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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

1 Merriam Webster— per·son·al·i·za·tion; make personal or  individual; specifically:  to mark as the property of a  particular person <personalized stationery>.  Wikipedia-  Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the  differences between individuals. Personalization technology enables  the dynamic insertion, customization or suggestion of content in any  format that is relevant to the individual user, based on the user’s implicit behavior and preferences, and explicitly given details.  Google Image: The image shown is the first when the word search for “personalization” is entered.

I was pondering personalization and the funeral industry after recently observing yet another arrangement session with a family.  The definitions above are the results of a computer search of just the word and subsequently an image search on Google.  What I found most interesting is that nothing was mentioned about funerals.  Of course when I entered “personalization funeral”  there are some blogs, references to industry written articles, and some funeral home websites that have done a good job with SEO on the subject.  When the same caption is then moved to Google images, a barrage of photos including an embalmed guy on a motorcycle appears and throngs of products from a Budweiser casket to candles.

Why am I writing this?  Because I’m not certain the general funeral consumer population is aware of our industry view of the subject “personalization.”  I’m consistently amazed by the reactions during actual post death decision making about this and many other subjects.  The family that prompted this post wanted nothing to do with in their words “any frills” for their deceased loved one (interestingly, the deceased was a “Baby Boomer”).  The funeral director, in line with our proprietary presentation of our arrangements, provided the family with information so that they could make educated funeral choices.  On the same day, at our other location which is four hours away, the same arrangement presentation provided, and the family seemed to want everything that was available including memorial products.  Our firm has made a choice that every family receives tangible recognition of the family’s loss and acknowledgement of their grief (a Mourningcross Bereavement Pin).  Every family that chooses cremation and an urn gets a personalized name plate with date of birth/date of death (using Print-A-Plate).  It’s personal to us, so we believe we should show the way.

I’m not being critical or making judgment; I’m just sharing a few observations.  To share an outside view of personalization, take a look at vanity license plates.  You know the ones with some clever message (like mine, BURYEM).  Virginia has the largest percentage of vanity plates in the US, about 16% (according to a study by AAMVA published in 2007) of all registered license plates are personalized.  Certainly that percentage has grown since.  Another interesting but little known fact that is the amount of “personalized caskets” actually sold is also in the teen percentages (or at least it was just a few years ago).

So, what is the point here?  It’s our job to provide information so that a funeral consumer can make educated decisions, and the first gesture of personalization should come from us…Cheers Y’all.

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!

The signs of Christmas are everywhere from the decorations of our city streets, the neighborhood Griswold family house lit up with lights, displays in stores, shows on television, advertisements, and even wreaths affixed to the front grill on cars.  So, it must be the Holiday season.

I have seen and talked to some that their Holiday season begins this afternoon when their office closes until 2014…now that must be nice.  But for many of us, the door never closes.  Remember that there was no room in the inn for Joseph and Mary?  Hotels don’t close during the Holidays.  Hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities that care for the sick and elderly of our society, never close.  Police, Fire and EMT respond to our emergency needs…they never close.  Our Military personnel protecting us from our enemies never stop laying their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the Holidays…never close.

Death does not come at a convenient time, so there are funeral professionals that will serve families of a loved one died during the Holidays.  Many of our fellow funeral professionals will answer calls from families in the coming days that lost their loved one…some of those calls will be tragic and unexpected deaths.  But, no matter what’s going on in our personal lives, funeral professionals, like those others listed above are called to care…others depend on us.  Funeral homes never close.

So, to my fellow funeral professionals, thank you for caring during this Holiday season and being dependable to those that will require your services.  I ask that you recognize and offer your personal thanks to the other people just like us that are called to care in their own chosen professions.  Merry Christmas Y’all.

Merry Christmas

What is old and lost, is found and new again.  I am continuing the innovation blog series I started a few weeks ago about people that have created a product or service in the funeral industry that is closely defined, “improve something with a new idea or procedure, or produce a product using a new or better way.”

In many of our cultures and societies of years past, when a death occurred we outwardly displayed our mourning with jewelry, black mourning arm bands or buttons.  Many people also wore black for a period of time. An Irish mother and her three daughters that experienced the loss of so many of their loved one’s has revived this old tradition as a result of a conversation between them. Recalling their own family wake of their father, some visitors had walked past them not realizing that they were daughters and how uncomfortable that felt.  They talked about the embarrassing whispers of people asking who was who and the stories that are lost about him as a result of missed opportunities to share cherished memories.

From their very personal experience, Kate Hamilton along with her very traditional Irish mother and sisters created MourningCross Bereavement Pins www.mourningcross.com as a modern outward display of mourning and in particular to support attendees at visitations wakes and funerals, identity and sympathize with, all of immediate grieving family members.

The MourningCross Bereavement Pins have many applications for not only the families, but for Funeral Professionals:

Identification of Family Members:  At funeral service activities such as visitations, wakes and services, immediate grieving family members are easily identified by wearing MourningCross Bereavement Pins.

Grief Continues After the Services:  A family members mourning does not cease at the conclusion of services.  Much like customs of the past where black arm bands or clothing were worn, wearing a MourningCross Bereavement Pin during the time of mourning is an outward display for the immediate grieving family members to “share the story of the life lived.”

Removal Leave Behind:  Upon removal of the deceased from the place of death, many firms leave a MouringCross Bereavement Pin on the pillow of the deceased.  Hospice, nursing home and hospital workers also experience grief of the people they have cared for.

After Care Groups:  Funeral homes offer or support surviving family member’s aftercare programs in their communities.  MourningCross Bereavement Pins are a perfect symbol for those to identify with each other as they walk through the grief process.

Either provided to the direct survivor, sold individually or offered for sale as part of your funeral home’s packages (register book, memorial folders, acknowledgement cards, etc.), the MourningCross Bereavement Pins will provide the families you are serving with a modern display of a lost tradition…and as Funeral Professional, you will assist the family with their walk through grief.

I have personally talked to a mother that lost her daughter that was a recipient of a MourningCross Bereavement Pin at our funeral home, and purchased additional Pins for her family as a modern outward display of mourning their loss.  Trust me, MourningCross has meaning, significance and is cherished by those that choose to wear them.

mourning dress 3

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