—Much ink is spilled in the funeral trade press about "personalizing" funerals. Said personalization often amounts to little more than cutesy corners for caskets (deer if dad was a hunter, a golf tee, etc.). Funeral director BT Hathaway of Fall River, Massachusetts, has come up with something different. We don't promote products on the FCA blog for obvious reasons, but BT's MemryStone deserves a look for standing out as something genuine in a crowd of overpriced highly-marketed gee-gaws. It's quiet, it compels hands-on participation by the grieving, and honestly, it's touching. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Archaeologists have found evidence of aromatic herbs and flowers placed in graves at least 14,000 years ago. And, historically, cremations (funeral pyres of various constructions) have involved the participation of family and community members for thousands of years. Regardless the disposition, less "modernized" societies do not have worries about the identity of remains or the completeness of funeral rites. Multiple eye witnesses can attest the authenticity of every ceremonial step.
Not so with contemporary cremation.
All too often paperwork gets signed and the deceased's body disappears behind closed doors, replaced days later by a nondescript plastic box and a serial number.
Certainly we find ways to grieve and move forward despite this detached and anonymous process, but wouldn't peace of mind come more readily, if survivors felt more connected and confident in the cremation act itself?
As a funeral director in Massachusetts, I have experienced this emptiness myself hundreds of times over the years. Here we do not have the option of owning our own cremation facilities. Instead we must rely on a third party to provide these services. We monitor our cremation vendors and know they follow proper protocols, but the process feels less complete to me. I would much rather oversee each step for myself.
For twenty years, just like everyone who encounters modern cremation, I have gone along with the routines presented to me by the crematory powers that be. I looked around trade shows hoping to find alternatives, and considered a few ideas of my own, but nothing I reviewed could address the physical and emotional gap created by the cremation itself. Instead, I found black plastic boxes as far as the eye could see.
Then one day (yes, it sounds like a cliche but it's true) I saw a decorative box with the word "Love" on the top. Nothing fancy or expensive, the sort of box you find at one of the big chain craft stores. But it triggered a thought, "How do you bring love into the sterile experience of modern cremation?" From that moment, I have devoted myself to transforming the experience of cremation.
After a great deal of research, tinkering and experimentation a uniquely personal alternative has come together. I call it MemryStone. A MemryStone is a ceramic "token" or marker which survivors inscribe with a personal message, place with the deceased, and send through the entire cremation process with their loved one. The ceramic comes through changed but intact with the remains. In this way, MemryStones do three important things. First they create a sense of connection and guardianship at the very beginning of cremation. Second, the handwritten inscription offers a much more personal form of identity assurance as opposed to an institutional serial number. And third, the finished stones serve as a uniquely personal link to the love and memories one must now carry in the heart.
Since March, we have offered MemryStones through our funeral homes to remarkable effect. Survivors have embraced the idea much more strongly than we had imagined, and most have chosen to include one or more MemryStones as part of their cremation arrangements. It turns out that the more we ask, the more we realize how many survivors harbor concerns about the identity of cremated remains. And the more heartfelt messages we see written down on these ceramics, the more we appreciate how much meaning a simple inscription can bring.
In one case, a nephew wrote the word "Peace" as a one word memorial to an uncle who had not known peace for many years. And on our first MemryStone, an 80-year-old son wrote a farewell message to his 106-year-old mother. MemryStones transcend boundaries and open the door to meaning for survivors of all ages, religions and ethnic backgrounds. It seems likely this cremation option will help survivors far beyond our southeast New England home.
Which is not to say you should start asking your local funeral provider to start carrying the MemryStone line. From the very beginning, this product has felt like something survivors should purchase for themselves and bring with them to the arrangements conference. In this way the ceramic also becomes an empowerment tool for cremation consumers. It sends the message that cremation matters, and that the funeral home involved should give special attention to the services provided, no matter how elaborate or simplified. MemryStone makes a difference on many different levels.
So why a posting on the FCA website?
Put simply, MemryStone doesn't belong to a deep pockets corporation. We mold these ourselves in a small basement workshop and need to build a following one person at a time. One day we may have the staff and resources to run consumer surveys and advertising campaigns, but for now we need to gather feedback from as many thoughtful people as we can reach. The Daily Dirge Blog seems like a potent place to begin. After all, FCA is devoted to actively seeking funeral alternatives and has a long history of questioning the status quo. FCA members think, and your feedback should help us to learn and grow.
Help people find us, because in 14,000 years we humans haven't changed that much. Participation matters, and MemryStone can fulfill this need for thousands of people if only they know whom to call.