Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Fitting Tribute

12/15/2009
cemetery memorial ritual
What makes a funeral or memorial service meaningful? What makes a tribute fitting and moving? This is an issue that has been of great concern to caring funeral directors for many years now, as we strive to meet the changing needs of families. Many different products have come along from candles to casket corners to photo slideshows and dove releases, all offering an opportunity to personalize the funeral experience. These products can be meaningful for some families, but they have a tendency of becoming just one more cookie cutter.

cemetery memorial ritual

In my professional opinion, creating a meaningful and fitting tribute involves a lot of listening, responding creatively, and enlisting the participation of family and friends. A loving and meaningful expression by the survivors is facilitated, not just sold, and the value of the funeral director is his or her ability to offer experience and ideas, not just products.

cemetery memorial ritual
A wonderful example of a meaningful tribute comes to us from Shiloh, Ohio, where friends got together in bitter cold temperatures to dig by hand, the grave of retired sexton Pete Ferrell. Mr. Ferrell was a friendly giving man who dug hundreds and hundreds of graves by hand over his 50 year career. Even after the use of modern excavating equipment became common, he insisted on digging by hand because he thought it was a better method.


The tribute is appropriate to Mr. Farrell's life, work and personality. The participation of his friends makes it an act of love, and a healing and uplifting experience for them. How often do you see people digging a grave by hand in frigid temperatures with big smiles on their faces? These people will never forget their experience. They have acknowledged the reality of the situation, and fully embraced an active role in respectfully laying their friend to rest. Mr. Ferrell would surely be proud, and the survivors have worked through their grief in a positive way. That's what makes a fitting tribute.

To read the wonderful article by Dave Polcyn and for more photos, visit
For more stories about meaningful services, visit:

4 comments:

Kristine Bentz said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Patrick. Such an active role in a death ritual can be life changing for the grieving. As someone who has helped dig and fill the grave of someone I love, I write from the heart.

Charles Cowling said...

Love this, Pat. And what a marvellous sense of community. The spontaneity says so much.

I agree with you: the essential elements of a good funeral ceremony cost nothing: people have to build on that. The effect of so much merchandise is to prettify only -- and trivialise at worst. And, yes, as you say, there's a certain amount of sameiness about funerals that employ the same elements of what turns out to be ironically termed personalization.

Funny, our thoughts seem to be turned in the same direction at the moment. But whereas I tend to make myself sardonic, you never fail to warm my heart. Thank you!

Rob said...

Interesting gesture to honor the man. Hand digging a grave is hard task.

simply pine said...

I loved this post Pat, the problem is that we have forgotten that many of us start our griefwork with our hands and then it moves to our hearts. We need to encourage active participation at every turn. I recently worked with a family while they decorated their own box (owensbox.blogspot.com)

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization. dailyundertaker@gmail.com

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