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Meet a Funeral Director: Malisa Riceci from Solace Cremation

The funeral industry is opaque to most Americans, so we've decided to start highlighting some of the amazing professionals who help grieving families and the work that they do. To start off our series, we're thrilled to introduce you to Malisa Riceci, funeral director of Solace Cremation. Check out her answers to our questions, and if you have other things you'd like to ask her, feel free to leave your questions in the comments at the bottom.

Malisa Riceci, funeral director at Solace Cremation

Malisa, how long have you been a funeral director? How did you first get into the profession?
I’ve been working in death care for 15 years and am very passionate about the families I serve and the loved ones I’m taking care of on their behalf. My journey in the funeral service industry officially began in 2004, but even as a child I held formal services for my pets, including goldfish. I joined Solace at the start of 2019 after consulting for them for a couple of months.

My first career was as an exhibit preparator and archival mount fabricator, working with Portland Art Museum, Oregon Historical Society and Maryhill Museum of Art. At some point I realized if I wanted to work consistently in my field I would need to move to a bigger city. That wasn’t an option for me. I started researching funeral directing and learned an accredited school was in the next town over.

Working in the funeral industry is something I had been interested in for a very long time. If I had joined the industry earlier than I did, I would have been crushed. I’m naturally empathetic with an affinity for loss. No one close to me was surprised when I changed careers to become a funeral director/embalmer. I came into death care wanting to work exclusively for independent funeral homes so I could have the freedom to give tailored, individual care.

What is the job of a funeral director like? What are you responsible for in a typical week?
Funeral directing is pretty demanding, but also extremely satisfying. The administrative side of the job is fairly straightforward, but the families provide endless stories, scenarios, and variety. The real pressure comes with the seriousness of the responsibilities. There is no room for mistakes. Funeral directors are here to take the burden of details out of the families hands so they can have space to grieve and start the process of adjusting to a new normal.

Being a funeral director at Solace Cremation has put a twist on what my duties usually look like, while keeping up the exceptional level of care I want to provide families. Solace is an online immediate disposition company that offers one service - direct cremation. Unlike other cremation service providers we have one inclusive price for our services. We don’t have a starter price and extra costs for small requests or situations outside the families control. Since helping start Solace, I’ve spent a good deal of time educating families, the public, and facilities on why Solace is different from anything else in the funeral industry.

Along with outreach, my days are spent helping families and training our amazing team on guiding families through the cremation process with the highest level of care and knowledge. Our motto here is Listen, Guide, Serve. It is pretty fabulous to be part of something that is putting families first. Solace is built to be consumer centric. I don’t believe the funeral industry intentionally tries to be complicated, but things are done a certain way and everyone has become complacent to that way. I really do believe that the vast majority of people in the industry are in it to help, but Solace has made actual changes to elevate the industry and provide excellent care. Solace has taken what was transactional and turned into pure service.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is making the connection with a family and gaining their trust. I love hearing stories about the descendants I’m serving. I would never have known these people. This is my opportunity to know who they were.

I also really appreciate the honesty of emotion people have when I’m helping them. It is not like other customer service or interactions. There is not a lot of room for facades when someone is trying to receive help for a loved one that has recently passed. The purity of emotion, whether it be hostile or gracious, is refreshing and centering for me.

What do you wish more people knew about funerals?
One of the things I wish people knew about funerals, and maybe they do, is that funeral homes are here to guide you. This is your loved one and you have the right to honor their life however you see fit. Some terminology might also be helpful here. A funeral is a service with the body present. A memorial or celebration of life is a service with either an urn or no remains present. It is really important for people to know that choosing cremation does not mean you can’t have a viewing or service. Alternatively, choosing burial doesn’t mean you have to have a church service and your loved one needs to be embalmed.

Another thing I’d like people to know is that you have to ask questions when choosing a provider when someone has passed. A majority of funeral homes all offer the same services and packages, but there is a very wide range of prices. This is especially true and confusing with direct cremation because everyone is seemingly offering the same thing.

What was the most memorable funeral that you've helped with?
Sharing my most memorable service is a tough ask. I had committal service recently for a gentleman who was a pilot in the Air Force through three wars, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I’ve done countless military services at our local National Cemetery, but this was the first time I helped arrange for a fly over. It was amazing! The family was so proud and thankful. It was very special and I wish I could say it was my most memorable, but I can’t. Honestly, the tragic losses are the ones that stick with me most. They aren’t stories I feel comfortable sharing, but I can say that the amount of love, pain, and strength people are capable of is beautiful and heartbreaking. I am honored to have helped so many families in need and grateful for all the services I’ve directed.

Do you have any thoughts or recommendations for people who are grieving?

Breathe.

There is no right or wrong way to feel.

You aren’t going to feel better any time soon but you feel different. The fog will lift.

I don’t know how people have gotten through some of the losses I’ve seen, but they do, you are going to too.

Go easy on yourself.

Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our audience?
I’d like to thank everyone for their interest and time. I hope sharing a slice of my journey in death care provides helpful insight.

July 2019
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