What happens when we assume that the family knows what to do when they have an out-of-town death? I wanted to share a story that happened to a friend of mine a few months ago. I rolled over at 4 am to notice that I had a text from a friend whose father died in Florida. His father did not have any kind of pre-arrangement with a funeral home; his mother was all alone, in shock, and naturally grieving. The hospital was pushing her to decide who to release the remains to in Florida. My friend was making an emergency trip from Ohio to Florida to help his mother make these decisions and both were lost with what to do next.

This situation could have gone several different ways. The mom could have blindly gone with the hospital’s recommendations, looked in phone book, or hit the internet. However, because of her age the internet was not her first option and calling random funeral homes in the phone book was not ideal because the hospital was pushing for an answer. Luckily my friend knew to text me first and I was able to advise him to call a funeral home in his home-town area and the funeral home would contact us to bring his father home. The funeral director from my friends home-town was immediately able to guide him through the process.

This made me think, how many people know when they have a death away from home to call the same funeral director their family has called upon before? To me, this is a simple answer and my first call would be to the funeral director back home who has helped my family for generations, a funeral director that I know, or one of my friends would recommend. I talked with other people and found some interesting responses. I spoke to Kahlen, a 40-year-old funeral director and embalmer, and Michelle a 24-year-old shipping specialist. Listening to the opinions and purchasing habits of two different generations of consumer made me think of what the best way to educate all ages of consumers of what to do when a loved one dies away from home.

When I talked to Michelle, the youngest of our staff, she told me she doesn’t have any kind of pre-arrangement and has never even given it a thought because she is young. As we were talking, she explained to me that she has only had one death in her family and was not involved with the funeral and really did not know much about planning a funeral other than the shipping portion she does here. We talked about her travel plans and she said she really didn’t care where she was buried, and they can just bury her wherever. When I asked her about other people her age, she believes that a lot of them feel the same way.

Kahlen on the other hand mentioned he had a pre-arrangement with a funeral home but many of his friends did not. As a funeral director he understands the importance of having arrangements taken care of in advance. He travels often and has all intentions if he dies away from home to be shipped back to Cleveland for visitation and burial.

I do not have a pre-need yet, but I recently arranged one for my mother. From talking to my friends many of them do not have pre-needs and many of them only know about funeral shipping because of our conversations together. I even brought this up to a professional group I belong to. These business owners range from the ages of 30 to 70 and very few of them knew what to do when a loved one dies away from home and none of them had any kind of pre-arrangement with a funeral home. I know when it comes time for me to make funeral arrangements that no matter where I may be in the world, I want to be shipped back home for services and be buried at the same cemetery as my grandparents, father, and husband.

We also talked about purchasing habits and this was a real eye opener. When I asked Michelle how she makes purchases, she told me she will research online and compare numerous companies for the best price. Once she finds the store with the best price, she will make a purchase. She is not persuaded by reviews online and said she does not trust online reviews and will occasionally ask her friends their opinions if they have made the same purchase. When I asked her how she would go about the situation of needing to find a funeral home and shipping her loved one home, she said she would look online for the cheapest option before she made any calls and even if she was aware of the options before hand she would still check online for the best price.

Kahlen responded that even though he does make online purchases he would much rather have personal interaction with a person or store. He wants to know what he is purchasing and will often talk to others to get opinions. If he does purchase online, he will look at all the online reviews and do research into the product and will often pick convenience and trust in quality over price. I asked him about having a death out of town and he said he would call a local funeral director he knows. However, he believes that while many of his friends will search the internet for information they will go with personal recommendations if they did not know; they are less persuaded by price and will lean toward working with someone they know and trust or has been recommended.

When I make purchases, I may research the product or company online but almost always make the purchase in person because it feels more natural to me. I do not pay much attention to online reviews but heavily rely on personal recommendations. I will put trust, quality and value over the price.

It is important to know how the different generations of consumer makes purchases and prepare for funerals. Do they know all the options available and who to call when they have a death away from home?

I believe that educating the families that regardless of the place of death, their local funeral director can help them bring their loved one home is the greatest solution. This can be done through conversations with family members when they meet for pre-arrangements, through public service announcements and presentations, and even online blogs. They key is to get the information out that their local home-town funeral director can help them with all their out-of-town needs. Families come to funeral directors not because they are just the ones who care for someone’s deceased loved one, they are the ones who are knowledgeable about all the aspects of the death, funeral care, memorialization, and how to navigate through some of the obstacles often associated with losing a loved one. One of things we have started to do to help home-town funeral directors with the education process is providing funeral homes with a brochure that they can put in their lobby that would help them educate their families on out-of-town deaths and how their funeral home can help them. I have gotten a lot of great feedback from funeral homes because this helps them breach the topic with families.

By educating the public about all the different services a home-town funeral director can provide it helps build awareness and a comfort level for families when they are faced with situation where last-minute decisions must be made. They know that regardless what they are told by others at the time of a death that their home-town funeral director is their one call source for all their funeral solutions. FBA

Diane Smith is CEO of National Mortuary Shipping (NMS), Great Lakes Crematory, Smith Mortuary Service and All County Pet Memorial Services. National Mortuary Shipping was founded by her late husband, Robert Smith in 1981. National Mortuary Shipping and its subsidiaries have worked alongside hometown funeral directors to aid families dealing with out of town deaths. Diane’s focus has been to offer new services to assist funeral directors in these ever- changing times. To contact Diane, please call 800-321-0185 or by email [email protected]