By all measurements, the free Scatter Day event at Sunset Memorial Park was a big success. French Funerals & Cremations, which owns Sunset, would have been happy helping 50 families give a final resting place for the cremated remains of their loved ones. The total count of families helped was more than 600.
Funeral industry surveys indicate one in five households have human cremated remains somewhere in the home. While some of those cremated remains may have a place of honor on a mantel or shelf, many cardboard boxes and bags of remains are tucked away in closets or basements, waiting for a final disposition.
“People are so grateful we’re doing this,” said Tom Antram, President and CEO of the French Family of Companies which owns Sunset Memorial Park. “They often haven’t grieved the loss, and this event allows them to release emotions that may not have had the chance to be expressed until today when those remains finally have a final resting place.”
Many families have no guidance about their options when they receive the remains, or they are just too overwhelmed to address final disposition so close to the death. Or the remains have been passed along to the next generation, and they may not have known that relative at all, making it difficult to honor their memory.
Unexpected Public Response
Chris Keller, Vice President of the French Family of Companies in charge of Sunset Memorial Park, said, “We really weren’t expecting the response in the numbers of families and the outpouring of grief, emotion, and gratitude we’ve seen. Scatter Day is giving us the opportunity to talk to families, make a connection, and create a long term legacy with these families.”
The cremation rate in New Mexico is 60-65%, and in the Rio Rancho suburb of Albuquerque, it’s closer to 75%. An estimated 40% of cremated remains are scattered in locales important to the deceased and their families. However, not all of the remaining 60% go into cemeteries or other final resting places. The cremation rate has climbed dramatically in the United States over the past 10 to 15 years.
“Our cremation garden didn’t exist 15 years ago,” explained Keller. “Many families didn’t know there was much you could do with the remains. We’re all trying to change the conversation and the culture to get cremated remains to a final resting place. The park is a better place than the closet, a basement, or a dumpster.”
Scatter Day at Sunset Memorial Park on August 26, 2017 offered two free options: scattering in the cremation rose garden beds next to the Chester T. French Memorial Mausoleum or placement in an ossuary in the new cremation garden. Both options come with cenotaphs, engraving the name of the loved one either on a memorial marble wall near the rose garden or on a walkway brick near the ossuary.
Even with the free scattering options, which are valued at $300, a number of families opted to upgrade. Some chose to have remains placed in niches or buried in special spots in the cremation gardens, such as the area for Lobo fans. Others opted to have remains in special urns placed in one of the Mausoleum’s rooms with glass-fronted niches, allowing visitors to see a memorial tableau with the urn.
The cemetery also offered final resting places and cenotaphs for the cremated remains of pets in their Best Friends Forever pet cemetery. One man brought in the cremated remains of 24 pets to take advantage of the free scatter day. The names of all those pets will be consolidated onto a few cenotaph tiles.
Family Reactions Are Strong
Families arrived at the park in a steady stream throughout the day. Some wanted Sunset/French staff to do the scattering for them. Others did their own short services, lingered, reminisced, hugged and cried.
French provided a white rose to each family to place at scattering or take home with them. They also offered water, lemonade and snacks in the Pavilion area of Sunset Memorial Park. Families visited while sitting around tables in the shade.
“For so many of these folks, this is their healing,” said Keller. “We often don’t see this much grief at need, but the emotion is so palpable here today. They also say ‘Thank you for doing this, we’ll never use anyone else other than French.'”
Even thought Chris Keller will need to have someone sandblasting names into cenotaphs for a solid month after this Scatter Day event, it was well worth it.