I cannot say I had been living life as usual in early fall of 2009. It had actually been 10 years since my life had been “normal.” Whenever terminal illness strikes a family, nothing is ever the same again. I was in denial. I was hopeful. I had good days. I had bad days. I was hopeful again. Yet, death was imminent.
How I Defined My Family
I would not have defined my family as dispersed, though I was living in Chicago, my eldest brother in Charlotte, one brother was away in medical school, and my youngest brother was home finishing college in Columbus, Ohio with my step-mother.
We, like most close-knit families, spoke frequently. We saw each other on the major holidays. We laughed together. We shared each other’s dreams, we celebrated our successes, we hurried home when the doctors and hospice thought many times this would “be it,” only to return to our respective homes and lives—it wasn’t time, yet. However, on September 9th, 2009, we shared in each other’s worst fears. Our first major loss. Our father, Minister Virgil Hollingsworth, Sr. lost his battle to Alzheimer’s Disease at 64 years old. As a family, we were broken in a way we never believed possible, and though I accompanied and worked with my father many years in pastoral care doing visitations to hospice, hospitals, funeral homes, prayers, and services for our church family, this was different. It was us!
The good news is, my father’s funeral was pre-planned. What a relief for our family, and yet there was still so much to consider and do.
Our Funeral Home Experience
My step-mother did the initial planning, and then turned everything over to me and my brothers. Somehow, it seemed that became more my role. Maybe because I am the oldest. Maybe because I am the only girl. I made my call to the funeral home that Wednesday morning. Oh, how I wish that funeral director had called me first.
I explained to our very gracious funeral director our family dynamic. She knew me and my brothers from a young age. I think she knew where I lived. I remember a host of questions, and yet I cannot begin to tell you what they were. What I was certain of is that I wanted a meaningful service for my father, an excellent written obituary, and a great video tribute with all of the images from our cellular devices…
Then the challenges began.
• There was no digital way to receive our images. I don’t know if they didn’t want the images via email or perhaps it was a suggestion I was supposed to make?
• There was no place for my brothers and I to collaborate together. Share our ideas on the obituary, images, our thoughts. We decided to use text mostly, social media (private group) and email.
• There was a digital divide.
We loved the funeral home. It was the funeral home and funeral director my father had chosen. Yet, my brothers and I couldn’t communicate the way we were accustomed to communicating. We were “forced” to do something we were not comfortable with. It took three days for us all to converge on Columbus, Ohio and finally meet with our funeral director. I cannot imagine what we might have accomplished if our funeral home had been more adept at using digital resources.
The Digital Divide
It was our digital divide which made me realize we were a dispersed family. Again, we didn’t view ourselves as dispersed; however, it would have been wonderful if the funeral had! I don’t want to move into a list of things that could have made our funeral experience better; however, I will say this, spelling my name correctly on the obit would have been wonderful, and I cannot imagine how beautiful that video tribute could have been had we been able to share the pictures from our smart phones or if we could have shared everything in one space provided by our funeral director.
My father’s service was in September 2009, seven years ago. The technology existed that would have made our experience better. Unfortunately, the funeral home didn’t believe a family like ours really existed. They treated us like we were 10 minutes away. Collectively, we were a thousand miles away. Not only does the technology exist to bridge the digital divide, it is absolutely necessary for the changing family dynamic that is becoming more and more common every day.
Anticipating the Needs of Dispersed Families
Perhaps your funeral home doesn’t see little Johnnie’s family that grew up in your city or town as dispersed, but even if now, adult Johnnie and his siblings live even 50 miles away, they are dispersed. Little Johnnie probably doesn’t identify his family as dispersed. He keeps up with his family via social media, text, email, and group chats, just like my family does. However, I encourage you to recognize the needs of a dispersed family when you see one. They are counting on funeral directors to anticipate their needs and see what they do not see in their time of grief.
One thing is certain. I wish our family had the advantage of a funeral director who understood our needs and was willing to work with us in a digital capacity. I am sure, at the very least, that my name would have been spelled correctly. Serene. Not Serena. Common mistake, but who has time for that in an obituary? FBA
Serene Hollingsworth, Account Executive, Eastern Region, Passare, Inc. Serene is a strategic partner and account manager for Passare, an innovative software as a service (SaaS) company founded by a group of forward-thinking funeral home owners who desired to enhance their service to today’s tech-savvy families. The result was Passare, the funeral industry’s only collaboration software with integrated case management. As an Account Executive for the Eastern Region, Serene helps funeral homes leverage Passare’s funeral administration and collaboration technology to better serve dispersed families. She has a passion to help funeral professionals maximize opportunities, save time, and exceed the expectations of the families they serve. Prior to joining Passare, Serene was a strategic planning expert in the PR/Communications and Publishing fields. Serene can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.