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Illinois Funeral Home To Offer Alcohol At Wakes

Who Says Funerals Must Be Somber?

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

A northern Illinois funeral home will soon offer wine and cocktails to grieving families during wakes and memorial services.

Kolssak Funeral Home in Wheeling is the first funeral home in the state to obtain a liquor license. The family-owned business wants to make it easier for loved ones to “celebrate life” and toast to the deceased.

“Funerals are changing so much,” Melissa Kolssak told Life Matters Media. “People are moving away from having one night of visitation, a funeral the next day and then Mass and burial.”

It is now common for people to meet for memorial gatherings at restaurants or hotel ballrooms before and after burial.

“We wanted to give our families the option of tradition, but not make it so somber,” she said.

Kolssak Funeral Home. Google Images
Kolssak Funeral Home. Google Images

She and her husband, Jon Kolssak, hope to start serving by mid-January. Their decision has sparked warm headlines across the state. However, they do not want people to liken their business to a tavern or bar. They want to “keep it classy.”

“We’re not encouraging drinking, we just want to offer it as another option,” she said. “People want to personalize funerals for their loved ones.” They will also offer hors d’oeuvres.

Kolssak said she hopes the trend towards personalized funerals will entice more people to talk about their death.

“Talking about it and planning for it does’t mean death is going to happen right away,” she said. “But avoiding discussion of death isn’t going to stop it from happening, either.”

It is common, Kolssak said, for older people to bring a special bottle of wine to honor their loved ones before or after visitation.

“If they want to have a mimosa or a little glass of wine, that is what we would like to do,” she said. “If they choose to say ‘no,’ that’s totally fine. We just want to offer it.”

Kolssak also hopes it will discourage mourners from “tailgating” in their parking lot or walking to nearby bars after services.

“We’ve received resounding support for the idea,” she added. “Nine times out of ten, it’s positive feedback.”

Stephanie Deiters, president of the Illinois Funeral Director’s Association in Springfield, supports the effort.

“I’m assuming there will be other communities that follow and understand that some families do wish to have a celebration and participate this way,” she told LMM. “I think it’s very reasonable.”

Ronette McCarthy, legal counsel to Willow Springs-based Elements, the cremation company, said the focus of funerals should always be on the deceased and his or her family.

“It’s really important to make those in the funeral and cremation industry more approachable to help take away some of the scariness surrounding death and end of life,” she said.

Her business has offered similar services to clients at memorials. She highlighted a family that recently honored the deceased by providing her two favorite cocktails: margaritas and Old Fashioneds.

“All the guests had the opportunity to have one of each,” she said. “The family wished the guests could experience these two drinks their mom was known for.”

Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris said he supports the Kolssaks for “thinking ahead of the game,” The Chicago Tribune reports.

“I’ve worked at wakes and visitation services where you’re having to police the parking lot because there’s tailgating going on,” said Argiris, who abstained from the recent liquor license vote because he works in the funeral home industry.

“I think we’re seeing a generational change from this idea that wakes are bad and sad,” he said. “More and more people are saying, ‘I don’t want all that crying … I want a party.'”

– Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons