Some believe funeral preplanning brings death to their doorsteps. It’s quite the opposite

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The Newport News funeral home is just one of several locations on the Peninsula. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily Photo)
The Newport News funeral home is just one of several locations on the Peninsula. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily Photo)

NEWPORT NEWS — The topic of funerals and planning for one’s death has been a taboo in popular culture.

One funeral director gives her perspective on the topic.

Marcella Williams, community outreach coordinator and licensed funeral director with the Altmeyer Funeral Homes, has been in the business of death since 2015.

After parents’ passing, a cancer scare and the possibility of a birth mother showing up to claim her after death, Williams decided to take a closer look at the business of funeral planning.

“As a culture we never have these conversations,” she said.

There are times families of those who have been in hospice for a while and have died would come to her not knowing what their loved ones wanted because it wasn’t brought up.

She said thinks that some people believe by pre-planning a funeral it will bring death right to their doorstep.

It’s quite the opposite and Williams wants to bring a more positive outlook on death.

A celebration of life

The first thing Williams does when she meets with a family or friends who are planning a funeral is to try and get to know how they want their loved one to be remembered.

“I want to know who their person was,” Williams said.

She said a lot of times by just knowing some background information she can suggest ways to celebrate that person’s life without having to overwhelm the planners with too many options.

The death certificate and funeral costs are next on the agenda for Williams.

She has to determine their education, occupation, industry, parent’s names, maiden names and so on in order to fill out the death certificate.

In the state of Virginia, the Virginia State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers has stated that funeral directors must be dual certified.

This means that Williams is certified in both funeral planning and in preparing the body for burial (embalming, sanitation, etc.).

The FTC stipulates that funeral homes have their price lists available up front.

In addition to this, Altmeyer Funeral Homes works with families on payment plans, veteran honors and facilitates all of the moving parts of a funeral.

“We never turn a family away due to financial concerns,” Williams said.

In one of the rooms at the funeral home there's a wall of urns for families to choose from. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)
In one of the rooms at the funeral home there’s a wall of urns for families to choose from. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)

Is it okay if we…

Williams said she fields a lot of questions as well as run a lot of seminars on death and dying.

She has visited assisted living homes, worked with the Agency on Aging and has done workshops with caregivers and hospice workers.

The most common question she always gets comes in a hushed tone, “Is it okay if we…?”

There is nothing too weird and there are basically no rules on how to have a funeral, Williams said.

She wants people to break out of that mindset of the stodgy funeral with everyone dressed in black and “Amazing Grace” playing in the background.

Her biggest wish is that people would spend more time pre-planning for their funerals, setting aside funds, deciding on specifics for the service and figuring out just how they want their life to be celebrated.

“It’s not like we’re never going to die,” Williams said with a smile and a shrug.

Correction: The statement that funeral directors must be dual certified came from the Virginia State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. This story was updated at 9:17 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2018.

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