Creative Endings: Midtown Funeral Homes Offer Options for Celebrating Life

Spring stained glass window at Crown Hill Mausoleum. Photo by Marty N. Davis.

by Chris Bavender

Death is inevitable. When and where it will happen is one of life’s mysteries. But in this age of hurry up and wait, many are making sure their last wishes are carved in stone before they take their last breath. “Many people are preplanning their services,” said Jan Smith, vice president of funeral operations for Flanner and Buchanan. “Not only does it eliminate the emotional and financial burden for their family, it ensures they receive the services they want.”

Ensuring the celebration of the end of their life is exactly what they want is just one reason many people preplan their funeral, according to Mike Moffitt, director of funeral operations for Crown Hill Cemetery. “If paid in a timely fashion it can freeze the cost of the funeral at today’s cost and earn interest over time, offsetting future expenses,” he said. “It is not considered an asset, therefore if someone needs to go on Medicaid it does not go against them.”

When it comes to how your own or a loved one’s life is remembered, Midtown funeral homes are turning more and more toward end-of-life celebrations.

Tailor-Made Events

Table setting for a celebration. Photo courtesy Flanner and Buchanan.

“We have a Celebration Hall that is for informal parties, toasts, and receptions. That lends itself to a more celebratory atmosphere. We have set up themed funerals that had decorations and a florist come in to decorate to that theme,” Moffitt said. “We have funeral packages that include a celebrant, catering, a DVD of the person’s life, and live video streaming for family members who can’t attend the service. These items were not around 10 years ago.”

“Sometimes people don’t want to be reminded they are in a funeral home. We decorated our facility with comfortable furnishings to make families feel like they are at home,” said Tamara Albertson, owner of Albertson’s Mortuary in Broad Ripple. “We can even have celebrations in a family’s own home. We bring our funeral home to their neighborhood.” But it doesn’t end there, Albertson said. “I worked with one family who lost their father and grandfather, and he was such an inspiration to everyone who knew him,” she said. “I helped the family start an annual walk on the Monon in commemoration of him. We work hard to make sure the families feel they have honored their loved one.”

At the Broad Ripple Flanner and Buchanan location, anything from hors d’oeuvres to a catered meal with full bar is offered. “Our Broad Ripple center is becoming a multifunction facility. We still perform many traditional funeral and cremation services there, but we have expanded to offer all types of ceremonial events, meetings, and life celebrations,” said Bruce Buchanan, owner and CEO. “The building is well-designed for catered events. The basement is used as a classroom for workshops. This all fits into our mission of serving the community.”

Serving the community, Smith added, ensures families have creativity in reflecting a loved one’s legacy. “There really is no norm to what a family may plan. We start with a blank slate and create based on what we learn about the loved one,” she said. “To one family, placing Grandma’s favorite recipe out for everyone to take as they leave may be special. We have planned everything from jazz bands to balloon artists and face painting at services to reflect the personality of their family member. We have planned many events at various locations throughout Indianapolis, including schools, country clubs, the zoo, and various other venues.”

Flanner and Buchanan also offers ways to include family members who can’t attend the funeral. “We are able to offer services to record or livestream a funeral,” Smith said. “With the advances in technology we have even seen families using FaceTime or other apps to share the services with someone who cannot attend.”

Popular Options

While cremation isn’t new, it is becoming an increasingly popular choice. According to the Cremation Association of North America, cremations have nearly doubled in the past 15 years, making them as common as traditional burials. Flanner and Buchanan actually started the first crematory in the state of Indiana. “Flanner and Buchanan has always been open to expanding our offerings to accommodate the changing needs of the consumer,” Smith said. “This was something a few families asked for in the early 1900s, so Flanner and Buchanan embraced the need.”

Albertson agreed that more clients are considering cremation. “We will work with the families to make sure services are unique to the individual, including scattering the ashes at a favorite or meaningful place,” Albertson said. “I want people to have options. I want to educate everyone on the funeral options available to them. Too often people feel obligated to purchase an expensive casket.” In Indiana, where the cremation rate is 35 percent, state law does not require the use of a casket.

For clients of Crown Hill, Moffitt said cremation isn’t just about lower costs but also a matter of convenience. “Families can make service selections via email or phone without having to come into the funeral home.” Cremation also offers an opportunity to postpone services until a later date when all the family can attend, Moffitt said. “With families scattered about the country, this is one reason cremation is on the rise.”

Another option gaining popularity is green burials. Flanner and Buchanan’s Washington Park North Facility on Kessler Boulevard has a green cemetery called Kessler Woods dedicated to families who want a more environmentally sustainable burial. Smith said that “green burial” refers either to no use of traditional embalming fluid or to the use of a biodegradable, nontoxic alternative fluid, and to no use of an outer container or vault, but instead to the use of a biodegradable casket or shroud. “Kessler Woods is very natural and not mowed like traditional cemeteries. It’s a very natural, serene area,” she added.

Healing Paws bereavement animal. Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications. Used with permission.

For some families, planning their loved one’s funeral can be overwhelming, the grief too much. At Crown Hill bereavement dogs are available upon request at no extra charge. The funeral home partnered with the Healing Paws Chapter of Love on a Leash. “The bereavement dogs have special training and are used at the family’s request to comfort and listen to people who are grieving,” Moffitt said. “People seem to open up to the dogs, which gives the bereaved an outlet for grief.”

Chris Bavender is a freelance writer in SoBro with more than 20 years’ experience as a print and broadcast journalist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram