Funerals and the industries surrounding them are changing rapidly with the times.
The industry is taking shape to address new generational tastes.
How about a wall-sized Seahawks highlight reel for your memorial? Or the gentle lapping of ocean waves with the scent of sea breeze to waft over a celebration of life in memory of your mom or dad?
Those are just some of more than 150 themes already available through the ShareLife experience offered by Funeral Alternatives, which gave The News Tribune a demonstration recently at its Tumwater location.
Other funeral homes in the South Sound region continue to find ways to bring creative options to consumers. They include daily emails offering words of solace; illuminated, 3D, etched-crystal tributes; jewelry containing DNA or the impression of a loved one’s fingerprint — or a pet’s paw print. Even saving a loved one’s DNA for tracing ancestry or testing for genetic-predisposition research can be part of the decision-making process at the funeral home these days.
Technology has brought a new dimension to what funeral homes can offer.
“This all can be managed with this little iPad in the back,” business co-founder Clair Ferris during the ShareLife demonstration. “We have three laptops we work off of, plus two Apple computers that work the video system, so it’s quite involved.”
Lights can take on different colors through the Philips Hue multicolor, digital-bulb system.
Special scents can be piped in to add to the virtual memories in the room, such as fresh-baked apple pie or fresh-cut grass.
If there’s a passion that speaks to the person being honored or group in attendance, chances are there is already a ShareLife theme on Ferris’ digital tablet. Golf, fishing, the Grateful Dead, horse racing, Jimmy Buffett, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Johnny Cash, the Oregon coast, the Boston Red Sox, Snoopy and Woodstock, the Seattle Mariners already are available.
The National Funeral Directors Association lists technology among top industry trends and notes baby boomers “are making funeral choices based on values that are different than previous generations.”
That would explain Alice Cooper as one of Ferris’ available ShareLife themes.
Three of Funeral Alternative’s locations (Tumwater, Lacey and Federal Way), offers the multi-sensory platform, which includes sound, visuals, and smells. (A fourth site in Centralia does not yet have the ShareLife feature.) The cost is included in the overall service you select, additional charge applies if you want a specialized theme not already digitally packaged.
While the Tumwater location has dual projectors combining for one image for the bigger overall space, Ferris notes his Federal Way and Lacey locations offer what he calls “ShareLife Light.”
Those sites “have one projector but still put on a very large display,” he said.
Other area funeral homes have introduced their own spins on technology and industry trends.
Edwards Memorial Funeral Homes, Chapels and Crematories offers “365 Days of Healing,” where a person can sign up online and receive daily, email messages once a loved one passes.
“Each email will include advice, stories and other thoughts to help you address the challenges that come when you experience the loss of a loved one,” the website says.
New Tacoma Cemeteries, Funeral Home and Crematory offers 3D crystal tributes with an etched image of the departed relative and a rotating LED base to illuminate it. New Tacoma also offers thumbprint/fingerprints on a locket type of jewelry or paw prints for those seeking a way to remember their pets.
Funeral Alternatives, in addition to ShareLife, also offers DNA Memorial, where a dead loved one’s DNA is collected and saved for future medical information or ancestry research. There’s also an option to preserve that person’s DNA in a piece of jewelry.
“Since each family has their own reason for preserving DNA, we offer options that include one or both of the tests — ancestry or genetic predisposition — as well as just the vial of DNA with no testing,”according to Trent Nielsen, general manager of Funeral Alternatives. “The quantity of DNA in the vial is enough to run dozens of tests in the future if the family chooses to. This concept of ‘home banking’ the DNA is key because the science around DNA is constantly evolving and progressing.”
In the past year, 70 families have opted for the DNA Memorial in some form, Nielsen said.
“Many of the families that we serve hadn’t even considered preserving and/or testing DNA, so we find that we are educating folks about it,” he added.
Funeral Alternatives also is marketing its ShareLife technology for gatherings other than funerals.
Ferris said his system can be incorporated for weddings, business functions and any other celebration of life.
It also comes with live-streaming capabilities and picture-in-picture for family or other personal photos.
Ferris said couples at the Tumwater site have been “married in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“We can take them ‘virtually’ anywhere around the world. One couple was married in front of a castle,” Ferris said. “We can utilize this system for anything that people want to have happen.”