Charles Castiglia has tried some unconventional approaches at Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home in Hamburg. In 2007, he became among the first in the region to stream funerals live online. He hosts annual cremation seminars, holiday gatherings, and butterfly releases for those who have lost loved ones. He leads some of his funeral processions in a family-owned Harley Davidson pulling a custom-built 19th Century “Old West” style hearse coach.
So it should come as no surprise that Castiglia this weekend will host what is believed to be the first Holistic Health Open House at a Western New York funeral home. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Lakeside, 4199 Lakeshore Road, and feature more than 40 holistic practitioners, including experts in massage therapy, yoga and meditation. Admission is free; donations will be accepted on behalf of the Scleroderma Foundation. For more info, visit lakesidefuneralhome.com.
Castiglia, 49, and his wife, Rachel, who teaches business and computer programing at Silver Creek High School, have three children, Alyssa, 25, Anthony, 23, and Aurora, 17. Aurora, a Nardin Academy senior who will study astrophysics in the fall at Ohio State University, has been diagnosed with Scleroderma, and autoimmune disease in which the body produces scar tissue in on parts of the skin that have not been injured.
About 15 years ago, Castiglia, a parishioner at St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Lakeview, went back for his master’s degree in strategic leadership from Robert’s Wesleyan College, and was encouraged to start a mission statement. He ran through a deck of 140 different values with his employees and everybody gave him their top 12 values.
“Two values were on every person’s list: compassion and healing,” he said, “so that became our slogan.”
Q. How did the idea of an open house come about?
I’ve been thinking for a few years about a health fair to help people get through whatever issues, whether they’re physical, emotional, grief-related. We’re here to enhance our community, not just make money. Helping families, survivors, that’s the most important thing. Then I saw Nancy Weil (founder of the Holistic Alliance of WNY and grief coordinator with Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese of Buffalo) speak at one of the national conventions for the International Order of the Golden Rule, a national independent funeral home association. I’m going to be president of the group next year. We made a connection because we were both from Buffalo. She was a guest speaker talking about how laughter helps with grief.
I told her I wanted to do a health fair and she told me about her relationship with the holistic health community and I said, “Wait a minute, that might be an even better idea.” We started bouncing ideas off of each other and it kept growing. We’ve got over 40 practitioners covering 22 different practices are going to be there.
Q. What reaction have you received about the open house from some of the families you’ve helped?
When I sent out postcards, I got a call almost immediately from one of the family members that we serve. He said, “I hope there’s something there to help me sleep. Since my wife died, I haven’t been able to sleep.” I assured him there would be plenty of different options.
Q. How does a Holistic Health Open House fit your slogan?
It’s all about healing people in a healthy way. Our initial focus was compassion and healing people who are suffering through grief but we decided to expand it and broaden it. I’m not charging anybody to attend and I’m not charging the vendors. I’m fitting the bill for the advertising and the setup and refreshments for the vendors. It helps my daughter, helps the community and helps the families I serve. ... When I lost my father, Anthony, in 1994, I was so busy taking care of the funeral home and everybody else I ended up in the hospital physically drained. It wiped me out because I was taking care of myself, so I have first-hand experience with this.
Q. Your website includes information on grief support. Is this an extension of helping loved ones of those who have died?
Absolutely. At the health fair we’re going to have therapy dogs and a grief counselor to help people, too.
Q. This isn’t the first time Lakeside has done something unconventional. Talk about your Harley motorcycle hearse?
We have the only Harley hearse in the area. Initially, we were trying to do something different to be helpful to the community. When we first got it, I thought it would be more geared toward the biker community but it went in a different direction than we expected. We ended up working very closely with the Patriot Guard. We’ve donated the hearse. We pick up any unclaimed veterans and transfer them to Bath for burial in the veteran’s cemetery there. Last year, we did 12, with the Patriot Guard riding escort, so there’s 500 motorcycles riding escort and transferring the cremated remains of these veterans whose families never claimed them. We’ve established this wonderful relationship with the Patriot Guard. We’ve done a couple of bike blessings and do some charity runs, too. Plus we get a lot of veterans wanting the Patriot Guard to be present, so even if they didn’t ride a motorcycle they want the motorcycle hearse because the Patriot Guard will be present for us.
Q. Do you own a Harley yourself?
The two people that drive the 2013 Harley Davidson Tri-Glide Trike are me and my son.
Q. How do you stay healthy? Are any holistic practices part of the mix?
One women who works for us does essential oils. After my father died, I never slept real well. She started having me diffuse lavender before I go to bed and my wife’s been blown away. She tells me, “I can’t believe how well you’re sleeping.” I’ve always done iridology and taken herbs and vitamins since I was a kid but the stuff with the essential oil is probably the last six, eight months. ... Whatever it takes for people to get healthy. I’m not one to judge.
Q. What do you tend to find brings families and friends the most comfort during the days, weeks and months after someone has died?
I think the most comforting thing for people is to realize that they’re not alone. There’s other people going through what they’re going through. Grief is a very lonely process and people think they’re suffering through it alone, but when you go to the butterfly release or our holiday program, you realize there’s 200, 300 other people sitting there with you that have gone through the same thing. I think that, more than anything, is the most beneficial for the people we serve.
We also created Silver Linings. People have a gray cloud of grief and we’re taking the things we already do – the holiday event, the butterfly release and the health fair – and adding a financial education program for widows so they know how to handle (financial) things. We’re also going to do a Valentine’s luncheon for the widows and widowers because Valentine’s is a tough day. We’ve also worked out an arrangement with Know How Tours and we’re going to have four or five different luncheons. We’re going to do a trip for St. Patrick’s Day, up to Skaneateles for shopping, to Letchworth and lunch at the Glen Iris Inn. ... This is to give them that opportunity of not being alone. We’re going to have something to do every month except January and we’re launching it at the holistic health fair.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon