Integrating Fitness-Related Grief Support into Funeral Home Aftercare


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A little after 4:30 on Sunday, November 1, Theresa Giammona took a right off 59th Street and entered Central Park. The afternoon sun was getting warm, so she rolled up the sleeves of her red “FDNY” t-shirt and straightened the bill of her baseball cap before running north on West Drive, toward the 65th Street entrance. Two-tenths of a mile later, she crossed the finish line of the 2015 New York City Marathon.

In the fall of 2001, Theresa’s husband, Vinny, was preparing for his own marathon. He’d just finished a 24-hour shift at Ladder Company 5 on Houston Street in Manhattan and was hoping to get in a training run before heading home to celebrate his 40th birthday. Instead, he was called back into work around 9 a.m. to respond to an emergency at an office complex in the city’s financial district. He texted Theresa to give her an update before jumping on a fire truck bound for the World Trade Center.

Vinny died that day alongside 342 other New York City firefighters, leaving behind his wife of nine years and their four daughters. That November, a dozen of Vinny’s friends and co-workers ran the New York City Marathon as a relay in his memory. Then, in 2008, Vinny’s younger brother completed the race, wearing his brother’s shoes.

Theresa trained hard to join their ranks, juggling single motherhood, a knee injury and a few scrapes and bruises following a minor car accident. She fundraised, too – raising money for Answer the Call, an organization that provides financial support to the families of police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty. When she finally crossed that finish line, she was greeted by the firefighters of Ladder 5.

Training for and later completing the marathon helped Theresa process her grief and feel closer to her husband. “Time does heal, but you never forget,” she affirmed. “I felt like Vinny was with me the whole time… Nothing could ever beat that.”

Grief is a long, hard and complicated process. It can take decades for someone to overcome the pain of a sudden, traumatic loss. That’s why, as a funeral professional, it is so important that your funeral home marketing efforts include aftercare. Finding creative ways – like fitness events – to reach your client families after their loss can be instrumental in helping them process their grief.

Hundreds of psychologists have studied the benefits of fitness-related grief support. Exercise – and the subsequent endorphins – helps the brain process pain and keeps the body active, which can counteract many of the physical and emotional side effects of grief. Consider the following benefits of fitness-related aftercare:

Staying Healthy

In addition to weight management and muscle retention, regular exercise can dramatically decrease the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Individuals who commit to a fitness program often experience lower levels of stress, less difficulty sleeping, increased energy and improved mood.

Since many of your client families are older – Baby Boomers or members of the Silent Generation – staying active can be a particular concern. Consider partnering with local gyms to offer low-intensity fitness activities like swimming, cycling or golf. You might even be able to host a few exercise events at your funeral home. Invite a yoga instructor to hold weekly classes in the chapel, or sponsor an early-morning walking group in a nearby park.

Building Community

When Theresa Giammona began training for the New York City Marathon, she didn’t do it alone. Instead, she joined a runners’ support group through Answer the Call and partnered with another first-time runner who had also lost someone on 9/11. Together, they worked through the pain of training and the pain of grief. They built a friendship that helped them process their loss and sustained them through their 20-mile training runs. And when they finally crossed the finish line, they were able to celebrate and remember together.

Fitness-related aftercare is a great way to build community among your client families. Research from Harvard University has linked regular social interactions among seniors to decreased memory loss, lower risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s and longer life expectancy. Through regular aftercare events, your client families can build relationships with one another and with your staff – increasing the likelihood that they will recommend and reuse your firm’s services. 

Supporting Important Causes

Exercise can also offer a great way to give back to your community. Many fitness events include a fundraising component – an all-night dance-a-thon for the Children’s Miracle Network, a walk to raise money for the local VA hospital or even a marathon to support breast cancer research. Incorporating fitness-related aftercare into your funeral home marketing strategy is a great way to support your client families while also contributing to causes that are important to you.

Consider expanding your services to incorporate more activities that promote a healthy lifestyle. In addition to benefiting your client families, exercise programs are also good for your funeral home business. Fitness events provide great opportunities for social media posts – as promotion before the event and through photos posted after the fact. Offering regular aftercare in your community helps keep your firm top-of-mind and inspires customer loyalty. Plus, you’ll have something interesting and creative to talk about during your own exercise classes.

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