THE FUNERAL DIRECTORS MINDSET
Funeral directing is a very unique profession. It is steeped in the deep waters
of tradition where changes come extremely slow and old procedures and techniques die screaming. Over fifty percent of the
funeral directors owning and operating funeral directing establishments are multigenerational in their trade. In other words,
their parents, grandparents, in laws, aunts or uncles practiced the trade before them and passed it on into their control.
The old cliche Weve never done it that way before is undeniably etched on the wall somewhere in every mortuary of the nation
owned by a multigenerational family .
While the vast majority of these family owned firms operate at a very acceptable
level of integrity and confidentiality, they often times carry the bondage and baggage of the previous family owners. Because
the business tends to be very time consuming and confining, the recreational habits of some of these funeral professionals
can be considerably less confining.
Unfortunately, their spiritual lives are often neglected too. They are either
too busy on the weekends that they are on call, or else the phones need to be answered, or they are exhausted from the
consuming caseload of that previous week, or maybe even too self consumed to consider the fellowship and ministry of an active
spiritual life in a local church. Surrounding the ones in the industry who do pursue such a spiritual life, unfortunately
some fall prey to alcoholism, casual substance abuse and/or regular bouts of immorality. Of the top ten rated professions
in the United States, funeral directors continually rank high among them in the area of alcoholism. Because of their status
in the community and the importance of personality and image, most funeral directors avoid seeking mental and spiritual help
from pastors and professionals who could assist them.
The irony of all of this is, that when you visit the
vast majority of their establishments for the occasion of a funeral, you would never perceive such a problem exists. Most
funeral directors in their job situations, present themselves as courteous, compassionate, caring and pleasant. Some funeral
homes even offer after care programs for the families they serve, which may include support groups and even an element of
individual pastoral care. These aftercare programs are a very odd way of trying to mix the aspects of counseling, care and
ministry, that the clergy would probably be more fundamentally capable of doing, with the proprietorship mentality of the
funeral home business.
The typical foundation of the funeral directors personal life is well disguised by a unique
and complex structure of defense mechanisms designed to hide their real mental and spiritual identity from the onlooker. This
is much like their forefathers in funeral service hid the preparatory arts of embalming from the general public for decades.
Then there are the corporate counterparts who use the licensed pawns of the industry to do the funeral production
work. They are often easy to identify, because the name on the sign or title of the establishment is rarely the same name
of the person you see in charge or working the funeral in progress. These corporate pawns are a younger generation of profit
oriented and are well educated practitioners. They are jokingly referred to by their corporate employers as flat-heads (which
comes from the act of continually hitting the tops of their heads on a glass ceiling of career advancement.) Not very many
of these pawns are ever given the chance to advance into upper level management in this corporate arena. A very small portion
of the corporate directors, stockholders and CEOs of the conglomerates are even licensed to practice the funeral profession.
Because of the mild effects of this form of corporate tyranny, these licensed funeral directing pawns usually display
very little loyalty to the corporation or enthusiasm on the job, and do no stay long with any one company. Many of them live
for the paycheck and rarely pursue community involvement or a spiritual/religious lifestyle. There are a few of these funeral
directors that really want to make a difference, but most of those who hold to high character and integrity in their personal
and/or social lives either leave the industry, or eventually go to work for smaller family owned firms.
early 1980s the funeral industry in the United States has been sent into a whirlwind of political change and governmental
regulation. From FTC to OSHA, ADA,BMI and ASCAP (to name a few) its traditions and decades of community acceptance and social
stability now violently rock in the turbulent winds of scrutiny, change and transition. The funeral business will never go
back to the quiet, highly esteemed, almost pleasantly mysterious, personal manner in which it used to operate.
Because Americas moral values have changed radically over these past decades, so have the preferences in funerals and memorialization.
Today the quality of a casket means virtually nothing to the typical post World War II boomer funeral purchaser. Casket companies
and cremation urn manufacturers say personalization of product is the answer. But until the moral decay of this country is
arrested, personalization is only a band-aid to this bleeding, struggling industry. This generation will continue on the down
hill slope of lowered concern about the quality and dignity in which it does away with its dead until a higher standard of
morality and community awareness are restored.
The funeral industry has been in a non-confrontive mode to the
liberal political mentality which has slowly convinced the general public that we are running out of land for burial and that
cremation is more practical and emotionally convenient. The practitioners themselves tend to display a blindness to the fact
that their own suppliers are slowly becoming their corporate counterpart competitors. Unfortunately, neither will probably
win out as a victor in the war over the life of this service based death industry. Traditional funeral directors have resisted
the rapidly changing culture we live in far too long. They have also ignored the political powers that be, thinking themselves
to be untouchable and immutable. There are a few waking up to the cold hard facts of this transition. They will survive
if the political and governmental socialization of funeral service does not prevail in the years and decades to come.
Knowing this, there is a great need within the funeral practitioner base to make positive steps to welcome and
receive help and ministry to survive these changes, when and where it is needed the most amongst its members. The solid funeral
directors who act as the remnant of the spiritually sound, service oriented, caring practitioners blend far too easily into
the many funeral directors and funeral home owners living and breathing for the next profit making opportunity or chance to
buy out the competitor. The local clergy usually has a wide open field of ministry around the corner at the local neighborhood
funeral home. The real question is Does he or she recognize this? and do they (the clergy) even have a desire to get involved.
THE CLERGYS PERSPECTIVE
Forty years ago, the spiritual input from a minister in the community
in which he or she served was not only respected, but greatly desired by not only the parishioners, but also by leaders in
government and business. Right and wrong were clearly defined. Morals and ethics were rarely questioned.
the rise of a post modernism mindset and the infusion of tolerance into the general political and doctrinal positions of the
universal Christian church, the importance of ministerial leadership in the local community has diminished. Most religious
leaders have been blindly lead by liberal politicians and the media/press into the great misinterpretation of the separation
of church and state. The media has corrupted the clergys image with the ugly smears of television evangelism and its so called
religious television networks, which in their own rite carry a very subtle cultic subculture flavor. Even amidst the higher
demands for education by most denominational headquarters for their ministerial participants, today the clergy is generally
not accepted as readily as a respectable viable input in the local community like they were decades ago. Being quickly and
unfairly compared to their disgusting TV counterparts, most ministers choose to remain quiet and speak only from the pulpit
or in a well defined and protected personal counseling environment. The handful who walk boldly in their own local communities,
are noticed and respected even though most of them are subconsciously looking over their shoulders in uncertainty and fear.
For decades the ultimate fear of the funeral director was the minister who insisted on being a part of the initial
funeral arrangements session that assisted the family in setting the financial stage of the funeral. The clergy was thought
to be resistant to families spending large sums of money on a casket or other such funeral goods. Encouraging families to
give some of the designated funeral spending money to the church distracted the desired profit of a funeral, and thus disturbed
the relationship between clergy and funeral director.
The fact is that very few of the clergy ever got that involved
with the bereaved families decisions to have such a dreaded influence. When preferences of disposition, type and location
of services, and other funeral decisions are made, most ministers live by the rule, Speak when spoken to. In other words,
if they (the bereaved family) want your input as a minister, on any particular issue of the funeral process, they will ask
for it. Most clergy act in a supporting role to the family, unless they see that the family could be knowingly or unknowingly
walking out of bounds by offending others in the bereaved family that they love and/or care for. Even in those rare instances,
the minister is usually more suggestive and subtle with their influence rather than confrontive.
most part the funeral director sees the occasion of a funeral as a business opportunity, and the clergy sees the funeral process
as another branch or need for ministry to the survivors. Unlike the typical funeral director who may have generations of funeral
service bred into him or her, the vast majority of the clergy have followed a spiritual calling to become what they are. The
second or third generation preacher is rare, and when it occurs, it is even more rare that the multigenerational minister
would serve the same congregation or in even the same denomination.
The clergy easily assumes that the nice funeral
home facility, the polished cars and well dressed staff define an easily obtained profit margin. Because for the most part,
the minister is not an entrepreneur in the financial sense, and the funeral director is providing a hired service which
deals strongly in the emotional and spiritual aspects of the clients life, it is easy to see how the two professions could
quickly misinterpret and misunderstand each others intentions and ideals.
Some clergy are quick to assume that the
funeral director is already spiritually minded. After all, the typical funeral director may sit through a church service three
or four times a week doing his or her job. It is also easy for the clergy to ignore or diminish the role of the funeral director
in the funeral and grief acknowledgement process. This may have come from the fact that many funeral directors fall into the
mental trap that tells them they are the ringleader of the funeral process and that all eyes fall on them during this event.
The funeral director is not the ring leader, but rather the facilitator and coordinator of details. Of the two, the clergy
is more the ringleader of the funeral circus, being cast into the limelight during the most potent times of the process, mainly
the actual memorialization and committal rites.
There is a special bond between a minister and the members
of his or her parish. Many times the minister has been there with a family through births, baptisms, graduations, marriage
illnesses and even divorces. The minister not only knows the parishioner as a friend, but has also walked up the high
mountains and down into the low valleys of their spiritual and emotional journey, very often on a weekly or even a daily basis.
The funeral director may know the grieving family through community involvement or other such social relationships, but according
to national statistics, only goes through the funeral process with them intimately once every twelve to fourteen years.
Depending on the branch of Christianity or the particular denomination, the minister may very likely be more educationally
qualified to interact with a grieving family than the funeral director. However, education and certification are not necessarily
what makes a caregiver exceptional. Experience and a quality character play strongly into the mix. Even though the clergy
has been educated and trained for a lifetime of ministry and service, he or she must be always open to the fact that there
are other co-operative professionals able to enhance the quality of care during the grief process of the family suffering
It is vitally important that the minister understand that many times the funeral director and funeral
home staff need the ministry and care he or she can provide almost as much as a grieving family. Funeral practitioners work
daily around death and the grieving. It is emotionally draining and labor intensive work. Because of their so called community
image and status, funeral directors often times ignore the need for help and ministry in their personal lives. Their pride
will often keep them from seeking spiritual insight, emotional help and counsel. At this point is when the effective minister
could become the avenue of encouragement and care that the funeral practitioner could be needing at any given moment. Not
only will it help the spiritual life and mentality of the funeral director, but it will also develop a relationship and friendship
that will improve the professional interaction in the general arena of serving families at their time of loss. Remembering
that the funeral directors mentality at death is generally in the area of business, the clergy can not only seize the moment
of ministry to the bereaved family, but by building a ministerial relationship of care and interaction with the local funeral
director , he or she may greatly enlarge the positive affect of the ministry to the family in grief that is being served.
These two professionals, when stacked up sided by side, are a very interesting
pair. The analogy of what they were and who they are now tells a fascinating story in itself.
In years gone
by, both the clergy and the funeral director have sat in positions of esteem and prominence in a local community. The clergys
respect was formed more from a respect and fear of God. The funeral directors community status came more out of a fear of
the unknown, be that the lack of knowledge by the public of the preparatory arts (embalming cosmetic restorative techniques
etc.), or even the actual uncertainty of life after death.
The clergy slowly drifted out of this community
image mainly by the act of passivity. When morals, ethics and deep spiritual questions were issues in the 1960s, many ministers
unfortunately chose not to get into the circle of debate and controversy and remained passively consistent in their style
and preferences of church traditions. Like the previously mentioned funeral directors who thought their profession was unchangeable
and untouchable, they basically ignored the problem, so the generation that had the problem has chosen for the most part
to ignore them and their church. Some ministers fell prey to the bondage of political correctness, and lost the distinctness
of their public identity and the denominational variety of it. This blurred their own uniqueness in the eyes of the community.
Today we can walk into many of the denominational Christian churches on any given Sunday and be struck dead with the same
practices, traditions and politically correct neutered sermons that have repeated themselves over the last three decades.
Much of it has blended together into the tasteless religious system. Doctrinal positions and the specifics of the church ethics
and morality can only be discovered in the smaller settings of a local Christian church, where they are well protected with
the chosen few. The biggest fear that these ministers have, is that of offending their parishioners (instead of the fear of
Some circles of the evangelical Christian community mildly struggle to be different, occasionally walking
out on the limb of community involvement and concern. They may even take a couple of saw strokes on the branch behind them.
However, only a few of them fall into the mix of ministry that affects the nearly 70% of the unchurched population of the
United States. For the most part, and of course allowing for exceptions, the new millennial Christian church is pretty content
to huddle into their customized little subcultures on Sunday morning and sing all four verses of the hymn Us Four and No More.
This quiet self righteous passivity led by the ministers of these congregations is one of the keys to the loss of voice and
power influencing the local community in the ways and virtues of Godly living.
The funeral director, on the
other hand, has diminished his or her image of professional status and respect in the community by activity. This, being mainly
a form of unnecessary activity. By wanting to be more than a supportive facilitator and coordinator in the funeral/grieving
process (possibly driven by the desire for more monetary gain), the funeral director has stepped out into a self made synthetic
limelight and cheapened the original intent of the industry. The original foundations of the industry were founded on the
term undertaker. This included undertaking the various tasks and even financial obligations of a grieving family so as not
to be a distraction from their healthy mourning and grieving process.
Somewhere in the 1970s the attitude towards
being a quietly effective supportive professional started changing into becoming more of an aggressive multi capable
super caregiver and a master merchandiser. The state regulatory boards started expanding the requirements for licensing. Colleges
started offering degree programs and additional related certifications. Funeral merchandise suppliers started advertising
to the public directly for name recognition, even though their product could only be purchased through a local funeral parlor.
These ads were the genesis of the numbing process which the local funeral home would suffer at the hands of such major merchandise
suppliers. This process would (or will) eventually strip the metropolitan funeral service establishments of any retail funeral
related merchandise sales. Slowly price advertising became more the norm of funeral home advertising agendas. The mid 1980s
surge to sell prearranged funeral plans just about destroyed the financial security of many funeral home establishments seeking
to build a future clientele base. An entire new grief terminology became a part of the industry and caused many younger entrees
into the business loose any flavor of their past roots in the profession.
Some mortuary science colleges led
non-multigenerational funeral service students into a belief that there were large salaries out there for them to demand.
They were also taught to live for the paycheck and discouraged from looking at funeral home ownership as a viable option
during their career. This was because the corporate conglomerates thought that this type of influence in such colleges would
help them retain a larger employee base for the future. For the most part the industry sat there like ducks and let these
corporate counterparts and merchandise suppliers set the stage for the future.
The frustration of all of this
change and shake up caused the local funeral establishments to become more active and competitive in the public arena. No
longer were two funeral homes willing to share the available business from their small town community and recognize each other
as professional colleagues. Now they advertised against each in new arenas and with other formats, which were previously considered
to be unprofessional. They have literally fought over the purchase of funeral homes in neighboring towns and cities. In some
smaller towns, these overly competitive funeral directors started phoning or writing letters to the family members that used
the other funeral home in town for a deceased loved ones service, to ask them why they had not been called to help them in
their time of loss. Several hyper-competitive funeral directors have been known to send floral arrangements with their
company and/or family name on them to the family of every funeral done by the other competitive local funeral home. Tact,
class and professionalism have total left the industry in these and similar situations. Funeral directors who practice such
unprofessional tactics are obviously very predatory and also extremely insecure in their own ability to compete in a normal
professional manner for available business in their service area.
As these attitudes blend out into the personal
family lives of these funeral directors, it becomes sort of an infection which attracts the next generation into the funeral
business. Being able to pass the family business on to some family member is often interpreted as a measure of success to
the retiring funeral director. Even though multi-generation funeral home businesses have been on a slow decline over the last
several years, it still accounts for a large portion of the existing industry.
The ministry on the
other hand, does not for the most part pass the family pulpit down to the next generation. It is the rare exception to the
rule that the a son or daughter of the clergy follow into a duplicate ministry. It is more common to see the daughter of
a minister marry another minister than it is to see the son of a minister become a minister himself. It is even more rare
to see that rare son or daughter who follows his or her fathers footsteps in the ministry, pastor the same congregation. If
this happens, it is usually in the more larger congregations of the independent non-denominational branches of Christianity.
In the midst of what appears to be a frustrated pair of professionals, there is a brilliant ray of positive
light in the picture. For the most part, the ministry has started to acknowledge the fact that what was, is no more. They
have been experimenting with new creative ideas to reestablish the validity of spiritual values, morals and ethics into the
local church and community. Many ministers have contemporary styled worship services to parallel the still existing traditional
worship service. These are geared at the baby boomer who has a whole different set of fundamental ideals and values than the
parental generation before. A voice and a presence in the business community and the local political arena are starting to
be considered as a valued asset in some of these reforming church mentalities. Growing a spiritually healthy church is a major
concern to many younger ministers. If properly guided and procured , these new concepts will help the process of compatibility
between these two professionals.
Even in the funeral industry there is a light beginning to flicker.
The slowest of never changing traditional businesses (the funeral industry) is beginning to see that the ideals of the generation
now purchasing their services is much different than the one before. While the industrys fundamental bottom line will remain
that of helping the public bury and dispose of its dead with dignity and honor, some funeral practitioners are beginning to
realize that certain basics to that type of care are no longer the accepted norm. There are no ethical or monetary differences
in the thinking of cremation verses ground burial. Now it is strictly preference. Buying an expensive casket or cremation
urn means nothing compared to buying a casket or a cremation urn that makes a statement. The thickness of the steel, copper
or bronze means virtually nothing if the appearance doesnt relate personally to the buyer or the deceased for whom it is being
bought. The mentality of tolerance has not segregated the industry any longer to its own race, creed or religious preference.
Both the funeral director and the clergy seem to have an insatiable desire to improve their credibility to a
community that seems to have slowly and unintentionally forgotten their importance. While more certificates on the wall and
more title letters after the last name may temporarily make the practitioner feel better about it all , what will connect
each professional more with the other and those around them, is the genuine desire to work with one another to provide compassionate
care and a spiritual sincere service for those suffering a loss. This can be done by knowing and respecting each others roles
and positions in the grief care process.
Clergy and funeral directors both share strengths and weaknesses. When
both know what those are, and are willing to share the effort as mutual care providers magnifying each others strengths and
compensating for each others weaknesses, the two will not only appreciate each other more, but will also enhance the image
of the other in the public eye.
It might be beneficial for the clergy to take an afternoon personally guided tour
of the local funeral home to obtain a better hands on working knowledge of the funeral directors daily work environment. Retaining
a basic knowledge of the services and options available for a family would be helpful information to have if a grieving family
member should ask.
Funeral directors can enhance their relationship with the local clergy and their churches by
periodically keeping them updated about their funeral homes service offerings and options. Even keeping the church
well informed of the names of funeral home staff members helps to build a more personal relationship when those staff members
are present at the church, assisting in an actual funeral service. Funeral homes should make sure each church has a copy(s)
of promotional and educational literature available for the public. These pamphlets and informational guides should be restocked
and updated regularly.
All in all, an open line of communication is always the most valued asset
in the relationship between these two professional groups. Both must go the extra mile to make sure that communication is
direct and precise. The lack of misunderstanding and elimination of assumption will only be accomplished when the two groups
communicate regularly and openly. They will find that they work very effectively together especially after they get to know
each other a little better.
There are several things that the clergy and
the funeral director can do on a mechanical basis that will help build a healthy functioning relationship between the church
and the local funeral directing establishment.
When the initial arrangements are being made, and the pastor or
minister is contacted to confirm the time of the service and visitation, make sure the lines of communication are direct.
Do not rely on faxed notes, e-mail or voice mail messages to make these confirmations. They can easily get lost or ignored
by support staff. The actual minister who is going to officiate the funeral or memorial services should talk directly to the
responsible funeral home staff member to make sure of the times and locations of such funeral events. Other aspects of confirmation
would possibly include;
1). Is this a traditional funeral service utilizing a casket for burial or is this a direct
cremation followed with a memorial service? (Please remember there are many variations of these two standard formats. Make
sure the funeral director communicates precisely what will be taking place chronologically and geographically)
the casket be opened or closed and if so, during what parts of the memorialization process? (Generally this precedent should
be set by the family being served. However, there are some liturgical and denominational regulations that will apply when
the service is held at the actual church.)
3). What time will the immediate family be arriving at the funeral home or
church for their initial viewing of the remains? (If all the events of the funeral process will be taking place at the church,
then there should be an open line of communication depicting exactly what time the funeral home staff will be arriving at
the church with the casket and/or cremation urn.)
4). Will the minister in charge set up the order of service with the
immediate family ? (If the clergy is responsible for doing this, it is tremendously helpful if the clergy submits a hard copy
of the order of service to the funeral director prior to the funeral service. This helps the funeral home know the format,
content and approximate length of the funeral.)
5). Is the minister desirous of receiving a copy of the obituary and
a clergy information card prior to services? (Most funeral homes prepare this material for the minister as a standard operating
6). Will the minister be riding in the funeral procession with the funeral director or will he or she be driving
separately. (These preferences may vary from community to community and may be influenced by the ministers personal schedule
on that particular day.)
Discussing these and other such issues up front will eliminate guesswork and frustration
that could become evident to the family being served. Other issues that could have an influence in the funeral process would
be the known dynamics of the grieving family;
1). Who is generally the family spokesperson or representative in
this process? ( This may or may not be the closest next of kin. Some families have a dominant personality that tends to represent
the closest next of kin through the grieving process.)
2). Is there a mix of religions in the nuclear family of the deceased?
(Some marriages are mixed religiously or even simply just denominationally within the Christian faith.. Other potentials could
be son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, parents or grandparents with different religious preferences and backgrounds. Simple considerations
can often prevent complicated offenses. Many times a non-aggressive educational discussion will assist in the understanding
of someone oriented to a different faith.)
3). Are their cultural, racial or other interactive issues that either the
funeral director or the clergy should be aware of? (Sometimes the clergy may not know the entire extended family of the deceased.
Many times the entire family gathers in the funeral arrangement conference room of the funeral home. This is when the funeral
directors information to the clergy may be very appropriate to help them in counseling through the grief process with the
family of the deceased.)
4). Are there known frictions in the relationships between family members of the deceased that
could be a problem if not considered? (It is said that death will either bring out the very best or the very worst in someone.
These subdued problems between family members can easily surface throughout the entire process of the funeral and even further
on into the settling of the estate of the deceased.)
It is very possible that either the funeral director
or the clergy may independently not be aware of many of these family dynamics. So a brief professional discussion will help
either the clergy and the funeral director be more aware of these dynamics, and will help them to assist and minister
and serve the bereaved family more effectively. Again, direct and thorough communication will not only assist in the ease
and process of the funeral, but it will also assist in enhancing relations between the clergy and funeral director and/or
the church and funeral home.
A FEW STORIES
After twenty-five years in the funeral industry, like
many others just like me, there is story after story to tell. Please afford me the time to share a few of the brief stories
that will help you understand the interactive situations between clergy and funeral directors. (The names and locations are
changed to protect everybodys confidentiality.)
We Were Educated at Paulines Funeral
home had held a pre-arranged funeral for a lady named Pauline DeWitt for several years. Her close friend and attorney named
Judy Johnson was the one who had set up her funeral arrangements. Pauline was 97 years old when she died in the coldest time
of winter. Together, Judy and I had decided to have the Mass of Christian Burial Pauline had requested, and the committal
rite of burial all done at her church at one time, instead of forming a funeral procession and plowing through the ice and
snow at the cemetery. Pauline had never married, worked for the government and pretty much outlived most of her friends and
On the day of her funeral we gathered at the church to hold the funeral mass. There was the two of
us from the funeral home, Judy and one of her associates from her legal firm, and one other lady from the nursing center where
Pauline had died. A total of five. Just before the Mass of Christian Burial started, the Catholic priest emerged to greet
the five of us personally. After welcoming us to the church he asked us if we practiced the Catholic faith. It turned out
that we were indeed all protestants with the exception of my associate from the funeral home. Acting on that realization,
the priest went through the mass in a little more condensed version and graciously explained the spiritual significance and
traditions in each stage of the service in a way that the other four protestants in the church could relate to. Not only was
this an educational experience for us, but it also showed us that this priest cared enough for us in the funeral process to
explain the particulars of Paulines faith and religious practices. We all left with a better understanding and appreciation
for a faith different than the one we were familiar with. It was an excellent way to remember Pauline in the future. As a
funeral director and an ordained protestant minister, I was very impressed and could only hope that I would react the same
way should the situation ever be reversed.
Who Would Answer Dave ?
It was a hot summer
day when the phone call came in informing us that Dave Longs dad had just passed away at his residence. My associate and I
quickly drove over to a neighboring city where Dave and his family awaited our arrival at their house. Dave and his two brothers
and their wives and I sat around the picnic table on their back patio and made all the funeral plans there with the help of
a cordless phone. Dave, who was in his mid 30s, had grown more close to his dad than his two brothers since his dad had lived
with him and his family for the last three years as his health faded due to a failing heart.
The funeral was held
in our funeral home chapel. The family had chosen a minister from the church their dad attended years ago before his health
began to decline. The minister presented a typical Lutheran funeral service and ended with the benediction. I started dismissing
the people in attendance so that the family would be the last ones remaining in the chapel. Finally, the family was all that
was left. They formed a line to file past the open casket to pay their last respects. Dave was the last one in line. The rest
of the funeral home staff was outside helping people form the funeral procession. The minister and I stood in the back of
the chapel watching as Dave, the only one left in the room, stood at his fathers casket weeping heavily. In the midst of his
tears and sorrow, Dave turned around to look directly at the minister and I and asked this question, What am I going to do
without my Daddy? I slowly turned to look at the minister as if to cue him to respond to Dave. The minister turned and walked
out of the chapel and got in his car.
Harold was sort of the town wanderer.
He was a WWII Veteran without anyone left or anything to do. He didnt have a drinking problem, but if you didnt know him,
you would probably think he was just another hobo lost in your town. He lived in a boarding house a couple of blocks away
from our funeral home and managed to attend church at a little struggling Baptist church around the corner with good frequency.
I knew Harold because I would see him in the local coffee shop or he would occasionally come to the visitation
of a friend who had passed away. One day Harold came to the door and said he wanted to pre-arrange his own funeral.
So we sat down and set in order his plans to be cremated and buried at the local National Cemetery. There was to be no viewing,
but there was to be a memorial service held at the funeral home and officiated by his pastor.
Three years later,
after a lengthy stay in the Veterans Hospital, Harold died. I called Pastor Roberts to confirm the time and details surrounding
the memorial service. Since there was no visitation or viewing the friends and family started arriving just minutes before
the memorial service started. When the Pastor arrived he seemed a little disturbed. After a brief conversation, I discerned
that he was very displeased with Harolds decision to be cremated.
When it was time for the service to begin, Pastor
Roberts walked up to the podium which was beside the stand which the cremation urn was on. He appeared to be very uncomfortable
and noticeably nervous. After a brief silence, he turned to look at the urn and then turned back to face the audience and
made this statement, Ive never done one of these cremation things. I dont really know what to do. I really dont know where
Harold is right now (meaning heaven or hell), so Ill have to leave that up to God.
Rev. Jimmy and Bettys
Betty Moore died suddenly leaving her son and daughter to make the funeral plans. From the beginning
of the initial funeral arrangements session it became obvious that there was a strong friction between these two siblings.
Her son Rick was continually making the financial decisions and committing himself financially to the funeral bill. It was
obvious that this was his way of controlling the funeral situation and subduing his sisters wishes as much as possible.
Neither of them knew the pastor of the church where their mother attended. When I called Rev. Jimmy to inform him of the pending
services, I had a brief discussion with him about the friction in the relationship between the children.
day of the funeral Rev. Jimmy arrived about an hour ahead of time. I introduced him to the son Rick and the daughter Darlene.
Then Rev. Jimmy asked me if he could meet with them in my office so they could be alone, away from the other people for a
couple of minutes. I agreed. Thirty minutes later the two siblings emerged from my office wiping tears from their eyes and
partially embracing each other. Later they sat side by side during the funeral and supported each other very strongly
as they paid their last respects at the end of the funeral. I dont know what Rev. Jimmy said to them in my office, but I do
know he knew how to take the cue to produce effective ministry and counsel. This made me feel more secure in the fact that
Rev. Jimmy knew how to effectively help and minister to people in these circumstances. It enhanced my trust in his ability
and even made me feel as though I could go to him in my time of trouble.