Sarah Bautista-Abano fell into events styling by accident, DIY-ing her daughter’s first birthday party a year after she quit her corporate job. Friends have since asked her to style their own children’s birthdays, and from kiddie parties, she has branched out to weddings and corporate events.
However, Abano’s event styling company With a Flourish (@flourishph on Facebook, @withaflourishph on Instagram) sort of has a “secret menu.”
“Although you won’t see any funeral styling in my portfolio online, I have already styled some wakes and funerals,” she says. “This could have been a lucrative business to pursue in earnest, but I just couldn’t find it in my heart to promote this other side of my business, since potential clients would be in mourning and it felt off to market my service out of people’s misery.”
From fashioning big life events, she found herself dipping into designing death events when a friend in her community lost her baby. The community pitched in for the grieving parents and when a mutual friend reached out to Abano for help, she agreed.
“Since it was a funeral for a newborn baby, I thought to give it a cheerier vibe, like that of a kiddie party, to also celebrate the baby’s life—of course, with the parent’s consent. I had balloons and flowers in all pastel colors for the wake and I even prepared a dessert buffet setup with huge angel’s wings made of white feathers as the focal point, with baby pink, purple and baby blue sheer curtains and fairy lights.”
PersonalizedShe tries to veer away from the “traditional” funeral look, making it a point to tailor the wake according to the dear departed’s personality, with the approval of the family.
“It’s the last thing I could do to honor the deceased, so I want to make sure it is personalized, and every detail thoughtfully done.”
A funeral she did for someone with a large family and who had done so much in life resembled an exhibit, showcasing a gallery of photos and accomplishments through the years. For another service, she was inspired by the favorite color of the deceased, so she used a more purple palette instead of the usual white.
“I’ve also done a ‘plantito’ setup using foliage and potted fresh plants for a more practical-minded family who wanted to bring home all the plants after the funeral,” she adds.
“Funerals always felt to me as the last time for friends and family to publicly honor the departed, so I want every aspect of the funeral to celebrate the person’s life and not just their passing.”
However, Abano says she’s conscious not to go overboard, adding that the styling itself should not become a distraction. “The focus is on the beloved departed and the decor shouldn’t take that away from him or her—they should only complement and support the celebration of their life.”
She says she also believes the family need not pay an arm and a leg for this kind of service. “They have already spent so much, likely on hospital bills and other funeral requirements, and this should not be thought of as an additional burden.”
One-stop shopsBecause stylists like Abano don’t often advertise their services to include end-of-life events, people often use funeral homes as one-stop shops for anything funeral-related.
At Loyola Memorial Chapels & Crematorium Inc. (loyolachapels.com), which has been around since 1969, there is no designated funeral stylist, but all their arrangements are personalized according to the wishes of the family. They provide convenience for the bereaved by offering choices: from the final vestments for the deceased to flower settings, photo and video services, and catering, and even options for Zoom meetings—all the family has to do is to grieve.
Meanwhile, Arlington Memorial Chapels Inc. (arlingtonph.com) has been personalizing funerals since it was founded in 1982, operating under the belief that each funeral should be unique and meaningful for every client, representing the life of the deceased.
Rafael S. Jose, president and CEO of Arlington, says the family-owned and -operated company trains their care directors to walk each family through an arrangement conference that is unique and personal.
“Everything is based on the wishes of the family and how they wish to celebrate the life of the deceased. The family and staff’s imagination is the only limit to the uniqueness of a service,” he says, adding that they even do themed funerals like gardening, movie or golfing—”as long as the request is legal and does not violate any government restrictions.”
Safe placeBecause each person desires to leave a lasting legacy behind when he or she dies, it is always important to highlight a person’s traits and personality in their memorial celebration, Jose adds. “Funeral styling is about showing a person’s best memories, so it is important to highlight all of these during the funeral.”
And just like weddings, funerals also involve hundreds of details that need to be planned and rehearsed properly.
Arlington’s most memorable and challenging funeral to date has been that of the “king of Philippine movies” Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004. With millions of fans who grieved his passing, the logistics of handling visitations during his wake at Sto. Domingo Church became their biggest challenge.
But the most difficult request the company has had to deal with happened during the height of the pandemic. Family members wished to view the remains of their loved one who tested positive for COVID prior to death.
“Under the Department of Health directive, funeral homes are not allowed to open the sealed body bag of a COVID patient. We are to immediately cremate the deceased within 12 hours of the death,” Jose says. “This made it very difficult and added so much more grief and anxiety to the families who lost a loved one.”
Ultimately, Jose says their role is to provide a safe place for families to grieve. “Our aim is to provide them solace by helping them with their wishes and requests. It’s important that we allow them to grieve properly so we are committed to do our best and give them caring and compassionate service.” INQ