Grief Support: Why Your Families Need It (But Don’t Want It)

Over the years, I have advocated for meeting the aftercare needs of the families we serve.

Thomas Lynch said it best: “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”

I believe he is speaking to the two fundamental needs funeral directors are expected to fulfill:

1. Taking care of the body

2. Dealing with the emotional needs of the family who have suffered the loss.


As funeral directors (and good business people) we strive to meet those needs.  We care for the body and we work hard to support the family on their journey of grief, yet something is off.

As compassionate people we are trying to do what is best for our families. Although families need our grief support, they want to be happy. Sometimes, they would rather evade the reality of death, rather than face the effort required to process their grief.

The Funeral Profession is Caught on the Horns of a Big Dilemma

On one horn, the family doesn’t want to deal with the loss and tends to evade the reality of it.  On the other horn, if all we do is support the family not wanting to deal with the loss, then the best way, ultimately, is not to have any funeral service at all.

If our families don’t get what they want, they’ll look for less expensive ways of doing it (driving the cremation rate higher). It’s no wonder funeral service is struggling to meet the needs of Baby Boomers.

So What Type of Grief Support Do Families Want?

I recall a story I heard from Dr. Wolfelt about the tragic Columbine memorial services that were aired live.

The clergy in the pulpit was exhorting people to rejoice and be happy that these students had gone to be with the Lord. The camera then panned and zoomed to fellow students sitting in the front row with tears streaming down their faces! Those students needed to mourn.

If the funeral gathering does not support the sadness that is inevitable with such a loss, then we may be doing a great disservice to the people who need to mourn.

We are losing many families who don’t see value (getting the immediate happiness they want) in the somber events that are offered. Giving them “happy” celebration of life experiences seems like the right thing to do. They can mourn in private can’t they?

The question is: can we provide ceremonies and services that are uplifting, hopeful while allowing our families the ability to mourn their loss?

Grief education is a huge part of this discussion. Maybe we need to educate, provide options and trust our families will make the best decision for their needs at that time.

What do you think? How do you determine the grief needs of your family? Share your thoughts!

About the Author: Lajos Szabo, a licensed funeral director in Ohio and Architect by training, has been involved in funeral service since 1988. His portfolio of work includes, PMP Rooms, Cut Caskets, Meaningful Memories, Funeral of the Future research and several US patents specific to our industry. Recently, Mr. Szabo partnered with the Schoedinger organization to create a virtual funeral home business model named Funeral Choices. Subsequently, he served as Chief Strategy Officer for Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service, a 2,500 call 14 rooftop firm in Central Ohio. There, he was responsible for realigning this 150 year old firm to more effectively respond to the changing funeral service consumer. His role included refining company infrastructures, implementing information systems, resource allocation, MourningStar arrangement implementation, website development, social media integration and initiatives impacting the creation of healing experiences for those touched by death. Currently, Mr. Szabo has joined funeralOne as President of Funeral Operations where he will use his industry perspective to provide organizational leadership and develop several key projects in pursuit of his personal mission; changing funeral service to more effectively meet the needs of people touched by death.

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  1. Kim Stacey

    Hey, Lajos – nice post. As an anthropologist, I’ve come in contact with funeral rituals and ceremonies in countries around the world, and the fundamental truth of Thomas Lynch’s comment, “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be,” holds true.

    In an eclectic society such as ours, where the elements of ceremony are anything but uniform, it becomes very difficult to “know the right thing” to do to help the living get “where they need to be.” And only they know “where” that really is!

    So much of mourning takes place in private – in the quiet hours of the morning, or just before you fall asleep; when you pass by a favorite local spot, or hear a song that brings a memory to mind so powerfully it takes your breath away. Those are moments that we are not privy to, and cannot participate in, or orchestrate.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post! You can see you got me thinking…at 5:30 in the morning!

  2. Lajos Szabo


    Thanks for the comment and great thoughts. I have often wondered about the iconic needs of mankind relative to loss and the rites and rituals that attend those circumstances.  There is plenty of evidence in the form of spontaneous memorials for celebrity and tragic losses that suggests a more universal emotional issue that needs to be expressed.  I think that as funeral directors, all we can do is to start the family on a healthy journey of grief, giving them sense of what’s to come and to create opportunities in the form of services and ceremonies that support and nurture those first steps.

  3. Kim Stacey

     Well said, Lajos! Thanks for the response. I love the dialog – hope we can get more folks involved. The collective wisdom of funeral professionals is phenomenal – but they’re so busy, it’s hard to tap into it!

  4. Deborah

    I would like to read more on, “can we provide ceremonies and services that are uplifting, hopeful while allowing our families the ability to mourn their loss?” 

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