Thompson Funeral Home has a gift for caring for families.
By Deena C. Bouknight
Photos by Ali Moons
Apple pie spice wafts through the space, photographs of a life well lived dominate a massive screen, familiar music surrounds, while various home-baked goods await guests. No, this is not a birthday celebration or even a retirement party. It is a funeral service. Thompson Funeral Home, with locations at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia, as well as in West Columbia and Lexington, lives up to its motto: “Caring for Families. Celebrating Lives.”
Sundry services attest to the business’s focus on community and people. Yes, it is a funeral home, where arrangements are made for the burial of loved ones. However, what else Thompson offers is extensive and varied.
Mary Beth Lamey, the Community Care Coordinator, has a background in social work. She explains that there are many after-care programs, such as counseling with referrals, if needed, remembrance services, and holiday events, including the lighting of hundreds of luminaries in December. There are events that anyone in the community is invited to attend, such as luncheons to celebrate first responders, veterans, and clergy. As part of Thompson’s “Life Steps” philosophy of assisting people who experience any type of loss (not just the loss of a loved one), there are Lunch and Learn events taught by a licensed therapist or by an expert in a particular field, such as finance.
“We want to help people stay healthy nutritionally, emotionally and physically,” says Lamey. “We want them to know how to make the right legal decisions, to stay safe, to know how to manage financially, and to know how to move on from a difficult place.”
On the lighter side there is Coffee & Conversation for single seniors, occasional “Shred Events,” where people can bring all the miscellaneous paperwork they want to get rid of, and art and wine shows.
Suzanne T. Elkins, general manager, who has worked in the industry for years and is relatively new at Thompson, points out that offering so much to people in the community is unusual for a funeral home. Since joining Thompson, she has been impressed with the level of care “before there is a death, and then after a death – and even for those who have not yet experienced a death.”
There is even a community Life Event Center and a chapel available for anyone to use for meetings and special events that have nothing to do with someone passing.
Besides offering much, Thompson is a supporter of such organizations as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), the Alzheimer’s Association, and many other community organizations.
“Our main goal is to assist families in celebrating and honoring the lives of their loved ones – before and after death,” says Elkins.
Such a sentiment is seen throughout the Thompson locations, which resemble residential home interiors instead of stark business environments. Sofas, upholstered traditional chairs, wood pieces, and framed wall art provide a comforting, inviting atmosphere. Anyone who visits is offered refreshments, snacks, and even wine or beer.
“We’re one big happy family,” says A.J. Bracy, funeral director and cremation specialist. “When people come here to make funeral arrangements, it’s really not about the goal of making a sale. It’s about making decisions, and we will work with families for as long as they need to do that. I was once with a family for seven hours straight.”
He encourages people to pre-plan, if possible, so stress is lessened.
“We want the process to be about creating a meaningful story. When we help surviving loved ones begin to talk about a person’s life, often a celebration begins to take shape. We have so many storytelling capabilities through the use of technology, from customized smells, to special music, and to personalized images; so that guests who come to the service truly get to remember the person and may even get to know him or her better.”
Elkins remembers one “gathering” that focused on an individual’s love for Clemson. Guests wore Clemson paraphernalia, the man’s truck was decorated in Clemson gear, and there was a slide show on the high-tech, multi-purpose screen that presented his enthusiasm for the team. Similar personalization for Gamecocks fans has also been used numerous times.
She also shared that recently, when a tow truck driver died, his casket was carried on a tow truck and the procession of guests were all in tow trucks, truly creating a lasting memory for his family and friends. Similarly, a woman who liked to bake had recipes available and her favorite baked items to sample during her visitation.
“Every funeral is a specific event,” she says. “Nothing is cookie cutter.”
Bracy adds, “We want people attending a gathering to get a clearer picture of who the person was … the totality of their lives … not just who they were at the time of death.”
Sometimes, Thompson uses a drone for aerial photography during graveside services, to capture all possible views for the family. Lamey says the quality of the production is so spectacular, that it views as a beautifully created personal film set to music. Those who cannot attend the funeral can feel like they were there to celebrate along with the family.
“In one film, the videographer captured geese flying over at sunset,” says Elkins. “It was perfect.”
Thompson is especially attentive to those in the military, as well as to veterans. “We’re considered “veteran specialists’,” says Bracy. “Several of our staff members are retired veterans, including a Purple Heart recipient.”
“What has been so moving to me,” says Elkins, “is how a flag is draped over a veteran immediately upon death – even before the person gets to the funeral home. If we are bringing the deceased into our care, at the hospital or a nursing home, often, the staff will stand and salute as the veteran is escorted out. It’s amazing. Very touching.”
“We are here to provide care for families, while at the same time, celebrating lives,” says Elkins.
4720 Augusta Road
845 Leesburg Road
200 State Street