The Dallas Telegraph newspaper recently spent some valuable time with Michael Wilfong, Director of Community Outreach of Restland Funeral Home Dallas, learning some history of this funeral home and cemetery, some statistics and interesting facts related to final arrangement planning. Michael was joined by Tonya Lowe, Pre-planning Adviser of Restland.
– I have found it is different whether you are talking to the children, or you are talking to the co-workers, or if you are talking with their friends from the social groups or church because we really are somewhat different people with these different groups of people. To have a proper Celebration of Life Ceremony really takes Funeral Director finding out, who we are celebrating and that means finding all the perspectives of the people involved and getting their contributions to be included in that celebration. Then, it becomes about the life and the treasures of memory that we have from everyone and including them into the service, and including elements of this symbolically. It can be, perhaps placing the Harley motorcycle next to the photograph, having photos of the family, bringing in poems or readings from favorite books, and songs from favorite artists. We can arrange a funeral, using favorite colors or kinds of flowers, a dove or butterfly release. Building in these elements, plus people to speak who had a personal relationship with the deceased, so they can tell the stories of who that person is and how she / he touched their own life. This is what creates a Celebration of Life. These elements can be included with the religious service – as religion can be an integral part of that person, or not – depending on their wishes. Some conduct a prayer and it is done, forgetting about the person that we are trying to remember. We do more here at Restland, we Celebrate life of your family member with you.
– Do you offer unusual, not very traditional funeral services? Not long ago we published the article about the extravaganza in funeral business – someone’s remains were sent to the orbit of Earth…
– If someone ask us to do it, we can make it happen. If you are a Harley Davidson enthusiast, and during the service that you are planing for yourself today, you want the motorcycle brought into the chapel to be next to the casket, we do that because it is who you are. It is not for extra cost. We want to service to be about you, about the person who your friend and relatives who come to honor. The Restland respects who the decease are. We had some family burial at sea, and we found the way to make that happen – because our company can do that. When I was in Hawaii, they brought the family over and loved ones, and their cremated remains. The family wanted to have the family go out on canoes with the Hawaii people and the flower lei is very symbolic, but they scattered in the waters around Hawaii from the canoes, and place the lei. That is what that family wanted. That was a perfect funeral for deceased person. We can make it happen – pretty much everything and everywhere, what the family wants, as long as it is legal, ethical, and moral.
– Many young families expect beautiful prosperous life with prosperous jobs. They think they might leave Dallas and go to California, to New York, to Florida, and they do not know their final destination in the U.S. That is probably the reason they do not buy cemetery property here, in Dallas. Are they correct? In how many states and American territories do you have representatives?
– Our company has a growing presence. We are currently in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon, Washington, and New York. We are very much on East and West coast, and some in the middle and a large presence here, in Texas. We have relationships with other funeral homes to be able to help make something happen in other cemeteries. I think the question people might want to ask is: Where is your “family home” – is it where your parents are, or is it where you are relocating to? We see people’s increasing attention to “mobile” resting place, especially with cremation. Maybe the family home is here, in Dallas, and someone relocated even, than retired in Florida but because the mom and dad here, they want to come back here. That does not mean? They deceased person cannot keep a portion of the cremated remains with them, but send the portion back here to be at the family resting place, the family burial ground with the rest of the family. So the possibilities are actually limitless, and until we talk through those or maybe even talk about something that no one has thought about, can we really get answers to what the questions are.
– You mentioned something very interesting that cremated remains can be splitted in two locations. It is a very new concept for me.
– We have my uncle who is not ready to let go of my aunt yet, so he has a part of her with him – in a necklace in shape of a Cross hanging around his neck. He has a little bit of her with him everyday and, probably, with him forever as he is becoming quite feeble himself. The rest of her cremated remains are in her final resting place here, at Restland, – where her friends and my father can visit her whenever they want or need to. I know several families who does that. It is my friend, who carries a little bit of her son with her. One of her and her son’s dreams was to travel the world together. Unfortunately, he died before they had a chance to do so. So, everywhere she travels now, she carries a little bit of him with her – and as she crosses a river or special place that they talked about – she leaves just a very small portion of him there – so he can be there too. The rest of him is here, at Restland, with his grandmother and grandfather, because it is “home”.
– At what age American families are starting investing in Restland? Do you have any statistics when people starting planning their funeral?
– I would say an average, 50 and up, but it can be anyone. What we found is that if someone has been impacted by the loss of her or his loved one, and she / he had to make arrangements and was not prepared, went through those awful emotions, bore the uncertainty of not being prepared financially, emotionally and not knowing what the person wanted them to do – they are on the first row to do pre-planning arrangements for themselves. Going through that process is as heart wrenching, it seems, as the loss itself. They naturally ask themselves “isn’t there a better way to leave in pace for others?”
– In countries of former Soviet Union, where we all are from, funeral is sorrow and the black color, people are crying – it is look like the end of life. In America is different approach. It is a celebration of life. What does it mean to celebrate life?
– In many of the faith that we serve, this life is temporary and next life is eternal. We grieve, and we are extremely hurt when our relationship with the person ends because we cannot physically talk with them anymore, we cannot touch them. The world together here ends but at the same time there is a peace and the joy that there is no suffering, no sorrow, no pain and there the place far better than those where we are today. Many people find new ways to remember and to communicate with that person and keep them with them always, but in a different way. I have heard people say, “I have a new angel.” For others, it goes back to their faith how they characterize, remember, and make that as a joyful experience. I think it ultimately goes back to one’s belief system and to one’s faith.
– We have an essential part of newspaper readers who moved to this country in their respected age. Not many are reach, many live on Social Security. What do you have to offer to them?
– We can arrange plans that can meet all ages and income levels. We can work one on one to explore options that would meet their needs. This is much better than waiting until the time and having everyone or may be a whole community rushing around, trying to figure-out what we going to do now.
– What are the benefits of selecting Restland as the Eternal Home, compared to others?
– We have the unique capability to discuss and handle really all situations. We have wonderful people like Tonya Lowe, who can speak to you in your native Russian or Ukrainian. We have Stefania Boyer, who can speak Romanian and French. At Restland we have advisors who speak other languages. It is very important, as translation makes clear understanding of what the person wants, indeed, much more difficult. I do not know any other place that has the depth and breadth of experience that we have and to be able to work with people through this process and just simply be here for them.
– Not long ago the body of Archbishop Dimitry was moved from Restland to a new permanent location in St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral of Dallas. During excavation the clergy and staff of Restland were shocked, the body was almost not touched by the time. What makes Restland such a Godly place?
– I think it is the faith and prayers of everyone who knew and love Father Dimitry and were able to keep him in their thoughts and prayers. Being here where we are in a heart of the metroplex, people were able to come by, and we have people who come every day. And people were able still be there with him. If that had anything to do with that I do not know, but I do not know if Restland have anything to do with that, except providing a place, an atmosphere where the people could come and their faith was allowed to flourish and be real here. I think that is just as important as anything else that what we did. We simply let people be themselves here and not trying to make them comply into certain rules and regulations.
– Restland is a resting place for people from all over the world – from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Pacific Island, Japan, Russia, Israel, Ethiopia, and many more. We have advisers who speak many languages.
Come to see me, or call (214) 505-1192 to talk to me in Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, French, or English. I will help you to find answers!