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Sep 25

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Green Hills Mortuary


I recently visited one of our partner firms, Green Hills Mortuary, in Palos Verdes CA. Not easily impressed, I was blown away by the gorgeous remodel and innovative ideas everywhere.

VP, Robert McNerney, contacted me a little over a year ago inquiring about the In Loving Memory Box program(ILMB). Within a month he brought me out to tour the facility and grounds, train with his staff, and roll-out their first ILMB order.

Over 25 people attended the training and their excitement for this new idea and for funeral service in general were contagious. I was electrified with positivity after spending the day at Green Hills and so grateful that Robert was including me in such an exciting time at their company.

Their main building containing meeting spaces and administration was undergoing a complete remodel. Robert’s plan was to introduce the ILMB to the public as part of their location/brand relaunch. No stone was left unturned in this renovation and no brand detail was overlooked. The finished product is breathtaking.

Walking up to the new building, you feel like you are walking into a resort to check in for spa treatments. Though grand, it is warm and inviting with scrolling iron work, buff stucco, hand crafted ten foot tall mahogany doors, elegant modern finishes and a front desk that looks like it is straight out of an interior design company as opposed to a funeral home. The central gallery of tables has a complimentary drink/coffee bar on one side. Surrounding this Starbucks like setting are the pre-planning rooms. Each behind a frosted glass privacy glass door flanked by electronic kiosks displaying the upcoming meeting time as well as the family’s name. This small detail gives an impression of importance and organization. You feel like you are being cared for by a place where details matter.

Inside the pre-planning rooms; an inviting and intimate round table and chairs, a large flat screen tv on the wall, natural light floods the room and that’s it. No clutter whatsoever. The tv on the wall acts as the computer monitor and you sit with your funeral arranger, click through your options and visualize your customized upcoming experience with beautiful example imagery allowing the family to see exactly what they will get.

When ready to view merchandise, the family walks down a hallway to a set of locked glass doors. Their funeral director punches in a code and the doors quietly slide open to either side allowing entry into the promised land of funeral possibilities, celebration of life items and memorialization opportunities. A little “Get Smart”, a little “Mission Impossible”, the fact that you need to be escorted into this area makes it feel very important, almost like a sanctuary within the rest of the building.








The recent purpose of my visit to Green Hills was to have a follow-up meeting with the funeral director staff. At Green Hills, the Funeral Directors and Funeral Arrangers are two different entities with Hugo Martinez acting as the liaison between the two. It was an upbeat and energetic download of ideas and possibilities. These guys are just the best. They all love what they do and it shows. We talked through how they hold their ILMB services and they are doing some pretty cool things.

They recently had a service for someone famous, who’s name could not be mentioned. At the outdoor grave side ceremony, they handed people the memory cards as they walked up and they said, “hold onto this, you’ll be using it later”. This intriguing way of introducing what would be happening at the service had people buzzing with anticipation. They played music while people wrote and when they were finished writing, two directors walked down the end of each aisle with an open Memory Keeper. People passed their memories to the end of the row and they were ceremoniously placed into the box. Elegant drama, just the statement that the deceased would have loved.

Another innovative thing they’ve done; they took a writing slate and had it blown up to four feet tall by two and a half feet wide, framed it and display it on an easel for people to see as they enter chapel services.

At ILM Services, they seat the family in the front row and they make a ceremonial act of collecting their memories first so everyone in attendance can see that the family members have filled out the memory cards, which of course prompts even the faint of heart to participate and write a memory.

A few things they weren’t doing that they felt would really help the ILMB effort; they are going to start sending the email notification so that people show up to services prepared to participate. They are also going to start asking about the box in their follow-up calls to reinforce the power of the ILMB as well as gathering intel on what the family learned about their loved one. At a place where they are doing EVERYTHING right, these simple additions will make the ILMB even more powerful to the Green Hills brand and the lucky families they serve.

P.S. The “future” of funeral service might just be at 27501 South Western Avenue Rancho Palos Verdes, CA



On the February 7, 2017 episode of the NBC hit show This Is Us, one of the three storylines is exploring the death of a parent and the impact on the entire family. This episode featured the “coping tool” of a Memory Box, where the family will put objects, documents etc. that will remind them of their father/grandfather. The simple homemade box featured is what families do on their own when funeral homes do not offer the In Loving Memory Box. 16.8 million viewers at the time of airing – statistics for on demand tbd.

If mainstream TV shows are featuring this concept, funeral homes should too.


This story is from a funeral director at Allnutt Funeral Service in Fort Collins CO.

A teenage girl died tragically.

Her family was not interested in a typical funeral service as their daughter was not a typical girl.

She was an avid skateboarder and beloved by the entire local skateboard community.

This is a group who prizes individuality and creative expression. They clearly identify with this sport as a way of life, much like the theology among surfers.

The funeral director knew that this family was not interested in anything traditional and was going to hold the service on their own. Knowing the cathartic opportunity for the family and friends, he presented them with the In Loving Memory Box anyway. He then recommended that they hold her service at the skateboard park using the In Loving Memory Box as the focal point.

The service went as follows:

The service was held at twilight. They placed the box on the highest ledge in the park. They propped her skateboard to the left of the box and had the candle burning to the right. They handed each person a writing slate and two sheets of stationery. Everyone sat quietly writing and when they were done, one after another they slowly rode their skateboards forward, stopped, popped their boards, stepped forward and placed the stationery in the box. Unexpectedly, some of them also took off pieces of jewelry they were wearing and put them in the box. People took turns telling the stories they had written. Others came and asked for more paper as this conversation reminded them of more things they wanted to add. When darkness came, everyone lit the flash lights on their phones. It was a glowing, magical scene. They continued to talk and share as darkness fell like a soft blanket around them.

The In Loving Memory Box became the representation of this wonderful teenage girl. It became a vessel for her grieving friends and family. It became a cherished collection to remember her.

Allnutt Funeral Service was THE firm to offer the perfectly appropriate yet unconventional service for this family and community.

That is WHY we all do this. Touch more deeply. Serve more completely. Represent far more uniquely.

Keep being a source of creativity and passion to the families you serve.

Happy Spring-

It’s All In The Box

As time passes, our memory of experiences, events and interactions- change. Some fade completely and are gone forever. Others are like water, hard to hold onto and slowly moving away. The reason “time heals” is because time softens. Time erases. Time makes us forget.

In her book All At Sea– Decca Aitkenhead reacts to the childhood loss of her mother by painstakingly recording the death of her husband and her personal journey through grief. Quite simply, she wrote it down before time stole it.

When we encourage people who are suffering the loss of someone they love to write things down, it is for good reason. While in grief, these memories are like a razor- sharp and unforgiving.  Relentless in their detailed assault; all consuming, painful and unpredictable.

Writing or recording these thoughts and memories helps dull the need to hold on so tightly. Knowing they are now safely recorded is a relief and a release. In Loving Memory Services are how we gather them, The In Loving Memory Box is where we keep them.

Now time can do it’s work of healing, without washing away what we hold precious.

More about the book ALL AT SEA

—Washington Post

“Asensational, devastating story … All at Sea is more than the recounting of a freak accident and its consequences. It is a thoughtful and provocative rumination on love, family and grief. Where When Breath Becomes Air offered a dying man’s perspective on mortality, All at Sea offers a widow’s perspective on survivor’s guilt … A bracing and valuable reminder of the vagaries of fate that can leave you feeling unaccountably grateful—not only for your own relative serendipity, but for the wisdom borne of Aitkenhead’s grit.”

A mother, Joy Ganda Vibar-Alamares, is sitting at the funeral service for her beloved 7 year old son.

His name was Trebby.

She is sitting in the second row, crying, in a room full of people.

Then… a single helium balloon slowly comes free from the bunch tied to the casket.

For a moment it appears aimless, but then it seems to purposefully float toward her.

It hovers around her face and head.

While some may say that the balloon’s movements are just a coincidental occurance due to a loss of helium, the people who witnessed this think differently.

It is Joy’s belief that this was Trebby’s spirit trying to console his mother  one last time.

In Trebby’s In Loving Memory Box, along with his three favorite matchbox cars, 34 photos, invitations to birthday parties, report cards, a spiderman action figure and part of a tattered blanket, you should find a deflated but precious white balloon – forever. Click Here

The first service that I had the chance to use the box was a community changing event. I was able to present the box to the family during the arrangement conference and explained how we would implement it in their service. They were excited as they had a service in another state and did not have this kind of service experience there. As we went through the service I got real nervous as to how the 125 or so people would feel about this. As I discussed with the pastor earlier in the week about how it would go he came to me prior to service and wanted to read the script. I said ok lets roll with it…. He did a great job and every person in the room took advantage of the opportunity to write down a memory. At the conclusion of the service this pastor came up to me and said that this was the best memorial service that he had conducted in years… It was not what he said but the action that the people took in participating in this new program. He then followed that with… If anyone ever asks me where to go when they want a memorial service done right I will send them to you as long as you are doing this program… This is what a memorial service should look like…


I have done 5 services so far with the box

Thanks again Kelly, this will change the way we do business for years to come!!

“…I do not care what happens to this boy. It is simply an empty house. And I do not need a grave for my family to visit and pay homage. My mother was buried in 1982. I have not been to her grave 5 times. She knew I loved her. And Mother’s day I talk to her. I tell her I appreciate all she did for me. I will see her again when I get home (heaven).”

This was a recent comment on a funeral industry blog from a consumer commenting about his feelings towards funeral planning.  How many would agree with these statements and over all viewpoint?  As a matter of fact, it seems that statistics back this statement up with a very large spike in cremation, non religious services and what is foreseen to be a consistent move in the popularity of something unique with the next generations to come.  Why is this?  Why are more families leaning towards an alternative to traditional funeral service?  Could it perhaps be something that the funeral industry has done to move people away from the “norm” or could it be the consumers themselves simply wanting something different?

While visiting Florida a few months back, I found what could be the answer to these questions while wandering the halls of the hotel looking for a cup of coffee.  I couldn’t help but notice a large number of staff setting up for what appeared to be an incredible party.  There was a stage for a band, tables with beautiful linens and gorgeous center pieces being placed on them, two bars at each end of the room and long tables along the walls with easels nearby.  When I asked one of the staff what they had going on later that day, they stated that they had a “bereavement event” planned for that evening.  A bereavement event?  In questioning further, I learned that they were setting up for what an undertaker would refer to as a “memorial service” but this was to a level of professional staging that no funeral home could ever achieve….or could they?

The concept of “Bereavement Events” is breaking the mold cast by the majority of traditional undertakers.  Rather than walking into a floral smelling, low lit, dark carpeted, somber room filled with sad people, consumers are now wanting something uplifting, happy and most importantly, celebratory as they honor a life lived.  Since this is not the majority of offerings within funeral homes today, people are seeking outside vendors to provide them this means of celebration.  Fortunately, some contemporary undertakers are opening their eyes to this concept and are now offering similar tribute events to suit your needs.  These unique “Tribute Centers” (as I refer to them) are something relatively new to the funeral industry.  After much research and development, they have learned from the “Bereavement event” that outside vendors offer and in turn now providing a much more relaxed atmosphere in which events for families and friends can be hosted.  For example, where are most of us comfortable standing when visiting a friend’s home?  The kitchen, right?  These modern day “Tribute Centers” offer a kitchen feel to the office in which you meet the undertaker.  No more round table in a dark room surrounded by urns and caskets.  Nope, consumers now find themselves in a room that has a Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma feel, with coffee, appetizers, and even a high top table to provide the feel of home.   In addition, these modernized facilities have a plasma TV around nearly every corner and state of the art technology piping audio and visual media throughout the building.  These facilities have revolutionized funeral service into an opportunity for friends and family to enter a comforting atmosphere to share in a life lived. In other words, a small portion of modern day undertakers have gone against the grain in order to suit the needs of today’s consumer.

So what does this mean for you and me, the modern consumer??? When it comes to purchasing a funeral or cremation for a loved one, we need to look at it in an entirely different way.  Often times this means that the focus would shift away from the means of disposition (ie. burial or cremation) and now towards what’s really important – honoring a life lived. Today many undertakers are still trying to get consumers to buy that casket, hold a visitation and even have a traditional funeral ceremony that was the norm when their granddaddys ran the business.  In reality, there is a large portion of the population that want something different, and today contemporary firms are starting to appear in our market place to offer just that.  More and more families are selecting cremation or unique celebrations, and therefore desire the flexibility and creativity which accompanies these tributes in order to have that special celebration. If you are one of those consumers who wants something different than what you’ve seen in the past, for either cremation or burial, fortunately you are in luck, a small portion of today’s undertakers are hearing you.  Seek out one of these contemporary firms and learn how a “funeral service” of the past, can be transformed into a “Remembrance Tribute” of today!

-Ryan R. Helfenbein

Want to hear more from Ryan- Go to Ryan Helfenbein is a licensed funeral director, certified pre-planning counselor and partner in his family’s businesses Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, P.A., FHN Insurance Co., Inc. and Lasting Tributes by Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Cremation and Funeral Care, P.A. As supervising mortician of Lasting Tributes, Ryan is dedicated to simplifying the funeral buying process while offering top quality service with affordable pricing for the Anne Arundel county residents. He believes that consumers should not have to pay high costs in order to receive the very best in funeral service today.


WATCH HERE> Treat People Better

May 19th- On the television show “The View“, Whoopi Goldberg opened with comments about her recently deceased brother and her experience with corporate owned funeral homes in the Los Angeles area.

The View averages 3.01 million total viewers.

Seeing Stars – Meg Hutchinson  06 Seeing Stars

Submarine Ride– John Mayer  09 Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967

Story Of My Life – One Direction1-02 Story of My Life

Dark Black – Kristina Train  01 Dark Black

All Good Things – Jackson Browne  10 All Good Things

Fields of Gold – Joshua Davis  01 Fields of Gold (The Voice Performance)

Lovers Eyes – Mumford & Sons  07 Lovers’ Eyes

Yellow Light – Of Monsters and Men  12 Yellow Light

Amazing Grace – Meghan Linsey  01 Amazing Grace (The Voice Performance)

Down To The River To Pray– Deanna Johnson  01 Down To the River To Pray (The Voice Performance) 01 Amazing Grace (The Voice Performance)

See You Again – Wiz Khalifa (Feat. Charlie Puth)   07 See You Again (feat. Charlie Puth)

PAUL WALKER TRIBUTE AT THE END OF FAST AND FURIOUS 7- Click link below for official video