Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Updated: Monday, July 8, 2019
“Gina was a rescue beagle, shuffled between three or more households before finding her permanent home with our family and becoming the bereavement dog at the cemetery. Because she is so calm, affectionate, and well-behaved, we thought Gina would be a perfect addition to our staff. I found a trainer in the local community who worked to train me and Gina together on site at the cemetery. Over time, the demand for Gina’s services has grown among the bereaved seeking comfort. She’s trained to help people who come to make arrangements for memorial services and purchases of niches and urns. Gina helps lift families’ hearts, because no one can resist a warm, willing bit of affection.” — J.P. DiTroia, Fresh Pond Crematory
The use of therapy dogs is becoming more common, and there can be wonderful benefits to your business for having one in-house – after all, cute puppies are a great way to engage families! But as J.P. DiTroia, Lindsey Ballard, and Robert Hunsaker discovered, it’s not enough to just pick up a random pooch. The trio got together at CANA’s Cremation Symposium to tell attendees about their experiences integrating canines into the workplace. Their presentation illuminated several key points about therapy animals and the ways to incorporate the support and comfort dogs can provide to grieving families.
Dog Service—Definitions and Requirements
First, it’s important to understand the difference between therapy, service, and emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in various settings, such as disaster areas, hospice, schools, nursing homes, and, of course, funeral homes. These pets have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and they enjoy doing so. Typically, emotional support dogs provide benefits to their owners through simple companionship as prescribed by a mental health professional. Service dogs are trained specifically to help people with disabilities such as mental illness, visual impairment, seizure disorder, etc. Due to the nature of their work, the latter two are permitted to travel with their human partners, but therapy dogs are not afforded special rights to enter a business unless they’re officially going to work there.
Not all dogs will make good therapy pets. The work—and, yes, it is work— can be tiring and stressful for the dog and requires the right personality. There are many characteristics to look for in a suitable therapy dog, including a deep love for all people (strangers included), emotional and physical calmness, and an affinity for being hugged and petted (sometimes by surprise or roughly). People have found success with rescue dogs, but caution that these animals can be particularly sensitive to certain situations and people and that may impact their training and work. Some breeds are more suited to guarding or protecting, but not emotional support.
Bella, a black Labradoodle, is the beloved Hunsaker family pet, but Robert soon identified that she would make a great addition to his funeral home staff. Not only is her temperament well-suited to working with people, but she’s also hypoallergenic so she doesn’t shed and most people aren’t allergic. This is important since she’s interacting with the public.
Fletcher, an Australian Labradoodle, was destined to be the funeral home therapy dog first, and a happy addition to Lindsey’s household second. Lindsey researched what breeds were most appropriate to the work, prioritizing that the animal be hypoallergenic, too. She chose a breed, located a breeder, and, since he would also be the household pet, made sure to identify the perfect pup for her family.
The three presenters emphasized that once you find the right dog, both the animal and the humans who work with the dog have to be properly trained. The dog needs to learn good manners and to be able to respond appropriately in various situations. The people need to learn to interpret the dog’s body language and communicate effectively with the dog. There are many organizations that can provide therapy dog certification, including the American Kennel Club, Delta Pet Partners, and Therapy Dogs International.
Unlike J.P.’s Gina, Bella wasn’t trained on site at the workplace. Because the Hunsakers hadn’t originally intended for her to be a therapy dog, she didn’t start her training until she was a little over two years old.
It’s a common misconception that therapy dogs have to be adopted as puppies and trained from the beginning. Most trainers will help determine whether you have a prospective therapy dog or not by doing a needs assessment. Bella was put through her paces by her trainers before they committed to taking her on. Robert emphasizes that it is best to make sure you have someone who’s qualified to train your animal in what you want her to do before you add the dog to your staff.
Bella was trained by Lorenzo’s Dog Training Team, a national organization based out of Ohio. Robert did his research, talked to the vet and other community members, and decided on Lorenzo’s because they’re a nation-wide organization with trainers throughout the US. Bella was enrolled in their four-week off-site training program. Lorenzo’s would bring her back to the funeral home on the weekend to train Robert in the commands Bella learned off-site that week. Having her gone for a month was rough, but the results were amazing. The follow-up training 30- and 60-days after she came home ensured that Bella maintained the skills she learned, and added a couple of new skills each time.
Lindsey brought Fletcher home on a Monday. Tuesday was his first time in the funeral home. And Wednesday was his first puppy obedience class. She had already mapped out their long-term training schedule to follow a two-pronged approach: 1. Socialization, and 2. Obedience.
Long before Fletcher was old enough to start working with the public, Lindsey emphasized his socialization with as many types of people as possible – diversity of appearance, size, and age as well as people with wheelchairs, beards, hats, etc. That way, he’d be ready for the broad range of people he’d meet at the funeral home. She took Fletcher to all of her business locations so he’d become familiar with the each different environment, including the floors, staircases, elevators, and future human colleagues. Lastly, she worked on exposing him to the diversity of experiences he might encounter: thunderstorms, interactions near caskets and during bath and meal times to make sure he would be comfortable with anything that might come his way.
Fletcher attended, and passed with flying colors, many types of obedience training at every level of difficulty. Then, beyond standard obedience, he was also trained in tricks, therapy classes, and agility classes. Once this basic work was accomplished, it was time to pick out a specific therapy group to work with. From the beginning, Lindsey knew she wanted to be part of his training every step of the way. So she chose Pet Partners, a non-profit that hosts a national registry of trainers.
Rather than certifying only the dog, both the human trainer and the pet are registered as a therapy team. Lindsey and Fletcher were trained equally as a dog and trainer to support each other, with a special concentration on teaching the human half how to read the dog’s body language and advocate for him. Once Fletcher was a year old, the duo was able to take the in-person evaluation for certification. Once certified, they’ll still need to be re-evaluated every two years to ensure continued training.
On the Job
Bella comes to work every morning, about 5:30am. She has a set area in the funeral home where she comes in, gets brushed every morning, gets her vest on, and, with that, it’s an immediate transformation from an active, three-year-old pet to working therapy dog.
She’s very visible. When a family comes in, the staff can tell immediately whether they want to engage Bella. Probably 80-85% of family members acknowledge her and want to have some type of interaction. Due to her training, Bella won’t interact until commanded to do so as some people are afraid of dogs or dislike them. She’s been well trained to stay.
If engaged, Bella will attend arrangement conferences and aftercare appointments, funeral services, and visitations. She’s active in the grief support group at Robert’s funeral home on the third Thursday of every month. She attends most of cemetery gravesite services, and some pre-planning presentations at area nursing homes and care centers. She’s very busy.
Robert is sensitive to her needs. Working dogs are constantly thinking about what they need to be doing. It’s emotionally draining for the animal. So, in the afternoons, Bella has a special place in Robert’s office that’s become her area to decompress. She’ll take a break there for an hour or two. And when she gets home after work, she’s tired just like any of us. Even if it’s not particularly physically draining, it’s a lot of emotional work.
Like Bella and Gina, Fletcher attends community events, greets families, and sits in on visitations and arrangements. For Lindsey, the biggest value of the therapy dog is greeting families. While funeral professionals are very comfortable walking into a funeral home, crematory, or cemetery, it’s often a hard step for families to take. Fletcher welcomes the families at the front door and helps to keep people at ease.
Lindsey also finds that families linger longer with Fletcher there. When a devastated husband and daughter dropped by to pick up their loved one’s urn, their visit lasted for twenty minutes. When the daughter saw Fletcher, they stayed to play with him, pet him, take selfies, and derive comfort. The dog clearly made an impression: the next day, another family member came back to pick up information on cremation jewelry and asked about the dog.
Things to Consider
There is more to the process than just finding the right dog and going through training. You will need to consider all of the costs involved (purchasing the dog, training, vet bills, food, etc.), how much time and commitment will be required for both training and daily care, the logistics of when and how the animal will interact with people at the business, and more.
Robert estimates that they’ve invested about $2,000 in Bella-- $1,600 in training and $400 in equipment (vest, collar, leash, and other needs). Then there was the initial cost of getting Bella (around $500) and monthly expenses (between $150-$200 for food, grooming, and the vet). The dog has a standing groomer’s appointment every other Thursday to stay presentable; she goes to the vet every six months to ensure she stays healthy.
Liability for having a pet on site also needs to be considered. Check in with your insurance provider to see if they offer coverage for therapy dogs. Additionally, the professional training service you use may offer some form of coverage.
Besides the monetary expenses, a substantial amount of time is invested therapy dogs as well. Robert estimated that reinforcing Bella’s training took 30-60 hours over the first three months--about an hour a day. And he still spends 30-45 minutes to get her ready every morning and reinforce things she’ll need to do that day, particularly if she doesn’t do it frequently.
Similarly, Lindsey and Fletcher maintained a continuous training schedule for more than two years of in-person and online classes. And considering that Lindsey was also completing her MBA, moving, orchestrating the remodel of one of the businesses’ locations, managing staff turn-over, and running the family business, there were some days that made prioritizing Fletcher’s training a challenge.
Robert involved two of his staff in Bella’s training to handle her when he’s absent. They know her schedule, her needs, and her commands so she can still work. He emphasized that you can’t take on this work by yourself – you’re serving families and you’re running a business, so you need buy-in from your staff to make it work.
Lindsey agrees that managing staff is key, but never thought about the great impact it would have on them. Funeral directors are often up at all hours, working extended days, and emotionally drained. For Lindsey’s staff, being able to take a moment to pet the dog and play fetch or tug with her has been great.
They’re Still Dogs
One of the most valuable lessons for Lindsey was the need to advocate for Fletcher. His afternoon breaks are key to his well-being, as are mental and physical exercise in the morning to make sure he’s focused for the day. She also stresses that you have to be ready for anything. These dogs might be staff, but they are still animals who tend to sniff people in embarrassing places, lick or scratch themselves without regard to proper etiquette, and must relieve themselves when necessary, so be prepared.
J.P., Lindsey, and Robert agree that this experience is only for those who really love animals, especially dogs. It’s a commitment for the trainer and the entire funeral home. Despite this, everyone concurred that the benefit to their businesses and the families they serve made all the effort worthwhile.
One interesting aspect of the presentation at the symposium was that it moved attendees and panelists to discuss how to memorialize the therapy dog itself after death. These animals have a big impact in the community and bring people in to the funeral home. Robert recommended having a plan to begin training a new dog for continuum of care for the community. Lindsey mentioned how a professional colleague who has maintained several therapy animals holds services and invites other bereft pet owners to come in to memorialize together. J.P. emphasized the service, the memorial, and the final placement.
This post is excerpted from Robert Hunsaker, Lindsey Ballard and J.P. DiTroia’s Therapy Animal panel at CANA’s 2018 Cremation Symposium. Save the Date for CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium: February 26-28, 2020 at the Paris Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Robert Hunsaker, co-founder of Hunsaker Partners, has been involved in the funeral industry his entire life, as his father was a funeral director and they were living in a funeral home when he was born. From an early age, he has worked for a memorial park and a group of funeral homes. He finds great satisfaction in helping families during a very difficult time of their lives and enjoys establishing relationships with all those he is honored to serve. Robert has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Weber State University and has worked in sales and executive positions for several companies that serve the funeral industry, including: Batesville Casket Company, Great Western Insurance Company, Service Corporation International and SinoSource International, Inc. Robert serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
Lindsey Ballard is a third-generation funeral director and owner of Ballard-Sunder Funeral & Cremation in Minnesota. She loves her work and is passionate about creating personalized and meaningful services for the families she works with. Lindsey is always looking for new and inventive ways to serve her community, including the work she does with her dog, Fletcher. Lindsey serves on the Cremation Association of North America board of directors.
J.P. DiTroia serves as President of the U.S. Columbarium Co. at Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, NY and has worked there since 1967. He served on the Board of the Metropolitan Cemetery Association for 9 years and is now co-chair of the Cremation Committee. He presently serving on the Board of the New York State Association of Cemeteries. He has been a committee member of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association since 1979. His therapy dog’s name is Gina.J.P. serves on the Cremation Association of North America Membership Advisory Group.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Updated: Monday, June 24, 2019
This year at the CANA convention, I’m proud to cover a new topic on how we all serve our cremation families. As a group, we value the presence of the person and often encourage the family to see their loved one for not only identification purposes, but also because we know that the experience can be valuable in grief processing. We discuss this concept from a “front of the house” perspective often, but what does it mean to our prep room staff?
All of us who are in funeral service and caring for the dead are well aware that they come to us in various conditions. We also know that it is our job to observe these various conditions and prepare them in a way that is suitable for whatever disposition they are going to have. The industry term for preparation without embalming is “minimal care” however, that does not mean our efforts should be minimal. If we consider the most thorough method of preparation embalming, we can use it as our benchmark. However, not everyone gets embalmed, but that doesn’t mean that any preparation we do should not meet the highest level of care that embalming provides.
An Ethical Approach
Those of you who are reading this are likely embalmers (or know embalmers), so you are well aware that embalmers feel very strongly about giving the correct treatment to the deceased in their care. However, what does that actually mean, and how does it apply to preparing someone who is not going to be embalmed?
The first step of any thorough embalming is to bathe the person. Not only do we do this for safety reasons, but also to conduct case analysis (see the next section), and have a better understanding of what we are dealing with.
Embalmers are sometimes told by institutional care staff, death investigators, and even sometimes the family that the condition of the body is worse than it actually is, and a thorough bathing can actually create more of a peace of mind rather than reveal problems.
During this phase, all medical devices should be removed whether the person is going to be viewed by their family or no one other than the person placing them in the cremation container. We do this for safety in the crematory, because some implants can explode or melt, but also because used medical devices are trash and should be disposed of properly. A reasonable embalmer removes all of the medical devices they can from a person before presenting them, and if this is our ethical standard of care, then this should be done regardless. You wouldn’t expect a person to be buried with garbage, in fact the idea is repulsive.
One of the first things embalmers do when presented with a body is their case analysis. We observe the physical condition of the body in order to decide our strategy for fluid selection, feature setting, and dealing with any possible unknowns that may occur during the embalming such as swelling, purge, etc. But, if we are not embalming, what can we do? In this case, we still observe any pathological or other medical treatment outcomes this person may have. Medical devices should be removed and dealt with, and lesions should be treated appropriately with surface preservation (if allowed), sutured, or wrapped in bandages to prevent leakage.
By definition, embalming is always mutilation, which is one of the reasons we have to receive permission from the family before doing it. However, we embalmers bristle at this idea, because we are not in the business of mutilating people, we are preparing them for the most difficult event in a family’s life. We rectify this more negative perception by always minimizing the number of invasive procedures necessary, and we do so in a way that is careful and surgical.
Believe it or not, embalmers must have a bedside manner even though their patients have no idea how – or even that – they are being treated. We know how they are being treated. When we are preparing an individual who is not going to be embalmed, we always have to consider the technique we are using and recognize what is surgical and what is mutilation.
Further, perhaps one of the reasons a family is choosing not to have someone embalmed is because they do not recognize the care we put into it. Exceptional care of the deceased and proper bedside manner in any invasive procedure is not only ethical but respects the family’s wishes as well.
The Practical Approach
So now we have established three points on what to set our benchmark at when caring for an individual, but how do we apply this to a more practical manner? Presupposing compliance with all OSHA regulations and Universal and Standard Precautions, as well as observing the family’s wishes, providing minimal care does not mean compromising the quality of your care for their loved one.
To create a basis for our continued conversation on best practices of care, I have created an outline for you to consider. The outline described below is just that, an outline. This list is not meant to define limitations on best practices, but rather create marks on a spectrum.
When it comes to embalming, the word “clean” is often used interchangeably with the word “disinfected.” So how does that apply here? Closely observing and cleaning the person often uncovers medical outcomes such as bedsores or fluid pockets that are the result of the ante mortem or post mortem settling of fluids. Furthermore, moving the body from one side to another will reveal possible purge that may have not been otherwise apparent when the person was lying supine. There are different levels of cleanliness that may be available based on what the family wishes and what is possible based on the condition of the body.
- Basic disinfection: Basic disinfection procedures should be taken regardless of whether or not a family is planning to view their loved one. This would include the removal of all medical devices and bandages, surface disinfection using a spray, and removal from a soiled container into a clean one.
Mid-Level disinfection: This would include all of the above listed steps in addition to bathing the person, including washing their hair. Once the person has been thoroughly dried, it would also include the replacement of bandages over punctures from medical devices, and suturing of any surgical incisions. It would also include the draining of any fluid pockets that have formed. Orifices should be packed with cotton.
Thorough disinfection: Thorough disinfection includes all of the above steps, but it would also allow for some chemical preservation. While it may not call for vascular injection of embalming fluids, there is the possibility of surface embalming of any lesions, treatment of drained fluid pockets, the chemical cauterization of any surgical incisions, and the chemical treatment of any artifacts of medical device removal. Cotton for packing orifices can be coated in a topical preservative.
When preparing an individual at any level of service, we must consider the techniques we are using and ensure that they are appropriate based on family directions.
When caring for a loved one whose family has requested minimal care, we have to be sure not to be mired in our own hubris, but rather consider if our course of treatment is going to go well for our case. We must also consider our bedside manner matches the wishes of the family; are the procedures we are using in accordance with their wishes? If a family desires to view their loved one prior to disposition, but requests the least invasive techniques possible, do we understand what that means and are we able to execute that? For example, when closing the mouth in this situation, are you using a dental tie as opposed to a needle injector? Are you opting to use cotton to close the eyes as opposed to an eye cap? This is evaluated during case analysis and applied through bedside manner.
As funeral service purveyors, we are all very cognizant of the importance of the body and how it is honored. Just because a person has chosen not to be embalmed, does not mean we need to negate the philosophy of care that embalming entails. By observing these best practices, we can provide better customer service to our families in the assurance that their loved one will be cared for in a skilled and thoughtful manner.
Join embalmers and educators Damon de la Cruz, PhD and Ben Schmidt as they discuss best practices for preparing a decedent for identification, short term viewing, and cremation at CANA's 101st Cremation Innovation Convention. This lecture will include a discussion of safe handling procedures, the removal of medical devices, dressing, and cosmetizing deceased individuals. Ben and Damon will also differentiate between invasive and non-invasive procedures and the grey areas in between, sponsored by Ring Ring Marketing.
CANA's Annual Cremation Innovation Convention heads to Louisville, KY to bring together professionals across the funeral profession – funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, cremation societies, and combos. Like CANA, Louisville celebrates a storied history even as it embraces its exhilarating future, making for the perfect pairing of location and association. Whether your thing is horse racing, whiskey, baseball, or shopping, you’ll find it in this charming city. Convention activities including social events, programming and exhibit time in the cremation innovation trade show merge seamlessly, keeping you on your toes and focused on the finish line.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Ben Schmidt is an instructor at Worsham College of Mortuary Science where he teaches Embalming Theory and Lab, Restorative Art Theory and Lab, Funeral Directing, and Funeral Service History. In addition to his duties there, he is the co-creator of MorTraqr, a web application for tracking embalming and funeral directing tasks. Furthermore, he is co-author of the textbook Creating Natural Form; Restorative Art Theory and Application. Follow the creation of the textbook, the further developments of Mortraqr, and the antics of his two year old son on Instagram @mortraqr.
processes and procedures
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Many funeral directors are facing more and more direct cremations with no services. They are at a loss as to how to overcome that trend. There are many ideas, theories, notions and educated guesses as to why families choose cremation. Cost. Environmental footprint. Control. Convenience. Lack of information. Religious affiliation, or lack thereof. All of those certainly are factors and can play a part in any one person’s decision. So we are going to look at the three Big C’s in Cremation.
I would like to go back in time to the early ‘60s when cremation first came on the profession’s radar, and find that first funeral director who said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t charge as much for this since I’m not embalming or casketing” and take him out. I’m not a violent person by nature, but really?? That idea got started somewhere and we all just went along with it. Sure, let’s charge less for something that takes just as much time to accomplish, has much more liability, and requires just as much staff involvement. That makes perfect business sense.
Within that nonsense also was created the message to families that they were somehow lesser-thans or 2nd class funeral customers. I actually worked for an owner who said to families, “We bury our dead, we burn our trash.”
Because we didn’t take these families seriously and did not take their needs for a meaningful funeral service to heart, they left. Why would I pay $8,000 to someone who thinks I’m not as important as the people who buy the box? I can be ignored at the $695 box-and-burn immediate disposer who is more than willing to take my money and do nothing else for me.
Families are hiring us to perform a service. If I hire an orthopedist to perform surgery on my shoulder, his price is for the surgery. He doesn’t talk about which instruments he might have to use or the amount of time it might take or how many nurses will have to be in the room. He says, “This is my price to fix your shoulder.” Why can’t we have a price for body preparation? Yes, we’d have to figure out the correct GPL language but we could certainly have more productive conversations with our client families if we didn’t have an if/then/or approach to pricing.
Yes, for a small group of people the cremation choice is made based upon cost. But the large majority are choosing cremation based upon control. These people have attended bad services in their past and are determined that they are not going to go to another one. If I have a burial, then I’m beholden to the funeral director to get the casket from point A to point B and so I’m stuck with whatever service is offered to me. I can’t throw the casket in the back of my car and drive off and arrange a service that fits me. But I can walk out with an urn in my hand and have control over the type of service that I hold.
We’ve all been to “bad” services. The cookie-cutter, insert name here, hope someone says the name correctly, impersonal ritual that offers nothing about the person and what his death will mean to those mourning his loss. Every time one of these boring, hurtful or meaningless services occurs, another immediate disposition/no service is created. People say “When I die, don’t do that!”
Cremation offers a choice, a sense of control over what happens in a memorial service. Does that mean that most are held at someone’s house or at a bar or a restaurant with toasts and stories? Probably. Does that mean that the value of having a gathering that celebrates the life and explores the grief and provides a guidepost for mourning the loss is lost? Definitely.
Once I served as a Celebrant for an 80 year-old-man who died of suicide. It was a difficult service, but we honored his life and talked about the depression over health issues that caused him to make such a choice. We discussed what the grief journey was going to look like for those who were trying to make sense of the death. We encouraged the standing room only crowd to be an integral part of the family’s next steps as they turned tears into memories. It was a pretty good service.
That afternoon I received an email from a woman who was in attendance begging me for a copy of the service. This lady tracked me down and said she needed a copy of my words. So, I asked the family for permission and I sent her a copy.
Her backstory was this—her son died of a heroin overdose and her daughter, his twin, died of suicide four years before. They did not have funerals either time. They cremated, then met at a restaurant and told stories. They did not trust that someone could handle such delicate and hard situations, so they just avoided. She needed those words to help her on her own grief journey. This happens hundreds of times across the country to our Celebrants.
Because the celebrant is a ceremony expert, focused solely on the ceremony and often devoting much more time to the ceremony than funeral directors and clergy can, the celebrant can be a tremendous resource. What celebrants offer can even be attractive to those who initially think they don’t want a ceremony at all.
—Diane Gansauer, Director of Celebrant Services, SCI Colorado Funeral Services in Metro Denver
Until we change the service experience for those families, they will continue to walk away. Our pricing, our lovely chapels, our offers of assistance—they’ve been there and done that and don’t trust us to be able to do something that is meaningful.
Which brings us to the final C:
My bedrock message is “Celebrants can change your business, Celebrants can change your families, Celebrants can bring your cremation families back to your firm.”
The religious landscape of our country is changing. The percentage of people who identify as a “None”—not religiously affiliated, not engaged with a church—is rapidly growing. Statistics from the Pew Research report show that almost 25% of the overall population now considers themselves “nones” and over 35% of millennials are disenfranchised with religious experiences.
This has incredible implications for funeral service. Some funerals homes have stained glass windows, Bibles in the foyer, hymns on the speakers and scriptures on their websites. There is nothing wrong with having an ability to serve your religious families, but today anywhere from 25% to 80% of your community does not identify or resonate with those representations. If all you have to offer is a minister and a religious experience, they are going elsewhere.
High “nones” equal high cremation rates. It’s just that simple.
The greatest impact a Celebrant can have with a family is the one on one interview time, an opportunity to sit down and become part of the decedent’s family, by hearing and learning first-hand about the life of their loved one, and sharing a personal glimpse into the life of the decedent with friends and family at the funeral service. That is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to the family. Out of that experience comes the most gracious of compliments that you will ever receive, which is to hear at the conclusion of the service how well you knew the loved one. The Celebrant experience gives you that opportunity to serve the family in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
—Kevin Hull, Vice President and Location Manager, Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home
Celebrants are the answer for a majority of your cremation families. So many of them are not offered any options by their funeral professional. So, they either opt for the rent-a-minister or do nothing. Another immediate disposition walks out of the door.
When someone attends a service where every word of the service is focused on the life, on the family, and on the grief experience, their decisions can change significantly. “Oh. . .we can have this kind of service? Then I’m willing to talk to the funeral director about paying for THAT” Over 50% of the services I perform through referrals from funeral homes in my city come from someone who attended another service and came back and asked for that Celebrant. People pay for value. People pay for meaning. People pay for gatherings that heal.
My friend, Ernie Heffner from York, PA, ran numbers on his Celebrant services and found that cremation families who used a Celebrant spent 36% more on other goods and services. It’s not about the money. It’s about the value, the experience, the assurance that someone is going to hear their stories, to honor the life and work with them to put together a service that fits them. People pay for meaning.
I did a service for a man in his 40’s who drank himself to death. He left an estranged wife, a 19 year old daughter, 18 year old son, and a brother who was a recovering alcoholic himself. This meant two hours of slogging through a lot of baggage and feelings to get to the stories and to give them permission to say what was needed. But we put together a service that honored his life while being honest about his struggles and his demons.
After the service, the brother handed me a thank you card with $300 in it. The funeral home had already given me a check for my Celebrant fee of $400. I said, “Oh, you’ve already paid me.” He said, “Please just take it.” The card read “Thank you for performing J’s service and I especially thank you for the time you spent with us Sunday evening. I’m hoping it provided as much healing to the others as it did for me. Thank you.” People pay for healing gatherings.
In today’s world, the most crucial element in helping a family lies in the ability of the Celebrant to actively listen and recreate what they have heard into something with meaning and value. Celebrant Training is funeral service’s best option to develop the skills to become an outstanding funeral professional. At our firm, all of our funeral directors must go through the Celebrant Training so they can understand the importance and value of working with our Celebrants to help the families have a truly outstanding experience. This is especially important for cremation families that are looking for something other than traditional services. Celebrant Services play a major role in making Krause Funeral Homes a place of exceptional funerals.
—Mark Krause, President
Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service
We’ve been saying this since 1999: Families need a service to begin their grief journey in a healthy and honest way. Unless we are willing to provide the professionals and the services that they are looking for, they are going to walk away. When families have options, funeral homes are going to lose every time unless their option is better, more appealing and soul touching.
Looking at everything we do when it comes to serving the cremation family—pricing, style of service, presentation of choices, availability to Celebrants who can do exactly what the family wants and needs – is the only way that full-service funeral professionals are going to stay in business. How we deal with all of the C words will determine how much farther down the road we get to travel.
CANA is partnering with Glenda Stansbury and the InSight Institute for the second time this July to offer Celebrant Training. Limited to 40 attendees, this course packs a lot of information, emotion, and training into three days but is increasingly considered a must for the most successful businesses in the US.
Learn more about this class coming to Louisville, Kentucky from July 29-31 and register online.
Glenda Stansbury joined InSight in 1996 as Marketing & Development Director. She has worked as an educator, teacher trainer, and seminar developer. She is a practicing Celebrant, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma Funeral Department and is a licensed funeral director/embalmer. Glenda is available for speaking to funeral professionals at state and national conventions or for private staff training. For more information, contact Glenda at email@example.com.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Arguing. Fighting. Physical violence. Destruction of property. Extreme denial. When I ask funeral professionals about their most difficult challenges, I frequently hear about extreme behaviors in the arrangement room. Not only are the stories jaw-dropping, but they seem to be getting worse and more common over the years. In the face of anger and rudeness, it can be difficult to generate empathy for the bereaved. That’s why I think it is valuable to do our best to understand the source of these extreme behaviors. We may be able to be more patient and gracious if we understand what is causing these behaviors.
One way to make sense of these behaviors is through the lens of “defense mechanisms” – a concept originally developed by Freud. When you hear the name “Sigmund Freud,” you might immediately dismiss anything developed by a pipe-smoking, sex-obsessed, Viennese physician from the early 1900s. Even as a psychologist myself, Freud isn’t my favorite guy; I believe many of his perspectives are outdated, misogynistic, and outright wrong. However, some of his theories and perspectives have stood the test of time and can provide valuable insights into human motivation and behavior. I hope you will continue reading to discover if these 3 examples of defense mechanisms match your experiences in the arrangement room. I suspect you will discover that you actually agree with Freud on several of these concepts.
While I love giving a good lecture on Freud (seriously, just give this former college professor half a chance…), we don’t have the time or space for a full exploration of defense mechanisms. In a nutshell, Freud said all people use defense mechanisms to reduce anxiety or mental discomfort. Most of the time, these defense mechanisms are relatively normal and healthy; they only become problematic when they are used in extreme ways. For example, “denial” is one of the most commonly used defense mechanisms. A common experience of denial related to bereavement is when you reach for your phone to call a loved one, only to quickly remember they are deceased.
There’s absolutely nothing abnormal or pathological about this – our brains are simply used to them being alive and it takes a moment for that reality to reappear. On the other end of the continuum of denial is an extreme reaction. For example, when the police find that a family still has grandpa sitting at the dining room table – eight months after he died. All defense mechanisms can be viewed on a continuum; mild and common uses of reducing anxiety and pain or extreme situations when the individual’s reaction is much more dramatic and often pathological.
It is important to note that defense mechanisms are largely unconscious responses. Or put another way, these are not deliberate or premeditated strategies. They still hurt if you are on the receiving end, but I don’t want you to think these are intentional efforts designed to attack others. They are the unconscious reactions of someone trying to deal with painful thoughts and emotions.
Although Freud and his daughter, Anna, described several dozen defense mechanisms, we are going to focus on three that you may see in the arrangement room: displacement, projection, and reaction formation.
Like denial, displacement is a very commonly used defense mechanism. Displacement is when we take the angry or aggressive impulses toward one person and “displace” them on another, usually safer, target. For example, let’s say your boss yells at you and it makes you angry. You realize that it isn’t smart to strike back at your boss, so you go home and yell at your spouse, yell at your kids, or kick the dog as a way to displace your anger onto a ‘safer’ target. (I fully realize that getting angry at your spouse may not be a “safer” target – this is just an example. Also, don’t kick dogs.)
A common example of displacement in funeral service is when the bereaved are angry at the deceased. Perhaps the deceased wasn’t a kind person. Perhaps the bereaved are angry that the deceased didn’t take better care of themselves or go to get a check-up when they suggested it. But even though they are angry, Western culture states that it is not acceptable to “speak ill of the dead.” So where does that anger and frustration go? Sometimes it goes to a “safe target” like the funeral professional. They may assume they won’t see you after the services conclude and therefore you are a safe target for their anger – even if you haven’t done a thing to deserve it. Have you had situations where the bereaved are angry at you for no apparent reason?
Have you ever had someone accuse you of only caring about money? A second defense mechanism, projection, might be a part of their response. Projection is the process of taking our own feelings and thoughts that make us uncomfortable and then dealing with them by projecting them onto someone else. A common example of projection is when we deal with our own self-hate by projecting that view onto others. Projection takes “I don’t like myself” and turns it into, “He/She hates me for no reason” or “Everybody hates me.” It reduces our anxiety and negative self-worth to suggest it is coming from others, not from oneself.
Here are some examples of what a person might be feeling and how they may project that onto the funeral professional:
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m curious about death and death-related procedures, but am worried about how others will judge my curiosity.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you so obsessed with death!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I’m so angry at my mother for not taking better care of my father and look what happened.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “Why are you treating my mother so badly!”
Bereaved individual’s thought: “I wonder how much this is going to cost. I could desperately use some extra money right now.”
Projected onto funeral professional: “You’re only obsessed with money!”
A third defense mechanism that may arise in funeral situations is the use of reaction formation. Reaction formation is when a person takes a thought or feeling that is uncomfortable and attempts to convince themselves (and others) that they don’t really have that view by making an extravagant display that is the opposite of their true feelings. For example, if a man found himself sexually attracted to his best friend’s wife, he might deal with the anxiety caused by those feelings by suggesting that he doesn’t like her at all. (We see an example of this exact scenario in the movie Love Actually: It’s a self-preservation thing, you see.).
In funeral scenarios, reaction formations arise when the bereaved hates the deceased yet acts as if they were perfect. The bereaved reacts by choosing extravagant funeral products and having an elaborate funeral. Freud would suggest this individual is attempting to convince themselves that their feelings of hate don’t exist. Of course, later the bereaved individual may resolve those feelings of hate and wonder why they spent so much on an elaborate funeral. I suspect this is when they unfairly turn the blame on the funeral professional and say things like, “You tricked me into spending a fortune on the funeral!”
In the Arrangement Room
While many other defense mechanisms come into play, these are three that appear frequently. After learning about these defense mechanisms a natural question is, “How does a funeral professional respond in these situations?” That is the focus of my presentation: “Defusing Conflict in the Arrangement Room: Strategies from Family Therapists” at the CANA’s 101st Annual Cremation Innovation Convention. I will be reviewing how funeral professionals can better understand the conflict that sometimes arises in the arrangement process as well as strategies funeral professionals can use to defuse these situations. I hope to see you there!
With a wide range of valuable networking and educational opportunities, the CANA Convention features sessions from presenters carefully chosen to make the most of your time away from the office and ensure you leave with practical takeaways.
We can’t wait to welcome Dr. Troyer to the CANA stage in Louisville this August. See what else CANA has planned for our 101st Cremation Innovation Convention: goCANA.org/CANA19.
Can’t join us? We’ll have recordings available so you don’t miss out on this amazing content.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a grief expert, author, former psychology professor, and therapist. He provides grief support newsletters, Facebook content, and informational videos at www.GriefPlan.com/funeral. He also provides community presentations, professional workshops, and trainings on behalf of funeral homes and cemeteries. Dr. Troyer can be reached at DrJasonTroyer@gmail.com.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2019
At CANA’s 100th Cremation Innovation, Rick Baldwin and John McQueen took the stage to share their strategies for selling across multiple brands in a high cremation market. Their presentation discussed decades of changes in the marketplace, a history of trials and successes, and business strategies crafted in the trenches of Florida’s dramatically expanding cremation rate.
This post features highlights from John McQueen’s presentation that specifically address market domination via brand segmentation.
Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home
I want to give you a little bit of perspective about where we came from. Our father started our funeral home in 1952. It was a typical traditional family funeral home. He passed away when I was 22. I was very blessed to have a very intelligent brother who was in the business with me. We were two young guys, we were able to figure out “What are we going to do in the future going forward?” We continued to grow our traditional business.
Around 1997, we realized that our consumer was starting to change. The consumer of yesterday was mostly happy with an average product or average service. I even remember when I started in the business, the training program that Batesville used to instruct us for our casket presentation was “This is our average bronze casket” or “our average wood.” Everybody wanted to be average. It was a more product-focused industry in the past. We wanted to sell the casket, we wanted to do all that. Nowadays the products have become less and less important to the consumer.
By 1999, when we were getting ready to open our low cost alternative, we had figured out that the consumers had migrated to the two ends of the spectrum. So it kind of made that middle collapse. Basically, you have the price-seeking consumer on one end and the solution-seeking consumer on the other end. One of the problems with this, in our opinion, is that’s where the traditional funeral home lies—in the middle.
The Profit Zone
There’s a book out there called The Profit Zone, and they talk about how, over the last 15 years, the winners in the marketplace have been the price discounters. Those with the low-cost position. Walmart is the example.
The next is the superstores. Those that have a particular focus, along with a low cost combination. The best example of that would probably be Best Buy. If you want electronics, go to Best Buy. They have everything and anything you could possibly think of, and they have it at a really great price.
The third winner in the marketplace is the high-end specialists, those that differentiate themselves from everybody else in the market. They charge a premium price to do so. The best examples of those would be L.L. Bean, Ritz-Carlton, Harley-Davidson, Starbucks. You could throw Zappos in there.
Think about how scientific jargon and bureaucratic language could have killed the inspiration of the moment if they’d crept in. As a Harley owner myself, you can own any motorcycle out there. I can buy a motorcycle that’s a lot cheaper than that Harley-Davidson—but it’s not a Harley. You gotta be part of that class, part of that family. So they’re able to command that bigger price to do so.
To give you a couple other examples of firms that have used this, you have the Marriott International Corporation. They actually are the largest hotel corporation in the world from a profit standpoint, with the exception of MGM. But then again, MGM has casinos associated with them, so that revenue helps them out a little bit there. At the top, Marriott has their Ritz Carlton, in the middle they have their Courtyards, and at the bottom they have their Fairfield Inns. At every one of their locations, you get a quality night’s sleep. They’re going to assure you of that. But the amenities that go along with each of those tiers vary greatly. To give you an idea, they have 5,400 properties around the world with about 1.1 million room nights. Their revenues on an annual basis are about $15 billion as of 2017.
Another business is Swatch Watch Group. They started out as the firewall brand for Blancpain and Harry Winston, as the top Swiss watch company out there in the marketplace. Those are still their top Swiss watches, but they saw that they were losing market share because these other companies were coming in at a much cheaper price because they were able to undersell them. So they started Swatch. Swatch has grown so big now thought that they actually changed the name of the parent company. Now they’re the Swatch Watch Group, and they’ve rolled out a new low cost brand, which is their Flik Flak, for the younger children, to pull them into the loop. Their revenues last year were greater than $7.5 billion in watch sales. This model works in many industries.
Multiple Firms, One Market
We ended up adopting a similar business model, but we wanted to avoid cannibalization. We have multiple firms in the same marketplace. We don’t want to cannibalize that existing firm at the top because that’s where we maximize most of our profits. How do we avoid doing that? We need to differentiate ourselves – with location, hours of operation, pricing method, marketing and branding, but never staff. It’s just as important that the staff at your low-cost brand is as on-the-game as at the top end of the brand.
I will tell you on my final note for you here that as you move forward into this world, if that’s what you want to do, there’s some roadwork ahead for you. You need to forget some of those things that made you great at your high-end brand because things operate differently in that low-end spectrum. But you do want to borrow from your high-end brand. So you can use your back-end operations, share some of those commodities together. It’s a black limousine going on a funeral. Who cares where it came from, right? You can share that, you can share the crematory, you can share the preparation room. Those kind of things you borrow from one another.
But most importantly, I’ve found over the years, with the low-end brands especially, you have to be able to adapt. You’ve got to be nimble, you’ve got to be able to move quickly. If the market starts to shift or something you’re doing’s not quite working right, then you need to tweak it and move forward. Don’t just stay stuck in the road.
The Kia Effect
I’m going to finish with the biggest failure in funeral service today. It’s what I call the Kia Effect. I read more and more articles and hear more and more new consultants that have come into our industry. They all want to tell us that nobody values a funeral any more nowadays. Everybody wants cheap, cheap, cheap. If you’re not the cheap guy in the market, then you’re not going to be successful.
I’m here to tell you that I don’t believe that. Our high-end brand grew more market share over the last two years than our low-cost brands did. We ended up generating about another additional million dollars out of that high-end brand over those last few years than we were doing with our low-end brand. So, it is growing. But, the difference is, you need to be on your game if you’re going to have that high-end brand. You’ve got to be able to show the value to the customer, explain to them what we do, explain why we do it, how we do it, and really educate the consumer on that. If we do that, we’ll continue to have the business at the top end as well as picking up the business at the bottom end.
This post excerpted from Rick Baldwin and John McQueen’s presentation at CANA’s 100th Cremation Innovation Convention. The full presentation, including Rick’s contrasting strategy of “Simple and Easy,” is available on demand from CANA’s online learning platform. Members can also read a version of the full presentation in The Cremationist, Vol. 54 Iss. 3 titled “Local Innovation: Selling Across Multiple Brands in a High Cremation Market.”
The CANA Convention is known for highlighting local innovation each year. At the 101st Cremation Innovation Convention this summer in Louisville, Kentucky, Gwen Mooney and Michael Higgs of the historic Cave Hill Cemetery will discuss how the cemetery and its foundation work strategically to actively sell cemetery property and build community engagement – all through the "Art of Story.” Learn more about this session and what else CANA has planned and register now: GoCANA.org/CANA19
John McQueen is a 2nd generation funeral director and embalmer in Florida. Like many next gens, John started out working in the family business at an early age. Upon his father’s untimely death, John took over running the funeral operations when he was 22, along with his brother Bill and sister Maggi. In 2010, John bought out his siblings and together with his wife, Nikki, continued to grow the operations into the largest family-owned funeral home in Florida. Known as the “idea guy,” John and his team are always on the cutting edge of innovation within the profession. John has been active in numerous state and national associations serving in all capacities.
John sold his company to Foundation Partners Group in August 2017 and is excited about being a part of the FPG family. John and Nikki just released their book, Lessons from the Dead: Breathing Life into Customer Service which shares many of the customer service techniques they use, as well as some from other well known companies, to deliver exceptional service.