Thomas Lynch does not speak for me. And if all of funeral service continues to hold him as the all-knowing wizard of funeral-land he may just lead everyone down the yellow brick road to nonexistence. We can’t go backwards. The almighty public has spoken and we need to listen to them, not the man behind the casket.
At the NFDA 2013 Convention in Austin, TX last month, I attended a presentation by Thomas Lynch and Thomas Long. Lynch is a well-known funeral director and the author of the NY Times best seller book “The Undertaking”. Thomas G. Long is Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, EmoryUniversity, and one of the most popular preachers in the United States today. They have co-written a book called “The Good Funeral” and this tag team presentation was basically a way to present their views and promote their book.
The room was filled with over 1000 funeral directors who listened intently, erupting into applause and laughter at various jokes and phrases delivered by the two experienced presenters. The two Toms knew how to get their audience of believers going just like a good preacher or politician does. Their talking points were well rehearsed and the “bro-mance” between the two of them was very evident. Their message was basically this; Funerals that are solemn and contemplative affairs with a body present and in a casket are “Good Funerals”. Anything else is nothing but fluff and a waste of time. Period. End of Story. No middle ground. No acknowledgement that the way the world communicates has changed. No compromise. Just a desire to have things the way they were in 1969.
They both spent the better part of an hour bashing anything that had to do with celebrating a life, uplifting stories about the deceased that focused accomplishments or good deeds, favorite music being played, tribute videos, personalization of any type, dove releases, photo collages, web sites, web casting of funerals, etc., etc., etc. According to them if it didn’t exist in 1969 (an arbitrary date that I picked) then it has no place in a “Good Funeral”. Well, maybe a new hearse is OK, but that’s about it.
I don’t want to make this a personal attack. Both Toms are amazingly talented, successful, intelligent men. They are well spoken, well written, articulate and entertaining. They make you think, they make you laugh. They are passionate about their beliefs. But they don’t speak for me. And the reality is that they don’t speak for the majority of funeral consumers in the United States. And I don’t think they should be speaking for all of funeral service either.
I believe: The true value of a funeral is the Gathering Together of People and the Sharing of Stories. Stories of love, memories, respect, and honor. We gather together because we, as human beings, need that contact and the emotional connection we get from being with one another. We gather together at happy times and sad times. We gather at births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements and deaths. We gather to worship, to praise, to celebrate and to mourn. And at every one of those gatherings…. we tell stories. It is through those stories that we heal and grow and love.
It’s our job as funeral directors to make that Gathering easy, comfortable, meaningful and memorable for all who attend. It’s our job to help people tell their stories and help people hear the stories from friends and relatives.
Gather Together…..Share the Stories…..Celebrate a Life…..Heal the Heart.
It is not our job to dictate how they gather or why they gather or where they gather. It is not our job to dictate what stories they tell or how they tell their stories. Do you tell Catholics they need to have funerals like the Baptists? Do you tell the African-Americans they need to have funerals like the Amish? NO!!! Then why does funeral service think they can tell the Karaoke Crowd, or the Pig Roast in the back-yard crowd, or the balloon release crowd that what they are doing is WRONG. And that is what Thomas Lynch is preaching. He says that all of this new stuff is WRONG.
Telling people they are wrong is not going to get you very far in business. Sure, funeral service will bring out their grief experts to say that viewing the body is a good thing and people who suffer from complicated grief didn’t view. They will use humorous clichés like “You can pay the shrink, you can pay the bartender, or you can pay the funeral director.” Or they will compare funeral directors to doctors that have to tell patients about cancer and the best course of treatment. But grief is not cancer and what about the 99% of people who didn’t choose the view the body and are doing just fine in their grief recovery. Where is the data on them? There isn’t any because there is no problem.
The two Tom’s definition of a “Good Funeral” does exactly what I am saying. It gathers people together and they share stories. Maybe their gathering is somber and reflective. Maybe their stories come from the Bible. Maybe viewing the body is an important part of their story telling. I am honored to help them share their story in a way that fits their lifestyle, customs and beliefs.
But if the family wants to gather in the back yard, with a karaoke machine and release balloons while singing Fred’s favorite song, they are not wrong. They are different from the two Toms. Yet, they are the same. Because they too, are gathering together and sharing stories which will help heal their heart.
If I want to stay in business I am going to make sure I can provide the karaoke machine in addition to the church truck. I am going to make sure I can restore an old photograph with Photoshop just as well as I restore a 92 year old grandma’s body who spent the last two years in a nursing home. I am going to make sure my facility can be set up with chairs in neat rows one day and round tables with matching center pieces and wine bottles the next.
My job is to help people Gather Together and Share the Stories. If I do that, they will heal on their own, in their own way, without me telling them what to do.