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Keys to Service

The Vital and Active Role of the Funeral Professional

Posted by Todd Van Beck on November 1, 2016

  In the bygone days of our profession there was a method of “arranging” a funeral which was called “the indirect method” of counseling. At the core of this funeral arranging approach was that the funeral director played an entirely passive role in the decision making processes that the “family” was engaged in. The results of this approach to the funeral interview was that it did not work. One funeral director who was a disciple of this approach once told me, “When I make arrangements I don’t want the family to notice that I’m in the room.” I cannot disagree more with this type of funeral interviewing approach, for this is another example in which the funeral professional is making all the rules – doesn’t the families feelings and wishes need to be involved, taken account of, and respected? I believe they do.

  Just imagine this scenario. The bereaved family has seen one or two caskets in their entire lives. Now, today the door is opened and they are looking at twenty-one caskets or forty urns, or twenty keepsakes and they are in the room alone, absolutely on their own. Do you think this type of situation creates a vulnerable and high risk client situation?

  Analogous to this, a naive fellow like me would want to buy an airplane. The airplane company representative shows me into an airplane hangar that has twenty-one new airplanes for sale and then leaves. For a limited guy like me, I don’t stand a chance!

  The reason the indirect approach flopped so many years ago is that while some funeral professionals were attracted to it, our client families did not like it. The indirect approach to helping I believe was created because of our profession's long standing phobia of criticism, and particularly our sensitivity concerning being criticized about being a “high pressured sales person” or worst or all “taking advantage of the bereaved.” I understand our professions sensitivity to this, and Jessica Mitford made hay in the sunshine using and abusing this theme. However her book was published fifty-one years ago and still our addiction to wanting to please absolutely everyone in everything all the time, which is impossible for any human being to accomplish, still haunts our great profession.

  I personally would like to suggest that the reason the indirect approach to helping a family didn’t work is that it relegated the funeral professional to a passive role, and I have concluded that bereaved clients are not attracted to passive funeral director helping.

  I do not see the funeral professional as serving a passive role in the least. On the contrary, I perceive the funeral professional as staying active at all times. I am not implying that he/she should talk a great deal, but I am saying that he/she should make their presence and interest continuously felt – throughout the experience, not just the arrangement interview. The funeral interviewer is ideally active in revealing to the client family that they are interested in the welfare of the family. Being passive does not have enough about it to convey this important communication. In fact being passive is as dry as a piece of unbuttered toast.

  In all sincerity of purpose the larger question is this: Will my assistance, help and counsel be based on active wisdom and care, on active insight and compassion, and on active trust and respect? The operative word here is active.

  Primary to this role is that the funeral interviewer is a genuine person. As funeral interviewers we contribute of ourselves and our professional knowledge to help the client family. The funeral interviewer reveals what they see and understand, what they think the client family is thinking and feeling, in order to help him/her look deeper and to reach his/her inner self to make the type of once in a lifetime decisions that offer two priceless gifts in taking the journey through the valley of the shadow of death: Peace of mind and the feeling that one has done the right thing. The combined psychological health of these two feelings is absolutely priceless; no dollar sign can ever be attached to this.

  In our ongoing quest for substance and meaning, what do funeral professionals actually bring to the helping interview? We bring our knowledge, experience, professional skills, the information we possess, and the resources at our command, and above all else a genuine committed love of the profession in which we serve. It follows then that the funeral student actively learns about every aspect of the funeral service profession. This type of learning time will result in creating the most effective professional who by the results of their dedication to lifelong learning will possess the most knowledge. This professional funeral person will then be able to assist family clients by offering and suggesting creative ceremonial experiences, creative help and counsel which will result in our bereaved clients arriving at wise, valid, and satisfactory decisions.

  Here are some suggestions to help us stay active in the experience of the funeral interview and funeral service in general. Your time spent thinking about these four points will prove helpful in the long term.

  First: If the funeral professional is calm, understanding and clearly concerned as well as wanting to be helpful they set the stage for the response of those being served.

  Second: Doing something constructive is an important way of moving people through a crisis. Having people do things will help to express feelings. Never a passive experience, these important funeral standards are always in the active tense.

  Third: Funeral professionals help the expression of feelings in the helping interview. The funeral professional is usually present when feelings are intense. The funeral professional within the safe harbor of the funeral interview and overall funeral experience can provide the personal attitude and social atmosphere within which the appropriate deep grief feelings can be expressed and most importantly accepted and understood.

  Fourth: The funeral professional has quick access to items to memorialize creativity which can help the mourner’s experience deeper expression and find deeper significance in the selected services and goods which are decided upon and invested in.

  The funeral professional/interviewer/arranger who is aware of these four simple points and who uses them in an active way will find additional foundations of worth in their communication with the client families. Bringing yourself, being in the thick of the action, allowing for the expression of feelings, and having at your immediate access valuable remembrance and memorial items is a wonderful way to further assist our families. That is the goal, to work to further assist our client families to the best of our abilities.


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