As a funeral professional, you are faced with loss every day. Some days are harder than others. So, my purpose in writing today is to simply encourage you and to give you a renewed sense of hope in your role as a caring, compassionate guide to the families you serve. Now, more than ever, you are needed. Your wisdom, your guidance, your empathy, your support are all desperately needed by the families you serve, and these very qualities are the ones that I believe will help to reverse the trend we are seeing in funeral service from direct disposition services to healing and meaningful funeral events.
In my work with training funeral professionals, I’ve been blessed to witness how important their work is to them and the families they serve. Many see it as a ministry or a calling. Most have experienced firsthand the heartbreaking loss of a loved one and know how important it is for families to slow down, face their emotions, receive love and support from others, and begin the process of healing their broken hearts through a meaningful and personal funeral experience.
That moment where a family is working with a funeral director who is able to help them “see the light” and imagine a ceremony that honors a loved one’s life in a personal and meaningful way is absolutely magical.
The problem is that many funeral directors don’t know how to guide families to those magical moments.
In fact, many of the funeral directors I speak to have lost hope of ever turning the tide toward healing and meaningful events. Some may even fear that the role of the funeral director is a thing of the past.
But I firmly believe that the role of a funeral director is more necessary today than ever. In the past, people understood the value of a funeral service. Today, people don’t seem to as much. No one has told them how important it is to gather to mourn. No one has explained how a funeral can allow family and friends to express their emotions, give and receive support, and search for meaning in the loss. So, when they confuse the efficiency of a direct disposition with the effectiveness of a meaningful funeral, they are left with unresolved grief.
I believe that no one should have to face the loss of a loved one alone, with no guidance or support. That is where the funeral director comes in. As a funeral professional, your role is to give families the information, stories, ideas, and options that they need so that they can start their journey through grief on the right foot.
I’d like to share a story that is a perfect example of what I am talking about. This is an email I received from a funeral home owner who recently came through one of our training events:
This week, the Brown Funeral Home staff was presented with an opportunity to employ a few methods discussed during the recent training and discussion group in Morristown, TN.
As funeral directors, we must listen carefully throughout our interactions with the families we serve.
Often, the information gathered during a first call or an arrangement conference can provide just enough insight to establish a rapport with the bereaved.
We should always look for a common thread, an idea, or a story that resonates within a family in the wake of a significant loss. It is that foundation on which we may build our relationship.
It is our job to determine the family’s emotional position with regard to their journey of grief. Then, we must try to meet them at that point, wherever it may be… in hope of somehow being able to relate to them on a genuine, personal level… and work to somehow help to gently bridge the gap toward healing.
This week, I found myself placed squarely in the middle of such an opportunity.
I sat across the table from a young couple, who – until the day before – had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby.
Sadly, the little girl had arrived far too early… bypassing a life in our broken world for a direct return to the arms of God.
This young couple was clearly in love with each other. Together, however, they were devastated, and enduring tremendous heartache. The pair held hands and wept as we discussed how to create a meaningful funeral service to soothe their own pain, but also celebrate a little girl they would never have the chance to raise.
Choking back my own emotions…I was searching for answers of a different kind.
“May I ask you a deeply personal question?” I asked.
“Sure,” they replied in tearful unison.
I continued… “Had you already picked out colors for her room…or maybe a theme of some sort?”
The young couple stared at each other as the grim reality of my question set in.
“Well, not really. Maybe pink and silver,” the mother replied. “And, this is silly…but, I always called her SuperGirl because she kicked so hard when I was carrying her.”
As she wiped away a tear, I was able to see a smile come to her eyes for the first time during our interaction. In that moment, I realized the purpose of my question. It would now become my task to lay SuperGirl to rest…and to do so in such a way that everyone could realize just how much this little girl meant to her family.
I asked the family’s permission to borrow their SuperGirl motif for the service…telling them that I had a few ideas on how to make things extra special. As they agreed, I was again blessed with a smile from the mother…and this time, the little girl’s Dad smiled, too.
When the family left our office, I quickly called up an artist friend of mine. I attempted to explain the situation, sharing my vision with him. From that conversation, he was able to create custom vinyl graphics to adorn the tiny casket…and a handful of small stickers to hand out to friends and family who would attend SuperGirl’s service the following day. Our secretary also took great interest in the project, as she laid out memorial folders and a chapel sign to match our theme.
Upon seeing the folders, stickers, and custom graphics, the family was overwhelmed with emotion.
Over the course of the next two hours, several family members and friends took the time to reach out to our staff, thanking us for everything we had done to make this experience so special.
Our job is never easy. Sometimes, however, we are granted the opportunity to transcend the “typical” funeral and create an experience worthy of a SuperGirl.
This funeral director had a choice. He could have chosen not to rock the boat. He could have done whatever simple disposition the couple thought was best. But he chose to be a caring, compassionate guide to this sweet family, and their experience was richer, deeper, and more meaningful because of it.
I would argue that this is the funeral director of the future. This is the kind of funeral director who will begin to see the tide turn in his community.
I want to leave you with one final thought. Your families are worth it. Whatever momentary discomfort he felt in asking a personal question and digging deeper, I promise that this family is eternally grateful that they were able to honor their little girl’s spirit in such a special way. I urge you to keep fighting the good fight. You are doing a good work. FBA
DJ Jons serves as Director of Learning and Development at Funeral Directors Life and has a passion for learning and growing and inspiring others to learn and grow every day as well. DJ has been with Funeral Directors Life for over 25 years and enjoys sharing her love of continual personal and professional growth and development with the company’s employees, client funeral homes, and sales professionals. DJ has trained funeral home and sales teams across the nation, helping them grow and unleash their inner potential through industry-leading training programs and CE courses. To connect with DJ, please email her at [email protected]com.