Take a long-time funeral director, a cemetery owner and a psychologist who specializes in grief counseling, put them together, and what do you get?
An unconventional idea that just might be the future of cemeteries.
They started the session by delivering some bad news that we should have been prepared for: cemeteries are, well, dying.
At one time, a local cemetery was an intrinsic part of the community. It was a given that just about everyone in town would end up there.
But, that’s no longer the case.
The challenge for many cemetery owners
Modern cemeteries are up against a number of challenges, among them:
- Religion isn’t a big part of many funerals these days.
- People move around now; most don’t stay in the same town their whole life.
- The rate of cremation is going up, and fewer people want to be buried than ever.
- Of those who are cremated, very few end up at a cemetery.
- Many families are struggling financially; NFDA data shows that 40% of Americans can’t afford an unexpected expense of even $400.
After sharing some devastating data about projected burials into the year 2050, Lynn leveled with the crowd, declaring that cemeteries have probably peaked in terms of profitability.
Turning a challenge into a forward-thinking idea
This sobering reality got Lynn and Jason thinking about what cemeteries could be doing differently. They drew upon Jason’s knowledge as a grief counselor about what is most important to people who are grieving.
What if a cemetery could provide families a way to heal, remember, and rebuild?
With the goal of creating a modern cemetery that reflects the needs of grieving families today, Jason and Lynn set about crafting their BOLD plan. The result would have to be a place that addresses all of the reasons people are shying away from cemeteries. And, it would have to reflect a commitment to those 3 key needs (healing, remembering, and rebuilding) in every way.
Their overarching goal was to create a place that facilitates meaningful connection. A place where people could find a connection with their lost loved ones, and even with their own inner selves, and that’s when they came up with…
Introducing the Legacy Trail
Lynn and Jason’s grand plan is called the Legacy Trail, and they’re going to build it on undeveloped land that sits on Grandview’s property. They hope it will serve as an example and a roadmap for cemeteries struggling to thrive in the new funeral industry landscape.
They weren’t going to share this exciting idea with anyone until next year, after they had a chance to get it up and running. However, the NFDA convinced them to reveal their plans at this year’s expo – and we were there!
Here are the key takeaways from their presentation about the Legacy Trail:
- The trail will feature spaces for private or non-traditional memorializations. Like a beautiful pavillion area where families can gather in remembrance or hold their own rituals or services.
- It will offer low-cost options for grieving families. The trail will feature an ossuary and possibly a memorial wall and a cenotaph. The idea is to provide inexpensive ways for people to be able to connect with their loved one at the cemetery, whether or not that person’s remains are there.
- There will be places for reflecting and holding rituals. People choose to honor and remember their loved ones in different ways. That’s why the trail will offer features such as an archway, a koi pond, statues, and other places where people can express their grief or pay tribute to the deceased in a way that feels good to them.
- They will use the space to host events. They’ll use the beautiful grounds of The Legacy Trail to hold community gatherings and events. What kind of events? Anything from financial literacy courses for widows and widowers to death cafés (yes, that is a thing).
- They will build a “healing path,” which will wind through the whole area and feature different stations where people can participate in various self guided healing activities.
How you can adapt to these challenges, too
What can you do with all this inspiration to create your own path forward as a cemetery owner in uncertain times? Here are a few tips:
- Base your efforts in the desire to create those meaningful connections.
- Appeal to the timeless needs of grieving families: comfort, meaning, and hope.
- Expand your community engagement opportunities. There are so many ways to put yourself out there.
- Create a space that inherently helps families heal, remember, and rebuild.
We’re waiting with bated breath to see what Jason and Lynn reveal about the Legacy Trail at next year’s expo. Until then, we hope everyone is inspired to keep thinking of ways they can apply these concepts in their own cemetery or funeral home.
How did this story inspire you? Tell us in the comments below!
About the Speaker: Lynn Gibson is a funeral director and managing partner at Grandview Cemetery in Maryville, Tennessee. Jason Troyer holds a PhD in Psychology and is the founder of Mt Hope Grief Center.