Nomis Publications: COVID-19 Response and Updates

Keys to Service


Posted by Todd Van Beck on April 1, 2017

  I hope that pretty much everything we do in the funeral interview encourages the client family by engaging them, by showing them kindness and attention. It has been my longtime observation that by far the vast majority of funeral professions excel at showing clients and the communities in which they work and live kindness and attention. In such a complicated, impersonal and often times cynical world people who show others kindness and attention are indeed sweet blessings!

  Our attitude toward life, our approach to living, our responses as funeral professionals are all meant to support and reinforce the client family in their efforts to create memorial/ceremony decisions that are meaningful and worthwhile for them – we all know that.

  We strive to assist families in coming closer to the reality of death and to their own self-satisfaction with our company’s services so they may experience the value and benefits of the entire memorial experience. In this ongoing effort, to create a meaningful experience, we cannot underestimate that our slightest “um-hum” can spur them on in their selections, in their ceremony designing, and in their own personal establishment of an experience of value.

  The “um-hum” while frowned upon by some thinkers I believe is an excellent interviewing skill to possess. The simple “um-hum” tells them this important psychological message: “That’s it. Go on. You’re on your way. I’m with you. I care.”

  This manner of encouraging our bereaved clients is an integral part of our professional funeral service philosophy. In fact the “um-hum” almost becomes obligatory in helping other people, and you don’t need a PhD to use it effectively.

  Like empathy, the “um-hum” is not stated in words; it is more of a simple presence in us, and my personal experience is that like empathy the bereaved client family will sense it.

  When I was a student at the old New England Institute in Boston I worked alongside of one of the kindness, sweetest, and most outstanding funeral directors I have ever encountered. His name was Alfred B. Marsh, and he was just a jewel in the crown of the human race.

  I did a great amount of Al’s embalming as he was allergic to chemicals. I liked him so much, and admired him so much that I was continually motivated to never ever disappoint him. I owe him a great deal of gratitude, and cherish his memory to this very day.

  I was helping Al work a visitation one evening when a lady came over to Al and just would not stop talking. Like a magpie, she rambled randomly from one subject to another, she didn’t even seem to need to breathe, and to top it all off, she was a bore.

  I wasn’t even in the conversation and I was so annoyed with her that I just turned around and stood staring at the front door. Now there is a very ineffective way to communicate or be nice to others: turning around and staring at the door.

  Al couldn’t get a word in edgewise. All he kept saying was “um-hum.” I think he probably said “um-hum” five hundred times. I couldn’t believe his tolerance and patience because obviously this talking machine who was dressed up like a human being was nuts!

  Finally the ordeal ended. Al thanked her for the conversation, shook her hand, and walked quietly into the chapel. I was still standing staring at the front door, kind of pitiful isn’t it, a young man just staring at a front door of a funeral home that isn’t being opened or closed for anyone?

  The talking lady was ready to leave, and as she walked past me I said a silent prayer that she would not open up her mouth, but open it up she did, and she said to me “Your boss is a mighty smart man. He is such a gentleman, and it was so nice to talk with him and get his thoughts.” Al had only said “um-hum” to this and that was it.

  When Al returned he could see that the expression on my face betrayed my immature annoyance with this woman. I made some remark about how offensive she was, and Al, the consummate gentleman and funeral professional just smiled and said, “Well, Todd you could look at it that way, but I just thought she was lonely and needed somebody to listen.”

  I felt might puny after that interaction with Al, but looking back it was precisely that depth of kindness and character that made Al so beloved and admired by so many people, and he really pulled it off by just muttering “um-hum”.


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