Honoring a Loved One through Funeral Personalization - Transcribed

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Honoring a Loved One through Funeral Personalization Transcript

[00:00:00] Pete Waggoner: Welcome into the Good Grief Podcast, along with Amber Miller from the O’Connell Family Funeral Homes. I’m Pete Waggoner, and today’s topic is going to be on personalization. We’ll be talking about the unique and personalized way that you can make your loved ones celebration meaningful, memorable, and personal to the person they are and were. 

[00:00:23] Amber, welcome in. I love this topic. I know we’ve maybe done that one. I hope you’re doing well. How are things going for you? 

[00:00:30] Amber Miller: Good. Good. Thank you so much. Trying to stay warm.

[00:00:33] Pete Waggoner: Yeah. Well, good luck to you on that one. You never know. We do live in the Midwest, right? So you know, this is a topic which I love this one because there’s something in the intro that I discussed, and this is just a question that’s on the grid, but off the grid. 

[00:00:50] And you know, we’ve always talked about people after they pass away or die as though they were, and one of the writings that I had in this [00:01:00] intro was are, and were, can you talk a little bit about that and how we as people that are grieving a loss can manage through the are versus were the present to pass.

[00:01:13] Amber Miller: Yeah, it’s a hard thing to think about and I think a lot of people struggle with it too, is, which one should I use? And it’s really based on what you’re comfortable. But in general, I mean, that’s how they are you know, they’ll always be that way for us, whether they were charismatic and funny, whether they had dry sense of humor, whether they were more serious. They are that and will always be that. 

[00:01:36] Pete Waggoner: Well, that’s interesting because I’ve always wrestled with, one day they are, one day they were, and that person’s spirit lives in near and around me. And so I always say that, and I feel like sometimes people look at me and go, they’re like, what are you talking about?

[00:01:54] But it’s a little bit true. And so that’s nice to hear. So I’m gonna continue on the present [00:02:00] tense with those that are. I’m doing it so that, so thank you. You pride value here. I don’t know what this topic’s gonna do or what this show is gonna look like, but we’re good the rest of the way.

[00:02:08] No. Personalization. We’ll get into why it’s important to O’Connell’s, but I think what I’d like to really get to first is what in your view is personalization and why is it important? 

[00:02:25] Amber Miller: Well, in my view, I would say that personalization is so important from a grief perspective, and I’m always kind of looking at it from that perspective. Down the road when I bump into families that I’ve served in the past, the thing that they mentioned the most is really those unique parts that brought meaning and healing and hope for them. 

[00:02:45] And oftentimes that comes in the personalization. Thinking about things that are, and were an important part of their loved one’s life is just a way that can kind of serve as a way that they remember them and that they honor [00:03:00] their legacy long after the funeral has ended and taken place.

[00:03:04] So for me, and I think for all of us at O’Connell’s, we’re really striving to create those personal and personalized moments as part of the funeral to kind of. Bring that, that hope and healing forward. 

[00:03:17] Pete Waggoner: So it’s a dialogue and it can kind of become an all-encompassing thing where if it’s not addressed, it can kind of be sort of unfinished business, wouldn’t you say?

[00:03:29] Because meaning matters. 

[00:03:32] Amber Miller: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And even just something to honor their legacy. Oftentimes, if a funeral doesn’t feel meaningful or personalized, it sometimes doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it’s something that I can move forward from. Because I don’t, I guess I can’t hundred percent honor that they’ve passed away and that they’ve brought meaning to my life without it being honored that way. Does that make sense? 

[00:03:58] Pete Waggoner: Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah. [00:04:00] And so among things that they can do or what one can do, I’ve seen a lot of photos and slideshows. Often at funeral. 

[00:04:07] Sometimes it’s when you come in and you have just a nice batch of imagery from their childhood all the way through life, which is absolutely fantastic. And sometimes there’s slideshow that are running some are framed and all other types of things. 

[00:04:21] So is that a good way is that a start, I guess in the personalization?

[00:04:28] Amber Miller: It’s a great start and we see it probably the most frequently at funerals. But you know, like you mentioned, photos are a great way to see someone’s entire life, not just what we’ve seen recent, but their childhood and everything in between. And it’s also a great way for attendees to kind of jog the memories.

[00:04:45] We see it all the time. They’re looking at a poster board and they point and say, oh my goodness, that’s me. Or, oh, I remember this. I remember this car, I remember this vacation. And it’s something that we can help as the funeral home. You know, whether that’s setting up little stations that [00:05:00] have to do with a particular theme or genre in that person’s life, or, you know, we help with slideshows all the time.

[00:05:06] Setting up those things are just a fun way to connect with the families too, to kind of start conversations, as you mentioned. So not only between us as the funeral home and the families, but also the family and the people who are attending to kind of express sympathies.

[00:05:21] Pete Waggoner: Odds are pretty good that if you’re at that funeral or that service or whatever you’re, you’re attending, you with those images will one way, one how, some way be linked or connected to those with some story. And I think it’s important. So sometimes, I went to an Irish wake once, and it was after, it was like the greatest party of all time. And I was sitting there saying, I want that to be for me.

[00:05:50] You know, I mean, and you know, I mean, everybody was just, it was really great. But a lot of that was sparked by images, pictures, and things that were [00:06:00] actually at the funeral itself. And then we went to a local establishment and that was like one of the most cleansing moments in that experience for me.

[00:06:09] And I don’t know, I just think that’s just as you said, such a good conversation starter, it impacts all of us. And images have, you can remember. You know, those can ingrain themselves in what you see. But another image, I think that is really interesting, I’ve come full circle on the flower thing, to be honest with you.

[00:06:28] Yeah. And I think it’s been doing these podcasts. But there’s something about flowers that I think matter and it’s that they’re life and they represent life. And when you see a lot of them or you know, I used to think, oh, why would you know? But I get it. And what a great gesture. I think that’s a highly underrated component because it brings color, life, and light to it.

[00:06:49] And there’s some other things you can do with the flowers too. 

[00:06:53] Amber Miller: Yeah. I think, you know, some people have had a similar mentality that, that you had in that, Ooh, flowers. You know, [00:07:00] maybe they find them to be wasteful or whatever, but, such a different feeling and an air. A lot of people come in and say, I don’t want this to be somber, or I want this to be a celebration and I don’t want people to be wearing black. I want people to be wearing color. 

[00:07:13] And flowers are an amazing way to do that. Whether that’s thinking about the flowers in terms of colors oftentimes we have some pretty diehard Packer fans, or we’re right on the border of Vikings fans, so, you know, we see a lot of green and gold flower pieces, or purple and yellow or even, you know Minnesota gophers like ribbons and colors or favorite types of flowers too, if we’re able to.

[00:07:37] Whether that’s all spring flowers or tulips, you know, those times that bring back these memories. Oh, he always, every, you know, Valentine’s Day got me a bouquet of yellow roses or something like that, that really connects to some really deep and meaningful moments in the past. Plans first, flowers.

[00:07:53] I know you sometimes, you know, fresh cut flowers seem more wasteful than plants, but those are just a labor of love [00:08:00] too. Plants. Some really cool flower pieces over the years with personal items in them. So fishing poles and casket sprays and lures. Some really neat stuff. Or bringing in their cowboy boots and putting flower pieces and each of the boots, which are super neat.

[00:08:16] Tackle boxes with flowers coming out of them. The local flower shop just, you know, knocked it out of the park, no pun intended, but pun intended, with football or baseball shaped flower pieces that are shaped as a football and they’ve got the flowers stuck on ’em are hard shaped, super amazing.

[00:08:32] Especially around like, or people who’ve had some affiliation with Pepper Fest. In Hudson, we’ve had some actual bell peppers in flowers. Or garden, you know, we’ve seen the tomatoes and the veggies and they’re just, the amount of personalization in flowers is kind of endless. 

[00:08:50] Pete Waggoner: And then you move on to things where we’re talking hobbies and jobs.

[00:08:54] And for many, that’s real definitive. It kind of defines a little bit who you are [00:09:00] or were either through work or the things you did for leisure. So there’s some ways that you can really get that engaged too. And I am dying to hear what this can be and what you’ve seen. 

[00:09:11] Amber Miller: So I always tell families, bring in clothes, bring in those items.

[00:09:16] If they have a uniform at work, bring it in. Let’s hang it up on a bus. Or we’ve seen lots of, you know, like firefighter uniforms. From the turnout gear to the helmets, to the suspenders, the boots, all of it. We’ve seen it. Let’s do like a cool hat wall, you know, hang ’em up on the wall or ties.

[00:09:34] We’ve seen, like, putting them on a string and hanging them over the wall. Pins and awards. You know, we have some really, really, big work organizations in the Twin Cities that a lot of people work at, whether it’s like 3M or Medtronic or kind of target, any of kind of those big organizations that started in this area and a lot of awards, a lot of recognitions.

[00:09:54] Those are amazing to be able to display cuz like you said, you know, work in our career can be [00:10:00] a huge part of our of our lives. So let’s really show that off. 

[00:10:03] Pete Waggoner: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, even your coworkers wearing their uniforms I think that’s fantastic. I’ve seen coaches where, you know, the kids of teams have lined up with baseball bats or sticks.

[00:10:16] You know, that type of thing where they kind of hold ’em up. That is really amazing. 

[00:10:20] Amber Miller: Yeah. It brings back to that sense of community too. You know, getting everybody that was well loved by this person together, getting them in their shared uniforms. We’ve also had, in terms of like just hobbies, we’ve had people bring in deer heads and buss and hanging them on the wall if they were big hunters or fishermen.

[00:10:40] Artwork. We have a lot of amazing artists in St. Croix County, so hanging up their paintings or their photography. We’ve had like some photography that’s been there for people to take for attendees. We’ve had people like take stuffed animals, wine bottles. We’ve had people bring in their motorcycles.

[00:10:59] [00:11:00] We’ve had ’em set up at the funeral home where there’s special cars parked out front. So we really are open to all of those.

[00:11:06] Pete Waggoner: That makes it really, really fun. When you get to the casket or the urn, have you seen some unique things with those? 

[00:11:14] Amber Miller: Yeah. Some really in-depth image wraps, like either the casket wrapped in a particular image or the urn too, could be like your favorite sports team. It could be just your favorite painting in general, getting it wrapped. And those are kind of some local things that are really fun too. 

[00:11:32] We’ve seen like some different engravings on urns or even on caskets. We saw like someone who is really into maker’s mark the whiskey, getting that red wax on the urn, which is just super personal in neat.

[00:11:45] You may have seen it a couple of times, but not often. But actually writing on the casket so people can come with, you know, we have permanent markers out and people can leave a note or a message and actually physically write on the casket. You could do the same thing with an urn, which really [00:12:00] brings that sense of community and friends and loved ones can really share in grief together.

[00:12:06] Pete Waggoner: How about food? I mean, based off what I think you’re gonna talk about, just bring chocolate to mine and I’m good. Everybody will know. But food can be a big thing too, to really get that personalization in because we all, we need food to exist and to live. And for some of us, we have our favorites and it can tell a story too. 

[00:12:27] Amber Miller: Yeah. Well, there’s a reason why, after church services or whatnot, there’s a time of fellowship and food is involved because that is the way that we grief together as a community. So food is a huge, huge component to the grief process. And think of it as a way to really honor your loved one.

[00:12:45] So were they a fan of a particular restaurant in the area? Let’s get it catered in, or, we’ve had dilly bars, we’ve had Taco Bell. We’ve had ice cream cakes and donuts and pretzels with tea sauce and mustard. [00:13:00] We’ve had it and that just honors that person. Or maybe it’s having a toast. You know, at the end of the lunch or even to the beginning of lunch, we all take a moment of silence and raise our glasses for this person.

[00:13:12] What’s really neat is like handing out recipe cards. You know, maybe that’s, we have a caterer that makes a particular recipe and the recipe cards are right there for people to take. Or maybe we incorporate that as part of the stationary, you know, their mom’s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. And people take that home as a memento.

[00:13:30] We’ve also had some pretty cool food trucks at the funeral home, whether they’re out, you know, making tacos or whatnot for people. It’s just so fun. Popcorn machines. Or custom cakes and maybe custom cupcake flavors that people can take. We always sometimes have a table out at the front for people to take something home with them.

[00:13:51] And we’ve had cupcakes, we’ve had cookies, we’ve had bags of popcorn, chips, peanuts. Anything that kind of reminds you of [00:14:00] them is always fun for people to take. 

[00:14:03] Pete Waggoner: When you meet with people, do you start angling toward the personalization discussion? How do you get there? And then with all of these great things that you’ve shared with us here on this podcast, we have some more we’re gonna go through.

[00:14:17] How do you get to this and do you really say, Hey, I saw this, I saw that. And I suppose it just kind of depends upon the family and the situation, right? But how successful are you in really getting there and do you bring this up? 

[00:14:32] Amber Miller: Yeah, we absolutely bring it up. So, like you said, it’s very different.

[00:14:37] family. Some families find it to be more meaningful than others, which is perfectly fine. But oftentimes it’s just in the fun conversations that we are honored to have with families. So even if that’s talking about the obituary notice and we talk about some of their hobbies and interests and just making suggestions, like, oh, he was, you know, he was Lifelong worker at, at 3m or he was in the military, or he always had a sweet tooth [00:15:00] and just making some suggestions like, oh, it would be fun.

[00:15:02] Or, what are your thoughts on doing this or that? And just posing the idea. And some families are like, wow, that’s an amazing idea. And some they kind of have to take home to process it a little bit and some, it’s just not their thing. And we’re open to whatever way that looks and feels meaningful for you. 

[00:15:18] Pete Waggoner: That makes complete sense. And you know, one of the, you kind of touched on the military end of things, but that can be really well done in the personalization part too. What kind of things do you see there?

[00:15:28] Amber Miller: Yeah, so, so kind of talking about the uniforms, but a lot of people still have their old military uniforms, even if it’s like a hat or some pins or some plaques or recognitions.

[00:15:39] Bring those in. Those are amazing to see. And to kind of see some of those old pictures too are really fun. Even playing military music in the background during the visitation or as part of the slideshow is fun as well. Just bringing you back to those feelings and kind of the honor and pride that veterans have.

[00:15:56] And even thinking of like military honors. You know, obviously everybody [00:16:00] who’s honorably discharged as a veteran is eligible for military honors. And whether that’s at the church or at the cemetery or even outside our funeral home, we’re open and we’re able to make that possible. A lot of people maybe haven’t seen it before, but there’s an organization called the Patriot Guard that they come in kind of their full regalia and they hold the flags and they, they hold honor either out in the parking lot or in the funeral home.

[00:16:23] And it’s just a neat thing for attendees to drive up and see all of these men standing, standing guard with their flags. It’s just, it’s very power. 

[00:16:33] Pete Waggoner: That is super, super cool and powerful. Others may ask how they can get involved in it. And you kind of mentioned this earlier too, but I could just give you a quick example.

[00:16:42] My sister was a baking machine. I mean, there’s nobody better than her . And she would the best cookies, best bars, best cakes, and absolutely loved it. What we did is everybody had to bring their favorite baked item that Kathy made and it absolutely awesome . I [00:17:00] mean, people are grazing and pounding.

[00:17:02] But you know, what’s interesting is, there was a story behind all of these treats because she just loved to care for people. And it made for such a wonderful time after where if you don’t do something, we could have been just like go home and stare at the wall, and I just think it was so helpful in the process.

[00:17:20] So in terms of that, I’ve obviously given away one of your key things through personal experience, but what are other things people can do that say, Hey, how can I help to personalize this? 

[00:17:30] Amber Miller: Yeah, so you know, oftentimes it’s a difficult time for attendees too to come to a funeral because this is someone that they loved as well.

[00:17:38] Staring tables are a big thing, whether that’s a table that’s just designated either at the funeral home or church that has some markers and some pieces of paper that people can write down a funny me or a feeling or a shared experience. So those are always really, really fun. Oftentimes, you know, you can put them in a jar and keep them maybe [00:18:00] for the service.

[00:18:00] You know, the pastor who or whoever’s officiating can pull one out and share a couple of funny moments or memories or stories that were written down where they could be put in like a shadow box or a scrapbook. Just something to always keep, like how that your loved one made others feel and some really fun memories that they had with others.

[00:18:19] We’ve seen a lot of like rocks too, so people bringing a big vase with a rock and people can write whether that’s like a feeling or a memory or something small and they can put it in the vase and that’s something that, that the, you know, the survivors can have in their house indefinitely, and it’s always something that will remind them of their loved.

[00:18:39] Or we’ve seen, you know, wear a specific type of color. You know, he was a big Packer fan. Everyone bring in your, or wear your Packers jerseys or Vikings or you know, like, like we said earlier, the, the uniforms through work or a favorite color, we’ve seen that.

[00:18:53] His favorite color was yellow. Everybody wear it yellow, and we can put that in the obituary notice. And it’s just really fun to see people come in and [00:19:00] in non-typical funeral wear, you know? We’ve seen some Hawaiian shirts, which are really fun. Lots of jerseys. It’s just, you name it, the options are endless. 

[00:19:10] Pete Waggoner: That is fantastic.

[00:19:11] So it’s open to creativity for sure. And that’s the beauty of it. And I think you’ll probably find if the person that’s being remembered is creative in nature or had a lot of definitive things that they did or like to do in their life, it makes these kinds of personalization things a lot easier, doesn’t it?

[00:19:32] Amber Miller: Yeah. Oh, for sure. It makes it so much easier. And it helps just to connect our grief and connect ourselves with our loved ones, even though they’re gone. So they’re just amazing. Especially those little takeaway items are really fun for not only the griever, but the people who are attending. And surrounded. 

[00:19:49] Pete Waggoner: Do you know what I hear? This is an interesting thing cuz I always think of, okay, now how do we get there? How do we get to people really opening up their creative minds to their [00:20:00] loved ones to do this? And how do we get there? And I think that is the most important part, is. Listen to what Amber and the team have to say. Take in the ideas. Let your creative mind go to work. The legacy of this person is real and what a great way to go about things. And there’s so many, so many different ways to do it, which has been really the great part of this podcast. 

[00:20:26] Amber Miller: Yeah. And you know, we’ve talked about it before, but the sense of community and what can people do, what can they help with?

[00:20:33] Just like you had mentioned with your sister and the baked goods or what can, what can we do to help everybody remember that that person’s legacy and whether that’s a takeaway item or think about one thing that’s sometimes missed is think about the end of the service or think about the grave side.

[00:20:48] And tho those are all things that we can help. Through, but whether that’s, you know, driving past the family home in the procession to the cemetery, those are fun. Or a butterfly release [00:21:00] or dove release or lanterns or anything like that. I mean, the option, like I said, the options are endless and we are here as a funeral home to kind of guide and suggest some of these things to you if that’s something you want to wanna do.

[00:21:12] But we are, we’re really only suggesting it cause we know these are immensely healing and impactful to your grief work down the road. 

[00:21:19] Pete Waggoner: Well, this is a really good podcast, a great podcast topic. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think anybody that’s listening to this would be wise to share this as much as they can because we all have to deal with it at some point.

[00:21:34] And I think getting engaged, like this is such a good thing and so healthy. So Amber, great topic, great podcast, great insights. And I know when people listen to this, they understand how easy it is to approach you and the team at O’Connell’s. It’s a big deal for sure. So, thank you.

[00:21:51] Amber Miller: Yeah. Thank you so much. 

[00:21:52] Pete Waggoner: Be sure to check them out online. That’s the http://oconnellfuneralhomes.com/. You can follow ’em on Facebook and Instagram. It’s all right there [00:22:00] on the website. And be sure to check into our podcasts frequently and often. For Amber Miller, I’m Pete Waggoner. That’s gonna do it for this program on the Good Grief Podcast.


[00:22:10] So long everybody.