Call for Action: The Problem with the Funeral Industry
Guest article provided by: Joseph M. Bernaudo, LFD & Creator of FuneralNav
I would like to dedicate this article to my parents, no neither is a funeral director nor have they done anything related to funeral service, but they instilled in me young that no matter what is the task it is important to do it to the best of your ability. Too many times in my almost ten years in funeral service I have listened to families tell me of shocking or disturbing experiences during or at a funeral. The truth is I always assumed it was an exaggeration, but today I am sure most if not all of the stories are true with the exception of the one where the body sits up…maybe.
1. If you take money out of the equation and ask a family if they would rather a private viewing of their loved one at rest prior to a cremation or a simple cremation without viewing, most people would choose the former. Yet we see an increasing number of immediate cremations or compromising selections steering away from viewing of the deceased altogether. As hard as it might be for the embalmer to accept responsibility this should not surprise you. It is not just the term embalming that turns people off, but it is the result they have seen from the act itself. Is it possible that every traditional method embalmers were taught to rest a mouth in school or during apprenticeship or even the years in the prep room is WRONG? See the below image and notice the line drawn during traditional mouth closure techniques.
How could a line of suture run this way not distort the appearance? Surely it will pull the flesh of the chin out of place and definitely modify the profile. Before comments are made about needle injectors it is not an exception to this line. That said would you use one on your mother or father? I suppose if you hated your parents you might not mind (Google says 51% of Americans do) so let me ask maybe your son or daughter? Believe it or not there are professionals out there to educate and teach embalmers how to rest a mouth properly. Dental Ties/Loops and Lingual Stitches are easy to learn methods successful in resting mouths without distorting the faces natural profile. Learning them will yield smiles from families as they express gratitude for the embalmers work, but also in expressions on the face of those entrusted to your care. It is so much simpler to just say “you’re welcome” rather than coming up with an excuse as to why they are frowning. I was lucky enough to learn this from one short hour with Matt Smith of Frigid Fluid Co. This man even got me to pick up an airbrush. That’s another story. I’d like to close with as my mentor still says today, “The family doesn’t care about anything other than how that body looks; when they stop caring they will have become an irreverent society and will stop needing us”. The number one problem is care.
2. Consumers compare the funeral experience as being most similar to a new car purchase. I am going to take this a step further and ask the question, would you tolerate paying for a Mercedes and receiving a beat up old caravan?
Well from the consumer perspective why would you pay for embalming again and again and each time you get a preserved version of your loved one with no restoration techniques, eyes open, mouth busted and makeup all over them and the casket? This next problem goes hand and hand with the first, and its conversation. Learn to talk to people/families. Remember talk is cheap so make sure to be on point with your delivery too. Why do we act surprised about the car buying fact when we sensationalize our showrooms with personalization, colors, plaques etc. instead of serene images of family, fraternal organizations, shoulder carries and other ceremonies? When there are no words to be spoken, we as a society turn to ceremony. Have we considered that we are our own worst enemy? Images of ceremony, faith and family trigger emotional responses. Emotional consumers step up to the plate just like you should. Have you organized funeral arrangements on a first name basis? Did this establish the customer salesman approach? Did you get upset when it became all about cost and what deal you could give them? Is that a better relationship than counselor and family? Have you tried reminding them of the task by reference to their relationship to the deceased? By saying something like, “Would you expect that I should take care with your mother/father, shave him/her and wash him/her?
This way the time you spend with him/her will be comfortable?” In this approach there is reference to the relationship and it brings emotion to the decision making process. In my demographic we are required to use the term embalming. I was shocked by a man with formaldehyde that doesn’t fume (not enough that I could smell anyway). Honestly my first thought was, if his formaldehyde doesn’t make you gag what could he possibly know about embalming? Well the truth is he knew more than me when it came to talking to families, terms like clinical care, and how to approach a combative family seeking to have you dispose of their love one. If you get a chance conversation like I did with Jeffrey Chancellor of Eckels it might reduce your stress in that conference room and you just might live longer while still getting the same firmness you were looking for with his HcHo.
3. In MLB you get three chances, in funeral service you get one shot so please make it count. It only takes one mistake to change the mind of a family member and forever change what is tradition in their family. You can’t fault them for that.
The number three problem is the execution. Tact, delivery and demeanor are examples of what people count on for ceremony to be handled with professionalism. So stop laughing during services and having a grand old time with your porters/pallbearers, it’s a poor presentation and families do NOT appreciate it. We MUST step up to the plate and hit a grand slam…EVERY TIME whether it’s at the funeral home, at the church/temple/mosque, at the cemetery/crematory, during the funeral procession motorcade, personalization, prayer cards, eulogies or tribute videos. No second chances. Really though, nobody is perfect and we are going to make mistakes but we have to learn from them and each other. This industry desperately needs professionals who are willing to share their techniques and methods with others or in time there will be no industry left. It is imperative that as a whole we do better. I am not sure we need to change our names again (Funeral Director vs. Mortician vs. Undertaker/Lawyer vs. Attorney vs. Shark), but we must consider this seriously. If we do not, what does that say about us and what we do?
The shortcomings of care, conversations and execution are the three problems that cause funeral directors to fall short in the eyes of families. The problem is the majority of funeral directors themselves. So please, be different, be the exception, remember why you started in this industry, this is a CALL FOR ACTION. I made a personal promise; I will do everything I can to listen to each family and ensure I care for them in their great need. This promise was made because I refuse to bring my children up in a society that would want their loved ones “shell” or “body” as one might say simply disposed of without care or love or ceremony after death.
Processions here on Long Island, NY are far from perfect so I took responsibility for that. I created a very simple easy to use mobile app that is not only able to be personalized for your funeral home but also connects each of those attending a funeral in a way never before possible. It provides real time directions to those in a funeral procession/motorcade. In doing so it bonds the millennial generation to ceremony and tradition.
I would like to end this article with a quote, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”Sir William Ewart Gladstone
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