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Monthly Archives: January 2014

freezing I sit here in my warm office this evening thinking of just how frigid the air  is outside.  We were not the recipients of much snow in our geography,  but the cold is biting.  The news today was all about gridlock and peril in  parts of our country that are not used to the cold or copious amounts of  snow and ice.  “Parking lots” on highways and car wrecks by the droves.

But the underlying story I did not hear from the media was two groups of people.  First, those that are forced to live and endure the outdoors in this type of weather because of misfortune.  I served dinner last Sunday night at our local homeless shelter and my mind is on the faces…children, women and men alike suffering.  Secondly, those that serve; police, fire, EMT, military, power company personnel, medical, hospice, and yes, when people die, funeral directors.  None of these people take the night off because of the cold.

We are a nation that cares and will answer the call of duty when needed.  I pray for those that are cold and find themselves where they never imagined.  I pray for those that are serving at this very moment in conditions that are nearly unbearable.  I give thanks to God that I am here, blessed and humbled.

There but for the grace of God, go I. This means I too, like someone that suffered misfortune, might have suffered a similar fate, but for God’s mercy.

Resource How do funeral professionals approach senior care and hospice  professionals in their  respective communities to become a resource?  Not a solicitation to care for their deceased clients, but a resource  providing professional training, information and assistance.  A  funeral  director is an educated, licensed professional that can become a  tremendous asset with the local clergy, health, legal, senior care, and  hospice professions.

When developing a marketing and operations platform for our new funeral home, I met with and listened to several hospice and senior care professionals.  I asked them to share what they do for their clients, how their clients qualify for their respective services, what are the different positions within their organization and so on.  These professionals were excited to share their work and passion with me.  After learning about their operations, I then asked “what don’t you like about the funeral homes that you deal with regularly”? That’s when I received an earful.

“When we call during odd hours, it seems to take forever for the funeral home to respond, much less show up…the guys making the removal are very impersonal,”  and so on.  I asked if their organizations had a working relationship with the local funeral homes, and most indicated they did not.  If anything, funeral homes would donate for their fund raisers or drop off pens and such.  From this line of questioning, I then solicited from those I met with “if you owned a funeral home and you wanted to work with a local organization like yours, what would you do?”  There were many suggestions, but what struck me as resoundingly important was the funeral home should be providing training and become a resource.  The reluctance from those that I met with was that in the past they invited funeral homes to develop a relationship by presenting to their staff or participating in some sort of event, the hospice got the feeling that the firms just wanted to sell pre-need or some type of product.

After learning about senior care and hospice organizations, their work, their passion to make a client and their family’s transition to death comfortable, I thought through how a funeral home could be of service to their staff.  Training, Education, Resource.  Why not provide the staff with information about what happens after their clients die…what does the family have to deal with…how can a family prepare for death…what can families expect after the death occurs…basically once the transition work until death is complete, share how does a funeral professional carry forward the hard work started by senior care and hospice.

Upon completion of the research, I developed a training platform for staff and volunteers that have direct contact with those that are dying along with their families.  Within the platform, there is no solicitation of the funeral home or its services, but information and training of what a family will need to know prior to death occurring and how to prepare.  Details on subjects such as Social Security benefits, end of life legal preparedness, Veteran’s benefits, important documents such as life insurance, how a funeral home expects to be paid, what is a GPL, DNA issues, and so on.  In addition, I created a website and accompanying materials as tools for those receiving the training as well as a resource for families that have a loved one facing death.

Upon presenting this training, I was overwhelmed at the reception and participation among those in attendance.  Many did not know how soon after death a physician must sign a death certificate, their state’s regulations pertaining to embalming and or refrigeration, etc.  Subjects and regulations that funeral professionals regularly must follow so that those in attendance may assist by providing families information prior to death; to make the transition to death easier.  During the training multitudes of stories were shared by the participants from their own loved one’s death and those that they had cared for.  The training provided was valuable both professionally and personally.

At the conclusion of the training, the hospice and senior care professionals now had tools and information to deliver to a family without feeling uncomfortable about the topic of impending death.  Additionally, because of the training we developed a relationship…we became a resource.  There was no fear that if these professionals called for any funeral service information or questions our firm would not respond with starting up the removal vehicle or requesting a meeting with a pre-need counselor.

Want to know more about the hospice and senior care training program for funeral homes?  Email jeff@theharbesongroup.com or stevez@g2funeralgroup.com to set up some time to chat about how to become a resource.

AdviceI really enjoy reading posts, blogs and comments that circulate throughout the funeral, grief, hospice and senior care industries.  Many offer excellent insights from combined experience and education, providing helpful relevance which assists all of us that serve.  Actually looking a dying person in the eyes while providing comfort, or working with a family stressed and emotionally drained from providing day-to-day care is much different from reading about it.  Additionally, being in a funeral arrangement session with families whose members are in the same state, imminent/post death actually observing their decision-making under the cloud of anguish and grief is equally not the same as speculating about what actually takes place in such events. 

So my post today is first to thank those of you in the before-mentioned positions and professions for sharing your experiences to assist others to serve better.  But “the heart of the matter” is to address all those that are surrounding and “supporting” our respective industries.  We get inundated by “try this, do that and we’re sure this will work” by those that have never changed a bed pan, consulted a family about the impending death of their loved one, provided comfort transition from life to death, created a funeral home budget/P&L, assisted a family making funeral arrangements, watched a family kiss their loved one for the last time, or actually provided comfort to a grieving person over their loss.

I’m a firm believer in education about any specific profession, but I also believe that “hands on experience,” training and practice are the best teachers.  It’s like reading books about combat and thinking you are prepared for battle.  One must have actual experience for true appreciation of the work involved; along with the “authority” to offer insight or opinions with credibility.

Finally, I want to encourage those that do contribute from authority and experience to continue providing meaningful and original content.  For all the others, give us break.  We can read Forbes, or Entrepreneur finding such generalized content ourselves…quit posting stuff for the sake of posting.  I have been in a combat zone and a target of real world attacks; so for the respective industry carp that will “yelp like a bit dog” and get their underwear in a wad; go ahead take offense and get over yourself.  For everyone else please continue the great work.  Cheers y’all!

mixture of ingredients Gallup recently released the “Mood of the Nation” annual poll that  revealed 42% of Americans are financially in worse shape now than  this time last year.  Approximately 30% say they are better off.  Most are  optimistic that their status will improve in the future, but that is generally  the case…hope.  How does the financial status of our fellow American consumers correlate to funeral homes?

In the last few years I have been watching consumer financial postures, and consistently the news is not positive.  CNN Money reported last summer that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck meaning they have less than 6 months of savings to replace their incomes if job loss occurs.

These people and their relatives are dying.  Our funeral homes are serving financially struggling families.  Bridging the gap between funeral home revenue recovery, cash flow and providing families with goods and services they can afford is becoming more of an issue than even a few years ago.  What is your funeral home doing to grow and maintain revenue with the average Americans that are forced to make funeral decisions with their wallet, not their heart.?

There are solutions to improve cash flow and eliminate accounts receivable.  As a funeral home owner/partner, not only do I understand the issues, I live them.  With $0 accounts receivable and payment secure before the funeral contract is signed, we know the “secret sauce.”  I’d like to share it with you, drop me an email jeff@theharbesongroup.com and lets set up a time to chat.

plane I spend more time in hotel beds than I do in my own bed at home.    When someone asks me where I live, I generally reply “Marriott.”  For  those that don’t travel regularly making their living and think it’s  glamorous, well it’s simply not.  I’m on a plane as I write this and I just  have so share with you observations about our fellow humans at  airports.

Alright folks, it’s the 21’st century and you should be able to slide your credit card in a “computer machine,” read the instructions, and touch the screen when directed…it’s something most 1st graders can do now.  Anyone not aware that you must go through security prior to gaining access to the boarding gate?  Why doesn’t it register with some that the articles of clothing worn, items that are packed, and the bags that are carried will affect the process of getting through security?  I plan for going through security with ease so I can also watch people that have not a clue of what’s going on…it makes the whole event worth my time.

Continuing with the boarding process and observing human behavior, it gets really interesting.  The gate agents announce boarding process of priority and even tell us to look at our ticket for our access (1st class, memberships, zones, etc.).  However, once the gate agent starts talking, everyone rushes for position for the single lane of access…like cattle being herded onto a truck headed for slaughter.  I watch and sure enough, on every flight, people at the front of the line are in zone 5, some even try to board out of their order, and the whole process slows down because of either ignorance or failure to follow directions.  Of course, there is always someone with a carryon bag that could not fit in the trunk of a 1975 Buick that argues with the gate agent about taking it on the plane.  And, of course, there are those that can’t count…one personal bag and a carryon. Not a personal bag, a carryon bag, a shopping bag and that bag with the gifts.

The fun continues on the plane when the bags are being stowed in the upper area…surprised that your carry on doesn’t fit?  I know that you bought it at TJ Maxx and the cute zebra stripe matches your flip flops, but really?  Additionally, I am the first to offer help to those that are in need…but if you and not elderly or disabled, and your TJ Maxx zebra bag is so heavy that it’s an event on world’s strongest man, then I don’t really feel sorry for you.

Then, of course someone is hungry and must eat a full meal on a 2 hour flight…it would be way stupid to eat at home or one of the 50 restaurants in the airport.  No, they have to bring a greasy bag of Bojangles chicken complete with dirty rice and biscuit, or an Italian sausage hotdog with onions, peppers and mustard.  Or if they really planned ahead, perhaps a tuna fish or egg salad sandwich from home.

Lastly, is there a mirror shortage in the US?  If your butt is so big that you have to turn sideways to go down the aisle, then stretchy pants are not for you.  If you don’t have your feet manicured and toenails clipped, wear covered shoes.  For both genders, if you spill over into the next seat because of your size, then please wear long sleeves.  For this same person, if your boobs (men or women) spill out of your tank/tube top, please wear a really good bra or again, a cover up.

Well, I hit the lottery by sitting next to a really nice and professional man that we respect each other’s space and the flight is going well.  But for those that don’t’ travel much, turn off American Idol the night before and while you are in Walmart, pick up a guide to travel.  Cheers y’all.

lock Even Frank Zappa had something to say about blocking progress;  “without deviation of the norm, progress is not possible.” After  development and testing with real at need families with real licensed  funeral directors, I am blessed to be part of the launch for new services  and products will make impact for both funeral homes and the families  they serve.

Our industry abounds with skepticism about something new for a myriad of reasons.  Whether personal bias, fear, lack of education, laziness or just plain apathy, or “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work,” etc.etc.  Why do some stand in the way of progress expanding our value as a resource to those they serve?  Many firms are really stepping up doing a great job of not only providing the expected norm form a funeral home, but other services.  Planning seminars with legal professionals, catering for post funeral meals, aftercare/grief support, presentations/training with hospice organizations, and coordination of post death activities just to name a few.

I believe that families should be provided information so that they can make educated decisions. Relevant information is not limited to service, casket, vault, urns or traditional ancillary products.  Are we doing a good job letting a family know that after cremation all DNA and medical trace is obliterated?  Are we informing families that death certificates may be needed to close digital accounts such as Hotmail or Facebook?

What are going to be the liabilities we face for our complacency and lack of understanding about subjects that we fail to not only inform ourselves, but our families…simply because we choose not to deviate from our routines?  In our society where consumers are constantly being presented challenges to pay for their loved ones funeral expenses, make decisions about final disposition, and then cleaning up final matters like online accounts, are we really serving them well by providing information, or standing in the way of improved funeral service progress?

Hospice worker holding elderly man s hand UKI was recently visiting one of our funeral home locations when the firm received a death call.  There was quite a bit of activity already going on, so I volunteered to assist on the home removal.  The opportunity to participate in what I consider one of the most delicate actions taken by our profession, is actually a privilege.

The transfer and removal of a person that dies at home is quite an interesting part of the funeral profession.  When developing our funeral home, I spent time with hospice care workers and owners inquiring about what they do, how they do it, and how funeral homes are perceived from their point of view.  I asked several times “what don’t you like about funeral directors?”  The resounding first answer was the way many funeral homes conduct home removals.  “Funeral homes take too long to respond…from the time we call, many times to an answering service, then a funeral director finally calls back, and waiting for the people to get there often takes a long time.”  The problem they shared, was that the family now had a deceased loved one in their midst…and families are often worn out and uncomfortable waiting.  “When the funeral home people finally show up, it’s often really impersonal.”  Meaning, the transfer staff/people generally were there just to get the job done and leave some information for the family to read until contacted by the funeral home.

So, when we developed the Family Choice brand and it’s operating platform of TouchPoints, transfer/home, home removal was a big deal.  Such a big deal, that there are 59 specific steps of how to perform this process.  I happened to be with our Executive VP of Operations, which basically meant that I was certain the process should be flawless.

Upon arrival we were met by the hospice nurse, one that apparently was not familiar with us, nor us with her.  She met us outside prior to beginning our process at the removal vehicle.  After introducing our selves, she stated “well, I haven’t worked with you and I guess you’re just like everyone else.”  That’s when the pro (our VP) took over.  He shared how we are different…not the old “we care more speech or we’ve been here since Sherman burnt down the South” rhetoric.  And then, he asked her “how long did you serve this family and  would you share with me your experience with them?”

She told us that the woman suffered from cancer and that she was on home hospice 4 months. The hospice nurse went on to share how sweet family is and how they cared for her at home.  Additionally, and most important to me sharing this with you, she said “and I am going to miss her (the deceased), she was like family to me.”  That’s when the pro, our VP reached in his pocket and took out a white Mourningcross Bereavement Pin and asked the hospice nurse if he could give it to her and pin it on her collar.  Being a bit stunned, she allowed him to do so.

He shared with her that although her chosen profession is a job and that’s how she makes a living, she also develops relationships and mourns for the loss of her patients…because she is human.  “So this pin is to remind you of your relationship with the deceased and to publicly show that you are grieving the loss.  When people ask or notice this pin, share with them the story of your patient, or in this case, your friend.”

After wiping some tears away, the hospice nurse stayed with us to observe our process of caring for this family, and “the last time she leaves home.”  Needless to say, we have a new friend that cares for others.  Just remember, hospice and senior care workers mourn too…

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