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Funeral home takes new approach to services

by Lindsey Wells | April 8, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.
One of the theme based props at Caruth Hale Funeral Home, Thursday, April 4, 2018. (The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen)

Caruth-Hale Funeral Home has taken a new approach to funeral planning by taking its personalization services to new levels never before seen in Hot Springs.

Two years ago, Robert Arledge, the funeral home's president, took on a new venture he describes as "the missing key" to funeral services. Gone are the days when funerals were a solemn, sorrowful affair. Now, families can celebrate their deceased loved ones' lives in the manner that they lived in.

"We've changed our chapel up, got rid of the pews, got rid of the doom and gloom," Arledge said.

He said at Caruth-Hale they believe every life has a unique story that should be shared. The funeral directors begin by gathering information about the deceased individual's life through a casual conversation with the family.

"We find their likes, their dislikes, what they like to eat, what they like to do," Arledge said.

After gathering the information, a team sits around a table and discusses how best to personalize the service by using visual tools and incorporating music, tastes and even smells into the visitation and service.

"We're putting your mom's, your dad's, your loved one's life on display. If you say, 'My mom liked rock 'n' roll,' or, 'My mom liked Led Zeppelin,' we'll have Led Zeppelin playing in the funeral home," Arledge said. "We can turn the music up as loud as you want, for as long as you want."

He also hand-builds entire personalized sets with props to display during each service, and grieving families can bring in props that reflect how their loved one lived their life.

"We had a young lady who was killed in a car accident in north Arkansas, young girl, and we knew that she liked chicken fingers and she liked chocolate gravy, so we had that set up. She also loved Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and so I went and bought a case of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and we had a big macaroni and cheese display. She was also in a sorority, so we did a sorority set for her, and she liked to shop, so we did a shoe shopping set up," Arledge said.

Other sets he has built include a kitchen, bowling alleys, garage sales, a workshop, and a boat, and he has incorporated everything from kayaks, John Deere tractors, fishing, fire trucks, gardens, beach scenes, golfing, ATVs and motorcycles into services.

"The sets we use are to enhance and spotlight areas of the person's journey through life. Each station tells about how that person enjoyed that particular event. We incorporate each set with items that the family may bring in order to make the set more detailed and personalized," Arledge said.

He recalled a service for a man who loved to grill hamburgers.

"He loved to cook hamburgers, so we cooked hamburgers. We set up a picnic for the family, cut up tomatoes and lettuce, had all this cheese and I cooked the burgers on the grill out back and had everything set up for the family like a picnic when they came in and it was just overwhelming, how much they loved it," he said.

One man whose service was held at Caruth-Hale was in the business of cooking barbecue, and the funeral home incorporated the smell of smoked meat into his service, a gesture that his family noticed immediately.

Another man loved chicken and dumplings while he was alive, so Arledge and his team went to Cracker Barrel and purchased a big tray of chicken and dumplings to set up at his service, and the family was able to have one last meal with their loved one.

Possibly the best thing about the added personalization is that it's completely free of charge, Arledge said, adding that the family doesn't have to do anything. The funeral home takes care of everything.

"Every person that has a service here gets this. It doesn't matter if you spend $1,000 or $1 million, they get the same thing. It doesn't matter if you have five friends at your service or 5,000, we don't care. That has nothing to do with anything," he said.

The chapel now has large projection screens on the walls in order to display photos, movies or themes. Arledge said if he can run it through his computer, he can put it on the wall during a service.

"It's about you coming here and saying goodbye to your loved one. Our whole platform for what we do is about helping you in your recovery, and the way we do that is by sparking memories and telling stories and seeing things. It's a glimpse into their life. This isn't a business of trying to sell caskets. People beat the funeral business up for so long, for so many years, saying that we're just out to get money. We're not. Everybody here is passionate about what we do. We want to help people in their recovery and that's what we're all about. From the first time we meet you and pick up your loved one until we say goodbye, and after, we want to make sure you're OK," Arledge said.

"When people say, 'How can you be in such a morbid business?' It's not morbid. We want to share your life. When you do it from that side, it's not morbid at all. There's two kinds of funeral homes: the life funeral homes and the death funeral homes. The death funeral home is morbid and they focus on the death and that's all they do. The life funeral home says, 'Hey, this person was great, let's show their life. Let's tell their story.' That's what we do. We're storytellers."

Local on 04/08/2018

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