Talking with people about their funeral plans is anything but morbid for Connie Harms, a Community Services Counselor with Dignity Memorial.
“My job is really to educate people to see the value in pre-arranging their funerals. There is financial value, definitely. Funerals double in price every 12 to 15 years. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about uniquely celebrating a life, organizing and arranging details so your family isn’t burdened with that and deciding what you would want your last legacy to be like.”
Connie is based out of Victory Memorial Park, in South Surrey. It is a premier location with onsite offices, calm classic decor in the gathering rooms and the tea room with wide open patios and outdoor social spaces that offer ambiance for both intimate and larger tribute gatherings . The 36-acre gardens are exceptionally well kept with babbling brooks, bridges and plans for a newly developed area around a water fountain. All the preparations and cremations are done onsite to ensure that when a loved ones comes into their care they stay in their care.
She says when a tribute is not pre-planned, families can be too emotionally charged to make decisions and sometimes children don’t agree on what they assume their parents’ wishes would have been. Statistically families who have not pre-arranged spend more money on the funeral because they are spending out of guilt and trauma.
“Often after attending a funeral people become motivated to contact us to pre-plan their own tributes”, says Connie. “They might see a disorganized, funeral without any personal touches or a wonderful, thoughtful tribute that celebrates that specific life like no other – either way they start to think about their own end-of-life plans.”
She said some people contact her during or after their own, or a loved one’s health scare. There can be all sorts of life circumstances that cause a bit of an epiphany to solidify their funeral plans.
“When they are ready to pre-arrange their tribute and cemetery plans we articulate their family traditions, cultural and religious preferences and budgets. Then we show them our various options to help with their decision making.
Connie provides a Planning Guide to her clients where they can fill in as much or as little detail as they choose.They can specify their wishes for burial or cremation, and all the product choices that each involves. They can include their favorite songs, colour, flowers, and notable memories they want their loved ones to celebrate as a legacy of their lives. All these documented details help a grief stricken family through their hardest days of preparing the eulogy, obituary and the actual tribute service.
“There is no pressure to make final detailed decisions decades in advance. Any of the details in the Planning Guide can be changed as the years go by. But much like a Will, what’s in that book upon their death is what will be carried out.”
Services also include cemetery planning (plots can be pre-paid in full or paid for over time) with options of cremation and full burials in the gardens, mausoleums and single niches or larger “Family Estates” where up to 12 members can rest together. Dignity also offers a Travel Protection Plan that ensures that if death occurs when you travel anywhere in the world, your body will be brought back to your family with just one phone call.
Connie worked in transportation sales for 27 years and enjoyed her career immensely because of the relationships she was able to build and maintain.
“It’s funny because I had a fulfilling career in the transportation industry, but I always had an interest in the funeral profession. People who know me and see what I am doing now say, ‘Of course you are! This is your calling.’ I truly love what I do. I love interacting with people and hearing their stories. As I listen I can guide them to their best personal plans.
Growing up in a small Icelandic fishing village in central Canada with a population of just 600 people, Connie said she and most of the villagers attended numerous funerals of neighbours and friends. She always felt comfortable at funerals and had a healthy attitude towards them.
“Once I meet with someone and they sort out their funeral and cemetery plans I see a visible look of relief. I think it’s something people should deal with and then never think about again. They want to take the burden of planning off of their loved ones and have everything in order and ready for when the time comes.”
Connie worked with one couple who was giggling throughout the meeting. Even after decades of marriage they surprised each other with their respective wishes. They apologized for taking it so lightly and Connie simply told them not to feel bad. She told them to enjoy the process of planning the celebration of their lives and honouring their legacy.
“It’s so rewarding for me to see people feeling settled and at peace with their plans after I have met with them. I feel very honored when people trust me to guide them through this process . I appreciate that they open up to me and give me the opportunity to help them settle this. After the contract is complete I always make them promise to go out and live life fully, with no worries about end-of-life arrangements.”
For more information or to ask questions, contact Connie at[email protected] or call her directly at 604-819-4446. Visitdignitymemorial.ca or arrange to visit the Victory Home and Gardens at 14831 28 Ave in Surrey.