Tag Archives: Funeral

I’m Dying (and You Are, Too)

Not your typical pump-me-up motivational line? Death is hardly a popular topic, even among those with strong religious beliefs. Once in a while, though, it hits us square in the face.

MedicalForms
Photo Credit: ThirteenOfClubs Flickr User, CC

I’ve been dealing with a weird medical thing for about 8 months. At first the doctors thought it was a fungal infection of some kind (how’s your breakfast?), but it just won’t respond to anti-fungal meds. This past week, my doctor took a biopsy.

“Well, it could be [insert doctorese], which is no big deal. It could be just a weird fungal thing. I’m also going to have it tested for Lymphoma. It’s a long shot, but some forms get away from us.”

“Ok,” I responded almost with a shrug. He’s the doctor. The way he said Lymphoma, though, led me to Google it. And all of a sudden I could be fighting a nasty blood cancer.

Before I wax too dramatic, I don’t have a diagnosis yet. The biopsy will take a while. But I don’t need to have cancer to know that I’m dying. All of us are.

In my time as a Funeral Director, I saw children who didn’t get their first breath and centenarians take their last. There’s not a rule on when we’re born or when we’ll die.

We read about people all the time who decided to live their last year or two really big. I won’t offer you a six-step program to do that, I’ll just ask you one question: Why wait?

The biopsy could come back looking really ugly with some form of prognosis. But whether it does or not, I refuse to wait any more to live life big.

I want to build a legacy every day. I want to leave an impression on a LOT of people. I want to raise kids who do the same. And I refuse to wait “until I’m dying” to do any of it.

Let’s quit ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. Let’s straighten our backs, look Death in the face and say “Challenge Accepted.” Let’s not treat it like a stalking predator but like a constant reminder to do it now.

I’m not telling you to sell all of your possessions and move to the islands. I’m telling you to do that thing you know you ought to do. I’m telling you to give and serve and love and live…before you die.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

Don’t Imitate, Innovate

These days, it’s tempting to think that everything new has been done before. In fact, re-purposing old habits or practices or even picking up new ones at trade conferences is acceptable and encouraged. But (or so) when you’ve got a great original idea, how infuriating is it to see it ripped off?

"Made in China," Courtesy  Michael Mandiberg , CC
“Made in China,” Courtesy Michael Mandiberg , CC

Not long ago I was driving down a road near the funeral home where I work. That’s odd, I thought, I didn’t think we took out a billboard ad. But plastered up on a billboard was an ad we post each year in local publication: a lighthouse, a message about trusting professionals, and a funeral home log…

Wait a minute! “Second-Rate Funeral Home”?! (Of course, I changed the name of our competitor…to be fair.) Rather than our logo, there was a competitor’s name on our ad next to our funeral home.

Imitation and competitor rip-offs are nothing new. While it’s infuriating that our competitor is trying to tap into our brand, the ad company that created the campaign for us could really care less who buys the ads. Even in my volunteer work and writing, I sometimes see my own ideas being put to use. When these ideas are used to make progress or by a team member of mine, it’s no big deal. But when the competition starts benefiting from it…

I’ve learned to stop worrying. Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (which is sometimes true) or some flowery nicety like that. Rather, because it means:

  • We’re Doing Something Right: Not only is our own strategy working, it threatens our largest competitor. While we spend virtually nothing on local advertising, our competitor has rented multiple billboards and run several ineffective mailing campaigns just to keep a marginal share of the market. The continued dominance of our business despite this gauntlet-throwing almost literally in our back yard is encouraging and affirming.
  • We Lead the Pack: Our ideas are imitated constantly. Really, it isn’t hard. Funeral Directors who did not last at our establishment attempt to replicate our practices wherever they go! The challenge comes in that unique advantage that no one can teach: each member of our team puts his or her heart into the work we are doing. When families end up at other funeral homes, they are unimpressed, going through the motions of an acceptable service experience. But just attending a service in our funeral home shows them that services– that the people here are extraordinary.
  • Our Competition is Failing to Innovate: Innovators don’t imitate. They might improve on existing practices or mold an idea to their needs, but they don’t blindly copy the industry norm– or their competitors. Businesses who fail to innovate stagnate. The most popular lie/misconception about our industry is that it’s recession-proof. The fact is that these businesses might continue to scrape out operating expenses, but their costs will rise and their prices will shrink as they grow increasingly desperate to compete.

There are some great ideas out there on leadership, service, and building value. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t incorporate those into your business, organization, or personal life. But fit those innovations or trends to the needs of your business and allow them to fuel authentic, home-grown innovation.

If you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you only pick up what he drops. And if she’s a work-horse like most innovators, the droppings are pretty…well, you get the picture.

 

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

How to Deal with the Unfamiliar

In our part of the country, “religious difference” means Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Once in a while, though, our funeral home has the privilege of serving Hindu or Buddhist families. Sometimes, this is uncomfortable for me; can you imagine how uncomfortable such an unfamiliar experience must be for these families?

Image: pashukaru76, CC
Image: pashukaru76, CC

 

I had no idea what I was doing as I sought to guide this family through planning their ceremonies. To be honest, they were unsure of what they were doing. With so much uncertainty, I was more that a little intimidated.

As I reflect on the process, I have developed a five-step process to dealing with any kind of uncertainty:

  1. Find a Point of Contact: About halfway through the service, I realized my point of contact was unfamiliar with Buddhist customs, so I sought out the Buddhist monk who would lead the ceremony. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English. Finally, I listened for a family member who spoke English well enough to navigate complex issues and was familiar with the family needs.
  2. Understand Their Need(s): Until this point, I probably knew more about rocket science than Buddhist funeral customs. We had served a Buddhist family not long before, but everything was totally different this time. Once I had found a point of contact, I listened for every detail of the ceremony, seeking not just to know their needs but to understand the ceremony each part supported.
  3. Know Your Need(s): After I understood the family’s needs, I sat down and made a list of everything I would need: facilities, materials, props, help, time. I listed out what I didn’t know, I listed out attitudes that I needed to change to genuinely serve this family, and I listed out the details of the ceremony I needed to pay special attention to. By making lists, I was able to break a complex ceremony into small, easier-to-accomplish task groups and goals.
  4. Connect Your Resources with Their Needs: A lot of repurposing went on with our materials and props. Having identified what I needed, I put these things in place and waited to see how the family would arrange what I had set out. We dedicated a space for their use, matched tablecloths as closely as we could, and adjusted our staff and facilities to the family’s needs.
  5. Be Flexible: Toward the end of the ceremony, everything changed. Nearing wit’s end after a three-day crash course on Buddhist funeral rites, it would have been easy to lose my grip on calm! But a few minor adjustments in our plans (even at the last minute) were easy to pull off and enabled a critical process to take place right when it needed to. A cool head and quick feet are acquired traits, but essential!

I can’t tell you how many situations could fit into this progression. Whether it means overcoming language or culture barriers, moving a project into uncharted territory, or evaluating your personal leadership journey, you must be courageous and refuse to let challenges become obstacles.

When an uncertain or uncomfortable beginning evolves into a rewarding experience, you’ve done more than provide great service– you’ve captured the heart of a new friend.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

On “Death: It’s a Living”

You may or may not know that I’m a funeral professional. In November I will be a licensed Funeral Director in the state of Arkansas, having joined the business my wife’s family has owned and operated since 1969.

How does a political science major end up working in a funeral home? Since I began working here, I’ve found the funeral industry to be one with the greatest potential to impact someone’s life. As much (or more) ministry occurs under our roof as under the steeples of many churches.

That’s why I was dismayed to hear about CNBC’s special “Death: It’s a Living”. You would think that a look at our business would be a good thing, and I’m confident enough to offer anyone a behind-the-scenes look at our business. (Seriously. E-mail me.) The simple fact is that not all funeral establishments operate to our standards. Not every Funeral Director has a heart to serve families.

And the media is scandal-hungry.

Here are a few observations about “Death: It’s a Living”.

1. Funeral Back-Biting. Sure, some funeral homes operate as though we live in the early 1900s. Heck, some of them still operate as though we live in the mid-1800s! But “modern” funeral providers offering unique services outside the walls of a funeral home seemed to be highly critical of funeral homes. What is amazing to me is that most of these services deride funeral homes for “exorbitant” charges but themselves charge thousands of dollars for peripheral services such as rocketing cremated remains into space or creating coral reefs with them.

2. Discounting Funeral Directors’ Expertise. I know some people (some entire firms, really) in the industry who are burnt out or do not offer their hearts in conjunction with their services to families. But the majority of the Funeral Directors I work with are incredibly compassionate. They are expert concierges, as a Funeral Director in the show put it. They are excellent event planners. They are also experts when it comes to the care of living people and dead bodies. Which brings us to the next point…

3. Seeing Your Loved One. The “critic” in the series seemed skeptical about the value of seeing a loved one after he or she has passed away. Leading grief experts (see: Alan Wolfelt, et al.) agree that seeing a loved one after his or her death is essential to a healthy grieving process. By the way, I’ve helped almost 100 families over this past year; every single family who has viewed their loved one has commented about its importance in helping them cope at many stages in the grieving process.

4. Caskets. The special generalized casket prices to an extreme level. In fact, the reporter said casket sales were the “bread and butter” of funeral home profits. Some caskets are even marked up as much as (gasp!) 100%. A 100% markup is not even close to regular retail rates and markups (on the low side). Additionally, casket sales are neither the bread nor the butter in most business models. In fact, a well-run funeral home should balance casket sale profits with service charges to meet operating expenses and produce a modest profit. As a final point, casket prices in our funeral home range from $895 to $13,000. I don’t know of a single time we’ve sold the most expensive casket, and a majority of our caskets are sold for about $1,995, as opposed to what’s presented as the norm by CNBC.

It’s not that the CNBC special was all bad; some parts were interesting even for someone in the funeral profession. It’s just exhausting dedicating my life and making family sacrifices to do my heart’s work with grieving families only to be continually demonized by a scandal-hungry media machine.

If you want to see the funeral profession at its finest, find a reputable family-owned business during the summer and spend some time getting to know your friendly neighborhood Funeral Director.

Questions? I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.