Life Lessons From Working in Funeral Service

At Homesteaders, we are committed to promoting the value of funeral service. We have always believed we are in two businesses — funeral service and insurance — and we want our staff to reflect our values. Many of our employees had experience in the funeral profession prior to joining Homesteaders — some as funeral directors, some as administrative support and a few who actually grew up in a funeral home.

We asked these funeral service “veterans” to share with us the lessons they’ve learned from their time in the profession and have included some of their wisdom below.

Know the value of your services

(Steve Shaffer)

The work we do is important and valuable, both at-need and preneed. Our work is about life and people, not about death. It is core to our humanity. Funeral homes are integral parts of their communities, intricately woven into the end-of-life support systems and social fabric. Our collective offering is not about products; it is about ceremony and service. We get one chance to get it right at the time of need, and most of our attention should be placed on that goal. A person only gets one funeral and it has to be done right.

Stay positive and patient

(Holly Cully)

Be positive and patient with each other and the families you serve. The long nights and short time frames for services can be very stressful. You can change the course of your day and the attitudes of others around you by controlling your own attitude.

Ask good questions

(Terri Bordenkircher)

You cannot make an experience great for your client families unless you know what they want or need. You have to become skillful at asking the right questions, and then be quiet and listen so you can respond thoughtfully. Gain knowledge and expertise by knowing your product, your community and your client families’ concerns and solutions, so you can become the "go-to" person for your customers.

Spend time with your client families

(Brandon Full)

I used to get so frustrated when Uncle Mark would make arrangements with families. He would sometimes be in the arrangement room for hours. During my apprenticeship, I just knew I was more efficient because if I took over an hour and a half to make arrangements something was wrong.

As I grew up in funeral service I soon realized that Uncle Mark was more than an “order taker” — he was making a connection for life and asking the right questions to allow the families the opportunity to truly memorialize their loved one.

It may have been a beautifully written obituary or setting up a specific type of visitation, but by the time you walked out the door of the funeral home, you felt like you really knew more about that person. Giving the family time to remember was an art form Uncle Mark mastered. It’s a valuable lesson I will always remember.

Be empathetic, not sympathetic

(Holly Cully)

There is a difference between offering sympathy and being truly empathetic, and it’s quite noticeable in funeral service. Being able to genuinely connect with your client families requires a certain amount of empathy — you need to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what you would need if you were them. Be careful, though — families are looking to funeral professionals to take care of the after-death affairs, not mourn alongside them.

Remember that no one is “normal”

(Brianne Niedermyer)

The funeral business is one of the most rewarding professions. You are there to help a family through one of the hardest times in their life. And yes, that can bring out the crazy in them, but you know what you are doing is helping them — even if they are huge jerks at the time. You learn very quickly how to keep your emotions in check, even though it can be extremely hard. And you learn that no family is normal, everyone has a little crazy in them.

Make it right for every family, every time

(Brandon Full)

I'm not sure who said this but the phrase, “every family, every time,” has always been a goal of mine. Regardless of the situation or the status of the deceased, everyone is someone's child. This statement has always helped me view funeral service as more than a job. It's a calling.

Don’t make assumptions

(Terri Bordenkircher)

In funeral service, it’s easy to make assumptions: Everyone already knows about prearranging, a speaking engagement would not work in this area, this family won't want to fund a funeral, that family will only want to hear about a single payment option, not a multi-pay plan — the list goes on and on. When we make assumptions like these, we are making decisions for those families and communities, and often we are wrong. Today’s families are very informed; they are used to options and want to know about everything we have available. They will appreciate your being thorough.

Know the value of preneed

(Steve Shaffer)

Preplanning is always good for the family. It allows for a better service and experience at an extremely difficult time. Remember this is a service families really want and need, and be vigilant in educating your communities about its importance.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of “life lessons” from funeral service. As funeral professionals, you are constantly learning and evolving in response to changing consumer preferences and a dynamic industry.

What wisdom have you gleaned from your years of service? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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