The Most Important Part Of A Funeral Service, According To 9 Funeral Pros

funeral service

Why do we have funerals?

Whether you’re hosting a traditional service or a memorial celebration, there is some debate as to who these end-of-life events are actually for. Are they for the loved one who has passed – a glowing, celebratory tribute to the beautiful life that they lived? Or are funerals for the living – a safe place to mourn, laugh, cry, tell stories, share memories and start the healing process? Maybe it’s neither, or maybe it’s both…

Many funeral professionals that I have met say that they try to find the perfect balance between supporting both the living and the deceased. Balancing the last wishes and stories of the loved one with a service that will also support and comfort the family.

But if the perfect funeral service is a balancing act of healing and memorializing, than what is the center of gravity that keeps this perfect balance in check? We decided to find out for ourselves at last year’s biggest convention of funeral professionals – NFDA 2015. Here’s what nine funeral professionals said were the most important part of a funeral service to them:

Shantae Horn, Student of Mortuary Science

“I think the most important part of the funeral industry is the customer service interaction with the family and the end result, because you take them from beginning to end. You want to make sure that you are meeting the needs of the customer initially, and that those needs were met throughout the entire service.”

Mark Mannix, President of Cooperative Funeral Fund

“The most important thing a funeral professional can do is listen. Be compassionate. And then offer the options and be open to all sorts of options – not just the cookie cutter, “okay, we’re going to have calling hours, open casket service, then go to the church.” I have a client that had a guy who was big into horses, and the family came and wanted to make arrangements and they were a little unsteady. And he knew the client a little bit, so what he did was put a corral in his parking lot and put his two horses in them. At the end of the service, he offered each of the participants a carrot to go out and feed his horses to honor the lost one. You have to be creative. If you’re willing to listen, be compassionate, you’ll get more out of it and so will your customers.”

Jeff Smith, Owner of Smith Family Funeral Homes

“When we sit down and sit with the family, the most important way to start the process is being human. Connecting with them. Asking them about the story of the person who passed away. And helping in some way to see that we’re not just doing a job, we’re here to really take care of them. Once they know that we’re here to take care of them and we’re on their side, it really brings the stress down and the comfort level up.”

Rick Miller, Funeral Director

“The most important part [of a service] is the way the deceased looks in the casket. [Families] need to be able to look in there and see their loved one the way they remember them. I go above and beyond for my families. It’s literally treating every case like it’s my family. What would I do for my family? Because if i’m not doing that for every family, there’s no reason to do it at all.”

Christina Hughes, Mortuary Student

“I think the most impactful part of any funeral service is definitely service. If you’re going to make it in this business, you have to concentrate on service, service, service. And understand that the service is definitely for the survivors. I think more than ever the most impactful thing about a funeral service is the service that you provide to the survivors, or the loved ones of the deceased.”

Jon Deitloff, Funeral Director at Tobias Funeral Home

“I think obviously the more info that a family has when they arrive at a funeral home, the better equipped they are to deal with what we provide to them. As part of that, pre-planning is always a great idea, whether they pre-fund, if they have some some planning and met with a funeral professional somewhere… [as long as] they are better equipped to come to the funeral home and handle the things that they do. One of the things we have taken on in the last couple of years is emailing families a list of things to bring in and an overview of the process, and we have found that by doing that, either the night before or perhaps the morning of the arrangement conference, they come in much better prepared and equipped to handle the things that come at them when they arrive at the funeral home. I think that the hardest step that they take is that first step across our funeral home threshold, so if they have a bit of an idea of what to expect before they arrive, it makes it a little less intimidating than what it otherwise would.”

Mike Ma, President and Co-Founder of Coeio

“I think [the most important part of funeral service] is the discussion with the families. We’ve worked closely with our first customers, and understanding how families understand their decisions – that it’s not just the wishes of those that passed, but it affects all the decisions around them. And understanding what the needs of those who are remaining are… they’re important and hard to put into that process. That’s what we’ve been learning through our customer mapping process and customer research process.”

Jon O’Hara, Regional Development Director

“I think the obituary is really important. If the funeral home owner or director is meeting with the family, and if we take the time to get the things up on the site quick, that allows the interaction to begin and end with the funeral home, instead of a third party. Use time as your friend in funeral service, and make sure that the word spreads quickly.”

Want to take your funeral home’s obituaries to the next level? Try f1Connect’s social memorial pages, which brings an interactive, social experience to the traditional obituary. Click here to get a demo!

Elden LaHayne , Retired Funeral Director

“The thing that we do that has the most impact on our families… honestly, you can’t quantify it… it’s that we care. Everybody says they care. But you can’t fake it. And when they come in and they know that you really care about them and you’re really there to help serve them, they’ll take almost any suggestion that we make, because they believe we genuinely want to help them. So if we make the suggestion of having a evening memorial service with alcohol and an open mic, they’re going to be open to that because they know that we’re trying to put their best interest forward. Or if we make the suggestion that they really need to have a service in our chapel and here’s why… They first have to know that we care. You have to win that trust. You can’t fake it.

“It’s important that families know that funeral directors are there to help. Families, don’t try and do everything by yourself. [Funeral directors] are going to ask you questions, but they are going to be questions to help you out. I hope families know that I am there to help them in any way that I can. Whether it be a shoulder to cry on, to answer questions, to make arrangements for different dinners or anything like that for them. I just want to make sure that I did what I could for them.”

Want to see what these funeral directors had to say about the future of funeral service? Read our other post from NFDA → 8 Funeral Pros Share Their Predictions For The Future Of Funerals.

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  1. Manny Gaser

    Thanks for suggestion on funeral service, good post!

  2. Mark Leverington

    Great post! No wrong answers that’s for sure. For me the bottom line is loving people. I work with each family I serve to love them, and when I do that it shows out of all the actions and work I’m doing for them, and I have a desire inside to to my best, because I”m loving them through this loss.

  3. Randy Chorvack

    I completely agree that the most important thing you can do at a funeral is to listen and be compassionate. Funerals are a pretty vulnerable time in a person’s life so you want to make sure you’re respectful. I’m going to the funeral of somebody I barely know, so I’ll make sure I follow some of these tips.

  4. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks for reading Randy, and for being considerate! You sound like you’re an awesome person!