Un­der­tak­ers putting ‘ser­vice’ back in fu­neral ser­vice

Record Observer - - SENIOR SATELLITE - By RYAN HELFEN­BEIN

We live in a so­ci­ety to­day that is all about get­ting the most ac­com­plished in the short­est amount of time, don’t we? Ev­ery­where you look, there is an­other ex­am­ple of this “more is bet­ter” men­tal­ity: in man­u­fac­tur­ing, hous­ing de­vel­op­ments and even food pro­duc­tion. But what about fu­neral ser­vice? Can’t be there too, can it?? As a mat­ter of fact, mass pro­duc­tion of ser­vices un­for­tu­nately is. The good news is that there are fu­neral homes pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion to fam­i­lies who want things to be more in­di­vid­u­al­ized.

My brother ac­tu­ally just ex­pe­ri­enced this over­pro­duc­tion first hand. He re­cently at­tended a fu­neral ser­vice at an area firm for the fa­ther of a dear friend. As he walked through the front doors of the fu­neral es­tab­lish­ment, he was greeted with a ques­tion — “Who are you here for to­day sir?” With a con­fused face, he replied with his friend’s fa­ther’s name (for­tu­nately he knew it). The em­ployee then stated that his vis­i­ta­tion is be­ing held down the hall­way in the third room on the left.

As my brother cau­tiously walked down the long hall­way he couldn’t help but no­tice that there were mul­ti­ple vis­i­ta­tions and ser­vices go­ing on at the same time in other rooms. Ner­vously, he peeked his head into the room the woman had in­structed and saw his friends stand­ing there and, with a sigh of re­lief, knew that he was then in the right place.

You see, like many fam­ily firms to­day, my fam­ily has only known of one way to of­fer fu­neral ser­vice and that is one fam­ily at a time. As a mat­ter of fact, it has al­ways been com­mon prac­tice with fam­ily firms in ru­ral ar­eas and up un­til now, not so com­mon in the cities. For­tu­nately, fam­ily firms are start­ing to bring their “one at a time” busi­ness mod­els into more pop­u­lated ar­eas too. It is truly defin­ing the def­i­ni­tion of “help­ing a fam­ily heal” or in tra­di­tional fu­neral di­rec­tor lan­guage — “fu­neral ser­vice.”

The ori­gin of fu­neral ser­vice can be traced to the fam­ily-run fu­neral home. Each town would have just one or two firms that the lo­cal towns­peo­ple would use. The fu­neral home where one could hold a fi­nal farewell for a loved one would be the per­sonal res­i­dence of the un­der­taker. Some ser­vices would be held with the guests sit­ting on the un­der­taker’s fam­ily couch and liv­ing room fur­ni­ture. There were no hall­ways of rooms for mul­ti­ple fam­i­lies to hold their vis­i­ta­tions or ser­vices. Many of th­ese firms then and some even to­day, would pro­vide home cook­ing and freshly made re­fresh­ments for those vis­it­ing. I per­son­ally re­fer to it as the “mom and pop” way of do­ing busi­ness.

To­day’s un­der­tak­ers are now be­ing re­minded that this orig­i­nal method of fu­neral ser­vice pro­vides the in­ti­mate, in­di­vid­ual, pri­vate mo­ment that is im­por­tant to some fam­i­lies. For ex­am­ple, I re­cently had a widow share with me that she was think­ing to not even hold a ser­vice for her late hus­band due to the risk of see­ing oth­ers’ cas­kets and ser­vices tak­ing place dur­ing the time set aside for a fi­nal farewell. Once she learned that there are firms that do of­fer “one at a time” ser­vice as­sis­tance, she was able to ac­com­mo­date that in­ter­nal re­quest of be­ing able to pri­vately hold a time for her fam­ily to share their feel­ings to­gether, with­out dis­rup­tions.

What some of th­ese fam­i­ly­ori­ented un­der­tak­ers to­day are re­al­iz­ing is that it’s not about mass pro­duc­tion of ser­vice of­fer­ings, but the com­mit­ment and ser­vice of help­ing that fam­ily heal — one at a time. It al­lows fam­i­lies to walk through their time of grief with­out dis­rup­tions or hav­ing guests be­come con­fused by group­ings of names and ar­rows near the front door to pro­vide di­rec­tion, which some firms to­day are do­ing.

We have found that when a firm can fo­cus on as­sist­ing one fam­ily at a time, more at­ten­tion can be paid to meet­ing the needs of the griev­ing fam­ily and pro­vid­ing a once in a life­time ex­pe­ri­ence, no mat­ter how ex­treme or tra­di­tional one might want. For ex­am­ple th­ese one at a time fam­ily-style fu­neral homes won’t have a fam­ily play­ing loud mu­sic with friends shar­ing in laugh­ter and en­joy­ing heavy ap­pe­tiz­ers dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of life gath­er­ing, while an­other fam­ily ex­pe­ri­enc­ing heavy grief due to a tragic loss is in the ad­ja­cent room.

“Ser­vice” is what any un­der­taker to­day will tell you what makes them dif­fer­ent from the firm down the street. With “ser­vice” be­ing the go to an­swer for un­der­tak­ers, we as con­sumers need to delve into learn­ing what that firm truly de­fines as “ser­vice.” Un­der­tak­ers bring­ing back the “mom and pop” feel and get­ting away from the mass pro­duc­tion of ser­vice mind set are truly bring­ing fu­neral ser­vice back to its roots, and defin­ing the term “ser­vice” as be­ing there for you … and only you.

RYAN HELFEN­BEIN

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