Saturday, August 4, 2007

Shooting from the hip

Four years ago was the first time we held a "Service of Remembrance" during the Christmas holidays. We had heard that other funeral homes were doing something on the same lines and thought it might be nice to try something and see how the community would accept it. I personally wasn't sure if people would welcome this idea or not but was willing to give it a try.

You see, after a death, a funeral, we do several things to try to stay involved with the families we serve. They aren't big things at all but we want our families to know that our services don't end after the funeral is over; we're still there for them if they need us. We want to become "their" funeral directors. On the part of the funeral home it has to be a regimented system in order for these things to continually happen but our hope is that each individual family feels it's personal; often it is on our part as well.

At the 3 month anniversary of the persons death we have a book of what we hope are meaningful scripture and poetry sent to the family commemorating their loved one. On the 6 month anniversary we send a donation to their church or the location they requested memorial contributions to be sent to in the deceased persons memory. At the one year anniversary we send a bouquet of flowers to the family to say we're thinking of them. I told you these are small things but you'd be surprised how many people are genuinely touched and appreciative of them.

This "Service of Remembrance" is fairly simple as well. Each year we have gotten a minister from one of our local churches to officiate at the service which is comprised of a message from the minister and a reading of the names of the deceased persons. What follows is each attendee holds and lights a candle before gathering around a tree which has a light representing each of their loved ones. The tree is then lit and there are angel ornaments on the tree which bear the persons name which the family is free to take home with them. Afterwards there are some refreshments. It's not a long service and has gone over extremely well. We still have people from the first year coming back to participate.

This post was spurred by someone who left me a message yesterday. I had posted a discussion in BlogCatalog asking the question "Will you be cremated or buried". I thought it was a pretty simple question but then I got the following response - "I want to be cremated using the cheapest container available. I don't believe in the family wasting money on expensive burial caskets, pillows, seals, linen, etc if it's going in the ground. Makes no sense. BUT, I work in the public safety system - so if I die in the line of duty I want the full shebang! Honor guard, casket, flag, bagpipes ... everything. Reason? Family isn't paying for it. I believe the family should keep as much money as possible in the end should the death occur. Throwing it in the ground via ruthless funeral directors who take advantage of the worst emotional time of your life is ridiculous."

As I began reading it I was agreeing with the person in my head - they should only do what they feel they need to. Then I got to the last sentence. At first I was incensed. I know I shouldn't have taken this personally because I know better; I know how I feel, I know what I do. But I did. Then today I got to wondering how many people perceive me or other funeral directors this same way. Am I really doing a service or have I unknowingly become part of a group that mainly takes advantage of the emotionally crippled? I know that this type of "bad media" has been around for a long time but when did it start and was it warranted when it did? Or, once again has the press manipulated the public with words that sell? Either way, he wasn't talking about me, I now fully know that. I also know that I do not go out and round up dead people so that I can take advantage of their families...the families call me.


Claudio said...

Wow... "The day the saky was orange" is so sad!!
How really is it to have death all around you? how do you handdle that?

I love your writing style, and loved "I can only imagine" I can only hope too

Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

I was reading that a new funeral option they are working on in a European country, I forget which, is compost. Have you heard anything about it? It sounds like a fascinating process.

In regards to the comment by that person... I can sympathize with their point of view because you don't want your family to have to take financial burdens just because you're dead, but I think a lot of people forget that funerals aren't really for the person who died. Funerals are for the family members you leave behind. You might want to be burned in a cheap box, but what if your wife really wants to bury you because that's what's going to give her peace.

What if your kids feel like the least they can do to thank you for being a wonderful parent is to pay for an elaborate funeral?

When I die, I don't care what happens to my body. I would hope that my loved ones will do whatever makes them happy and makes the pain of my loss more bearable, because they need to stop worrying about me and start taking good care of them self.

I don't think it's wrong to have last requests, in fact it can give your loved ones a much needed feeling of fulfilling their perceived obligation to you, but I believe you should really consider if what you're asking is just going to make things worse for them.

Also, I highly doubt that anyone could classify you as a ruthless funeral directer.

I'm more than sure they exist, but don't people like that exist in all professions?

Funeral directors are not working from a level playing field. You're dealing with people during one of the most stressful and confusing periods of their life. I could see how any pain or anger could be transfered all onto the funeral director's shoulders.

I think people can also resent funeral costs for the same reason they resent taxes. You don't really have a choice whether or not to pay them. There's only so much comparative shopping you can do. At least you can dodge taxes.

I think that anyone with a negative view of funeral directors in general must have had a terrible experience in the past. I can understand that, but you can't discount a whole class of people based off of stereotypes.

DeathSweep said...


After I had written the post I did I realized that there were many points I left out - you very eloquently mentioned them all - wonderful! Thank You! I would like you to read a post of "mine" from the past and you will be able to see that I agree with you with my whole heart. Thank You for the encouragement and wonderful words!


MedStudentWife said...

ABC - you also summed up what I was going to comment on - generalities.

Many views we have about whole industries is because of what we read , which in necessity in many cases has to be a "canvas painted in one brush stroke". So what colour do you choose ?

But as DS wrote about a couple of posts ago, through blogging, we get to know the individuals involved - the good, bad and the ugly (music please ..dowadowadoooo dodooo waaaaa) and see more of the parts that make the whole, which in most cases has been an absolute joy :)

Jade Walker said...

What do you do for families who are non-religious? Or for those who've lost an atheist? Scripture would probably not be suitable.

DeathSweep said...

Jade, you're absolutely correct - scripture for certain individuals isn't suitable. When a funeral is planned you can most times get a good feel on where they stand spiritually and the things that are done afterward reflect that. The book I mention is either scripture or poetry and the service of rememberance is an invitation. Not everyone attends.