Saying goodbye as an homage to life

Time is our most precious commodity, so live life to the fullest. Give the here and now your full attention. And do the same when you say say goodbye to a loved one. Because you will never get that time back either. With this vision, Hommage Uitvaarten provides farewell ceremonies that celebrate someone’s life. To the fullest.

Text Paul van Vugt
Portrait Saskia Kropff

Hommage Uitvaarten has locations in Helmond and Son, but their home base is still definitely the idyllic spot near the St. Catherine Cemetery in Eindhoven. Some 2,500 have found their final resting place here, in the backyard of Stefani’s home and office. It is an oasis of calm in the centre of Eindhoven. At the kitchen table, we meet Stefani de Bie and her life partner Raymond, who has also been her business partner since 1 July of this year. They are happy to sit down for a while.

“We’re carrying some heavy loads this week,” Stefani says with a laugh. Everything from easels to works of art. “And even mannequins,” Raymond adds. Like the other day, when a passionate judoka passed away. We thought it would be nice to put his judogi on a mannequin during the ceremony. His heart was in sports. It’s those little things that add a lot of personal touch to a funeral.”

‘We come in as strangers, but we leave as familiar faces’

Rewarding work

Raymond: “The visible part of our work is the ceremony. The farewell. But most of our energy goes into the process before that. The roughly five to eight days after a death. No one sees that, but that’s where the quality we deliver during the farewell lies. It’s the culmination of an intense week. We come in as strangers, but we leave as familiar faces. We help guide the family. Feel their situation. We are thanked and hugged many times, as if we were family of the deceased. This makes for very rewarding work. That’s what we do it for.”

A hallmark of Hommage’s warm approach is the interment of the deceased in the distinctive hall at the edge of St. Catherine Cemetery. ‘Lodging’, is what Stefani calls their stay. “When I do my work, I always keep in mind that the deceased is watching with me. He or she has to feel good about the way I do my job. I think that’s important. I talk to that person a bit. ‘How nice that your children were just here,’ I say. Or ‘how pretty you look’. That helps us take care of the bereaved. Like a welcome guest staying with us for a few days.”

Stefani: “This personal approach comes naturally for us. At the same time, it also means that we can only do a limited number of funerals per week. Doing more is not an option, because that would come at the price of the quality we want to deliver. Of what we love about our profession: giving people attention. We want people to feel that they are top priority.”

Valuable hours

You cannot compare the attention Hommage gives a funeral to the service approach large funeral homes such as DELA provide. There, funeral directors have large target numbers for funerals to reach every year. This means they have a tight timeframe in which to arrange a funeral from A to Z. These kinds of organisations aim for numbers, while Hommage strives for full attention. Stefani and Raymond find that many people think they are tied to such large funeral homes. They have high name recognition and many are insured there. But that doesn’t mean you should leave a funeral to them. There’s freedom of choice. And the freedom to do things differently.

Stefani: “We sometimes have funerals that take 60 hours to organise. We need that time. Just to get to know the family. That involves attention on the one hand, but we also have to use our creativity to really make the funeral something personal. When we are with people, we pay close attention. We look at bookcases, personal photos, what people eat, what wine they like… Spaces like that tell a story, and we jump right into that.”

‘Some are so preoccupied with practical matters that they forget what really matters: those last moments together with their loved one.’

Raymond: “The services of our major competitors are excellent, but we just do things differently. We want to be in constant connection with the bereaved. We are the ears and eyes of the family. Relatives find themselves on a rollercoaster of emotions. We make sure that they are able to fully focus on saying farewell. Sometimes we really have to help people in that process. Some are so preoccupied with practical matters that they forget what really matters: those last moments together with their loved one.”

Efficient, but with soul

Stefani: “The trick is to carefully guide people during the first hours after a death, but at the same time help them make efficient decisions. There are a number of practical choices that have to be made within the first 48 hours. From cards to coffins. Just choosing a location is a challenge. We avoid crematoria because there is no soul in them. There are so many other places that provide a much more personal setting. That’s something you wish for everyone.”

Raymond: “It all revolves around a unique farewell that is fitting for both the deceased and the bereaved. Our ambition and challenge is to leave guests with a very special feeling at every funeral. To gain the trust of people, that’s where our added value lies. We approach saying farewell as a tribute to someone’s life. An homage. Because you only have once chance to get it right.”

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