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Archive for March, 2011

I think that funeral homes should stay out of the grief business.

For the last 20 years many funeral homes have been providing Grief support and education to the families that call on them. They have been doing this as a value added service in the hopes that if they could educate the public about the value that traditional funeral service has towards healthy grief recovery then people will choose more traditional services (ones that include public visitation and viewing of the body). But much to the funeral home’s dismay, this is not working. People continue to move away from traditional funeral services to less viewing, less visitation, do-it-yourself memorial services or doing nothing at all. So why is this happening?

Two Basic Reasons.

1. Because the public has already been educated by 50 years of attending traditional funeral services. And what a growing percentage of the public has learned is that they don’t like traditional funerals and they don’t get enough value from them to justify the cost.

2. Greater acceptance by our society of cremation with no public viewing caused a greater demand for cremation which created a greater supply of crematories which continues to grow the acceptance of cremation in our society. It’s straight forward supply and demand economics.

In other words “When society allowed folks to choose something other than traditional funeral services,  they did.”

I do not think that most people need or even desire to view a dead body unless it is someone they have a close relationship with. I do believe it is good for family to see the body, at some point, because it definitely brings reality to the fact that death has occurred and it does help them work through the initial shock of the loss. But the general public and the majority of folks that come to visitations and services, don’t “need” to see the body.

Yet Funeral Service continues to focus on the public viewing of the dead body and the pomp and circumstances of a traditional funeral service as essential to healthy grief recovery.

This is the logic flow. (here is my computer programming background coming out) If healthy grief recovery requires viewing the dead body and Traditional Funeral Services involves public viewing of the dead body and Traditional Funeral services are sacred, solemn, serious and contemplative events, Then healthy grief recovery needs to include public viewing of the body at a serious Traditional Funeral Service, or Else there will be no healthy grief recovery.

The initial statement is just not true. Viewing is not “Required” for healthy recovery. It can help, it can be desired and it can be part of your traditions. But it is not “required”. Millions of people, who don’t view a body, recover from the loss of a loved one just fine. And when funeral service “Tells” people under the guise of educating the public that they must view the body “or else” the public gets offended. Funeral service is telling people who don’t want to view that they are “Wrong”. The results of this has been a growing movement away from traditional funeral services because a growing number of people don’t want to be told what to do.

What the public wants is for funeral service to listen to them and help them do what they are asking for. And every single person in funeral services has heard it again and again.

“Just bury me in the back yard or cremated me and then have a party”.

It’s time we started listening and helping folks do just that. And stop trying to tell them what to do.

In my next post I’ll talk about how I think funeral service should do that.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening.

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I think that over the last 20 years the funeral business has drifted away from their true purpose toward the business of grief. This move was typically justified by the altruistic reason of educating then public, but there was always an underlying financial reason for the move too. (you know what they say “follow the money”) Let me review a little history to show how this movement started.

The funeral business can be essentially divided into two parts. 1. The transportation, preparation, and final disposition of the dead body. 2. The planning, coordination, supervision and production of Events associated with the death of someone.

For the first 100 years of the funeral business in America those two parts were interconnected. That’s because our society and culture almost always had the dead body present at those events. Funeral homes focused on serving the family by doing a great job of preparing the body and then handling all the details of the events; the visitation, funeral, procession, burial, and even providing chairs and stuff for the gathering afterwards. We also sold products (caskets and vaults) necessary for those events. Grief recovery and emotional support were provided by family, friends and church.

On the financial side in the beginning we (funeral homes) charged people one price for everything we did and the products we provided. Over time people started to equate the price of the funeral with the Casket itself. Changes in laws and business practices eventually caused funeral homes to start charging for individual items of service, facilities, equipment and merchandise. But the funeral homes still heavily relied on the sale of the merchandise for income instead of adequately charging people for the true cost of providing the services and facilities for the events that we handled.

Then came along the late 1960’s and, like all of American society, the funeral business started to change. Cremation started to become more acceptable which brought about events without a body present. People started moving away from organized religion and customs. Books were written on the stages of grief and the high cost of funerals in America. The Hospice movement started to take hold.

By the 1980’s the comfortable routine (and income) of the funeral business, which really hadn’t changed in over 75 years, was rapidly going away. Merchandise sales were declining. People were having gatherings on their own or skipping them all together. Viewing the body wasn’t important to many people. This all started causing financial challenges at the funeral homes.  Many funeral directors just wanted things to go back to the way they were, instead of accepting that attitudes had changed and they needed to adapt to the new way of things.

At the same time several authors and other folks started to focus on the aspects of grief and loss. These authors and companies were very supportive of what traditional funerals provided towards, what they deemed as, healthy grief recovery. So naturally, a very symbiotic relationship formed between the grief folks and the funeral industry. Funeral Homes figured if they could only educate the public about the healthy psychological effects that funerals had on people, then the public would hopefully return to more traditional ways or at least use the funeral home that focused more on grief care (aftercare)  than the funeral homes that didn’t. Plus the grief folks were more than happy to provide seminars, printed materials and other services (for a fee) to help the funeral homes do this.

So hundreds of funeral homes around the country started Aftercare Programs, Holiday Memorial Services, Grief Support groups, newsletters and a plethora of other activities to show their care and concern for the mental well being of the communities they serve. As a whole, Funeral Homes did this because they truly are caring folks by nature, but they also hoped it would help their business to grow and continue. I know this to be true because I did all of this with the best of intentions. And so did several other area funeral homes. And then the churches did the same, and the Hospitals and the local Hospice organizations. Now people can get grief support, education and classes from a dozen different groups in my area.

With all this grief education going on you would think that the public would be choosing traditional funeral service more. But the opposite is happening. Cremation is the rule now instead of the exception. Public viewing of the body happens much less. Many people are having services and gatherings at their homes, restaurants, VFW’s and clubs without involving the funeral home staff. Minimal (low priced) Cremation businesses are cropping up all over the country.

So why didn’t this work? Why are people continuing to move away from traditional services? In my next blog I’ll give you some of my thoughts on why this happened and where I think funeral homes should go now.

I’m Dale Clock.  Thanks for listening.

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As a Funeral Director, is it my job to tell people how to grieve? Is it my job to educate people about the stages of grief, the need for grieving, the different types of grief, or the dangers of not acknowledging one’s grief? Is that why people should call me when a death occurs? Is that what people pay me for, emotional counseling?

These are questions that I have been asking myself lately. And the answer I keep coming up with is …….

NO!

I’m in the Funeral Business, not the Grief Business.

What I do does help people deal with the emotional loss of a loved one. But the focus of my job is not the actual emotional recovery of those people, but facilitating the events that contribute to that recovery.

People pay me to put on events. That’s what I do. That’s what Funeral Homes have always done. The emotional healing that occurs is a by-product of the event itself. It’s the gathering of people and the sharing of stories that heals the heart.

Just recently I read an article that quoted a student in mortuary school who stated “Our job is to lead people through the grief process. So, you have to have compassion, you have to really care.” That’s a pretty typical statement from people in the funeral service. The words caring and compassion are over used in hundreds of funeral home advertisements. Yes, it’s important to provide folks with compassionate care. But I think that the focus on the grief process and recovery, which has found it’s way into funeral service over the last 20 years, has taken us (funeral homes) away from what we have always been really good at; directing funerals (in other words – putting on events).

In my next entry I’ll talk about how I think funeral homes got into the grief business and why I think they need to get out of it to survive.

I’m Dale Clock. Thanks for listening

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