With the legislative action in California bringing some attention to the alkaline hydrolysis process, both within the profession and in the consumer media, now seems like as good a time as any to have a discussion on the process which has been called everything from “Cremation Lite” to a real “game changer.” In the past week there have been many newspaper articles describing the process. But the bigger story is yet to come.
While the process has had some institutional applications, at medical schools, veterinary schools, etc., let’s face it, the process is still in its infancy. No one is calling funeral homes asking the funeral directors to describe the alkaline hydrolysis process. The “wave” referred to in the page 1 headline of the May 13, 2010, edition of the Memorial Business Journal (available now as a free download) could conceivably be 10 years away. But questions are going to be asked about the same time Matthews unveils its commercial bio-cremation unit in St.Petersburg later this summer.
This will be the opportunity for all of funeral service to tell the story of what could be the next chapter in the disposition of remains. And, the conversation will have legs. Anything that aligns itself with the “green” discussion will earn its share of attention. So be prepared.
Hindsight being 20/20, it is widely acknowledged that funeral service dropped the ball when it came to educating consumers on all things cremation during its advent and climb. The discussion about the memorialization, the ceremony, was lost in a discussion about the process and price. Everybody knew there was fire and ashes but the part of the story that wasn’t told was that connection between the process and the service. The newspaper article that Curt Rostad referenced in the headline article described the disconnect succinctly: A funeral director recently was quoted in a news article (commenting on the effect of the recession on the funeral business) that “Some people can’t afford a funeral so they are choosing cremation.”
Somewhere years ago a connection was made that allowed cremation to become more synonymous with the word “funeral” rather than it being communicated that it was only a process — an alternative to earth burial for the disposition of the remains. Funeral directors not particularly happy to offer cremation disparaged the process creating an image-rebuilding project that is still underway. The public perception of cremation was marginalized as cheap, immediate and sterile. How could a process that used fire be seen as something so cold?
Cremation customers were sometimes viewed as low-level customers, “You want just a cremation?” Especially now at the ground floor of a new process, there is a tremendous opportunity to put focus back on ceremony as we talk about a new form of disposition.
Many of the people we spoke with see at least one major opportunity for funeral service in a conversation about alkaline hydrolysis and that is the connect the dots to the ceremony and memorialization process while talking about the disposition process. Funeral service forgot to include as part of the story of where the memorialization process plays into it, they got fixated on the actual disposition and not what leads up to it. The meaning and the value were never on the table during the discussion. The conversation may begin about what you do, but you can easily steer it toward why you do it.
A copy of the May 13 issue of the Memorial Business Journal is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD at www.memorialbusinessjournal.com
Edward J. Defort