When Debbie Williams lost her best friend to cancer in 2002, she held a celebration of life event that was so meaningful, people came up to her afterward saying, “You should do this as a business!” and “Will you do my memorial service?” After she was laid off from her hotel/hospitality industry job, she pondered what would be fulfilling work for her, did some research and started Loving Touches Memorial Services in 2009.
She is essentially a party planner, changing a traditionally sad or somber event into a celebration of life. Co-owner Beth Kingwill brings her expertise as a creative producer of special occasion videos, making loving memory DVDs for families.
In Williams’ research before starting the business, she found that a majority of people who had done a funeral for a family member felt dissatisfied with how traditional funeral services had gone, and that they felt pressured in their choices, especially if they hadn’t pre-planned.
“The worst time in people’s lives is when there’s a death in the family. Holding an event that celebrates the person’s life is healing and very uplifting for them,” says Williams.
She sees a growing trend toward cremation, possibly reaching a 50/50 split with burial in the next five to 10 years. Generations younger than the Baby Boomers are leaning toward cremation, whether due to a desire to reduce environmental impact (embalming chemicals in soil, taking up space in a cemetery, the wood, metal, stone, and cement used for burial) or reduced cost (no plot, headstone, casket, or fees for burial).
With cremation, many options open up for a creative, meaningful memorial service. “If the body is cremated, you have all the time in the world to get the family together, to wait for nicer weather, or to secure a meaningful location to hold the service. You can wait two weeks, or months, however long you need to prepare. You have options outside of a three- to five-day limit when there’s a funeral with a body,” explains Williams.
Her research indicated that 92% of the people she surveyed said that the reception was a key component of a memorial service that makes the celebration of life so special. “It can be an afternoon tea, it could be an evening cocktail party. Think about what the venue should be as a reflection of the person – eating the food that person loved, using their favorite colors and flowers – to connect attendees to who that person was,” says Williams.
In addition to planning a stellar celebration of life event, Williams can help with producing beautiful programs, video DVDs or picture montages, obituaries and eulogies, and mementos related to the deceased. While funeral directors view her as a competitor, she says she would like to work more closely with them and feels she can enhance their business.
She has expanded the business to include helping people memorialize their pets and pre-plan their own funerals. “Everyone seems to accept that their pet is going to die, but when it comes to human beings, we don’t want to accept that it will happen,” says Williams. “Pre-planning allows your loved ones to move forward with the service that you have laid out in advance and relieve some of the pressure on your family during an emotional time.”