At Funeral Business Advisor Christian Crews, CEO of Omneo Group Americas, writes about loss and the decisions we have to make in order to memorialize the story of our loved ones.
"Two years ago, I lost a very dear uncle. It was all so sudden, from his death to his funeral, that we did not get to grieve or celebrate his life properly. If we would have had a funeral director that would have acted as a grieving advisor, rather than a sales man, we would have been able to give him the deserved memorialization, grieved properly, and would have remained a loyal customer for future generations.
Having lived as a teenager through the Cuban exile, in 1960, and then serving two tours of duty in Vietnam under the US Army, you could say that he had lived more by the time he was 18 than most of us have in a lifetime. After the war my uncle enrolled in UC Berkley to study psychology and became an antiwar activist in the late sixties. He went on to pursue a Masters in Economics and later joined the corporate world; climbing up the corporate ladder to become a C-Level executive at an airline company in the US. My uncle loved life and treasured friends and family; he had a unique energy that made everyone feel important and special. Unfortunately, he fell victim to cancer, which he fought for over eight painful and slow years, and battled with the ups and downs of depression until his imminent death 2 years ago.
Upon his passing, we realized we were all unprepared and lacked information in order to make the right and most appropriate decisions. He had not given specific instructions as to what he wanted, other than, “scatter my ashes in Cuba if the Island is free, or in the Caribbean if the Castro family is still in power”. Given his verbal wishes, his free spirit, and the lack of information, my cousin opted for cremation without a funeral or memorial.
It all happened very quickly. Within three days of his passing, he was part of the past – everything was over. The lack of information and counseling, coupled with the pressure felt to make speedy decisions left us feeling empty and his memory felt light and unsubstantial. Such a man with an incredible life needed to be memorialized in a grander way, yet I feel we wrongfully accelerated events due to lack of information and he became a “matter of fact” comment for many.
Six months later, my cousin, my aunt and I traveled with his ashes to St. Thomas, chartered a 28ft boat and scattered his remains between St. Thomas and St. John; a moment which brought closure for all, but also a moment where I came to the realization that my uncle was completely gone. We didn’t really celebrate his life, nor memorialize him for future generations. We didn’t allow his friends who came from all walks of life to share with us the wonderful stories that made him who I thought was the “most interesting man in the world”. It wasn’t because we did not want to, but because we did not know how.
FAMIC’s “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” program states that, “through meaningful memorialization — that is, taking time to reflect on the unique life of a loved one and remember the difference they made — families and friends take an important step in the journey toward healing after death. Today, individuals and their families have more options for memorializing their loved one at the end of life.”
They continue to state that “Memorialization is so much more than it used to be. It can reflect a person’s life story, their values, interests, and experiences. It is transformative, healing, and comforting.”
Most people, including my family at the time, don’t memorialize because they do not want to, but because they don’t understand the importance of memorialization. The task to educate family and loved ones falls in the hands of Funeral Directors. It’s no longer about selling the funeral and showing the customer caskets and urns in the arrangement room, but about educating customers and becoming a trusted counselor through the grieving process. Not only will the customers appreciate the guidance through such difficult time, but it then becomes the low hanging fruit for Funeral homes- they will keep coming back for all the imminent deaths that surround them.
Having joined the industry over a year ago, I have become aware of all the incredible options there are to memorialize loved ones in a meaningful and useful way. It’s not only about the now, but about the future; about future generations learning and memorializing those in their family.
Unfortunately, more and more, death care is becoming a practical disposal of human remains as families opt out of long funerals and viewings in favor of cremations and small ceremonies. This trend is supported by the growth of cremation and the emergence of cremation societies which are filling the practicality and budgetary need of today’s consumer. This evolution towards practicality, lead by baby boomers, is sure continue with millennials and the following generations. However, being practical does not exclude memorialization. There are plenty of memorialization options in the market that are practical and inexpensive, or even free, that add true value to bereaving families and secure the role of counselor or advisor to the Funeral Directors that offer them.
In fact, I feel the role of a Funeral Director must evolve in order to remain relevant in the future to one that provides grief counseling and advises on memorialization. The funeral home that serviced my uncle’s remains did not once offer memorialization tools nor explained the importance of memorialization, they simply opened the price list and asked us to pick what we wanted. For them it was a business transaction, for us, it was a very awkward moment as we were trying to honor a loved one.
When at-need families come to a Funeral Home, they are at their worst moment and they probably are first timers in dealing with a death, therefore they rely on the Funeral Directors to guide them through this unfortunate event. Given the taboo to talk about death or end of life planning, many at-need families do not know anything about their options. A Funeral Director’s job is to help families through one of the most undesired moments of their lives, and apart from ensuring that the end-of-life hassle is seamless to the bereaving and dignified for the deceased, it is within their hands to guide families through the memorialization options there are and explain the importance of memorialization.
The first questions to the family should be:
– Tell me about your loved one’s accomplishments
– Tell me about your (their) family, kids, grandkids, etc.
– Were there last wishes that we need to consider?
– How would you like your kids and grandkids to remember or learn about the life of your loved one?
With these questions, Funeral Directors will build a relationship with that family, will be able to better serve their needs and will be relevant in their future. Customer intimacy has been a buzz word in the business world for the past 10 years. Customer intimacy increases the lifetime value of a customer, in the case of our industry, it is the lifetime value of a family relationship. Becoming a guide and advisor to the grieving, knowing about the future generations of their family and offering truly personalized memorialization solutions will maintain the Funeral Director’s relevance in the market and add true value to the families they serve. Times are changing and this change is about to accelerate, therefore Funeral Directors need to make an effort to understanding the grieving family and those they lost, and focus on memorialization instead of focusing on the transaction, be relevant for years to come and the transactions will follow. FBA"