3 Things Your Families Expect You To Know About Funerals

For most people in the world, the process of planning a funeral is completely unfamiliar territory.

Sure, most people have attended at least one funeral in their lifetime, whether it was for an acquaintance, close friend or family member. But that doesn’t mean that they know everything that went on behind the scenes to make that meaningful event happen.

In fact, most families probably don’t even understand the entire role that a funeral director plays in the funeral planning process. Therefore, there ends up being a lot of assumptions and misconceptions when the time comes for a family has to sit down and plan a funeral for the very first time.

You see, because most families don’t know the ins and outs of the funeral profession, they assume that their funeral directors handle anything and everything related to end of life care. You’ve probably heard the all-too-familiar flustered statement — “You’re the professional… so can you just take care of it?” — when discussing everything from event personalization to grief support.

But funeral directors wear enough hats as it is, and as much as they want to bend over backwards to help families through a time of need, it’s not always possible. So how do we close the communication gap?

First, try not to get frustrated. The last thing that an overwhelmed, confused family needs to hear is “that’s not my job” … even if that statement is true. The truth is, families don’t know what they don’t know. So it’s up to funeral professionals to educate them, support them where they can, and provide guidance when they can’t.

Here are just a few things that families expect from their funeral directors, and a few tips on how to support these needs:

1. What kind of service will best represent their loved one.

One of the worst things that a family can say after walking out of a loved one’s funeral service is that it “just didn’t feel like them.” And with the amount of funeral personalization ideas that exist out there, thanks to sites like Pinterest, there is no reason why families should ever have to make this statement about a funeral service.

Unfortunately, this still happens far too often. Why? Because families have attended these types of personalized events in the past that are filled with stories, photos and memories and assume that’s just what funerals look like. They figure that funeral directors will magically learn all of the most important stories of their loved one’s life and translate them into moving messages and funeral decor. If only it were that easy, right?

But it’s important to note that funeral personalization isn’t completely the family’s responsibility… nor is it the funeral director’s. It’s a collaboration between the services that you provide and the stories that the family shares of their loved one.

For example, if a family that you are speaking with keeps telling stories of grandpa fishing every summer, or mentions the importance of his favorite fishing spot, inform them of the different ways that they could incorporate this hobby into the funeral service, if they would like. They might not have known that this type of personalization was even an option, so it’s up to you to bridge the gap between expectations and reality.

2. What kind of service will offer them the most healing.

When you work in any kind of profession for a long time, people will look to you for advice on best practices and the path of satisfaction. This is no different in the funeral profession.

Families are constantly looking to funeral directors for guidance on different aspects of a funeral service that they can customize to their needs. For example, open vs. closed caskets, burial vs. cremation, you name it. But unfortunately, in the case of nearly every aspect of a funeral service, there is no “best practice” that blankets across all families. There’s just no way of being able to look at a family and say for sure, “you will regret not having the casket open” or “you will feel better if you are present for the cremation.” Life and relationships are unique, and therefore every element of a funeral service reflects that.

If your families are coming to you for advice on topics where there is no clear best answer or path of healing, be honest with them. Let them know that every single person reacts differently to different elements of service, and outline the pros and cons of each to help them make their decision.

For instance, if a family has come to you wondering if they should do an open casket visitation and service, give them your support and insight. Tell them the benefits of an open casket (“Some people feel a sense of closure”) and give them a few examples of the type of people who most often prefer this type of service. Then do the on same the other side of the spectrum. (“Many prefer to have the last image of their loved one be the last memory they shared in life.”) Let them know that there is no wrong answer, and support them in whatever choice they make.

3. What products or services they will cherish most.

If you have never been through a certain experience before, it’s hard to judge which parts of the experience you will find most important and memorable. For example, many people at a funeral service feel a huge sense of connection and healing when they see videos being played of their loved one, or when they get to reflect over meaningful photos. But unfortunately, it’s not until after they have looked at these photos and videos that they feel the release and the power of the the product or service that you provided.

This can leave many people wishing that they had done more to promote this experience or incorporated more aspects of it into their service, through things like photo-focused funeral programs or Life Tributes Memorial Videos. These products are all about allowing families to truly cherish the moments that mattered, and leaves them with products that they can take home and feel the value from even after the service ended.

So while you may not know up front which of your products or services your families will cherish the most after their loved one’s funeral service, you can express to your families the different value that your products and services offer and help fill in the gaps.

For example, explain to them the healing power that comes with viewing photos and videos and ask how important that aspect of a service is to them. If they say it is very important, you can fill the service with meaningful products like Life Tributes videos or photo albums to support their healing.

Want to see for yourself how your funeral home can use photos and videos in a meaningful way that resonates with families? Click here for a free 30 day trial of Life Tributes!

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  1. Allan Stearns

    As a Certified Celebrant, I am called upon often by funeral directors to perform a service for a family that has no idea what they want. I always meet personally with a family to explain options for a service. I shy away from the term “funeral” substituting “Celebration of Life” or Memorial. I want the family to feel up, vs feeling down. Their loved one had a life that needs to be celebrated.
    I try to find out the deceased family member’s favorite activity and if possible find something to display ay the event that characterizes the life.
    A takeway from the service is the feeling that we brought the deceased into the room once again through stories, anecdotes and perhaps scripture if the family requests it.
    I write my service, tailor it to their specific family, and keep it short – not exceeding 25 minutes including at least 3 songs.
    Every one I have done, and it is nearing 200 now, has received thanks for keeping it short but inclusive.
    The old saying is, if you keep something short, they might invite you back. If you drag something out, they will probably not invite you again.
    Al Stearns, Florida Certified Celebrant.

  2. Todd Haley

    Communication really is the key. Also, if the funeral director ends up saying something like, “That is not my job”, to a grieving family then it is a possibility that they are in the wrong profession. However, this does show how important pre-planning a funeral can be. Planning ahead can take a lot of pressure of a family reeling from the loss of a loved one.