AN INTERESTING JOURNEY
I have had the esteemed privilege of not only working in the funeral
service industry for over twenty-five years, but also owning and managing three different funeral homes for seventeen of those
years. I also operated as a trade embalmer during those lean years of small business ownership. I have coddled the elite and
rubbed shoulders with destitute - more than once. I worked for the best of the best, and the worst of the worst within this
unique industry. I have pretty well seen it all. I have embalmed well over eight thousand human bodies. The average embalmer
in the United Stated embalms around sixty human bodies annually. Over a thirty-year career that might net him or her about
eighteen hundred embalming operations in a lifetime career. (The smell of embalming chemicals is far too familiar.) I have
personally conducted (actually worked on) over three thousand funerals in my career thus far. Again, this figure is probably
a third higher than most funeral directors in the United States will conduct personally in a slightly longer career. Since
my original ordination into Christian ministry in 1991, I have ministered at over two hundred funeral or memorial services.
I received this volume of experience by being willing to personally work it, and by balancing the care of my own businesses
with the act of helping many other funeral directors accomplish theirs. I truly cut my chops at the school of hard knocks.
I had no parents or family members to help me transition into the business. I am a first and last generation funeral director.
I dont regret that. In fact, in a peculiar way, Im slightly proud of that.
I have met a lot of people.
I have met a lot of interesting people. I have met a lot of strange people. Some of the most unique people I have worked with
have been my colleagues in the funeral industry. That is not a critical statement. There is a good reason why they are so
unique. It has truly been an interesting and rewarding journey.
A couple of years ago when I
decided to step out from the parameters of funeral home ownership and management to continue my formal education, I did not
expect to discover what I did. I began to see the funeral industry from a vantage point I had never seen it from before. Many
practitioners leave the funeral business annually and never look back. I did not have the desire to shun the profession I
had spent over twenty-five years in. I started working at a funeral home when I was a senior in high school, and basically
knew nothing else until I officially pursued the ministry as a career a few years ago. I started seeing the frustrations and
anxieties that other funeral directors were confronted with. I started seeing that I had been through the same emotions and
thought cycles that I could discern so clearly now from the outside looking in. Through this observation and personal insight,
I felt compelled to try to help.
Because I knew what it was like to have supplier, money, legal and
employee problems while running a somewhat successful business, I could now relate to it from a different and maybe more helpful
perspective. That is what lead to this time of sharing. Please afford me the privilege of sharing with you some of my findings
and my realizations. Hopefully this book will help you gain a more healthy mentality and perspective in the day to day operations
of your funeral home.
THE CARELESS CRISIS
There are two primary mentality perspectives
at which funeral directors look at the individual funeral process. You can slice them, dice them and candy-coat them, but
almost all funeral directors fit one or the other mold. There are a very small number of directors that learn to balance the
two mentalities and live peaceably with themselves and others around them. An even smaller number of funeral service personnel
are able to transition from one thought style or mentality perspective to the other opposite one.
The first mentality is called the crisis operator. This is the director who perceives every death call as a crisis in motion.
He or she is trapped inside the abyss of detail surrounding each funeral. It must all get done. It must all get done a certain
way. And, bless God everyone must be satisfied completely at the end of it, or complete failure will be lurking over in the
corner of the garage next to the hearse. The funeral never actually ends in their mind, even though the burial or cremation
has taken place. What was done right or what was done wrong is thoroughly documented and evaluated for weeks and months
to come. Names and faces of the immediate family are memorized along with personal quirks and identity issues. They are usually
rehearsed to totally bored employees and co-workers for months and years to follow. Total satisfaction is just at the end
of their fingertips, but rarely actually obtained. Ironically, many of these operators tend to be very loose about their finances,
especially when it means spending money on things that would produce a better image or more personal satisfaction about the
job. Annual caseload numbers tend to be irrelevant. Quality, not quantity is the usual priority.
Heres a good way to tell if youre working with or you are a crisis operator. Get this person to drive you around in the community
they serve. Youll hear statements like I buried that mans wife. as they point at a house on the corner. Or, they will point
at a local business such as a hardware store or restaurant and say Weve buried in that family before. They tend to see the
entire world in perspective to the community they live and serve in. In other words, the whole universe revolves around Squatsville,
Ohio. Another good way to know if youre dealing with a crisis operator is to look at total spectrum of detail involved in
the operation of the business, and compare it to the amount of delegated authority being used. If the majority of details
surrounding each service are handled by an extremely small minority of people, or mainly just by the owner or manager, you
are probably looking into the face of a crisis operator.
Crisis operators tend not to trust very many people
with the operation of their business. Their motto is No one does it like me. If they are employers, their employees usually
turn over in regular cycles. There are exceptions, and that is usually only when they find a submissive version of themselves.
Because of the dominant attitude of these operators, they will only retain submissive duplicates when it comes to their own
detail orientation. These unions are usually not generally overly happy unions, but are bound together by money and benefits.
There are other exceptions, but they are few and far between.
The second mentality is called the carefree
captain. This breed of funeral director doesnt remember the name of the person that was buried from their firm yesterday,
and doesnt really genuinely care who it was. The bottom line is ultimate. Their motto is Get the job done. Dont bother me
with the details just attend to them. These funeral directors often have several outside interests which attract them equally
if not more than their chosen profession. They tend to be financial shrews and are interested in annual caseload numbers simply
because it potentially means more profitable income. They are usually quick to trust, but show very small amounts of loyalty.
They, like their counterparts the crisis operators, adhere quickly to submissive detail nuts. A fatal combination
pairs two carefree captains as partners. This duo will usually part just after the first funeral together is completed. Amidst
their generally cold and business only mindset, they do tend to be more discerning when it comes to surrounding themselves
with those who are competent and able to cover the necessities of the business.
If your trying to find a carefree
captain, sit down and hold a thirty minute conversation in which you allow the potential carefree captain to control the course
of the conversation. Watch the clock closely. If the vast majority of time is spent discussing hobbies, sports or other personal
interests or accomplishments, and the funeral industry is always secondary, your probably talking to a carefree captain. Ironically,
these carefree captains generally find it easy to get to the truth or source of the problem.
WHAT DO THEY THINK?
Generally, funeral directors tend to be good at being the overseers of worry. One of the primary concerns
is image. Not only how does the firm appear in the public eye, but how do I appear as an owner or funeral director present
myself? What image do my employees portray of the funeral home operation? How does the actual physical plant look?
Where this whole concept of worry is overstated in the eye of the funeral practitioner is in the publics opinion of death
and dying. Our culture has tried to hide death and the dying even more and more in recent decades. We are continually striving
to find the cure for diseases in order to obtain immortality. We do not want to die, and furthermore we dont want to be around
the dead because they remind us that someday we are going to die. We have special hospice and nursing centers where the aged
and dying can be politely shuffled into their recessed corner of society. We have special carts in our hospitals to transport
deceased human bodies in an undetectable manner by the public. They are quietly taken to the morgue located in a remote isolated
section of the hospital, where we funeral directors can quietly and quickly retrieve the human remains into an anonymous looking
mini-van with smoked in windows. Then we drive them to our stately looking funeral homes where we privately transfer them
from our vehicle inside our garage, to the preparation room, completely out of sight of anyone other than funeral home staff
The number of direct cremations continues
to rise all across the country as the traditional funeral with a viewing of the human remains tends to loose popularity. You
ask Why? It is generally not economic. And it is generally not because the public believes we are running out cemetery space
for burial. National statistics prove that it is a preference. A preference that forms its roots in a desire to avoid death
at all costs. A preference that prefers not to see death or its image. With a direct cremation or even direct burial, it is
quick, non-visual and minimally painless. It is a preference that chooses to eliminate grief and mourning, if at all possible.
It is a preference founded in our culture that produces pharmaceuticals that eliminate pain and alter our moods just so we
can survive through the ordeal of death.
We have a push button microwave mentality that promotes personal
desire and immediate gratification as opposed to enduring the various trials of life in order to refine our personalities
and become better people.
So how does all of this affect the general publics attitude or opinion of the
funeral industry. It basically solidifies the fact that the general public does not like the funeral industry. They would
much rather avoid us. It reminds them of death and dying, and reminds them of the solemn reality of the potential of their
own death. Unless they are spiritually ready to deal with that aspect of their life, death becomes a threat.
the general public may not like the industry as a whole, they may like you as a funeral director. This may be because you
are a personal friend, or maybe just because you have helped them get through their own loved ones memorialization process.
Or you are just simply a kind and caring person who was there when they needed answers. It is important that funeral directors
concentrate on these personal relationships rather than giving large quantities of our time their firms image in the public
Because many funeral directors think that the public is positive and keenly interested in their business,
they 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. Quite the contrary, the funeral director is not the ring leader, but rather the facilitator and coordinator
of details. The sooner that a funeral director becomes comfortable with this position of the publics concept of funeral service,
the better at serving the public they will become. It will also take some of the performance pressure off, and the public
will be more accepting of their sideline profile. This idea of facilitating and coordinating gives the funeral director a
less confrontive or in your face personality to the public. The public generally appreciates that.
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 processes.
Somewhere in the 1970s the attitude toward being a quietly effective
supportive professional started changing and became more of an aggressive multifaceted super-caregiver and a master merchandiser.
The state regulatory boards started expanding the requirements for licensing. Colleges started offering required degree programs
and additional related certifications. This whole process of reaching out to do more and become more than we probably should
have, just simply added to the stress of funeral home operation and thus required more regulation and oversight not only by
the practitioner, but also by governing agencies.
Now we must re-evaluate if it is all worth it or not.
Is this image we are pursuing really to our best advantage? Is a simpler approach to business and personal image much healthier
and practical? How much concern should funeral directors express towards their image in the community? Is anyone really paying
that much attention?
One of the other traps that funeral practitioners fall
easily into is the one that leads them to believe that they really make memorable business impressions on the people they
come into contact with either in the normal course of a business day or even in their personal social life. Have you ever
sat at lunch with a group of business people and one of them is a funeral director constantly blabbing about the last funeral
he conducted or even worse, the last body he embalmed? If you look closely around the table, no one is really interested,
and if they remember anything, it wont be very positive.
Heres another classic example. One of the funeral
homes I owned and managed was in a moderate sized suburban community that had one other competitive funeral home in its city
limits. There was this annual tradition of putting wall calendars out in the various churches of the community around Thanksgiving
weekend for their parishioners to pick up and have for the upcoming year. Even though we, and the other firm in town dispersed
these calendars with a vigor that would lead you to believe that our whole business existence depended on it, we both knew,
underneath it all, that it was just a lousy old tradition our predecessors had started many decades ago. We were both too
afraid to stop it.
One of the funniest things that would happen with some regularity is when we would go out
to make a removal from a residence. We would find our competitors wall calendar hanging on their walls. In one case it was
literally hanging on the wall above the head of the deceaseds bed. It would not surprise me if our competitor experienced
the same thing on occasion. The other thing I would see which really hit home was to see one of our calendars hanging in a
home I was in, but with the advertising tab at the bottom removed so it appeared to be generic. They liked the calendar but
didnt appreciate the advertisement.
Again, we tend to think that people want to have our calendars, pens, emery
boards, matchbooks and other such advertising novelties. (I have always thought a neat thing to print on the inside of funeral
home matchbook covers would be the phrase Thank you for smoking!)
In fact, most people really dont want to
be reminded of death, and so they are generally not wanting to remember much about their visit to our funeral home. We must
learn to consider that in our advertising appeals and our firms public presentation.
We tend to think there is
some kind of subliminal excitement in the mind of the funeral home visitor. When surveyed, we find out that it is quite the
opposite. Most attend funerals or visitations to fulfill a necessary obligation in the relationship to the family member or
the deceased. While it may not be a burdensome type of obligation, it is again not a choice of desire, but a choice based
in dutiful dignity and respect for the deceased and/or their family members. They are not coming to see the funeral home and
its decorative appointments, or to meet the friendly funeral home staff members. This is not an excuse to not maintain your
facilities, or have rude poorly dressed help working the door or the parking lot during a funeral.
at some survey results that show us what funeral home visitors remember about their visit to the funeral home.
When surveyed over 80% of those questioned who had been to a visitation or funeral within the last two weeks could remember
what color the casket was, or what the floral spray on the casket consisted of in color or constitution. Just under 60% could
not recall the correct name of the funeral home they had visited, and referred to it as the one over on Such-and-such street,
or over in a specific neighborhood or quadrant of the city. Less than 20% of those questioned could recall vivid details about
the colors or dcor represented in the actual funeral home facility. Only 3% admitted to picking up some type of advertising
novelty offered at the funeral home (excluding memorial folders or prayer cards).
What does all of this say?
It basically says that we as funeral service providers are doing a better job at impressing ourselves than we are the visiting
general public. This is not a reflective statement on our insanity. It is simply a misguided notion that the public cares
as much about death, dying, grief, mourning and memorialization as we ourselves do. They obviously dont.
What will they remember about their visit to your establishment? Not as much as you think they will. An astonishing 30 % of
people who had actually participated in the making of funeral arrangements in the past six months could not correctly recall
the name of the actual funeral director who had met with them in the funeral arrangements session. That doesnt mean they were
not satisfied or that they did not like the funeral director. It does show us that because of our cultural mindset towards
death, there is a natural numbness to the environment and details around such a non-avoidable part of life. We as funeral
service practitioners are the only ones really interested in it. It is a good thing that we are, and there are some who do
actually realize this. It is healthy to understand your enthusiasm as a funeral practitioner, but also keep it in balance
with the known cultural mindset of the public.
Our continued passive ignorance of this fact is what brought
on more and more government regulations and interaction with our industry in the 1880s and the 1990s. We tipped the scales
of balance trying to become more than we actually were meant to or able to be, and drew attention to the weaknesses of our
industry by the legislative agencies in existence.
We need to do what we do best, provide a much-needed service
to the general public in the proper perspective that it was meant to be. We are service providers that coordinate and facilitate
a very dreaded time in most peoples life. When we better see the emotions that surround the loss of life and the typical attempt
to avoid death by most of the public, we will probably operate amore balanced and accommodating business.
DOWN THE ROAD
Its like a fishing tournament. The funeral service supply companies are continually trying
to find a new gimmick or merchandisable product that will spur more sales in the funeral process, and thus increase their
bottom line. The bait of these new products is dropped into the sea of funeral service providers in hope that they will bite
it and set a trend that will produce financial rewards.
The amount of new products and services being offered
to and through the funeral industry is nothing shy of phenomenal. There are countless styles of register books, memorial printing,
flag and Veterans memorialization products, clothing for burial, religious articles and home memorials available for families
to select from.
With the rise of the cremation rate, there has been an explosion in the productivity and creativity
of new lines of urns offered by all the key supply houses, including several of the major casket manufacturers. Cremation
caskets that offer a viewable interior at an affordable price are all part of the standard line of all major casket companies.
The specialty service industry is almost swallowing the cremation provider alive with a variety of unusual options that none
of us would have ever dreamed of when we entered the industry over a quarter century ago. Cremains can easily be immersed
into any ocean or sea of choice, shot into space, encased into jewelry or formulated into gelatin capsules to be imbibed by
the surviving family members. These ideas are not nearly exhausted yet. Fasten your funeral preventive seatbelt, the worst
is yet to come.
There are over one hundred financial vehicles available in the United States for pre-need
insurance and annuity funds to be placed in by those wishing to pay in advance for their final memorialization. Software packages
for funeral home management cant even be described. They are on every corner of the convention room floor and will help you
accomplish any desired result in management and productivity that your firm desires.
Casket companies are scrambling
to save their threatened profit and loss statements. They have tried customization and personalization in the past few years.
There are a hundred different ways you can order any one given casket from a major manufacturer and/or supplier. Pick the
corner ornaments, interior panel, the grade of steel, have the top engraved with the name, dates and fraternity or career
emblems of the deceased, and you can have it your way almost overnight. Many suppliers that had standard lines were almost
certain that these new and creative specialty units and intimate personalizations of their traditionally favorite models would
be their financial salvation.
In the wake of there findings, they have made two basic decisions. Some of
these casket manufacturers may not have consciously or openly proclaimed these decisions yet, but inevitably they will enact
the results of these decisions out in their product lines and marketing strategies.
The first course of action
is to merge into the increasing national trend toward cremation. They all offer a bountiful array of cremation urns, which
in many cases can be personalized and shipped overnight to the ordering funeral home.
The line of cremation
caskets produced by all the major manufacturers, attempts to help families in grief combine the more traditional values which
include viewing of the remains, and having it present at memorial or funeral service, with the desire for cremation.
The second decision made by casket companies is made in the shadow of the first course of action previously described. Since
cremation will obviously become a more popular method of memorialization and disposition in the United States, it will eventually
and drastically affect the number of caskets produced and sold annually. Since casket companies have almost exclusively been
wholesale suppliers to funeral homes all over North America, they know that if they are going to make the same amount of profit
they have previously made selling wholesale, they will be forced to enter the retail market to accomplish their financial
goals on the fewer numbers of caskets that will be produced by lack of demand.
After these retail outlets have
been established in the major metropolitan areas, the profitable casket sale that was traditionally made by the funeral home
proprietor will be only a memory of years gone by. Funeral homes will be forced to become service and facility providers only.
This will cause more and more mergers and acquisitions.
As we look down the obvious road of the future, it
is not hard to see where the funeral service industry is likely to go. All of this does not have to be a pronouncement of
doom and devastation. It can be a highlight to preparing for the changes to come. If we think practically, thoroughly and
calmly, we can adjust gradually and in a consistent harmony with that which will transpire. This will help us deal with these
potential stresses in a healthy manner. Changes rarely come rapidly. So rapid decisions made to beat change to the punch-line
are not usually beneficial decisions. Make slow and calculated decisions considering the future from your perspective. Funeral
merchandise manufacturers and suppliers are very interested in making money now, and may not perceive the future of funeral
service in your specific community like you, the actual funeral service practitioner may be able to.
By now youre sitting over in the corner shaking your head and mumbling to yourself TMI, TMI, TMI
(too much information). You add all of this to the complications and stress of the last half a dozen funerals youve conducted.
Couple that up with your most recent interactions with that frustrated employee or employer. And dont forget about your family
at home wandering what is the real problem that is frustrating you so easily.
Lets look at some practical
ways to help you reduce the tension and stress of your career. Well divide them into three basic groups.
look at the physical things that may tip the scales against your well being. Ask yourself these questions:
I eating the right foods?
Remember the four major food groups of proper nutrition
Am I eating regularly?
meals on a specific schedule daily
Am I eating slowly enough?
Eating slowly will aid digestion and nutrient
Do I exercise regularly?
3-5 times a week-15-30 minutes per session
Is my weight proportionate to my frame?
Proper weight is pertinent to good energy and health
Am I getting
Proper rest will help your body rejuvenate correctly
Now lets look at the mentality issues
that could make a vast difference in the way we handle stress and tension. Answer these questions:
I know when to stop?
Sometimes walking away will help you regain perspective
Do I take mandatory vacations or
Everybody needs a little time away
Do I see value in others around me?
on the positive qualities of those around you
Do I trust others to help me?
Competent co-workers can make your
Have I set realistic goals?
Obtainable goals are positive success producers
How are my priorities aligned?
Sometimes making a list of them will help you stay focused
category we will examine is the spiritual aspect of life. It is an important part of leading a healthy balanced life. Review
Do I practice my faith in a personal way?
Faith will help establish good disciplines
I worship with others of like faith?
Sharing your beliefs and inspirations will grow character
Do I express my
faith in word and deed?
Your faith in action shows your character and integrity
START SHEDDING SOME STRESS
If you ask yourself these fifteen important questions and answer them honestly, you will see a unique picture
of yourself unveil before you. Once you identify the components that need adjustment, and you purpose to make some modifications
to your lifestyle accordingly, you should see some of the stress and tension start to diminish.
If you eat
the right stuff it can really make a difference in the way you handle life and the way life handles you. The old saying goes
Garbage in, garbage out. Its true. Watch your intake of fat, caffeine, sugar and alcohol. If your ready, nix the nicotine.
You will notice a difference - after a while. Practice eating your meals slowly and at a scheduled time. Your bodys metabolic
processes will appreciate an established nutritional rhythm.
Exercising regularly will make a difference in
the way you feel overall. Not only will it assist you in weight control, if that is a concern, but it will help your circulation
and metabolic systems.
Getting enough sleep is totally necessary if you want to beat away stress and tension.
Sleeping is a time when your body rests, rebuilds and repairs the cellular wear and tear from the previous days activities.
If you dont give it that opportunity, and you dont give it enough of an opportunity to do what it needs to do,
just keep wearing down.
When we examine the mental boundaries we always have to make sure we no how to say that
magic word, no. Sometimes it is followed by that four letter word more. Work-aholism will kill you just like alcoholism will.
Put limits on what you will and will not do. Sometimes it helps to write it all down and give a copy of that list to your
spouse or a close friend. Ask them to help you be accountable to those boundaries. Take a break regularly. Plan a vacation
that will start on a certain day and will end on a certain day and dont budge. If youre married use the 2/50 plan. Go out
on fifty dates annually (once a week). Then plan to take two trips together as a couple, even if its just a weekend trip.
If this is too costly of an idea, think again. If you value your marriage, you cant afford not to do it.
Learn to value those around you for the good qualities that they offer. Dont concentrate on their weaknesses. Look for people
of character and integrity to interact and assist you in your daily affairs. Learn to delegate duties to others that are trained
or know how to do whatever it is you need done better than you. Trust can only be earned not bought or sold.
Sit down and make a list of your goals or accomplishments you want to obtain. Divide them into two categories, personal and
professional. As you read through these two lists, look at each goal closely. Then ask yourself this question. What impact
will accomplishing this have on me and those I care about fifty years from now? If you cannot come up with a legitimate answer,
it probably isnt worth spending a lot of time and effort trying to accomplish.
Then make a list of your key
priorities (things that you place a high value on). You may only come up with three or four items, or you may have several
items on the list. Ask yourself these questions : If I were to spend the rest of my life on a deserted island with only one
other person, who would it be? If all my earthly possessions were taken away except one item, what would I want to keep?
Answering these questions honestly will help you realize what your present priorities are. The answers might also
help show you how your priorities should be aligned. Knowing what your values and priorities truly are gives you a solid foundation
to live on and for. That eliminates some of the stress of guessing your way through the various life issues that may confront
you from time to time.
Probably the most important part of your life is the spiritual part of your existence.
If you feed and nourish that aspect of your life, you will usually see the physical and mental aspects of your life line up
better and more quickly. Proven statistics show us that people who worship and fellowship with spiritually like-minded people,
live longer and healthier lives.
Practicing the principals and ideals of your faith or religion and personal
values will give you personal definition and standards that will help you make important life decisions. Purpose and hope
always walk hand in hand with someone who knows and practices their faith.
Start shedding some stress today.
You can only do it by making a definite decision to do so. Remember some key points that will help you see what really is
As a funeral service practitioner you value your job and position more than the general public does.
There is a natural desire in most people to disassociate from death and dying. The funeral industry is going to continually
change and you must make competent calculated decisions to change with it, or it will consume you. If you have your personal
life (physical, mental and spiritual) in order, your professional life will line up with it a whole lot easier. Thus the normal
stresses of day to day living in this fast paced society we live in will be a lot more bearable.