How 7 Funeral Pros Are Changing What Families Think About Death
Originally Published on the funeralOne Blog
Death is not a one-size-fits-all topic… especially when it comes to today’s families. While funeral professionals of the past may have been able to rely on the idea that a funeral was a “necessary tradition,” today’s families simply don’t share those same feelings. In fact, because most generations that are taking over the funeral planning process don’t understand the value of funeral traditions, many are beginning to question whether or not they need to have a funeral at all.
If funeral professionals what to thrive (let alone survive) in the future of the funeral profession, it’s time that we took the value and importance of funerals back into our own hands. We need to assure families that they are allowed to have their own values, beliefs, opinions and wishes when it comes time to plan a funeral for their loved one, their pet, or even themselves. They need to know about the unique, out-of-the-box personalization options that are available, and be assured that they will not be forced into having their grandmother’s same cookie-cutter funeral service.
And it’s up to us to change the perception of death and funerals once and for all, from “creepy, weird, dark and gloomy” to a celebratory, unique opportunity to honor life.
To get you inspired on how you can help rewrite the future of funerals and put the success of your funeral home back into your own hands, here are a few examples of how the most innovative people in our profession are changing what families think about death and funerals. Whether it’s expanding their view of who can have a funeral service with pet funerals, or taking the stigma away from subjects like suicide loss, these seven funeral professionals are writing the next chapter of funerals right now. Here’s how you can too…
Don’t Wait Until Families Need Your Services To Show Them Off
“Families are never more open to what you want to them to know about your death care message than when they’re walking around in your place of business with no grief. When they are walking through your front door completely unsolicited. They came there of their own volition… Nobody called them, nobody invited him, nobody sent out an invitation — other than they found out from some source that somebody that they care about passed away, or somebody that they care about had a loss.
“Yet most funeral directors don’t look past the grieving family. Grieving people, the people who are closest to the person that’s gone, have already made their decisions on this occasion. They’ve already made their buying choice. All the things that they’re going to choose to do or to not do, they’ve already occurred. We give them a concierge level funeral service, but we almost ignore the marketing opportunity that exists with all the funeral guests that are walking in with no grief. The truth is, the funeral guest attending an event at your funeral home is your best opportunity.
“If I’m attending a funeral, depending on the experience that I’m having or will have while I’m at your place, I may think, ‘what would I do if it was my turn today to be a host rather than a guest?’ Would I go to where we’ve always gone or would I come to this place because of what I see happening here? The best opportunity you have to show off your services to families is when they’re walking around with no grief… use visuals to communicate to people what their possibilities are for their future, when it’s their turn to be a host instead of a guest.”
– Doug Gober, Gober Strategic Capital
Bring Services Outside The Funeral Home
“Families and funeral professionals alike come to me to be walked through the process of planning a maritime funeral. Those that seek scattering at sea do so to honor the final request of their deceased loved one or for religious reasons. Families can write their own script to honor and celebrate the qualities of the loved one’s’ life in this casual setting, or nautical prayers or readings can enhance the unique surroundings.
“Once the cremated remains are scattered or lowered into the sea in a biodegradable urn, flowers or flower petals are tossed overboard to mark the site of internment. I also encourage families to cast other items, such as their loved one’s favorite candy or cookie for levity (if appropriate). Saying goodbye from a vessel allows the family to be one with nature — they feel releasing remains to the ocean is setting a loved one free to travel with the currents to destinations unknown. My families tell me that they’ve never felt more serene and tranquil at a funeral in their lives, and many want the same for their own funerals.”
– Donna Capra, Nationwide Burial At Sea
Offer Suggestions That Will Elevate The Service
“I believe in many funeral arrangements, there comes a point where the family does not know what questions to ask to make the service as meaningful as possible and, at the same time, the funeral director is reluctant to make suggestions on how to further personalize the service. This could be coming from a position of shyness or not wanting to be seen as pushy… even though many suggestions on service personalization do not cost the client family any additional money. Take a risk!
“I have found that when I have been in this situation, more times than not, it’s worth it to take the risk of making some suggestions on the personalization of the service. After being with the family for sometime already, the funeral director should be able to make some specific suggestions that should be welcomed by the client family. Again, these probably do not have a financial element to them – other than just a little more time to help create a more meaningful service, which I believe is one of the best forms of marketing for Funeral Homes – having great funerals!
“I would then write down these additional suggestions on the back of the arrangement file to serve as notice to my employer, as well as a reminder to myself, of trying to take that one extra step to make the service more meaningful. For additional strategies like this, check out the episode ‘How To Be An All-Star Funeral Director’ on the Funeral Futurist podcast.”
– Robin Heppell, Funeral Futurist
Take The Stigma Away From Death Topics
“Many families face a sense of isolation caused by different manners of death. For example, there’s sadly still a lot of stigma and misconceptions surrounding suicide loss.
“I’ve been told by funeral directors that they’ve long felt they did not have the information they needed to best serve families impacted by the extreme shock and profound grief that follows a death by suicide. That’s what myself and my team have been working to resolve at the New York State Funeral Directors Association: having the conversation and equipping funeral directors with programs and resources relating to suicide deaths, many of which are available for free from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and American Association of Suicidology.
“As funeral professionals, we have the amazing opportunity to impact our families and surrounding communities, and we’re best positioned to connect the immediate family members – the ‘survivors of suicide loss’ – with resources and support.”
– Marianne Reid Schrom, NYS Funeral Directors Association
Change Their Thinking About Who Funerals Are For
“When it comes to pets, some people are still asking, ‘will others think I’m crazy if I want to do a ritual or service for my beloved pet?’ However, more and more people are doing what feels right to them in honoring their pet when they die. This might include harnessing the power of social media to aid in a pet’s last walk, spending time at the beach before euthanasia, getting friends, family members and their pets together after a pet has died to share in a toast, a bubble release, or hiding tennis balls together at a local dog park.
“Pet lovers are reflecting on all they did for their pet in life, and choosing to have those same rituals and showing of love when they die. Pets have truly become a part of the family… 65% of people in the country own a pet, and 83% of those pet owners consider themselves pet parents, calling themselves ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy.’ Pet parents are treating their pets like people in life, and looking to do so in death, as well.”
– Coleen A. Ellis, Two Hearts Pet Loss Center
Take A New Approach To A Stale Subject
“People are more willing to discuss funeral planning when you use a roundabout method to approaching the topic. For example, I use funny film clips to connect with and educate the public. People will come to a funeral home to laugh and learn.
“Or talking about clearing clutter and downsizing, which are appealing topics, leads baby boomers to tackle the less-attractive chores of estate and pre-need funeral planning.”
– Gail Rubin, author of Kicking The Bucket List: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things To Do Before You Die
Put The Focus Back On The Value Of Service
“What funeral professionals do is not about ‘products,’ but rather about service and service only. Products are just accommodation items. The sooner our profession weans itself off of merchandise margins and begins focusing on the value of service and ceremony, the better off our profession will be.
“It seems that too often our profession is incorrectly bemoaning an adverse financial impact of cremation. I believe that is sorely misplaced blame. In fact, any adverse financial impact to our profession is not an issue of burial vs. cremation, but rather the consequence of ceremony vs. NO ceremony.
“Every time a consumer attends a ceremony that fails to move them, fails to feel relevant to the attendees or personalized to the person who passed away, I believe a decision is made for direct disposition with no ceremony, at least by someone attending that ceremony. If we become nothing more than well-dressed bio-hazardous waste haulers, our profession is doomed. With that in mind, our profession and the families we serve all benefit when a meaningful ceremony is provided.”
– Ernie Heffner, Heffner Funeral Chapels & Crematory