Death Done Differently wins competition

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Lauren Richwine, founder of Death Done Differently, makes a pitch for her business during Fort Wayne SOUP’s February event. DOUG LEDUC

FORT WAYNE — Death Done Differently plans to promote its end-of-life and home funeral advocacy services with proceeds from the first micro-grant dinner of the year held by Fort Wayne SOUP.

The nonprofit group, SOUP — using an acronym that stands for socializing, organizing, uniting people — collects $5 from everyone attending its quarterly micro-grant dinners and invites the diners to vote on their favorite of four or five funding pitches they hear from startup businesses or nonprofits. Its most recent dinner took place Feb. 28 at the Summit in Fort Wayne.

Sponsors donate food for the event, and the money collected goes to the startup that receives the most votes when ballots are counted after the pitches are made. Presenters have 4 minutes to make a pitch and an additional 4 minutes to answer audience questions about their startups.

Lauren Richwine founded Death Done Differently to help families in the region navigate their end-of-life and funeral options, including those associated with natural or green burials.

Many families do not know which funeral practices are legally required and which may be unnecessary but have become customary within the industry, partly because they generate income for service providers, she said in her pitch.

Indiana is among only nine states that require the hiring of a funeral director at the time of death. There is no legal requirement in the state “to do things like use a casket even, or embalm. Those are all things that have become general policies because they drive profit,” she said.

The average cost across the country for a combined funeral and cemetery, if a family chooses burial, is about $10,000, Richwine said. Cremation can bring the cost down to between $5,000 and $7,000, she said.

“That’s a pretty steep number for a significant percentage of our population,” Richwine said. “In other states where you aren’t legally required to hire a funeral director, you can accomplish very similar things for as little as $2,000 or $3,000, so there’s a vast difference there.”

She estimates it would take a family two to three weeks to search and find the information she can give them in a couple of hours.

“I don’t just want to save my clients money; I want to save them time so they can spend it where it matters most, with the one they love. I was made to do this,” Richwine said.

“I have a great-aunt that was in hospice for years and I volunteered in hospice prior to pursuing certification to do this work myself. I’m extremely empathetic and very driven.”

In addition to preparing families for dealing with the funeral industry by sharing her research, Richwine will accompany them during funeral home visits to “sit with them as they go through the price list and make sure they’re not taken advantage of during the sales procedure,” she said.

Richwine also can recommend which funeral directors in town are willing to work with families on the particular types of observances they would prefer, from a wake to an in-home funeral that is more intimate and personal.

“There’s only a few of them that will do that and I can put them in touch with those individuals,” she said.

“There’s only one cemetery here in Fort Wayne that currently offers natural burials. It’s not green. Green is like another more stringent level of burial, but they offer natural burial and so it’s just something that’s beginning to become more talked about.”

She also helps clients near the end of their lives write legacy letters, which can impart love, summarize beliefs and advice, and share how they would like to be remembered in some last words intended to be kept in the family for several generations, she said.

Death Done Differently has a Facebook page, and Richwine has been planning further promotion of the business through a website and fliers, which could be distributed at places such as oncology departments and emergency rooms and by professionals such as hospice nurses or social workers.

For about $200 she could get an informational flier in the hands of 225 individuals facing a terminal diagnosis, so they and their families will be better equipped to deal with what’s coming, she said.

Within Indiana, “one of the other pieces of my business plan is to duplicate myself as quickly as possible, because it is something that is being talked about more; it is a huge need,” Richwine said.

She does not expect the development of Death Done Differently to meet resistance from funeral homes in the region because businesses like it are going to spread to the state sooner or later, she said.

“What I’m doing is much more common in other states and larger cities,” she said. “We work with them all the time still because there’s going to be clients in families that want to go with all different kinds of funeral homes, so it’s not necessarily that we’re against them; we just want everybody to know what their full range of rights and choices are.”

After winning the vote tally, Richwine said she already has seen families reach out to her from the hospital after traumas, and she believes the boost her business receives from the Fort Wayne SOUP funding will benefit the community.

The amount collected for the winner came to $1,330.

The next SOUP event will take place May 2.