Funeral service is a lonely profession. Your non-funeral professional friends don’t want to hear about the challenges of your daily work. They don’t want to know about your surprise inspection, that a casket arrived with a huge dent or how you spent hours in the prep room getting ready for a viewing. However, a few times a year, funeral professionals have the opportunity to be surrounded by people who truly understand them at the state and national conventions and expos.
In a normal year, I attend between 10 and 15 funeral professional conventions and conferences. One of my favorite things to do is spend time at the welcome event – the dinner or cocktail party that kicks off the convention. I enjoy these events because I have the opportunity to watch everyone as they greet their friends from across the state or country. As new people arrive, I see you look around the room for familiar faces. Handshakes and hugs (at least before coronavirus) are the typical greetings. After a quick stop to grab a beverage and a plate of appetizers, you’re ready to start catching up with your friends and colleagues.
All topics are fair game: the successes, transitions, challenges and frustrations. These events are where you find a sympathetic ear, advice, wisdom and fellowship. Robert Fulghum says that close friends in a professional organization “become their adopted family, their brotherhood or sisterhood … When it works, this is reunion.” (From the book: From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives). This is serious stuff. And yet, virtually all in-person conventions were canceled this year.
I hate that funeral professionals aren’t able to attend conventions in person this year. Gathering with your colleagues is one of the best ways to gather new ideas, blow off steam and reconnect with people who really understand. So, as you prepare for this year’s NFDA Virtual International Convention & Expo, I challenge you to take part in several different ways:
1. Call a professional colleague you would typically see at the convention.
That’s right – call them. I’m sure you can find their phone number. Here’s how you can start things off: “Normally I see you at the convention, but I just wanted to check-in and see how you are doing.” That’s it. Just call and ask them how they’re doing.
2. Set up a virtual lunch or dinner.
If there is a group of professionals that you would typically set aside time to see, set up a virtual get-together over lunch, dinner or even at-home drinks. Gather together your group on Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. Any type of video conference call will work.
3. Attend a session with someone.
Even though you won’t “see” the person you're attending the session with, it can still be fun to know you’re in the same “room” as someone you know. Consider sending each other messages during the session with observations or set aside time afterward to discuss what you learned.
These options are not the same as an in-person meeting, but they may be the best we’re able to do this year. These informal conversations do so much. They help remind us why we’re in the profession in the first place, let us complain to a safe person, give us a chance to exchange information about new products and services and simply allow us to connect with someone who really understands.
So, set aside time during NFDA to connect with someone meaningful to you. It may feel awkward at first, but I have no doubt that those people you normally see at the convention are missing you, too. Go ahead – be the first one to reach out.