Out-of-ordinary becoming usual for funerals


From wine and cheese themes to party-favor bling, people across the country are doling out dollars and getting creative for what some consider the most important party in a lifetime: the funeral.

Once confined to traditional religious burial rituals, families are beginning to stray from the typical and aim for the personal. One after-death option allowing for more creativity and choice for those mourning loss is cremation.

Cremations will be used in 38 percent of the time this year, an increase from 26 percent in 2000, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

At Iowa City funeral home Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service, 2720 Muscatine Ave., the cremation rate has always rested above 50 percent, with a 6 percent increase this year, funeral director Dan Ciha said. At Lensing Funeral Home, cremation services have plateaued between 35 and 40 percent in recent years following a steady rise, said owner Michael Lensing. That puts the Iowa City locations well above the statewide average of roughly 27 percent.

“I think more and more people are looking at not having the traditional services that their parents and grandparents once did,” Ciha said. “A traditional trip to the cemetery just isn’t as important for them as generations prior.”

And while industry officials said some people are choosing cremation to save money during a recession, most of the constant shift is more just a matter of personal taste and a way to personalize the mourning experience. And some are still spending big to make it happen.

Many clients at Lensing Funeral & Cremation Service are opting to cremate remains and then use a portion of those ashes to be turned into diamond jewelry or paper weights. Ciha has heard requests to have ashes comingled with those of a beloved dog or family member as well.

“There are just so many more options now,” said Lensing. “Years ago, it wasn’t necessarily wrong to make these choices, but it was just a different time, and people didn’t always feel comfortable breaking traditions.”

Some officials said a decline in religion in society, as well as a loosening of rules within certain religious groups, is one cause of the cremation increase.

“Various religions are becoming more accepting of cremation, and those changes are allowing for more freedom of choice in this process,” said Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association.

Many of the creative options families opt for are not even that expensive any more. It’s just about personalization, Koth said.

Locally, clients have found inexpensive tricks to putting a twist on the typical, funeral home urn. Cookie jars, homemade pottery, and tackle boxes are substituted for the standard porcelain container at local funeral homes.

And in comparison with a very traditional funeral service, some families save roughly $2,000 to $3,000 when opting for a personalized cremation, Ciha said.

“It’s all about just incorporating what that individual loved to do in life, expensive or not,” said Koth, who remembered services from this year including motorcycle processions and a parade led by an ice-cream truck for the death of a local ice-cream man.

“People think that cremation replaces things,” said Ciha. “It doesn’t have to eliminate anything. It instead can open up so many more creative options.”

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