Funeral Industry News

Award of Excellence in Funeral Service

August 21, 2009

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Award of Excellence in Funeral Service

To whom it may concern: I would like to bring to your attention the staff of the Marlatt funeral home. I believe they reflect the ideal in teamwork, integrity, communication and compassion. These are more than ?buzz? words and excellence in service is the ?norm?. I would like to share some of my observations and experiences. Marlatt?s is not just another Alderwood funeral home, every year it becomes ?home? for over a hundred families, sometimes for a few hours, sometime for a few days. Each family becomes a part of the Marlatt family. Marlatt?s may be corporately owned but it continues to serve its families with the heart, spirit and generosity of a family owned business.

Marlatt?s is located in Dundas, a small town that borders Hamilton,Ontario. It serves a community that is diversified by religion, ethnicity, and economy. Its catchment area is both rural and urban. The Marlatt name is well known in the region and has served in some instances several generations of families. The home itself is bright, tastefully decorated in warm colors and lends itself to welcoming families.

The non denominational chapel is appealing to families from many different religious backgrounds, including Bahai , Hindu, Jewish and Native Canadian as well as Catholic and Protestant families. It easily avails itself to accommodating the rituals and traditions of every family. On one occasion it was necessary for the front of the chapel to be re-arranged to provide an open area upon which sheets were laid, an alter set up and flowers strewn around the casket for a Hindu funeral service. The funeral directors met with the family and assisted with the arrangement of the funeral ritual space. I have always found the directors respectful of traditions which appear foreign or different, asking relevant questions which will allow the staff to understand and anticipate any special needs the family members or their guests might have.

This attention to detail extends beyond families with special ritual needs. Each family brings with them special needs and concerns. Today many families are not church members but still wish to have a funeral or memorial service which reflects their personal spirituality. The funeral directors continually assist families in designing and orchestrating a funeral ceremony that is perfectly tailored spiritually and financially to their needs. Frequently it is the responsibility of the funeral director to arrange for and introduce local clergy to the bereaved family. It is with care and concern that an appropriate clergy member is chosen to meet the spiritual needs of a family. Music, poetry, toe tapping and clapping are only a few of the innovations which the funeral home staff have possible and overseen during a funeral. This is an age of tremendous cultural diversity. As well it is a time where ?doing it my way? is very important.

Families at Marlatt?s are always treated with respect and care. Shortly after I started my fieldwork, one client commented to me that despite the fact that she was in need of social assistance the funeral directors and staff made her feel as if she were a million dollar client. Every client is important and every client needs to feel that their loss is important to the staff working with them. The Marlatt staff is sensitive to the needs of all its families, regardless of the circumstance of death, religious or ethnic customs or financial constraints. Funeral homes are a business but they are a business which serves families at their weakest emotional moment. Time after time I have observed the Marlatt funeral directors guiding families and making suggestions that will allow them to make wise choices which meet their needs emotionally, spiritually and financially.

A funeral home is charged with a tremendous responsibility within its community. Marlatt?s provides family members and the community support not only in the funeral home when a death has occurred but every staff member is actively involved in community work. Active membership and participation in the Lion?s Club, Rotary, Civitan, local education programs, regional fairs, fund raisers and an annual garage sale are only a few ways that Marlatt?s gives back to the community it serves. Staff members are active and visible in the communities in which they live and work. Staff members are the best advertising available for the funeral home as they are hard working, friendly and engaging in their diverse interests and backgrounds. Personal time is often given up to attend and participate in these groups and their activities. Another way the funeral home gives back to the community by allowing volunteer groups to take advantage of the family center for their meetings without charge. A staff member opens the house and prepares coffee for the group. This small gesture brings people into the funeral home and allows them to meet the staff (even briefly), to see and use the facilities under pleasant circumstances. Marlatt?s reaches out to the community by providing education seminars. As well, every spring, the funeral home invites and welcomes members of the community who have lost a loved one not only in the past year but in years gone by to come, to share and remember as a community.

One of the most impressive aspects about being a Marlatt team member is that the staff is a team in a very real sense. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the staff, each person working towards a common goal of serving the family. Tasks such as washing cars, vacuuming, changing over are shared by everyone. I have never seen a team member leave early even when visitation runs well past its concluding time. New staff members are made to feel not only welcomed but as an important contributing team member regardless of their position, experience or inexperience. As an outsider with little experience in the secular funeral home it was with great trepidation that I began my fieldwork. I was immediately assigned to shadow a funeral director?s assistant who has years of experience. The funeral directors also willing gave of their time instructing, explaining and positioning me in situations where I would benefit from both observing and participating. Continual learning on the job is an essential part of delivering excellence in service. It takes time, patience, in-service training and staff support to arrive at a time when a staff member is able to ?think on their feet?.

Communication among team members is vital to seamless service. Each person working with or around the family is kept abreast of information that is critical to serving the family by the funeral director responsible for the family. At Marlatt?s staff are always highly visible. This is important for two reasons. First, staff are able to observe the visitation and be aware of any problems, whether they are social or logistic. Second, a visible staff is an approachable staff, one that can readily answer questions, write donation cards, or simply put visitors at ease as they arrive. I believe it is reassures families when they have a sense of familiarity and ease with not only the funeral director but all the staff. A family recently commented how appreciative they were that the staff during a visitation were concerned for the welfare of an elderly family member whose mobility was limited by bringing warm drinks, arranging alternative washroom facilities and assistance in and out of the home.

The funeral home team expands to include family members from the time they make arrangements until the committal and beyond. Families are our most important team members and as such it is important that information be shared and flow in both directions. Families need to feel a sense of control over their situation and this is only possible when funeral directors assist them with easily understood explanations and directions about what, where, when , who and how ?Some families require explanations to be repeated or gentle guidance in positioning individuals. One of the ways this is accomplished is a brief discussion following visitation which outlines the morning of the funeral, obtains the names of pallbearers, allows families to choose in an unrushed manner, flowers for the cemetery as well as finalizing the vehicle procession. At the same time, any questions or concerns the family might have can be addressed. I believe this reassures the family on many levels. Families should never leave unsure about the events of the next day. Like the staff, the family needs to be informed and prepared. The funeral day is stressful enough without adding additional sources of stress that can easily be avoided. On the morning of the funeral, the funeral directors spend time with the family, meet with the pallbearers to explain their duties as well as to ascertain any difficulties that might be foreseen with lifting and carrying. With open and clear channels of communication, it is possible to make changes quickly and easily drawing little or no attention to the event.

Alderwoods expects excellence among their staff. The Dundas community expects excellence. Marlatt Funeral Home in Dundas exemplifies excellence in teamwork, integrity, communication skills, and in demonstrating compassion for their families. A funeral home is only as good as the staff that works there. No amount of advertising in the media can replace that of satisfied families. Perhaps you see nothing extraordinary in my observations about the staff of Marlatt funeral home. Perhaps you see only individuals fulfilling their role as a funeral director or funeral director?s assistant or para-funeral home staff member. I see a team that is modest, dedicated and goes beyond what is required with every family they serve. They are to be commended for their work ethic and deserve to be recognized with an award of excellence. Marlatt?s is the small funeral home with a huge heart!!

Respectfully submitted,

Kathy Jackson

PhD candidate (Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton,