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Funeral Home Practices Change for Next Generation

TUCKAHOE, N.Y. -- If Carrie Foley , a funeral director at Westchester Funeral Home in Tuckahoe gets a request for an all "green" or natural burial, she said she could easily fill that request.

"We can get caskets made from wicker, and there are no chemicals used when preparing the body," Foley said. "There is even a cemetery for bodies that have not been embalmed in the northern part of New York state."

While that has not happened yet, Foley said there has been an increasing number of requests for cremations, and for the remains to be placed in bio-degradable urns.

"We now stock a bio-degradable urn that is made of sea-salt for burials at sea, something that has become more popular," she said.

Earlier this month, Donald Cupertino, a funeral director with Fred H. McGrath & Sons, of Bronxville, said he had three requests for cremations and for the remains to be placed in bio-degradable urns.

"We have been getting quite a few requests for those services," Cupertino said. "The increase is significant."

In addition to dealing with a departure from more traditional rituals, funeral homes are bracing for an increase in the amount of "death calls" that they receive due to the baby boomer generation, said Terri Flynn, executive director of the Westchester County Funeral Homes Association.

While the county's funeral homes vary in size and traffic, with smaller homes averaging between five to 10 funerals each month and larger homes pulling in close to 30, Flynn does not expect problems when baby boomers pass on.

Wake times have shrunk, allowing funeral directors to handle their cases better. Years ago, wakes lasted 12 to 24 hours, but they currently only last for two to six hours, depending on the week day.

"Also, more and more, we're seeing families lean towards direct cremation," said Flynn, "which is a cost-effective alternative with no wake period."

According to Flynn, the increase in deaths due to baby boomers will not result in new funeral homes opening throughout the county.

"It's quite an expense to open one," she said. "And it's difficult to build a client base as families tend to deal with those that they have dealt with in the past, are affiliated to their church or synagogue, or that is local to their neighborhood."

While some funeral homes are integrating social media into their practice, naysayers allege that it comes with drawbacks. Homes are often run by older owners who are not tech-savvy or fear bad brand management and do not have the personal time to devote to its upkeep.

Still most funerals have websites these days, with death notices posted accordingly.

"Our policy is to place notices on the website, only if that is what the family wants, said Foley. "Some families do not want the notice made public and we respect their wishes."

Despite changes in the industry and some of the traditions, one thing will always remain constant and that is meeting the requests of the family.

"For most people, burying a loved one is one of the most difficult thing they have ever had to deal with," Cupertino said. "We do all that we can to help them get through it."

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