About the STAR Class
Karen Nilsen is the creator of The STAR Class, and the wife of third generation funeral director Morris N. Nilsen II. She developed the program in 1997, and has since taught it at Morris Nilsen Funeral Chapel in Richfield, Minnesota.
Karen is a registered nurse and perinatal educator, and she recently retired from postpartum nursing at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Minneapolis.
Karen is a part time instructor at the University of Minnesota in the Mortuary Science program, is active in her church, and has served on the governing board as Commissioner of the Youth and Family Ministry.
Mrs. Nilsen is a sponsor member of the Minnesota Funeral Directors’ Association and a volunteer at a grief camp for kids in Minnesota. She attends both state and national Conventions.
She has written articles about children and grief in The DIRECTOR, The American Funeral Director, The INDEPENDENT series of three articles on Children and Death, Children and the Funeral, Children and Cremation, and on CremationMarket.com.
How The STAR Class was Born
By Karen Nilsen
In 1982, a friend of mine called and asked me if I wanted to go out on a blind date. I asked her what this guy was like. “Well, he’s very nice. He’s cute, he goes to my church, he plays the guitar and he drives a really nice car.” So far it sounded like a safe, enjoyable date. “Oh, by the way,” she continued, “he’s a mortician.” Instantly, I conjured up the image of a tall, lanky, dark, solemn figure with an angular jaw, wearing a black suit and a stove pipe hat. (I’m not sure where that came from!) I agreed to the date on her recommendation and discovered that although he was tall and lanky, he did not resemble the conjuring in my mind. He was a fun, talented, sensitive, handsome, great guy. I promptly married him.
When I first became a funeral director’s wife, I was told by a very wise woman, “Always remember, we are not in the FUNERAL BUSINESS, rather, we are in FUNERAL SERVICE.” That belief has stayed with me through the years and I feel The STAR Class has been my way of providing an invaluable service to families at need. As you no doubt already know, the general public has preconceived ideas about funeral directors and what they do. Unless they have experienced a funeral, the public often views them and what they do with a little fear and trepidation.
When my Grandmother died at the age of 97. She was survived by 9 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren. She had been a steady, positive influence in all our lives, and she knew each of us and our children and grandchildren, intimately. I looked for a way to include the children in the funeral process and to give them the opportunity to be involved in the preparations for her funeral and burial. Books, pamphlets and brochures helped a little, but I wanted more. This experience made me realize that children are often kept out on the fringes and sometimes, left out of the funeral experience completely. So, I told them the story of my grandfather’s (her husband) death, 40 years before.
I bought some plain cardboard picture frames for each child to decorate with markers, stickers and rubber stamps. We went through photo albums to find just the right picture for each child. Then each one wrote a message to Grandma on a paper star to place in the casket. I asked the children what they thought of when they saw a star or heard the word ‘STAR’. They responded, “A movie star. A football star. A star in heaven.” I explained these stars stood for a Special Time to Always Remember ™.
The STAR class was born.