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Archive for December, 2010

So what happened to me in 2010? A lot of stuff. One of the most significant for me,  is that you are reading this. I started writing this blog. I’ve always had lots of thoughts about business and life that I wanted to share with People…. Anybody….., ..Somebody. I used share my thoughts at meetings or at dinner with my wife or talk to myself in the car a lot.

I call that Car Therapy. I have great discussions in the car by myself because nobody interrupts me  and if I say something stupid I can just back up and try several different sentences until I get the right one. I can get steaming mad and shout at people and tell them how I really feel and they never hear it, but at least I get it off my chest. I can also practice saying the really good stuff that I’m not very good at saying normally.  And I can calm myself down and reflect on what’s really important and figure out if saying/writing something will really have the effect I want it to have.

Well, writing this blog is an extension of the car therapy. I’m sure that some of my recent new readers wish I would just go back to the car therapy. And I want to thank my fellow blogger, Ray, for the recent wise counsel and the reminder of why we (bloggers) do what we do. He said we write to amuse ourselves. And that’s very true to some extent. Because the amount of people that read this blog is really small. So if I write something really profound, (at least in my mind) it’ not going to change the world. And in the same sense if I write something that doesn’t sit well with somebody it’s not going to make a major effect on anyone’s life. The words will disappear into the Netherlands of electronic space never to read again. And even though I agonize over every sentence, word and comma placement it really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the big scheme of life.

But for my faithful readers, thanks for listening and commenting and letting me know that I’m not alone out there in the world.

Now it’s on to a new year and new challenges. I’ve got lots ahead. I’m rehabbing our  old family center down to the studs so Jodi and I can move back into the funeral home (Story and photo’s to follow). Jodi’s book “Keep Your Money – A practical guide for helping your parents manage their assets through their golden years” is due to be published in a few months. Our new Pet retort at the crematory is being installed. New computer ID body tracking system. New website pages and enhancements. Trips, seminars and the weekly routine of helping families celebrate the lives of their loved ones.

Happy New Year.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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Telling Stories

My daughter is in Las Vegas with her mother and some friends. Her mom used to live there. She was a teacher for Clark County Schools for 7 years and also sang in a back-up group for the likes Paul Anka & Barry Manilow. She promised Kellie than when she was legal (21 years old) she’d take her on a trip and show her where she used to live and visit with old friends. Well this is that trip. I hope their having a great time.

I took Kellie on a trip like that a number of years ago and I wrote about it for a local magazine. It was a great trip and I’d like to share the article with you. here it is.

Telling Stories

A while back my teenage daughter and I made a trip to Chicago. We went there to see a show at Northwestern University that I had been involved with 25 years ago when I attended there. As we traveled down the road I told her stories of the many times I had driven that route. I told her why I always took the toll road and the Skyway instead of taking I-94. I told her some of the same stories that my father had told me when he and I traveled down those same roads. We talked about how things had changed and how some things were still the same. I gave her pointers on how to merge into traffic when you first come onto the Dan Ryan Expressway. How the big city can be exciting, and scary and awesome all at the same time. We pointed out buildings we both had been to. She told me about her sixth grade trip to the Aquarium, going to the top of the John Hancock Building and how she was sick that day. I told her about fraternity parties, and people I knew. I showed her the places I used to live and hang out. She was a little bored at times but she hung in there with me. The show that evening was great and afterwards there was an alumni reception where I introduced her to some people that were very important in my life. There were people there reliving things they had done 50 years ago and rubbing elbows with students that were doing those same things now. And they were all telling stories.

So what does this have to do with funerals? Everything. That’s what funerals are all about. Telling stories about someone we love. The good times and bad times. The funny happenings and others that make us cry. It’s a gathering of young and old together to remember the past and create a future.  Funerals are about looking at black  & white pictures and trying to figure out who everybody in the photo is. They’re about Dad’s bowling trophies and Mom’s wonderful quilt. Funerals are about crying babies, grandchildren running around, and Aunt Esther with a walker. They’re about relatives traveling from far away and friends we haven’t seen for years. And yes, funerals are about death and an ending. But mostly, funerals are about life and telling stories.

I’m Dale Clock

Thanks for Listening

 

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Last week I had a good employee quit because his wife couldn’t handle our schedule. I have known him for many years. He first came to me over 10 years ago and said he really wanted to be funeral director. At that time he had kids in grade school and his wife had just gotten through nursing school. In those days in order for me to hire him he would have needed to take some more classes at the local college and then go off to mortuary school for a year, pass his boards and become a licensed funeral director. I had him do some part-time work for us to see if this is really what he wanted. It lasted for a couple months and  he realized that what he had at his present job (pay/benefits/vacation) were too good for him to give it all up and start over, even though in his heart he felt a calling for funeral service.

Three years ago he approached me again. The industry he worked in was rapidly changing and the future there wasn’t as rosy. Things had changed in the funeral industry too. We were at nearly 50% cremation and I was able to hire arrangers instead of Funeral Directors  because embalming wasn’t needed for half of our cases. And Michigan law allows me to do that too. So after 18 month’s of negotiations (I could tell his wife was calling a lot of the shots behind the scenes), starts and stops and changes at his employer, he finally came to work at the funeral home.

He was great with families. They liked him and he liked them. He took great care of them and they said wonderful things about the care they got. But right from the start there were challenges with the schedule. He was always very concerned about his days off and vacation and being on call, etc…. (really, it was his wife that had the challenges) We have a good schedule here with 5 people on the “On Call” rotation. Two weekends off out of five (and those are 3 day weekends to boot). A separate transfer crew that handles 85% of our death calls. All a far cry from every other night, every other weekend and middle of the night death calls like lots of folks in funeral service.

He was slowly turning into what I call a Fred Flintstone employee. You know the opening of the Flintstones cartoon show where Fred’s working at the quarry on the dinosaur and they pull on the bird’s tail to Squawk the quitting time whistle. Then Fred slides down the dinosaur tail shouting Yabba Dabba Do. A Fred Flintstone employee is someone who’s more concerned about when it’s time to go home than making sure the job is done and helping out his fellow workers. There are a whole lot of people in the world that look at work like that. That’s why we have TGIF and Hump Day and songs like “Everybody’s Working for the Week-End”.

Well there’s no TGIF in funeral service. I often joke to people that I’ve been trying to get people to die only Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 but the world doesn’t want to cooperate. In funeral service Saturday has always been just a regular workday. And my father always told me that his dad told him that “a day off is a privilege, not a rite”. That type of mind frame doesn’t work with some folks and the other “Fred Flintstones” that have worked at the funeral home over the years never last very long.

You see, being in funeral service is not a job, it’s part of who we are. It’s part of our internal make-up. We understand that we are here to take care of people when they need to be taken care of. And that doesn’t always happen on a schedule. It happens on weekends and holidays and after five o’clock. And we typically don’t try to adjust the schedule to fit our lives; instead we adjust our lives to fit the schedule.

That’s not to say that we don’t all need time off and vacations and family time and a life away from work. We do. But people (and their families) that really understand and love being in funeral service know that sometimes the schedule has to be flexible. We know that in the end, the relatively small time away from our family and friends will be more than compensated for.

So it was disappointing that my former employee’s family couldn’t see that. In the short 18 months that he was here he made a difference in hundreds of peoples lives. It’s sad to think about the thousands of other lives he could have made a difference in.

When he gave me his two week notice he was sure to time it so he was done working just before the Christmas weekend, which he was scheduled to work. So I’ll cover that shift. And my family will understand if I need to take an hour or two out of the day to take care of somebody that needs my help. Because being in funeral service is not a job. It’s part of who I am.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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A Veteran’s Veteran

Chuck Ritter died this week. I’m sure going to miss him. Chuck was a US Army veteran of the Korean Conflict where he served as a medic. But it was back here at home where he really served his country and his fellow veterans.

Chuck was a Chaplain for the Muskegon County Council of Veterans Honor Guard. It’s a group of veterans from all the local VFW and American Legion posts. Whenever a veteran in our area dies and the family wants a military service we call the County Council and they put together a crew to do the service. It usually includes a Commander, a Chaplain, a bugler, and a firing squad of 7 men. These guys show up at the funeral home or the cemetery, dressed in uniform and perform a wonderful ceremony. They don’t ask for anything in return. They do it out of honor and respect; over a hundred times a year.

Chuck has performed these honors for over 1000 veterans over the years. In the over 25 years I’ve been a funeral director I’ve seen Chuck “perform” at least 250 times. He was the best I’ve ever seen.

The ceremony is always the same. The words that are read have a great message. Most of the veterans read from a printed document. There are some that do a better job than the others, and that’s OK. Public speaking isn’t an easy thing for most people and these guys deserve respect just for doing it.

Well, Chuck didn’t read his part. He knew it by heart. He spoke it from his heart. He had the right pace and the right pauses and the right inflections. He meant every word of it. Whenever he was the chaplain I made sure I stopped what I was doing and listened to the whole service. It always put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It made me proud of my time as a naval officer and proud to be an American.

In 2009 I video taped a Veterans Service where Chuck was the Chaplain. He was 82 years old at the time. His eye sight was fading and his voice wasn’t as strong as it used to be. But I wanted to capture his performance because I knew his days were numbered. I’m glad I did. Here it is.

Rest in peace, Chuck. You served us all with honor.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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