I received a call from a hopeful hospice social worker who was attempting to find a funeral home that could do something out of the ordinary for a family that would soon lose their 11 year old daughter, sister and granddaughter. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew the young girl loved princesses and the color pink. The family requested I meet with them at the hospice facility because they didn’t feel comfortable leaving her due to her prognosis and imminent death. So with a heavy heart, little notice and a pink stuffed dog I found at K-Mart paired with a princess tiara I suitably dressed him in, I was on my way to help this family the best I could.
After first meeting the mother and father, I was able to learn more about the family and the wishes they had for their little girl. She had been diagnosed with Batten’s Disease early in her life. Her mother told me she wanted to have her daughter cremated because they did not plan on staying in the Nashville area. They also were a traditional family who wanted to have time with her and have an opportunity for family and friends to gather together one last time in remembrance. Her words to me were, “I’ll never be able to give my daughter a fairytale wedding so I want to give her a fairytale funeral.”
I encouraged the parents to let me design something special and truly unique that would portray their daughter’s love of princesses, story time, the color pink, etc. They were open to my ideas and also requested for the ceremony to be documented on film and in still photographs. They gave me a modest budget for flowers however I informed them that our services were at no cost due to their daughter’s age. Due to her crippling illness they were uncertain as what to dress their daughter in and I suggested going to a bridal shop and selecting a dress designed for a flower girl. They found just the one; all white with pink bows, long white gloves and white stockings. Her favorite Cinderella slippers would rest near her feet.
Since there would be a formal viewing and the idea of a casket didn’t exactly fit the theme or what the family wanted, I purchased a mattress and assembled a twin bed floating four feet off the ground. I asked for all of the child’s bedding from her room in order to make everything as comforting and familiar as possible. The pink Cinderella bedding worked perfectly in keeping with the theme. I contacted our local florist and they agreed to loan me their white wedding columns and urns. I would use the 8 foot columns to create a four-poster princess style canopy bed. On each bed post I would place a fresh arrangement of roses, carnations, baby’s breath, and snaps, complete with crystal tiaras in each. Connecting the posts would be yards of swooping tulle, softening the impressive columns.
The flower colors of course were white and pink and I continued this theme in arrangements at the end of each chapel pew and along the main aisle with white and pink rose petals. Boston ferns added a softness and touch of green. Memorial tribute monitors were on display to share the life that had been lived and the love that was given. Her story books and stuffed animals were displayed near the bedside in keeping with the young girl’s love for story time. Throughout the sanctuary you would hear the words to Walt Disney classics like; Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. The vestibule was adorned with flowers and tulle as well as stationery and guestbook fit for a princess.
The young girl once bound by such illness lie perfectly straight, her hair down, her body no longer twisted and her hair no longer in braids. She wore a tiara her mother had purchased for her. In her satin gloved hands she held a nosegay of pink baby roses, her lips glistened with pink lip gloss she never got to wear, and somehow everything seemed perfect.
As the family’s limousine arrived, I escorted the family into the chapel for the first time. They were in awe and speechless at what had been created in honor of their little girl. Visitors commented “I’ve never seen anything like it,” some only cried and smiled without words. The personnel from the hospice unit where the young girl had resided at during her last days couldn’t believe what they were experiencing. The young girl’s mother said, “I feel like I am at a wedding not a funeral.” A step was strategically placed near her bed for her little brother, and he never left her side. Following a touching service led by family and friends white doves were released during our “Flight Home Ceremony” and an inevitable day for this family would come to an end.
Following the cremation a Nambe urn was selected for the remains and the tiara the girl wore during her ceremony rests on the urn’s brim to this day. The fairy tale had come true for this family and their burden was lightened because of the care and creativeness they received in an otherwise bleak phase in their life.
This ceremony was awarded recognition by the ICCFA (International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association) as Most Personalized Ceremony at the 2011 Convention.