Funeral Business Advisor sat down with Brett Gerber funeral director with DeMoney-Grimes a Life Story Funeral Home in Columbia City, IN to learn more about his career, experience in the funeral industry, and what he’s looking forward to in the future.
How did you become a funeral director? What brought you into the industry?
I graduated from high school in 2000. In my first year of college I kept busy with classes and wrestling, but when I was home on the weekends, I helped out at a local funeral home. The funeral director was the older brother of a friend of mine I knew from wrestling and reached out to me to see if I could come in and help out when I wasn’t at school. At the time, I thought I would finish up college and open my own motorcycle shop, but my curiosity about the funeral business caused my plans to change.
After spending time working in the funeral home on the weekends and getting to see firsthand exactly what a funeral director does, I officially decided to change my career path and focus on becoming a funeral director. I switched colleges my second year and began attending Vincennes University in Indiana. I completed their program in 2003 and officially became a licensed funeral director in 2004.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
I have always loved the science side of this industry. When I first decided to switch colleges and career paths, it was the embalming aspect that really pushed me to make that switch. I wanted to stay in the back of the house and be an embalmer. But as time went on, and I began to work more closely with the families, the front of house side grew on me rather quickly. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better career. Working with the families is by far the best part about what I do.
What makes your funeral home unique?
Our funeral home is over 100 years old and family owned. Our staff is what really sets us apart from other funeral homes in the area. We have been chosen as the NFDA Best of the Best three times and received the Pursuit of Excellence Award numerous times. Because we are a smaller funeral home, it gives us time to really get to know the families and create a life story for that person versus just an obituary. Our attention to detail is what makes us stand out and is one of the main reasons our families choose us.
What are you most proud of in your career as a funeral director so far?
The biggest thing for me is when a family tells me how easy I made the process for them. That’s something that always makes me feel really proud of my work. It’s an honor to serve the families of my community and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
One woman in particular always comes to mind when I think about moments where I know I did my job. I served a woman who lost her husband because he took his own life. At one point she turned to me and said, “Brett, I didn’t think someone could bring joy or laughter out of such a tragedy, but you were able to do that.” I am proud to get to know the families we serve so closely, so that I can give them a service they truly appreciate, value and make such a hard time a little bit easier.
How do you define excellent customer service?
Excellent customer service is going above and beyond what the families you are serving expect of you. It also means treating them like they are a member of your own family. Because we are a smaller funeral home, we get to take our time with families and really get to know them.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about?
Continuing the legacy of this funeral home. I will officially take ownership of this funeral home on January 1, 2020 and that is something I am really looking forward to. I want to make our funeral home the best it can be and hopefully be able to pass it on to my kids in the future.
Do you have any advice you would share with other funeral directors, especially those who are younger and just now entering the profession?
My advice is to learn as much as you can as often as you can. Use each and every day to grow and become a better funeral director and a better person. You don’t have to just work at one funeral home. I have had a career where I worked at multiple funeral homes and if it wasn’t for all those experiences, I wouldn’t be the funeral director I am today. I’ve worked at large call volume funeral homes and small call volume funeral homes and I absorbed the best parts of each along the way. Set yourself up to be exposed to multiple ways of doing business and keep an open mind.
How to you keep residual emotions from following you home? Do you have any tips or tricks for maintaining a solid work/life balance?
After 18 years in the business, it becomes second nature. I was really bothered by death when I was younger, especially when it was a child or if a young kid lost a parent. But now I look at each case and I feel honored just to help. When you get invested in the families you serve, you learn to see the positive in each day and your focus is on doing the best job possible.
There is not a magic recipe for dealing with the hard cases, your experience will help you tremendously. You want to be strong for the families and make the process go as smoothly as you can for the living. It’s never easy, but you learn more about how to process the tough days with each family you serve. FBA