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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.

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…

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.

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