Today I worked the parking lot for a funeral service. A very rare occasion since we hardly ever go in procession to the cemetery any more. It was March 20th and it was a sunny 82 degrees in Michigan, a record high, so it was great day to be outside. As I worked the main gate, greeting folks and directing them where to park it reminded me of how much working the parking lot was the training ground for so many of us in the funeral business.
When I moved up from washing the cars in junior high to wearing a suit and tie and actually working with the public during my High School and College summers, the parking lot is where I was first trained in the fine art of directing people. Getting people to the right place, at the appointed time in a neat and orderly fashion. It’s one of hallmarks of a well run funeral home. There are tricks of the trade that are never written down but passed along from one generation to the next. And the lessons that I learned in the parking lot have served me well in many other areas of my life.
For many years Joe was the parking lot general. It was the job of the person working the evening visitation to get a car list from the family. We had special forms printed up for this. The form indicated who was riding in the limos and who was driving there own cars. An hour before the service started the funeral cars were put out in their proper position. Joe would get the car list and take his post at the main gate. There were often as many as four people working the lot. Rain or shine. Freezing in the winter snow with furry hats and boots or sweating in the hot sun because we always kept our black suit coats on.
Joe taught me to ask the folks these questions in this exact order because it was the quickest way to determine where to park them. 1. Are you here for the Smith funeral? 2. Will you be driving this car to the cemetery? 3. Are you a member of the family? If yes, how are you related? Once Joe decided where they should park he would use elaborate hand signals to the other guys working the lot. It was quite a sight, kind of like the guys at the airport or a traffic cop. Joe had different signs for pall bearers and ministers or “No Goes”. If we didn’t pay attention he’d holler at us. He taught me not to stand in front of the cars while pulling them up but off to the side other wise you could get pinned in between the cars. And to put the flags on the passenger side so when you collect them at the cemetery you can also open the doors for the ladies.
While these may seem rather trivial it taught me how the little details and clearly telling folks what’s going to happen and where they should go always makes the events run smoother and the people happier in the long run. When I became an Officer in the US Navy after college I noticed how similar things were handled there. Everything had a check list and a procedure and a specific way to give commands to make sure everybody knew exactly what to do. Not only did it make things run better, often our lives depended on it.
But life in the funeral business has changed. At over 60% cremation we only go in procession to the cemetery on rare occasions now. Things started to change when cemeteries started building chapels instead of using tents at the grave. Then the cemeteries changed the rules and wouldn’t allow us to bring procession during the winter for fear of someone slipping and suing the cemetery. Then we started having receptions at the funeral home and people placed more value in the party after the service than the parade to the cemetery. We still go to the grave with the family but we don’t go in procession much any more.
There are days when I miss the old ways. It gave us a chance to show how well we worked as a team and how organized we were. But then I remember the snowy 20 degree days freezing my rear end off and think maybe it was time for a change.
A special shout out to my funeral director blogging buddy Ray, who recently mentioned getting to the church early with no parking signs in his blog. We used to do that all the time too. But now the churches where we used to do it the most have all gone to cremation. So the signs are gathering dust in the garage. Oh Well
I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.