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As we launched into 2017, I see all sorts of resolution and other feel good articles how to live a better life this year.  Frankly, I wonder why we need prompting to do what should be done in the first place.  For most people, there are a few top “resolutions” with simple solutions:

  1. Want to lose weight and get in shape? Quit eating poorly and exercise.  The food that goes into your mouth comes directly from your own hand.  You don’t need a gym membership to roll your carcass out of bed in the morning and take 30-45 minutes to walk/run, do some push ups, planks, and get on with your day.  Get your ass out of bed a little earlier in the morning, exercise, and quit eating junk. Why is that so difficult?
  2. Want to make more money? Focus on what brings in revenue rather wasting time on crap that does not pay the bills.  Take a look where the money comes from and increase your effort to make more.  The harder you work, the luckier you get, monetize everything!
  3. Want to live a better life? Read 1 & 2, then organize your time:
  • Each day has 24 hours and each week has 168 hours.
  • If you work 45 hours per week, that leaves 123 hours.
  • If you sleep 48 hours a week (8 hours a night), that leaves 75 hours.
  • So that leaves 75 hours a week, 10.71 hours a day that you are not working or sleeping.  Surely if you want to better educate yourself, start a new hobby, spend more time doing anything, the math above dictates that it’s possible.

Make the decision to take command of yourself and life will get better.  From the Command Post (W), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

not a winner

I was recently traveling and saw the sign providing glory for the 4th place team in the 2009 Illinois Class 4A Basketball (I don’t know if there was a championship of some sort, the sign doesn’t say). Is congratulations in order for a 4th place?  What are your thoughts? #thefuneralcommander

 

return

I consider vacation a blessing that provides time for me to relax and reflect prior to returning to “the world.”  I learned several years ago that just a few days off does not offer me the time necessary to “download and relax.” Therefor annually I take anywhere from ten to fifteen days off.  Of course, my favorite place on the planet to vacation is in Aruba.

happy place

Relaxing from the fast pace and my own self prescribed high energy constant motion is no easy task.  The beautiful beach, cigars, and libation creates such an atmosphere for me to completely unwind.  I become introspective about my personal and work life while on this annual trek. Similar to a birthday, I believe that God provided me another year to enjoy such a time as this and I look forward to what the future has in store for me, my family along with my professional life.  I am blessed.

I have returned to the Command Post (West) ready to continue leading on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation and making positive changes in our profession.  I’m back…#thefuneralcommander

AZ Post 2

What was once an easy function is now menacing.

Recently relatives visited us just to get together. Ordinarily such an event is simply part of what families do, but this visit was very different for me making yet another impression about how fragile life really is. Hosting the visiting family at our home, we took a ride around the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have never visited this part of Virginia, the scenery is fantastic, so the day trip was enjoyable with warm springlike weather. Of course I can tell that I am getting older because I actually pay attention to all the landscape and mountains.

One of our relatives visiting has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years; however because of the distance of the miles between us, we have not spent time with him lately.  This man is a well-respected individual with a meager start, serving at the highest pinnacles of his profession, finally retiring a few years back.  I always admired his thirst for reading with a library of books spanning a wide variety of subjects. Like many of us, he lived his life working for the days that he could relax, travel and spend time on his terms rather than endure the hectic schedules in our busy work lives.

But along the way, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came, disrupting an otherwise fantastic life. The man that took both of my sons on trips, came to ball games, and cared for them as his own children now is in need of care himself. I was struck by his bewilderment at times, his silence during conversations and, moreover, by his private struggle of discomfort. Here, a man that at one time had tremendous responsibility over thousands is struggling with simple basics like whereabouts.

The moment that “took me under” was just prior to their departure. His wife brought me a bag of neck ties and she asked if I would tie them for her.  I gladly accepted because I actually enjoy this particular part of being a man and frankly, I do a pretty good job.  While looking in the mirror as I customarily do during the process, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This simple act that he performed for over 60 years of his life was now something menacing.  I stood there looking at myself with his tie wrapped around my neck thinking of all the wonderful times I had spent with him, a man that had done so much for others, including me, could not tie his own tie because of this retched disease.

Although we all pitched in to assist his wife over the weekend with simple movements from place to place, this moment really got to me.  I was honored to tie his ties, but also reminded that we only have today.  If we are healthy, we enjoy a carefree luxury that at some point in our lives may turn into a burden. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love and care for us. I have a renewed respect and empathy for those caring for others, it’s just plain exasperating and exhausting.  Literally everything that was once simple is now a challenge.

Upon completion of getting all the ties tied, I returned them to his wife.  As I handed them to her, I knew that another task was taken off her huge caretaker list. But doing this was more than a help for her, it was a lesson for me. Be grateful for today and those that love you. Have compassion for others that love someone else enough to dedicate their life to making life better for the person they love.  In the end, there is an end.  Enjoy what you have now, it doesn’t last forever.  From the Command Post, Cheers y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

Please read this heartfelt and emotional account of a funeral director’s heart. #thefuneralcommander

A Simple, Village Undertaker

Today was a tough day. I cried at work and it has been a while since that has happened. Not that crying is unusual at my workplace, it’s just that I’m usually not the one doing it.

Before I tell you about today, I need to provide a brief, back story:

This past December, we were called to handle the cremation for a man whose next of kin was his sister.  As we navigated through the process, I saw where she lived and mentioned that my family had once lived in an adjacent neighborhood.  As we continued to chat, we connected the dots  and soon came to realize that our families had been next door neighbors for a short time before we moved  from Columbia to Aiken and they moved to a new home.

Happier times, almost twenty years ago. Happier times, almost twenty years ago.

That period of time is a bit of a blurr…

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blog post SC

What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat.  For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors  while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”

The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls.  In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.

What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry?  A few observations:  the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”).  The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists.  Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand.  Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers).  Value now is the ability to pay in full.

The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or  it is irrelevant.  However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.

The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?

From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all.  #thefuneralcommander

 

 

Happy 3

This is not my typical blog post because it’s deeply personal pouring into words grief, grace, and gratitude.  If you read this in its entirety, you’ll not see my regular content but real, raw life…and death.

As parents our single greatest fear is the loss of our child, no matter their age.  In the funeral home business, we frequently serve such painful and tragic services for the survivors that grieve an early death.  I personally know two funeral industry professionals that lost sons this year.  I had conversation with the parents of one and I was deeply moved as they shared with me about their son along with the anguish they are suffering.

This past Wednesday a young friend, team mate and fellow Military Academy mate of my oldest son Hunter died.  Graduation and life had separated them along with all the other young men that shared their unique educational experience. However, news of the loss spread nationwide among this group of young men that would bring them together once again.

Such an event causes deep introspection and I was moved by the discussions I had with Hunter about life, death but most importantly his personal foundation as a man.  In the midst of tragedy sometimes there is an emergence of realization for things we just cast aside yet now become vividly important.  Listening to him my heart was filled with pain for his loss, pride for his expressed thoughts and emotions along with my inability to slow the steady stream of tears…my own emotions.  He and I are close, but such deep conversations are rare for any men which makes me grateful for our discussions.

Young men trekked from across the country to pay their respects and gather in support of each other as well as the young man’s parents.  But this story gets worse; another young man from this same group died the night before the visitation.  My wife had found a photo of Hunter and the first deceased young man along with a third baseball team mate and fellow student.  I posted the photo below on my Facebook page sharing my grief and prayerful thoughts for all that were suffering from the first loss…and now we are left with only one.

HMA 1

This post is to publicly share my own grief for the loss of two young men, offer condolences to their loved ones and friends.  I also want to share my gratitude that God has blessed me immensely with two sons that I’ll be able to wrap my arms around this week and express my love to them. Only by grace are we all not in such a period of grief that others may experiencing this week from the loss of a child this past year.

I have gratitude that God has provided me a platform to share this along with other experiences globally.  As this is being written, I’d deeply aware of true thankfulness for being loved and respected by those that mean the most to me.  As I get older, the things that I want most cannot be purchased and I truly seek what I admittedly took for granted earlier in my life.

This week of Thanksgiving is different for me because I know of four chairs around family tables that are empty this year because the tragic loss of four young men.  I’m not going to ask the typical “what are you thankful for this week” question.  I’m ask that you to reflect on the true life stories I have shared with you and simply challenge you to express love to those most important to you right now.  There will be empty chairs at someone’s table this time next year…

Normally I conclude with my cigar ablaze and a cheeky good bye.  But today, I close this with tears flowing and earnest thoughts of grief, grace and gratitude.  #thefuneralcommander

dont forget

Do you remember where you were on 9/11/2001 when we were attacked on our own soil and 2977 innocent people lost their lives by terrorists?  I was traveling to Hertford NC from Greenville NC for a business meeting and I was listening to the radio in my car as the news broke that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.  My first thoughts was about my mother in law, as at the time she was a flight attendant. Immediately I called to check on her well being and she said she was watching the tragedy unfold on television.

I stopped at a hotel and went into the lobby where I watched the plane fly into the second tower.  Speculation moved from accident to obviously a more nefarious act before our eyes.  As time inched forward, the news of a plane flying into the Pentagon and a crash was reported in rural Pennsylvania was reported.  I remember the sickening feeling watching people leaping from the buildings and brave rescue attempts…then the buildings came down.

Our country, way of life and beliefs were under attack.  As one that had looked into the eyes of those that wanted to kill Americans in Operation Desert Storm, my first instinct and thoughts were to defend against an enemy which had no thoughts of killing our people in an unprovoked attack. As the day continued and information flowed from various sources, my resolve for innate Patriotism intensified.

I returned home to my wife and sons knowing that we would never be the same, the uncertainty of not knowing what we would face from this moment in time.  At some point during the late afternoon, I went to my mailbox and there it was; my official letter of 20 years credible service as a soldier…I’m now retired.  From November 1980 to November of 2000,  I fulfilled my oath of office to protect and defend the United States of America.  But on that day, there would be no reporting for duty or deployment to fight a battle.

Do you remember how our Country came together in prayer, anger and united with a sense of protecting each other?  What’s happened to us? Why have we lost our way and resolve?  On this day, I believe we should take a step back and remember all the Americans that lost their lives that day; the innocent and the brave people that responded to the call of something bigger than themselves.  Take a moment and reflect, watch this video by Toby Keith to remember:

From the desk of The Funeral Commander; May God continue to bless America…don’t forget! #thefuneralcommander

Gotta Be MeAs an entrepreneur, I can testify that I have fundamental belief in myself and I posses a relentless passion to convert my visions into execution.  That’s quite daunting when coordinating, funding, explaining, training, developing, and forecasting is a daily occurrence. Nothing is accomplished by yourself. It’s not a matter of relying on others, but the ability to infuse those that you depend on to have the same sense of passion and clearly defining the vision in order to achieve execution.  So, if you are one that desires to make a dream reality, you must first believe in yourself.  I know many that read this will think “well, I do believe in myself, but ____________.”

Robert F. Kennedy said “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  We all have fear of failure, but why?  Is it because we are afraid what others will say or think of us when we fall?  Some of my biggest doubters have been those that live under the blanket of security from their current position, yet they wouldn’t dare leave that blanket behind.  “Happiness is when you feel good about yourself without feeling the need for anyone else’s approval.” ― Unknown.  Do you really need permission to succeed and be happy? Yes, it’s frightening to think of the financial disaster, being ridiculed by family, colleagues and friends by “see, I told you shouldn’t have.”

I had a friend call me for advice about her son.  He is a young man that has been well trained professionally and working at a local business. The young man felt that at his current job he was unappreciated and the leadership had no sense of excellence nor appreciation for his contributions to making their brand better.  An opportunity to move to another city and a big time entity within the same brand was laid before him.  The mom explained that he was really struggling with “leaving what he knows behind for a chance that may not ultimately work out” because the offer was conditional on a 90 day trial.  I told her that if he does not think he’s good enough, then stay where he is; if he believes in himself, there is no doubt what he should do. He made the move and performing excellently.

I’m on the cusp of launching what some may deem impossible.  Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that accept accountability and share your passion.  Much can be accomplished if common goal is the enterprise, not the individual recognition.   You only have one life…believe in yourself and others will too…Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

53 years53 years.  No more battles to fight, no countries to defend, no oppressed people to free. I remember years ago reading about what happens to men when we get older.  We go from being dangerous warriors seeking battles to fight, running with the ball or tackling the ones that carry it.  It’s happened…now I watch young warriors returning from foreign lands and men playing football on my big screen television.

I am 53 years old today and reflective.  I looked at my uniform now hanging in the closet under plastic (yes it still fits), but it’s not for me to wear anymore.  Frankly, the medals don’t mean anything to anyone else but me now; they are only history.  My greatest successes are not pinned on that uniform, rather they are experiences only I realize…

Over my adult years I have worn many uniforms, performed different jobs and taken on some pretty lofty projects.  I developed a personal mantra of “a vision is only a dream without execution.”  I have dreamed, had visions and executed…I have also failed.

It’s odd coming to the realization that you’re closer to the end than the beginning. I’m not going to put on that uniform for service ever again and I’m not going to tackle the guy carrying the ball.  But let me tell you what I am going to do:

I’m going to execute my visions in the funeral industry and challenge those around me to elevate themselves beyond the norm.  I’m still going to be brought to tears when I hear Toby Keith’s “American Soldier.”   I’m still going to say to new people that I work with “I’m not going to say anything to offend you on purpose; when I want to offend you, you’ll be certain that I wanted to.”    I’m still going to love a good debate. I’m going to keep writing what comes to my mind, expressing my opinion and challenge others to take a stand.

Bugaloe blissI’m going to take care of myself which includes playing golf, smoking cigars and drinking dark rum straight on the rocks with a lime. I’m going to live 50 weeks a year so that I can live for 2 weeks in Aruba…like life should be lived.  53 is a new number for me; the number of consecutive push-ups I require of myself in the mornings just because I can.  I’m not going away easily.  I think I’ll just keep being me.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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