By Betty Wong – Nicholas Cognetta grew up around death. His parents opened Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home & Crematory in Stamford in 1953, and after being born in 1960, Cognetta’s childhood memories included seeing coffin displays in his home where his parents ran their business and the occasional limousine ride to school.

For his own funeral in the distant future, Cognetta wants to be buried in a formal suit but next to two leather motorcycle jackets “so I can change later.” Cognetta worked alongside his father for 25 years and took over in 2005. His sister, Barbara, took over their mother’s 50-year tradition of baking a cake for every family served at their funeral parlors in Stamford and Norwalk and baked 350 cakes last year.

Fairfield County’s death care business will increase steadily as baby boomers age. While funerals remain largely traditional, funeral directors in southwestern Connecticut said clients seek to personalize services and want remembrance tokens. Cremations are becoming more popular, matching the overall U.S. trend that is expected to rise from about 48.5 percent in 2015 to 71 percent in 2030, according to the Brookfield, Wis.-based National Funeral Directors Association. Families select cremation over burial because of cost, the environment, family mobility, fewer families buying family plots, fewer religious prohibitions and scarcer cemetery plots in congested Fairfield County.

Funeral directors said unusual industry services for the cremated include ashes being made into a coral reef or synthetic diamond, but local demand remains low.

“Connecticut is a land of steady habits,” said John Cascio, executive director of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association in Wethersfield. But he noted, “People are personalizing a lot more.”

“Regionally, a lot of families are doing fingerprinting of loved ones and, for instance, having a locket made of a thumbprint,” Cascio said. Other keepsakes include small urns that allow the splitting and sharing of ashes and ashes embedded or stored in jewelry, paperweights, wind chimes and clocks. Biodegradable water urns allow ashes to be dispersed into the sea.

Technological advances, funeral directors said, include webcasting funerals, online registry books and video montages.

“Ten years ago, most families had traditional services — the wake, open casket and church service. There’s been a jump in the cremation number, but the biggest change in services is the services themselves,” said Tania (Bordeau) Porta, owner of Cornell Memorial in Danbury. She said more clients are opting for cremation, followed by a service with or without an urn present.

An offering that hasn’t taken off in Fairfield County is green burials. “Six years ago, we started to educate ourselves on green burials before others. We thought it would take off as in the Northwest, where it is very common. The challenge here is every cemetery except (Wooster Cemetery in Danbury) requires a concrete vault under the ground of the coffin and that defeats the purpose of green burials,” said Rebecca Lautenslager, a funeral director at Shaughnessey Banks Funeral Home in Fairfield.

As for personalization, Lautenslager said her funeral home helped one family honor the passing of a farmer by transporting his casket in a pickup truck. Cognetta recalled one beach lover’s service. “Instead of a procession past the family home, we drove the procession through Greenwich Point after getting town approval. The person used to spend a lot of time there. That ride meant more to the family than the wake could. It gave them peace.”

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