, numbers and colours.
There have been requests for special vehicles to attend the funeral or a horse-drawn carriage to carry the casket from the church to the cemetery.
Mourners can be asked to wear special coloured clothing such as pink to represent breast cancer, or not to wear ties because the deceased hated them.
In the future Lougheed expects there will be an increase in night and weekend funerals to better accommodate work schedules or people who have to come from out of town.
“We’ve had funerals recorded and sent to other parts of the world, and even had a funeral on Skype,” Lougheed says.
Ron Henderson, director of citizen services in Sudbury, says there has been a shift to cremation from embalming and casket burials.
“Twenty years ago, less than 50 percent of people chose cremation. Now 70 percent of people choose cremation.”
Most cemeteries in Sudbury have columbariums which are large granite structures used to house an urn. The container is marked with a decorative plaque.
Mausoleums are indoor buildings where urns and caskets can be kept. Urns can be displayed in a glass box with personal memorabilia.
Mausoleums are popular because they allow for year-round visitation, says Henderson. They are air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.
Going green has become a way of life and death. Lougheed says cremation is not as environment-friendly as people may think. Cremation creates carbons by propane gas flames that burn for two and a half hours at 900 C.
Placing a body that is not embalmed in an Enviro-Casket in a grave with no vault is one of the greenest methods, he says.
Other options for green burials include cardboard or bamboo caskets, jute coffins and biodegradable urns.
A body can be wrapped in a burial shroud, a popular tradition in Islam and Judaism. The shroud appeals to individuals interested in green funerals because the plain white cloth is biodegradable.
Cathy Coe, a funeral director at Lougheed Funeral Homes, says they carry two types of environmentally-friendly caskets made of wood with wooden latches to replace metal and nails. There are no stains, lacquer or artificial fabrics used.
These caskets are generally purchased by Jewish families, but occasionally the green advocate family will purchase one.
“Green” embalming fluids which replace formaldehyde are available, and there are other greener ways being developed. The resomation process uses a water and alkali-based method known as alkaline hydrolysis to break the body down chemically. The promession process involves dry freezing the body.
Henderson says he hasn’t seen a large interest in the green burials yet, but, “I see it being a growing trend.”
Another memorial option that has grown immensely in popularity is a memorial tattoo.
Phil Falldien, a tattoo artist at Canadian Red Dragon, says,“I don’t recall a full week without someone coming in for a memorial tattoo.
“Remembering someone with a permanent marking is a very big honour,” he says. “I can’t think of a better way.”