The year I turned 12, we celebrated my birthday with boxed macaroni and cheese and diet sodas enjoyed quickly and quietly in the main office of the funeral home. When my sister graduated high school, we toasted the milestone in a conference room with McDonald’s hamburgers and stale Oreo cookies while my dad ran back and forth to a visitation. During my freshman year of college, we didn’t celebrate Christmas together until January, unwrapping presents and listening to Mannheim Steamroller when everyone else in our neighborhood was dropping their trees on the curb for the trash collector.
As a child, I had little appreciation for the sacrifices my parents – both funeral professionals – made in service to their client families. I perceived missed birthdays, delayed holidays and cancelled slumber parties as virtually criminal acts of parental negligence. Now that I am an adult, however, I see things very differently.
Never – not once – did we actually miss a birthday or holiday. They were always observed with the necessary fanfare. But, more often than not, they were celebrated a day (or three) late so that Mom and Dad could put 110% of their efforts into helping grieving families honor the passing of their loved ones. If given the choice, I am confident my parents would have preferred to spend every birthday, holiday and graduation as a family. But they never complained about early-morning calls, demanding families, late-night visitations or brutally cold graveside services. Theirs was clearly the greater sacrifice. They – like many of our funeral home partners – viewed the profession as a calling, one that demanded the very best they had to offer whenever they were asked to offer it.
For many of you, the holiday season is bittersweet. While your family makes plans to celebrate together, you worry about answering services, Christmas Day coverage and late-night death calls. Many of you will approach this year’s festivities with the best intentions and highest hopes, knowing that it’s likely you will be called away once again on Christmas Eve.
For all of you who work so selflessly and tirelessly, I want to take a few minutes to share with you why everyone at Homesteaders is thankful for funeral professionals.
You are generous toward your community.
Since I started working at Homesteaders, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with countless funeral professionals about the ways you serve your communities. Every one of you has great stories to share – memories of announcing the high school football games, impressions of promising young recipients of your funeral home’s annual scholarships, heartwarming reports of your ongoing support of local hospice organizations and stories of time spent working with Meals on Wheels, the rotary club, athletic boosters and your volunteer fire department. You support local businesses, local schools and local churches. Even on your busiest days, you still take time to do your part to make your community a better place.
Funeral professionals are remarkably selfless pillars of the community, generous with both your time and your resources. For that, we are profoundly thankful.
You are generous toward your staff.
At Homesteaders, we work hard to build a culture which reflects the work ethic and atmosphere demonstrated by our customers because funeral professionals tend to be very good at recognizing their staff’s efforts. I recently spoke with Mark Iles, President of Iles Funeral Homes in Des Moines, IA, about the ways he acknowledges his employees’ contributions. He explained that he leaves personal messages for his staff whenever they are mentioned by name on one of the firm’s customer satisfaction surveys. “I find it takes a great deal of my time because they are mentioned so frequently,” he reflected. “Our goal is to have funeral directors who view this profession the way my dad did – as a calling. When you find these people, you cherish them, you want to take care of them and you want to retain them.”
Like Iles, many of you are second, third or fourth-generation funeral directors who view your staff as an extension of your family. You know them each by name, know who their spouses are and where their children attend school. You take time to learn about your employees’ lives outside of work because you genuinely care about them as individuals, not just as members of your staff. We are thankful for funeral professionals who work hard to make sure employees feel like valuable members of a team.
You are generous toward your client families.
I used to love watching my parents interact with members of the community – pastors they had worked with, florists they had recommended and families they had served. Mischievous old men were always winking at my mom and thanking her for sliding them an extra ham bun or two during the funeral luncheon. Little old ladies with penciled eyebrows were always stopping my dad halfway through the Pizza Ranch salad bar to tearfully thank him for everything he had done to ease the passing of their late husband. And my parents were always greeting their client families with a smile and a hug, asking about their grandkids, their rose gardens and their knitting projects. Like many of you, they remembered the names and faces of everyone they served. My parents knew these families, and these families knew my parents.
The nature of funeral service is just that – service. Funeral professionals are never really off duty, even during vacations and holidays. You answer the call whenever the phone rings. You treat each and every family with dignity, respect and sincerity. For that, we are so very thankful.
You are generous toward your own family.
My sister and I joke that we learned selflessness before we took our first steps, patience before we spoke our first words and empathy before we lost our first teeth. We have always been grateful to have grown up around funeral professionals. Our parents taught us that birthdays and holidays are just dates on a calendar – dates that can be changed and adapted to meet the needs of those who are most in need. They taught us that time with family is what truly matters. We have always, always understood that life is precious because it is limited.
My parents and the other funeral professionals I have been privileged to meet have given me a valuable gift – the wisdom that all life is worth celebrating. And for that, I am immeasurably thankful.