I can’t remember the first funeral I ever attended. Photographs taken at the coffee-and-cake reception in the church basement confirm my attendance. I don’t remember any of the music played by the organist or sung by the congregation. I don’t remember what holy words the pastor said. I can’t recall who gave the eulogy. But I can remember the attendant sadness of the whole affair. I have a grainy image of my mother crying into Kleenex in a navy dress. I can see my father sitting stiffly in a pew. I remember my grandfather standing next to my great uncle, looking dour. I was not quite four years old, and I remember it being the day when I began to understand that older people could be sad and that sometimes people went away forever. The service was for an older relative who I did not know well, and did not see often, but who, after that day, I understood I would never see again.
When I was ten years old, my grandmother died the night before Valentine’s Day. She had battled Alzheimer’s for five long years, deteriorating in stages, descending into death piece by piece. I was due at school at eight the following morning, and had been assigned to bring cupcakes to share with the class. I remember a dear friend of my mother volunteering to handle the baked goods and my getting to school. That day, I learned something about how a community pulls together to combat grief’s rising tide. That emotional buoyancy is found in numbers, and that many small actions can make a big difference.
On Christmas Eve of 2008, my grandfather died aged ninety-two. He lived an almost impossibly healthy life, then suffered for a week after a debilitating stroke. He died in his own bed, with his eldest grandson (and my brother) sleeping by his side. I was devastated by his death. He had been my next-door neighbor, my mentor, my fishing partner, my raving fan and my dearest friend. In the months after his death I learned about the raw power of sadness. The tidal pull of grief. The late nights awake, the mistaken phone calls to a number that will now never be answered, the aching loneliness whenever I found myself in our common spaces. Before his death, I didn’t know what personal loss really meant.
Five months ago, Pete Saari gave me a call to tell me all about Foreverence. He said his idea was to make “individually designed, 3D-printed cremation urns.” He told me how he wanted this company to help change the perception of what an urn can be. He talked a lot about finding a way to capture a portion of a person’s legacy in the shape of their urn. He spoke about challenging funeral directors to elevate the conversations they were having with families to something beyond, “Here’s the catalog. Choose any urn you like.” He talked some about the wizardry of 3D-printing. He talked about wanting to engage people in a discussion about death and dying that wasn’t intimidating. He invited me to join him at the National Funeral Directors Association show in Nashville. I listened and then told him I would think about it. When I hung up the phone the first three instances that came to mind were the stories I just shared above. I thought about my own personal experiences with death. I tried to think about what urn my grandfather would have liked if there’d been an option for him to have any-shaped urn. I thought a bit about what I would choose for myself, when the time comes. I began to see just how endless the possibilities could be. Twenty-four hours later I sent him an e-mail, telling him that I’d see him in Nashville.
Now, here we are five months later and I’m convinced we all approach a conversation about death in the same way I did when Pete called me. We personalize it. Since joining the Foreverence team in October, I’ve had a lot of wonderful, sad, joyful and inspiring conversations with families across the country. Each one of those discussions has had a common theme: individuality deserves an individual remembrance.
In the coming months, Foreverence is going to use this blog to share our thoughts on the funeral industry in relation to that theme. Pete Saari, our Co-Founder and CEO, myself and others will regularly publish entries on a wide range of topics, with a wide range of opinions. We believe this is a space for a free-flowing, open discussion. This is a forum for our own continuing education. I want to personally welcome all of you to be a part of that conversation. Reach out to us through the comments section, or engage us on social media. We’re easily found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to continue learning. We hope you join us.
Director of Communication