My WORST Experience At a Funeral Home (And What Funeral Directors Can Learn From It)

No one realizes how hard it is to plan a funeral.

Especially when it’s  someone you saw just yesterday. Someone of your blood. Someone you truly love.

The messiness of the loss alone was already enough to fill my entire body with stress, weighing me down like a ton of bricks.

But little did I know, that was just the beginning of it.

I’m going to tell you about the worst experience I had at a funeral home, and I ask that you read these words with compassion and an open heart. I ask that you read these words because if you’re doing things in the way I describe below, you need to hear them.

Because this piece isn’t being written to complain. This piece is written to shake you in your chair and ask you to make sure you don’t know anyone who’s doing business this way at their funeral home.

Here’s what absolutely (for lack of a better word) sucked, and how I’d make it better if I were to step into a funeral director’s shoes:

 

#1 – The scariest funeral home I’ve ever seen

Keeping a pulse on all the ways funeral homes are improving their look and feel to match the new needs of client families, I had an expectation that this funeral home (who I won’t name) would have reflected that new movement.

But instead, when I walked in, I felt like I was walking into a scary movie. I opened the door to find a big, empty, funny smelling home with no one in sight. After a few moments whispering “hello?” in fear of waking up the dead (honestly, this isn’t a joke), I seriously thought about leaving… but because of my family’s limited time, I was forced to stay.

The Solution: Create a space that is welcoming, and homey.

First things first. There is no reason I should walk into a funeral home that looks like the Adam’s Family home anymore. Make sure your funeral home looks inviting, homey, and welcoming. And the very least they could have done, was say hello. But I was left waiting, awkwardly.

 

#2 The coldest funeral directors I’ve ever met

Thankfully, after a few minutes, someone finally came around to greet us. They looked at us as if we were in the wrong place. “Can I help you?” they finally mustered up. “Uhhh… I’d like to make arrangements for my deceased uncle,” I said as the rest of my family looked at their toes hoping not to catch eye contact with me or the funeral director. Once Mr. Funeral Director  finally did escort us to the office to go over the paperwork, he made no small talk, or asked us how we were that day. We just walked along, in painful silence.

The Solution: Talk to your families like they’re human.

I understand we may not have looked like the happiest bunch standing there awkwardly in your foyer, but if I were you, Mr. Funeral Director, I would have made us feel warmly welcomed into your place of business. Like you were expecting me, even if you weren’t. Offer me a tea. Ask me about the weather. Put a smile on your face, even though there isn’t one on mine.  I so badly wanted to talk to someone, because I just faced a tragic loss and had been sitting in a room full of crying people for the last 24 hours. I know you know this, so why don’t you create a nice space for us to make a meaningful service? This would have meant the world to me.

 

#3 – The most terrible obituary ever written

After we broke through the awkward silence and went over the basic details of my uncle’s death, it was time to write the obituary. I’m not sure if most families take the time to write their own obituary, but in this case, the funeral director offered to write it for us. RIGHT after discussing the death certificate (bad timing much?)

I was shocked by how painful the process was. He began to ask a series of completely uninspiring questions which took around 5 minutes, and then we sat there in silence as we watched him write the obituary in front of us. Then, what he delivered was a string of misspelled words that were clearly a cut-and-paste obituary that made me run to the bathroom and cry for 15 minutes because of how meaningless it felt.

The Solution: Help us make the obituary a fun process to remember.

If I were you, Mr. Funeral Director, I would have stepped out of the room for a minute and left my client family with the opportunity to talk about some of their favorite memories with their loved one. I would have asked to see some photos of the loved one and genuinely cared about what we published in the newspaper the next day. I would have triple checked my spelling, and delivered an obituary that would create an emotional response of gratitude and appreciation. To me, an obituary is a piece of gold representing someone I truly love. I’d like to see you treat it that way, too.

 

#4 – When money makes matters worse

Once I returned from my 15-minute emotional breakdown post-obituary fiasco, I stepped into the room as the funeral director was asking my 85-year-old grandmother to pay him the $3,000 for the direct cremation, in front of the whole family. His face was cold. He wasn’t budging when my poor grandmother asked if she could pay some now, and some later.

It took everything in me to not reach across the table and shake him asking him how he could talk to a grieving family like this. He felt like a used car salesman demanding money from us. It felt scarce, and rude.

The Solution: Re-frame the way you handle money with your client families.

Funerals are expensive, and I trust that the price is as fair as you can make it, but what if you treated the cost as an investment? We see the $40k we sometimes pay for weddings as an investment, so surely we can create that with funerals.

What if you increased the value, and decreased the pressure involved with paying for a funeral?  What if you offered flexible payment plans, or flexible prices? What if your approach to payment made us comfortable, or relieved, instead of stressed and pressured?

Mr. Funeral Director, if I were you, I’d made these tiny, tiny changes because I know they can make a huge difference in not only your client families’ hearts, but your bottom line as well.

 

#5 – Zero post-arrangement communication

As if the entire process wasn’t grueling enough, the worst part of our experience at this funeral home was the lack of communication from our funeral director post-meeting. We didn’t receive a follow-up email from him. In fact, we had to follow up with him to ask about the death certificate and the eventual payment plan I managed to finagle. This made us feel like we meant absolutely nothing to them. Like our business wasn’t valuable. And worst of all, like my uncle was just another number, lost in the shuffle.

The Solution: Create a solid post-communication system, even if it’s automated.

If there is one way to ensure you get my business in the future Mr. Funeral Director – even if you messed up everything else – it’s to reach out to me after the funeral. A simple email will do, or even better, a thoughtfully written thank you card would make me feel like you remember me. Or that you want my future business. Otherwise, I just can’t imagine ever calling you when I’m need of services. So much so, that I’d go to the next town just to make sure I didn’t have to feel as bad as I did when I planned my uncle’s funeral with you. A simple thank you doesn’t take much time, so why leave this detail behind?

 

All this goes to say…

Despite the exciting headlines I see where  funeral homes are changing the game to create a better way, there are still people treating funeral service in the way it isn’t working anymore.

Please, help your fellow funeral directors, and share this information with them. Invite them to follow the blogs that are helping us create a new era. Because no one should be offering gloom-and-doom service. As someone who’s behind the scenes of it all, it feels unacceptable to me.

We, as a collective, need to level up, together.

We can’t afford not to anymore.

 

 

How are you helping your fellow funeral professionals level up? Tell us in the comments below… we want to hear from you!

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  1. Allan Stearns

    I am a certified celebrant and funeral assistant – not a funeral director. I am pleased that the men and women I work with in this profession do not match the ones you describe. But I hear horror stories from families I meet, similar to what you described.
    We do not work in an upbeat environment because death is a sad time. But we do not need to totally abandon a smile, a handshake, and sometimes a hug. I. for one, have abandoned the word funeral and replaced it with Celebration of Life. Every life has something to celebrate and to be remembered for.
    Many older funeral homes (there’s that word again) are still in older homes or large, impersonal buildings. These facilities can have a facelift that replaces the sad, old, chemical smelling facility. The costs have gone up, but treat the customer (they are customers after all), with care and respect. They chose you for their loved one’s care, earn their respect and possible even future business.