Sunday, November 11, 2007 you hear what I hear

Over the past six months I have chronicled a vast array of funerals that I have performed and have also showcased some of the many people who I have dealt with over the years. I wish I could say that every time I sat down with someone to plan a funeral that the end results were near perfect but I can't. Any of you that work with the public know that no matter how hard you may try to please someone it doesn't always end the way you hope or expect. Also, any of you that have worked within the same industry, field, for any length of time and have worked for more than one employer know that no two companies have the same standards or operate exactly alike.

I can't say exactly how long I was licensed and working in this industry when I first screwed up a funeral but I can remember the circumstances of this time as if they took place yesterday. I know I wasn't completely green because I had made funeral arrangements many, many times before and had learned how to cover slight errors to the degree where a family wouldn't even know that they had taken place. But this time was different. This time the mistake was evident to the family but not to me and I only realized it had occurred when it was too late to do anything about it.

I was working for a new company operating a satellite location and had been there for approximately two weeks when this all took place. The phone call I had gotten that day was from my manager requesting me to go to the main office to make arrangements for a funeral that had been preplanned. There was supposedly a file waiting for me with all of the necessary information, I just had to now go and orchestrate the already written music. It seemed as if it were going to be an easy task. Before I left for the main office I had contacted the family and set an appointment and also gathered some of the paperwork that I felt I would need.

Upon my arrival I was informed that the director whom I had once briefly met who prearranged this was a seasoned professional but was out of town and unreachable. "Just follow the written directives and you'll be fine". It was at this point that the file was given to me and I had some time to review it before the family was to arrive. It was also at this time of review that I discovered that the file I was to follow was nearly empty and that I did in fact have only one directive; cremation. Still in all, I had done this before and could handle it with ease.

The two daughters that came in to arrange for their mothers cremation were fairly young, say late twenties, and seemed awfully nice; at first. I apologized for the absence of the director that they knew, explaining the out of town situation and advised them that I would do everything that they had discussed. As I explained that the only information I had was that their mother was to be cremated and would have to basically discuss their wants from scratch I was told that it, the service, the cremation, was pretty cut and dry.
They wanted their mother cremated, a short memorial service in our chapel the following evening, the way..."if you haven't realized it yet, I'm a perfectionist". Those last nine words of hers immediately put me in a "warning" mode but I obviously didn't comprehend the severity of the warning.

She was right however, it was pretty cut and dry from what we discussed. I got all of the authorizations signed, set the time for the memorial, spoke with the minister, got all of the info for an obituary and set up a time for identification later in the day. After they left I notified the preparation room staff of the cremation and identification and went on to write and forward the obituary. It was a little difficult trying to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings but it was going smooth. When they returned for the identification they advised me that they wanted the memorial in the satellite location which was well over 40 miles away, but really a boon for me, and wanted a small floral arrangement from a shop where they lived. I suggested that if the delivery cost was high it might warrant them to bring the flowers themselves, "but that's entirely up to you". It wasn't until the next morning that I was made privy to the shit that had hit the fan overnight.

Apparently, the unreachable director wasn't as unreachable as everyone thought since the family was able to make contact that evening and explain how they were mistreated. The scenario went like this: Everything that the family and this director had discussed was completely disregarded by this "new" guy. When they came back to identify their mother, the blanket that was covering her had a "huge" hole in it which looked to be a burn; I never saw it. When they asked about flowers, this "new" guy told them that they had to get them themselves; not what I said. He never mentioned the urn that they had discussed; no urn was ever mentioned during our meeting nor was it written in the file I was to follow. On top of all of this the following mornings newspaper had an error in the obituary; I screwed up the spelling of a name I must admit.

I know I'm far from being perfect, I have yet to meet a perfect person however I strive to be as perfect as I can be, which oft times is extremely far from the mark. Sure I could try to place the blame on someone else, perhaps the creator of the nonexistent file, or perhaps the perfectionist daughter who by the way was the only of the two to complain but I can't; I won't. The most important aspect of what I do relates directly to rapport building and this is aided by listening and questioning skills. After these common skills comes the coordination and performance of what I have just heard followed by the active participation in these things. If there is ever a break in this chain or even a weakness in one of the links there is always the possibility of it all falling apart but the most delicate is the listening. In this case I have to say that I didn't ask the right questions nor did I hear all of what they had to say; especially the unsaid.

Over time I have honed my listening and questioning skills to almost that of a detective. Probing where needed to get all of the information, asking all of the right questions to help me turn any situation into something positive. Positive is what we all want and need in our lives to help make things smooth, to help iron out the wrinkles. No matter how long I've been at this or how good I think I am at doing it I know I can always be better and when I get to a point where I don't think I can do any better it's time to hang up the gloves.
This was surely not my last mistake but I know it taught me to keep my ears opened at all times and that when there are blanks, not to just leave them as is but to have them filled in.


MedStudentWife said...

Like anyone working with people, those skills you mentioned are only honed with time,and I hate to say it, also with mistakes.

I've only been doing what I do for a short time. Many may think me a seasoned professional, but in my head, I still think of myself as a "greenhorn" with many lessons yet to be learned

Stealth said...

My sister does this when she's upset. She just looks for little molehills and turns everything into one giant mountain of crap and then complains to management. So sorry you had to get called out for so many things that weren't even your fault.

Matty said...

We can't get through life without screwing up some of the time...but that's how we learn from our mistakes. Listening is one skill I think we all can improve upon.
Then just can't please 'all the people'...all of the time.

Catherine said...

Death, I've missed seeing ya! I am finally back online and was able to make a posting today on my blog. I also included pictures my husband sent me from Morocco.

I have certainly missed your blog and am happy to be back! :)