The Rite Stuff: A New Trend in Party Planning

A local event planner wants to help you undertake your own funeral arrangements.

Anne-Marie Dezelan, owner of Annie O’s Events, sits on the edge of her cherry-red couch; across from her, a coffee table holds books featuring drink recipes and decorating, as well as her ever-present notebook. The obituary clippings peeking out from that notebook represent a mission that Dezelan has turned into her new business, Circle Unbroken. The venture aims to help personalize memorial services—what Dezelan calls the party no one wants to plan.

“People plan their wedding and their kids’ parties. Why wouldn’t you want some planning behind [your memorial service]?” she says. Dezelan got the idea for Circle Unbroken as a 22-year-old dealing with her mother’s passing. “My mom wanted to be buried in a pine box,” she says. “The funeral director [said], ‘You don’t want that. They write country songs about that.’ We got her everything she wanted, but it was really hard.”

Now others have caught on. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the post-life–party movement started with Baby Boomers wanting to celebrate the personalities and hobbies of loved ones. As that generation ages—U.S. deaths are expected to rise 30 percent by 2030—Boomers will want their own services handled the same way, according to industry forecasts. “They don’t want a viewing in a quiet, impersonal, generic funeral parlor that reeks of lilies and organ music, with long lines and people wearing black,” Dezelan says. “I absolutely believe that the majority of Baby Boomers would rather spend $7,000 on a celebration in place of a $7,000 casket.”

They also might prefer to put their preferences in writing and save grieving survivors the burden of making (or disagreeing about) those decisions. Dezelan’s process involves discussing the client’s passions and interests and reviewing a custom questionnaire: burial location and service style, for example. She records choices and event details in a notarized document and charges a few hundred dollars (and up), depending on the family’s plans.

One of Dezelan’s most recent celebrations was styled to reflect the spirit of her husband’s great-aunt, who loved her Italian roots. “She made sauce every Sunday and always had a piece of chocolate in her pocket,” she says. “I incorporated the garlic from her sauce in a centerpiece with Chianti bottles. I had a table where people could get a little chocolate square, like the ones she kept in her pocket.”

More: Annie O’s Events

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the October 2013 issue.