March 4, 2015 2:18 pm
Updated: March 4, 2015 9:21 pm

Calgary-based funeral home offers unique celebrations

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CALGARY – A group of Calgary women is trying to change the perception people have of funerals with a unique business idea.

Elegant Tributes, owned by Therese Rajotte, rarely hosts funerals in its own space in northeast Calgary.

Instead, Rajotte and her female funeral directors and so-called ‘celebration staff’ plan services they book at venues across Alberta.

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“I’ve said to people ‘why would you take a pair of skis to the funeral home? Let’s go to the ski hut,’” Rajotte said.

“Or if [a deceased loved one was] really a food and wine lover, why would you take all that into the funeral home? Let’s go to their favourite restaurant.”

The funeral provider has arranged everything from black tie soirees with opera singers at country clubs – to casual pub parties.

She got the idea, in part, from her previous career as a wedding and event planner.

“About ten years ago, starting to lose some friends and family to cancer, I saw that people really wanted to do things differently,” she said.

She already had strong relationships with many wedding venues, wedding musicians and printers.

The female funeral directors target their marketing to women, who are often the ones making funeral arrangements when a loved one dies.

They say their understanding, compassion and life experience helps make the whole planning process easier.

It’s an attractive idea, according to a recent client Betty Woodhouse, who lost her elderly mother after a prolonged illness earlier this winter.

“I went online and I Googled funeral homes, but I wanted a woman’s touch,” Woodhouse said.

Elegant Tributes worked with Woodhouse to arrange a small but fancy reception at the Kensington Riverside Inn, complete with dainty silver and gold china.

“She would have loved this,” Woodhouse said. “It was a beautiful reception, and I felt so good about it.”

Rajotte says costs are usually lower than traditional funerals, because the funeral home’s small footprint allows her to pass savings onto clients.

Elegant Tributes also offers unique, concierge-style support, including help to choose clothing to wear to the service, packing up a home, referrals to realtors or lawyers and more.

“Just helping people that are numb,” Rajotte said.

Brett Watson, who teaches funeral director training at Mount Royal University, says the profession has changed significantly over the past two decades.

His classes used to be half men, half women, but now nearly 100% of his students are female.

“A lot of men, especially in Alberta, typically gravitate towards oil-related professions,” Watson said. “This particular profession, you have to be a compassionate individual, and I think that’s where women can excel, so that may be the attraction.”

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