Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Better Way to Remember

Notes from the floor of the Annual National Funeral Directors' Convention part 4

She was really thrilled to meet me. In a relieved gasp she cried, “You get IT!” I think maybe some of the funeral directors were not getting IT. She had spent two days in a giant exhibit hall trying to explain IT to hundreds of people who don't get IT. She was right: I get IT. In fact I get it so much I incorporate IT into some of my presentations to funeral directors and... they still don't get IT.

The IT in question is scrapbooking for funerals. Lots of people don't get it. Funeral directors, families, other church members don't understand why anyone would want a scrapbook instead of a register book, or a scrapbook at all. They haven't seen her scrapbooks for one thing. Jacqueline Bokor and her company TheirLifeStory design, manufacture, and sell stunningly beautiful scrapbooks for funerals and memorial services. Here's a little crash course in why anyone would want one of these books.

Generally the family has three sources of contact with those offering their condolences.
1) There are cards and flowers which arrive for the service or at the home.
2) There are face-to-face visits which are supplemented by signing one's name in a register book at a visitation or at the service.
3) Then there are calls and emails.

In reverse order I'll give you the reasons I believe bereaved loved ones are better served by a scrapbook than by all of these.

Calls and emails are the easiest way for the comforter to offer their comfort and condolences, but they can be a real hassle to the bereaved. The phone rings off the hook. Who has time to check email with all the other necessary tasks after a death? Then, when they do get on the phone or on the email, the bereaved has two choices:
1) be authentic at the risk of not finishing sentences, suddenly crying, or not making sense; or 2) comfort the comforter by making the call as easy for the caller as possible. "We're OK. No, we don't need anything. Yes, we love you, too."

I don't know anyone who wants to inflict this choice intentionally on a grieving person. Calls and emails are good if brief and well-timed, but they are not enough.

Face-to-face visits are optimal for many reasons, but they have the drawback of impaired human memory in a time of crisis. If you have ever been through the death of someone close, you may know how nice it is to see people and hear their thoughtful words. It is also nearly impossible to remember at a later date what they said, or sometimes if they were even there. So one goes to a register which offers nothing but names, half of which you can't read or don't recall how they knew Mama in the first place.

Which brings us to cards and flowers. These are good because they last for awhile, are tangible, and can be referred to as many times as needed. As UUs, however, we often have trouble finding cards appropriate to our beliefs and many UUs feel flower tributes are wasteful. Enter the scrapbook.

The way Jacqueline's company does it is - people who would like to leave a special message for the family are given an envelope addressed to the family. Inside the envelope is an elegant piece of paper on which to write a memory of the deceased. There is also some cardboard to protect the paper from the voracious postal machines that eat mail. People are encouraged to take these home and think awhile before writing and sending back to the family.

In the following days and weeks, the envelopes start coming back at the same time as some of the more unpleasant mailings one gets after a death. Each day, memories and well wishes of friends and family start showing up at the door. These are then compiled and easily create a beautiful book. The result is more than a scrapbook. It becomes an archive of who someone was to those who loved them.

The grieving family can look at the words of their friends and loved ones when they are ready to. They will be able to absorb what others have to say more fully. They will also be able to feel whatever feelings come up from the sharing of these words in the privacy of their own home while looking through the book. And the book can be shared with those who couldn't come to the funeral, or in years to come with those who were too young to remember.

These scrapbooks are much nicer than any I've seen in catalogues, scrapbook stores, or craft shops. They were designed by professional artists and it shows. They are very classy and dignified with a nineteenth century beauty about them. You want to touch and to open these books. I have been doing scrapbooks with some of my families for years now, and Jacqueline's books are infinitely better.

Although you won't get the full effect, check them out at www.TheirLifeStory.com. And if you like them, send Jacqueline an email. She'll be glad to know someone else gets IT.

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