Monday, July 18, 2011

Urns & Outs - July, 2011

Compassion and sympathy: a couple of the many words that describe funeral professionals. The words have long been synonymous with the trade that has been the staple of communities across the country: the funeral profession. However, what about the words business and profit? These words also have frequently been associated with the multi-billion dollar profession that is the funeral industry – and they certainly have their place.

Thumbing through the stack of trade journals of our profession that I receive each month, I feel that very few articulate well what most of us in the funeral trade count as a way of life, a calling of sorts, to help people get through what is likely the most difficult time of their life.

Most focus on the latter of the words above than the former. It is disheartening to look through some of the oldest organs of our profession and see that the majority of the articles are about promoting some product, or how to increase revenues, or how to deal with cremation. These magazines are great for the business side of what we do – and obviously they are not meant for consumers to read. Thank goodness! I would shudder in horror if someone not involved in our profession inadvertently got a hold of one of these trade publications. Where and on what would they think our focus is?

I remember, as a very young man, visiting the local funeral home in the small town where my mom lived. I remember the respect and sincerity of the family that owned the funeral home, and how they would serve a family regardless of the family’s financial means. That was almost twenty years ago, and that funeral home is still serving the families of two communities in central Arkansas. Later, shortly after I received my funeral director’s license, I went to work for a true gentleman of our profession who explained well what our purpose is as funeral professionals. He taught me and instilled in me that we are to take a very important role in helping families deal with a crisis in their lives. His focus has been and continues to be helping people, yet he is unashamed and sincere when time for the family to settle their bill. That funeral home is a thriving business in central Arkansas, with a very high cremation rate, and has been serving families in its community for over 100 years.

Now, I can tell you verbatim what the critics will say, that funeral homes are not charities, and that it takes money for them to operate. I understand that… But which words do you wish for your client families to associate you with? What is it that our profession is portraying to the general public? More importantly, what is it that you are portraying in your community: compassion and sympathy or business and profits? If your focus is the latter, and the former is lacking, shame on you! It is my opinion that if you live by the first two words, the latter two words will almost always be realized. It is a delicate balance to say the least, but if we are to succeed, we must walk the fine line that has been laid by those who have realized both sides of the equation.

At least, that’s my perspective.
~ Jason