Assistant Managing Editor
For 100 years, the Forastieres have been helping families in the greater Springfield area through one of the most difficult parts of life the death of a loved one.
As the years have passed, societal and family changes have prompted funeral services to also change.
Forastiere Family Funeral Homes began with one, small location in the South End of Springfield 100 years ago. It began with Frank and Peter Forastiere and Joanne Forastiere-Skiba's grandparents, Frank M. and Carmela Forastiere, at a time when wakes were held at the family's home, and funerals took place at the family's church. The business eventually was passed to Anthony J. Forastiere, their father.
"When they started the business in 1905, there was not a lot of money," Frank Forastiere explained. "[So], my grandfather also drove a 'jitney,' which was a taxi from Springfield to Riverside Park.
"If someone died, the family member would walk over to the store where my grandmother was, and she would raise the flag outside so he would know to come home."
He continued, "When I reflect back on his time, I knowmy grandfather was there [during the day] with a telephone ... Today, we're a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week service business."
The family business has grown and now operates five funeral homes in five greater Springfield communities: Forastiere- Smith Funeral Home in East Longmeadow; Colonial-Forastiere Funeral Home in Agawam; Southwick-Forastiere Funeral Home in Southwick; Tylunas Funeral Home in Chicopee, with which the family merged in 1997; and the original Forastiere Funeral Home on Locust Street in Springfield.
Forastiere explained that, over the last century, the needs of the family (to accommodate more people, to personalize the services more) and the progression of building codes (which would not allow large numbers of people to assemble at a wake in a person's home) contributed in large part to the funeral home as it exists today: a place where the whole process will be taken care of.
"Over time, all of the changes that have occured are driven by customers, families," he added. "There was a time when it was not uncommon to have three nights of wakes because it was a big deal for someone to come from another part of the country."
Now, he said, a phone call can inform family and friends immediately of their loved one's passing, and transportation can be obtained much more quickly.
"This created an enormous change in speed [of services] in comparison to my father's and grandfather's day," he explained.
As this reporter toured the Forastiere-Smith Funeral Home in East Longmeadow, Forastiere commented a few times that "this is not something my grandfather would have had."
Such items included the soothing aquarium in the atrium; the brightly-colored children's room; and the newsletter that outlines the grief counseling schedule, as well as words from experts about coping with the loss of a loved one.
And the services, from displaying the vehicle or the golf clubs of the deceased; to providing highly personalized caskets or urns; to pre-arrangements by those who wish their family not to be over-burdened at the time of their death; have changed dramatically, as well.
"My grandfather probably made the first pre-arrangement around 1945," Frank Forastiere said. "And there were probably one or two a year."
Now, he said, 55 to 60 percent of services conducted at Forastiere Family Funeral Homes have been pre-arranged.
Forastiere Family Funeral Homes also have a grief counselor on staff, and there are free grief support groups conducted on the premises, regardless of whether or not the deceased's family chose to have the funeral at one of the Forastiere facilities.
This emphasis on taking care of the family is something that the Forastieres have taken very seriously and they have added services as the years have passed.
Forastiere said that, over time, experts have found that the practice of excluding children from funerals was not beneficial.
"The children's room is a 'little place for little people'," he explained. "Families today, we find, do things as a family unit ... When wakes were held in the home, death and funerals used to be a normal part of life. When the funeral moved [to a funeral home], this offered, in some cases, the opportunity to exclude the children."
If children are feeling restless or overwhelmed, the children's room provides a respite while still being part of the family and part of the funeral experience.
Another amenity offered to survivors are butterfly release ceremonies, conducted by Frank Forastiere and Grief Counselor Joanne Sullivan.
And while the family is very involved in the day-to-day operations of its five facilities, they said they could not do it without a very dedicated staff of licensed funeral directors and others on their tight-knit team.
Frank Forastiere said the 100th anniversary of the company will be celebrated internally and shared by current and former staff, and family, later this year.