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poor Saturday night I received a call from a lady that in years past I coached  her son in football.  The reason for her reaching out to me that her  niece, only 24 years old had just died at home and she wanted our  funeral home to assist their family.  Unfortunately, the young woman that  died had a debilitating disease and was released to home hospice  from a major medical center only the night before.

I know this family personally and frankly, the word pitiful comes to mind.  You know the family in your communities, truly struggling through life never seeming to get a break.  After providing me with the contact information, I forwarded the data to our on call funeral director.  Within just a few minutes, I received another call from the brother of the deceased.  He told me that he was the only one in the family with a job, almost everyone was on disability, and that finances were going to be a serious issue.  After listening, I shared with him that I understood and that our firm would certainly accommodate them to the best of our ability.  Since finances were an issue, I inquired whether he and the family would consider cremation; he said that was not an option.  They had a family farm property in another county and it was his sister’s desire to be buried there, the least that they could do.  Since this was a home hospice call, our staff was on the way as we spoke and I assured him that we would do our best and our conversation ended.

The best of our ability…this means that we (our funeral home) have to at least cover our costs; removal staff, casket and such.  Even with our offer to do this, what family wanted, they will still to struggle to cover the costs we must pay. When they came in to make arrangements, I was there simply so lend support and let them know that I truly cared for loss (I’m usually traveling all over the planet).  The funeral director conducted the arrangements as our standard; providing them information so that they could make educated decisions.

Anguishing from the experience losing their 24 year old loved one was now coupled with the living struggle of eking their way through life in financial stress…all the time.  I observed as the funeral director repeated what they were requesting from our firm, and then provided them with the cost for doing so.  We had agreed to provide what they wanted and reasonably could afford at our cost.  This family shared with the funeral director what funds they had available, and then we were able to provide them with a payment plan for the balance…still, just covering costs.

I felt compelled to share this real life event for a few reasons.  First, just plain human empathy for this family and so many others finding themselves in this very position.  Living day to day, struggling to make ends meet.  When death or another catastrophic event occurs, all of life’s regular problems are magnified for these folks.  Second, the families like this are one of the fastest growing groups in our country economically.  As a business person, whether a grocery store, shoe store, gas station, clothing store or pick a business; we have overhead costs just to keep the doors open and pay the people to provide service.  In the funeral home business, we are no different.

The difference in the funeral home business is that we are called provide service for those that have lost a loved one, regardless of their financial status.  Some states and municipalities offer indigent funds in the event of indigent death.  I have read that those offerings are “drying up” and non-existent in most areas such as our area of operations.  Many outside the funeral home business have no idea that we are not reimbursed by a government entity like Medicare of Social Security if a family has no life insurance and limited financial resources.  When a funeral home takes possession of a body, by most state statutes and regulations, we must either embalm or refrigerate within a certain time frame.  This regulation does not preclude getting paid from the family.

My heart really does go out to families that are financially suffering, God bless them.  I also understand and have concern for the gut wrenching job a funeral director does to meet their needs, both financially and their requests.  From one owner/partner of a funeral home to the others that read this, my true reason for writing this post is for more people to understand the business we run is more than just nice suits, shiny cars and transactions.  We make decisions that have profound effects on families, our employees and our business…it just isn’t what it seems.  Cheers y’all!

goodbyeI have seen it in the eyes of family upon my arrival for the removal/transfer of their deceased loved one.  Exhaustion, sadness, disbelief that death has arrived for the person they cared for and loved.  Many of us in the funeral profession have made home removals to see the look and feel the tone of those that have given so much of their lives over the recent past.  For the next 48 to 72 hours, these saints must muster even more energy for the funeral activities that will take place.

I have been part of and talked with many that shared their experiences with the exhaustive “death watch” which may last months.  In their wonderful mission of making the transition from life to death as comforting as possible, I also know that hospice and senior care workers now must move to their next assignment, exhausted as well.

Similar to bringing a newborn home, caring for a dying loved one uproots routines.  Sleep, work, personal time, meals, care visits, laundry, etc. all change.  In most cases, babies at some point get settled and find a routine similar to our own, but the transition to death has no routine.

An example and the inspiration of this post is one of our associates lost his father just last night.  Several weeks ago we were made aware that hospice care determined that the death of his father was imminent, which meant that as his funeral home family we are on standby to assist and serve.  The agonizing weeks, days and hours that followed took an emotional toll on their family.  It’s interesting that at our funeral home we have been notified by family that life sustaining procedures have been stopped on their loved one, and death may occur at any time.  I have personal knowledge of people surviving without life support and living for over a month…incredible testimony to our human design.

For some, plans for the funeral have been made for their deceased loved one. The details of contacting others, dates, times and locations are pretty much all that has not been secured.  For others, even more exhaustive days are ahead.  Funeral decisions made under the cloud of grief coupled with exhaustion only exasperate what is considered one of life’s most stressful events, the funeral of a loved one.  On top of this, finances, frayed emotions and unresolved family issues are not unusual during funeral events.

Death is often exhausting…for those that are dying, for family that is tending and caring for the dying, for those that make the transition more comfortable from life to death, and for those that serve the families in their darkest of days.  I have witnessed, deal with and ultimately know that I too will personally experience exhausting death of a loved one.  My words are from my heart to encourage all of us to continue to have empathy, provide comfort and serve those that are experiencing exhaustive death.  At some point, we’ll want to be served as we serve.  Cheers y’all.

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.

 

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!

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?

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