do unto others

Funeral Directors – The Unsung Heroes of the Holidays

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The holiday season can be especially stressful for funeral directors. You may not get time off like everyone else, or you may live far away from your family. Often, due to the demands of your profession, you can’t travel to be with your own loved ones.

When a death occurs during the holiday season, it can be especially difficult for the families you serve. As a result, the family may take out their anger, along with other negative emotions associated with the passing, on you. As a funeral director, you have no choice but to let them vent.

Sacrificing time with your loved ones and dealing with the misplaced distress of families happen year-round. However, these issues become more pronounced during the holiday season.

December brings some of the coldest, darkest days of the year, yet people use this time to spread joy and make happy memories. In the spirit of this wonderful season, let’s take a moment to find the bright side.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Silence the Stigma: Coping With Suicide

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Death from suicide provides a unique set of complications for the affected family, their friends, and the funeral service professionals who serve them. Offering comfort to the bereaved also becomes a bit more difficult. What should a friend or funeral director say? Is there anything to avoid mentioning? If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, how should you respond?

Here are some tips for coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide and comforting the family of a suicide victim. Read the rest of this entry »

Suicide – A Funeral Director Speaks Out

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As a funeral director for over 30 years, I have been fortunate to help thousands of families through one of the darkest times in their lives. With September being National Suicide Prevention Month, I wanted to share a personal story with you on how suicide has touched the lives of my family.

It was a beautiful evening and I was sitting at the top of the Marriott Marquis in New York City at a cocktail party when my phone started to ring. It was my mother informing me my stepbrother had taken his life. In that moment, I knew I would have to put on a brave face since I was in a very public place. I equated it to the way President Bush must have felt when he was sitting in a classroom full of children when he was informed about 9/11. It was truly one of those heart-stopping moments. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Things I’ve Learned from Working with Funeral Directors

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Here’s a typical conversation that I have when I’m out with friends, meeting new people.

“What do you do?” asks someone who doesn’t really care but feels obligated to engage me in conversation.

“I work for a trade association that works with independently owned funeral homes. I’m a meeting planner.” I respond to cut to the chase.

“Oh! So you plan funerals? Do you embalm bodies?” returns the individual who now has a stronger interest in hearing what I have to say and obviously wasn’t listening.

“No. But I know quite a few people who do. Why? Do you need a discount on an urn?”

The asker typically turns pale and isn’t sure where to go from there.

So goes many a conversation at cocktail parties and other events when I have the opportunity to interact with anyone who doesn’t work in funeral service. It’s made me stop and think about what funeral directors face when they share their story with others.

Since I joined OGR’s staff four years ago, I’ve learned quite a bit about funeral service professionals and have found that they have a pretty challenging job. They work long, irregular hours around strange smells, extreme emotions, and lots of paperwork. They respond to phone calls in the middle of the night, often miss holidays with their families, and care for dead bodies. They maintain composure and professionalism in the midst of family conflict, inclement weather, and national tragedies. A lot of what they do is behind the scenes, unseen and unheard.  Read the rest of this entry »

Advice for Funeral Directors Working with Donor Families

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Photo Credit: Laura Demby      Jeni Stepien with Arthur Thomas after he walked her down the aisle at her wedding last Friday.

Jeni Stepien’s father was murdered ten years ago, but his heart lives on in the body of donor recipient Arthur Thomas. When Ms. Stepien  got engaged in October, 2015, she struggled with deciding who would walk her down the aisle. The thought that a piece of her father could be present during her wedding ceremony led her to ask Arthur if he’d be willing to escort her.  Mr. Thomas agreed, and after he walked her down the aisle on Friday, Jeni shared “My dad is here with us, and this man is here because of us.”

Such a beautiful story has us wondering what role the funeral director played in the Stepien and Thomas story. How can funeral service professionals serve families like the Stepiens? Funeral directors are well-positioned to provide donor families with the support and information they need and make a powerful impact in each family’s life, but is there anything they can do specifically?  Read the rest of this entry »

Grieving Online – No Apologies Needed

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Everyone has those Facebook friends who overshare every aspect of their lives – from what they had for breakfast that morning to their thoughts on last night’s political debate. It’s easy to grow weary of those who overshare.

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There’s an etiquette that’s slowly developed around being a good online friend (read more 14 Do’s and Don’ts; Essential Facebook Etiquette) and approaching online interactions with care, but the lines are still blurred when someone has experienced loss.  Read the rest of this entry »

Do Funerals Even Matter?

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1This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of OGR’s Independent magazine. Many thanks to Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. for sharing his insights into the why of funeral service.

If you are reading this article, you are probably aware of a significant truth:

Many people are questioning the value of and the need for funerals!

If there was ever a time to be reminded of WHY you do what you do related to creating meaningful funeral experiences for those you serve, it is RIGHT NOW!

Why are People Questioning the Need for Funerals? Read the rest of this entry »