AS OCTOBER 31ST draws near, families carve jack o’ lanterns and Halloween enthusiasts outfit their homes with the creepiest of décor. It’s a time to celebrate all things spooky and deathly. However, while spiders and skeletons start cropping up in neighborhoods, the family behind Henderson and Sons Funeral Home are creating a beautiful, serene memorial garden to celebrate life after death.
“We’ve just opened the cremation garden,” Wesley Henderson, one of the sons behind Henderson and Sons, says. “We’ve dedicated a section of our cemetery, which has traditionally been for burials, for families that choose cremation. As I explain to people, cremation is a form of disposition, like burial, and shouldn’t take the place of a service. We just say that if you’ve lost someone you love, you should honor them. And that’s not only for them, but for the person that’s experienced a loss.”
The garden itself honors both the dead and the living. Bestowed the title, the Sanctuary of Memories, the space is currently a small portion of Rome Memorial Park, the Henderson and Sons’ cemetery. What was once a blank portion of land is now a lovely, serene green space outfitted with various benches, walls and other structures featuring blank spaces to later be emblazoned with the names and memories of those lost.
“In this section, there are many different types of memorialization,” Henderson says. “For cremation, the cremated remains in the urn are placed in what’s called a niche. A lot of times, these niches can hold two sets of cremated remains for spouses that want to be laid to rest together.
“This area was specially designed with our cremation families in mind, offering the latest and most personal in cremation memorialization options,” Henderson says. “We offer fountain niches, entry trellis niches, corner trellis niches and mission-style columbaria. We also have private family alcoves. A family could purchase it and there’s four niches inside.”
Walking through the garden, a brick path unites four sections featuring the various structures Henderson names. All paths lead towards the center gazebo. Painted a bright white, the gazebo has plenty of space for family and friends to gather for committals. The trickling of a nearby fountain further transforms the space into a haven for families and friends who are hurting or looking for a place to reflect on sweet memories passed.
“We think it’s a very sacred place, so we want to give it that care. We’re very blessed to have folks who do a good job and keep it clean and well-maintained.”
Working with a professional in the funeral planning business, the Hendersons were able to design the Sanctuary of Memories in a clean, contemporary style to honor Roman families and allow for plenty of personalization options. However, there is more to come.
“This is phase one of a four-phase design. As we fill this garden, we will add on,” Henderson says. “There will be some enhancements as we see fit, but the general layout has been set. We know that there’s going to be at least one additional fountain to come, but we’re really waiting to see what families want. Many of our additions will be based on orders for the families we serve. If a family wants a certain number of spaces or if a family wants a cross or a specific design or style, we’re constantly watching what our families prefer and that’s how we’re looking to grow the memorial in the future.”
The addition of a memorial garden of this type came from a surprising shift in funeral planning.
“The cremation rate in the country has just passed 50 percent; I think this was back in 2016 and that’s the first time in history that’s ever happened,” Henderson says. “When our family started seeing these statistics, we knew we had to offer those families who choose cremation just as many options as families who choose burial. We didn’t really see this service at the forefront in Rome.
“A lot of people don’t know that,” Henderson continues. “Though services vary greatly, you can do just as much for a family that chooses cremation. You can do anything you want for your loved one.”
For those wary of cremation, Henderson and Sons have spoken to families who choose this option for various reasons. Depending on the service families want, some people think that it’s a more cost-effective option. Others find comfort in the convenience. Unlike traditional burials, there is a much looser timeframe. People who are cognizant of their carbon footprint may opt for cremation as it is a greener type of disposition.
“What’s becoming the norm now are a lot more cremations with a lot more celebrations like catering, music and things like that,” Henderson adds. “Traditionally, you had a service at the funeral home or the church, then you had the burial at the cemetery. Nowadays, you’re having a lot more informal services and a lot more secular services. It’s non-traditional; people enjoy just having a gathering of friends and they want food catered. You have companies in the hospitality industry servicing funerals now. They’re using their gathering rooms, their conference rooms and offering them to people who’ve lost someone.”
For those planning ahead or in need, it is easy to have niches reserved for themselves or for their family members.
“We have a saying around here: Every family, every option, every time. We don’t try to influence the types of service, we just want to let them know their options. We’re open every day of the week, so a family just has to give us a call and set up an appointment. A lot of times, we will meet them at the cemetery to show them exactly what they’re getting,” Henderson emphasizes.
It is always difficult to discuss matters surrounding death. Come Halloween, ghost stories will be told, costumes will be donned and death becomes a trivial matter, almost a way to cope with the uncertainty of our lives. Those who are experiencing pain, however, will be comforted knowing that the caring professionals at Henderson and Sons will be with them every step of the way. And with the option of a memorial garden that allows families to reflect in a peaceful green space, there is no reason not to focus on the beauty of a life rather than the sting of death.
“The main thing for us is that we provide personal service from a family that cares,” Henderson says. “Right now, my mother, Nancy, my father, Barry, my brother, Garrett and myself all work for the funeral home. So, it’s truly a family business. We’re a part of this community and we see these families as our own. We try to put ourselves in their shoes by thinking about how would we feel if we lost our father or if we lost our spouse. I think that’s really what separates us from other funeral homes. We care, and it has truly been a blessing to serve so many wonderful families.”