Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, July 2, 2020
You know, there are so many things we can’t control right now, and for most of us, that makes us anxious. But I want to encourage you with this: In each moment of your life, you have the ability to change yourself and those around you in profound ways.
No matter the time.
No matter the day.
No matter the circumstance.
Even amid moments of uncertainty, like the one we find ourselves in right now.
In moments that seem out of our control, there’s always something that’s within it: our perspective. I like to say that I’m a Spiritual Pragmatist, which means that while I appreciate believing in a higher power and it’s guidance and influence in our lives, I also believe in action and doing, to bring about success and happiness. It’s about having balance, and part of having that balance means that we have to be conscious and mindful of how we’re showing up and how that influences any given situation, including the one we’re amid right now.
I spent 20 years as a funeral director and embalmer; I like to say that everything I’ve ever learned, I learned from dying. One would think that a career surrounded by death would have taught me a lot about dying, but in fact it taught me so much about life, and gifted to me the most beautiful lessons. Ones that, in moments like this, come through with crystal clarity and enable me to put into action the behaviours that can ground me, even amid all of the uncertainty.
Efficient Vs Effective
My British, tea-totting grandmother used to say, “Good tea steeps.” My grandmother knew the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. For her, there was no such thing as an efficient way to make tea; there was only an effective way. Can you make tea by dropping a tea bag into a mug of water and putting it in the microwave for ninety seconds? You can, sure. But, according to her, that’s not going to make a delicious cup of tea.
A drive-through car wash is efficient, but you might enjoy the therapeutic process of washing your car by hand. Ordering takeout is an adequate way to put dinner on the table, but a great satisfaction comes with preparing a meal from scratch yourself. Sending a friend a text message to see how they’re doing is an economic use of time, but it’s not quite the same as picking up the phone and talking.
As a society, we are consumed by efficiency, collectively racing from one thing to the other and from one person to the next. Being able to make the rush seem effortless is perceived as honorable. Those who work the most are revered, as though the most stressed-out person will be awarded a trophy. Sometimes you have to choose the efficient way; there’s no denying that. But we could all try a little harder to choose the effective way more often, especially when it comes to our relationships. How do we do that when we are in the throes of the hustle or in the midst of chaos? We pause.
Most of life’s magic happens in moments of pause. We need to stop and re-centre in order to reach a state of conscious awareness. Pausing helps us to slow down and plan our time more effectively, so that we create more meaning in our lives. The way my grandmother did with her tea. Normally I would profess the importance of creating the space to do this, and so often, and I’m including myself, we struggle to find the time to do it.
Now, we’re at a place in time where the world has quite literally slowed down. So many of us are sequestered away in our homes, adjusting to a world where physical distancing is common place, and life outside of our homes has come to a grinding halt. Is there time in your day to create the space to reinvest in something that brings you joy? It wasn’t that long ago that many of us likely caught ourselves complaining that we didn’t have enough time in a day, or that we were missing out on things in life: missing quality time with our children, missing time for the gym, missing time to just sit and read. There are likely many more things you could add to this list.
While we adjust to this new normal we find ourselves in, try to negotiate some time for you to invest in ‘the pause’, even if that time is spent on an activity like reading a book, or moving your body, meditating or sitting in prayer. Whatever it is that fills your cup, it’s important to realize that in order to be of service to others, we have to spend time investing in ourselves.
The late, great Jim Rohn once said that we’re each a reflection of those with whom we spend the most time, so the key to being your best self is to be surrounded by those who support and inspire you. I like to call these my “finger snap people.” They’re the ones with whom you feel an instant attraction, as quickly as you can snap your fingers. More often than not, you can’t quite distinguish exactly what it is that draws you to them, but their energy is like a magnet. There’s something about their character that causes you to be perfectly content with who you are, while also inspiring you to seek ways to be a better version of yourself. And when you find these like-minded individuals, hold on to them tightly, because you are much more powerful together than alone.
We might be physically distant from one another right now, but that doesn’t stop us from taking advantage of the incredible technology that helps us stay connected. I would encourage you to reach out to one of your ‘finger snap people’. Make that phone call, send that email, heck, you can even watch a movie together over video chat. Will it be perfect? Maybe not, but you’re connecting to people that matter, at a time when connection matters. I promise that you’ll feel a little better afterwards, because people need people and we’re all in this together. We don’t have to make grand gestures. The most meaningful moments can happen in the simplest of ways.
Sometimes, allowing someone the space to be seen and heard is the one thing they need the most, as they navigate their new normal right now. If that person is you, your community, your go-to people, are the ones you can rely on, no matter what. Just ask. I suspect they’ll be there, in the snap of a finger. There’s no question that the world we find ourselves in today, isn’t the world we were in not that long ago. There’s also no question that through it all – the up’s, downs and all-arounds – if we just remember that our perspective can shift everything, we suddenly find ourselves with more control than we might have believed we ever had.
If there’s one thing I believe, it’s that everything we’ve ever been taught about legacy – either consciously or unconsciously, is that it’s something that there once we’re gone – once we’re dead. I also know that when we shift the narrative around legacy, from something we leave to something we live, every single day, we can realize the power of understanding the impact we’re making - while we’re still here. I’ve seen first hand how that shift can help us realize the depth and breadth of that impact, help define our purpose and help us live our everyday legacy. When we realize that the way we show up in the world today, is the way we’ll be remembered tomorrow, we transform not only our relationship with the world around us, but also with ourselves in that world.
For all the chaos that COVID-19 has caused in the world, it’s powerful to see humanity band together for the greater-good – living with purpose, on purpose and showing how marrying that with compassion can be so incredibly powerful.
Codi Shewan will Keynote CANA’s Virtual Cremation Convention and Trade Show this August. The first 100 registered attendees will receive a free copy of his new book, Living Your Everyday Legacy, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Kyber Columbarium. But that’s not all – our sponsors are making sure that this virtual event has swag bags to make this a fun experience. Register soon!
This post first appeared in the EverLearn Associates blog, available here. Watch a video of this message here:
Codi Shewan, CFSP, CCP is the President & Founder of EverLearn Associates, a full service, comprehensive management consulting firm, for the funeral and cemetery profession – aimed at engaging and building dynamic teams and successful businesses. Operating across North America, EverLearn Associates is known for aligning closely with clients to provide tailored solutions, which overcome their operational challenges and align their business goals with success. Working with some of the professions finest operators, EverLearn Associates focuses on the tenet of ‘People first; always.’ and has enveloped that philosophy in all of our consulting lines of business; HR, marketing, business strategy, and digital solutions.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020
Lately, we’ve all had to reassess the way we do things. Talking to people in your community is different now that most of it isn’t done face-to-face. Fortunately, you can still make meaningful connections, just a in a new way. We must now lean more heavily than ever on technology to connect with our communities.
During social distancing, the ways you used to engage and connect with your families don’t always work, but you know grieving families need your support now more than ever. Grief just can’t wait, and families need you as a guide. As a funeral director, you’re already a problem solver, so think about lending support to those grieving in a way you never have before. Think differently, and think digitally.
Here are five strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing so you can continue to serve your families in an effective and valuable way.
1. Host virtual events
If events were part of your marketing outreach before the pandemic, make them part of your efforts now, too. Just make them digital. When you plan digital events, thinking outside the box goes a long way. We’ve seen a number of firms use digital events to engage with their community and keep their outreach going. For instance, you can use inexpensive apps to engage your community online. You can learn more about how Guam Windward Memorial did just that in this interview using digital scavenger hunts coupled with community bingo sessions.
These fun-focused events engage your community and highlight your brand rather than directly marketing preneed or at-need services. When creating virtual events focused on engagement, spend a little time brainstorming things your community likes to do and how you can create a digital space to come together around those things. It could be a sport, a community landmark, or a recurring community event like a parade.
If you are ready to dive back into preneed events, hosting digital ones provides an opportunity to personalize your education more than you did in the past. When you host an in-person preneed event, most firms need to reach a broad audience for better attendance since in-person events take more resources (cost, set up, time, etc.) than digital ones. However, when hosting a virtual preneed event using a video conference call, like Zoom, less prep is required so you can hyper-focus your event. Consider promoting events specifically catering to the needs of a target audience: veterans, religious groups, recent widows or widowers, or any other specific group in your community.
Personalization like this has been proven more effective because people feel you are speaking directly to them and meeting their specific need. Thus, hosting smaller, highly targeted video events increases your chance of winning these individuals over.
2. New ways for people to connect:
Online donation options and digital grief classes
People need each other when they are grieving. Social distancing doesn’t have to stop the connection your community members make with each other after a loved one passes. Think about creating new opportunities for grieving families to receive support using virtual options. For instance, if you’re seeing fewer flower sales since the pandemic, consider adding other donation options. Several companies offer a donation tool that allows people to donate toward gifts or services (we are one of them) and community members love being able to contribute in a new way.
Donations can be made to help the family defray funeral costs, for a meal at home from a favorite local restaurant, for groceries, toward an at-home cleaning service, or for keepsakes or memorials. Having multiple options allows your community to choose what resonates with them, and you are the perfect facilitator to connect a grieving family with this act of kindness from the community.
Many funeral homes offer grief support as part of their aftercare program. Some offer grief support groups. If you’re used to facilitating in-person grief support, take these groups online during times of social distancing. Experiencing a loss during a time when families already feel isolated can make the pain feel worse. Talking about their grief with others will give people the chance to connect around shared experiences. Video services like Zoom or UberConference can be used for these virtual meetings.
3. What works on social media during a pandemic
Your voice on social media is powerful and important. Your families need your reassurance and guiding words to remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. Your typical educational content-based strategy still works, but think about adjusting the perspective in a few ways.
You want to remain thoughtful, positive, and informative with the content you share online. Make sure you are up-to-date on facts you post and always double-check your sources.
Beyond being educational, you can use your social media to inspire and spread hope. A few topics we’ve seen perform well with people during a crisis are inspirational or religious quotes, stress relief tips, coping mechanisms, and helpful resources around mental health and grieving. You can, and should, post details about your pandemic safety practices, changes to your services, hours, etc. on social media, too. However, that should not be the only thing you post.
4. Incorporate email to deepen the conversation
Although social media is a great place to initiate conversation with your families and stay in touch with them, not every message fits the same media channel. As you make connections through social media and other marketing campaigns and build up your contacts, you need to know when to move that conversation to a more private channel.
Your community is happy to see your inspirational posts on Facebook, and these posts are an important part of a solid top-of-mind strategy or conversation starter. Next, you want to deepen the conversation and build a stronger relationship. To do that, you need to move things to a private channel. Enter: a stronger email marketing plan.
Email marketing can help bridge the gap between connections on social media and an in-person or phone meeting. Using email to draw people in with a more meaningful message allows you to create a more personal conversation. Plus, people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves or asking questions via email than on a Facebook post.
Ideally, you’re already sending a newsletter to your email list. In addition, segment your audience into different categories so you can send additional emails targeted at their specific interests. Some categories might be: Christians, recently widowed, veterans, losing a parent, losing a loved one to addiction or overdose, etc. Creating segmented email campaigns build connections, because the message resonates with their specific experience.
Pro tip: Include links on other topics in each email and see what people click on. This will give you even more information on what people in your community want to learn about.
5. Offer virtual services and teach people how to attend them
In navigating this strange new world together, we all have to adapt. Putting on a digital funeral service may be new for you; it’s probably new to your community, too. They need guidance on how to participate in digital services. Just as in-person funeral services help your families realize the finality of their loved one and really begin the grieving process, it’s important to share that digital services offer similar value.
Teach your community the importance of digital services. Also offer them tips on how to attend and participate, such as:
Create a video tutorial showing people how to use Zoom or whatever video or conferencing platform you are using to stream services.
Encourage people to share tributes online under their loved one’s obituary before the service starts.
Provide an opportunity for people to share a pre-recorded video tribute to the family if they can’t attend.
Encourage community members to reach out to the family in attendance with a quick text or phone call beforehand to express condolences; these before-service points of contact are crucial for support.
Encourage people to reach out to the family after the service, too.
Explain how friends and family can send flowers, donations, or keepsakes to support those closest to lost loved one.
Remind friends and family how valuable and appreciated stories and memories of the loved one are. Sharing these can help the grieving heal.
And of course, give digital attendees clear information about when the digital service will begin, and invite them to join 5 minutes before the ceremony starts to get acquainted with the streaming service. Does your stream offer comments? This would be a great place to lead families who want to show their regards for the family during the service. It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to participate while the digital service is taking place.
Technology and change
You have the power to take control of the shift we face and challenges ahead. By using technology to virtually reach your families, you will stand out in your community and connect with new people. The next few months will surely bring new challenges and rapid changes, but keeping an eye on technology solutions – and being willing to adopt and implement them quickly – will help you keep serving your community no matter what happens next.
Last week, CANA hosted a webinar with customer service expert Lacy Robinson You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. You can watch a recording for free, and other recorded webinars, on CANA's website.
Heather McWilliams Mierzejewski brings marketing and additional writing expertise to the Funeral Innovations team. She previously covered breaking news, politics, and religion for print, digital and radio news outlets before slipping journalism’s tentacles and diving into the digital marketing world. She spent the past 3+ years at a digital advertising agency working on marketing and content solutions for adidas, Reebok, and Chipotle among other brands.
When not on the prowl for killer marketing stories, Heather spends time with her active kids and rides her bike on the Colorado byways. She’s always looking for new riding buddies.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 1, 2020
I am a funeral director. If you had told my 25-year-old self who was beginning a career as a determined and dedicated special education teacher that 40 years later I would be typing that sentence, I would have laughed in your face. And, yes, I’m that old.
But life has an interesting way of taking turns and detours and branching off the map to the point where today I am proud to be part of this very special and unique band of professionals.
In the twenty-five years that I have been part of working with funeral directors, I’ve become known as one who trains, speaks and writes in the arena of imploring our profession to do better. To grow into the needs of our new consumers. To widen our practices beyond the safe and traditional. To think outside the proverbial box. Some people have appreciated the message and embraced the opportunities to try new things. Some people think I’m kind of a shock jock and loudmouth. All are accurate.
But, today, all I can say is wow! These past months have presented such overwhelming challenges and unprecedented practices as my sisters and brothers have faced the daunting task of caring for the dead and supporting the grieving families. This virus that has the world by its grasp has forced us to turn on a dime, to think differently, to adapt and adjust while being on the front lines of unknown potential dangers and a nationwide fear. And just when you think you have it under control, situations change once again, and a new plan has to be developed on the fly. We often talk about thinking outside the box. Well, for all of us, the box has been destroyed. All that we knew to be usual and predictable no longer exists for this moment in time.
In those states where the death toll has been crushing and constant, just the physical toll on staff to keep up with the demand, to deal with shortages of protective equipment, running out of space to care for the deceased in a safe and honorable method, to answer the phone again and again and again, knowing that capacity is a faint memory, has been nothing short of amazing. Every person involved-- the removal personnel, the embalmers, the arrangers, the office staff, the crematory operators, the managers and owners have all answered the call to stand in the chaos and provide the final farewell for every family. In those states where COVID-19 has not been the overlying problem, the issue of quarantine and social distancing has complicated the opportunities to say goodbye.
Removals have taken on a whole new level of caution and care. Those of us who attended mortuary school were all trained to deal with infectious diseases, but did we every think that we would be facing this? How do we honor a sacred moment of taking a loved one into our care while being vigilant for the staff and the family? How do we help those families whose loved one had to die alone in quarantine? How do we offer comfort without a handshake or a hug?
Funeral professionals live their lives to say yes. To be accommodating. To move heaven and earth to meet the needs of every family. So, the difficulty of having to look at a family and tell them that they cannot have the service that they planned and want is devastating. To be the bearer of the bad news that a grieving family cannot invite friends and family to join together as we always have, to hug, to hold hands, to cry together, to remember as a collective and see their reactions. Broken hearts that are further crushed by the restrictions of our current realities. It’s hard.
Everyone has had to stretch, to learn new skills, to think creatively and fiercely as we try to provide a healing moment of gathering in a world that changes with each sunrise. Technology that had never been used. Exactly what is a Zoom? Arranging by phone, online or by Facetime, streaming services live, posting complete services on the website, gathering safely at graveside, resurrecting drive-in movie theaters for an entirely new audience. Funeral directors, Celebrants, clergy, chaplains, officiants are all searching for meaningful and healing ways to offer remembrances, benedictions and blessings. Our hearts ache for those families who say “we’ll just wait and have a service when things are back to normal” because we know grief does not wait for normal. And we understand that for many it will be too difficult to capture that moment again and gather months later.
So, this is my moment to say thank you. As the hospital and health workers are applauded each day for the difficult and dangerous work they are called upon to do trying to heal the sick, I applaud our funeral professionals who are the ones called upon to care for our dead and their survivors in difficult and dangerous situations. People may not stand on street corners and sing to you, but please know that your efforts and diligent work are noticed and celebrated.
I am in awe and appreciation for each one of you who are waking up each morning determined to do the job you were called to do. There will plenty of time for me to get back on my soap box about things we could do better or differently. But today, I offer my deep gratitude. You are heroes. And I’m proud to say that I’m a funeral director.
Sustained, stressful situations require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. He wrote a post for us about taking care of yourself in these ever-changing times. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.
Glenda Stansbury is the Marketing and Development Director, InSight Books, and Dean and Training Coordinator for In-Sight Institute. She holds a BS in Special Education from Central State University, as well as a BS in Funeral Service and a MA in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining In-Sight Books, Glenda worked for 12 years for the Oklahoma Education Association as a trainer/facilitator. She has worked as Marketing and Development Director for In-Sight Books for 24 years and has been Dean of the In-Sight Institute for 20 years, co-training over 4000 Funeral Celebrants across North America with Doug Manning. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant; Licensed Funeral Director/ Embalmer, Oklahoma; Certified Funeral Service Professional; Thanexus, New Jersey Board of Director; and Full Time Instructor- Department of Funeral Service, University of Central Oklahoma..
Depending on a variety of factors—where you live, the number of local cases and deaths, the availability of testing, and more—your deathcare firm could be anywhere along the path of the COVID-19 crisis right now.
Your area still might be dealing with an almost-total lockdown. Or your state and local authorities might be letting most businesses go about their services as normal, albeit with certain restrictions and limitations. What you're allowed to do now might be very different from what it was a month ago, and it might be very different again a month from now.
In other words, at the risk of stating the obvious, the coronavirus pandemic (and its resultant restrictions) have created a perfect storm of challenges for cremation service providers and related deathcare businesses.
As tragic as a natural disaster can be, whether a hurricane or earthquake or something else, at least there's (most often) a straightforward process of recovery. It's not something that just lingers on for the foreseeable future.
But that's what it's like dealing with COVID-19. There's no closure on the horizon anytime soon. Experts say it could be 18 months before a vaccine is created and widely available, and most say that's the most optimistic projection.
And no matter how you feel about the severity of restrictions at the moment—whether you feel it's an overreaction or an underreaction, or anywhere in between—the fact remains that we'll all be dealing with a "new normal" for most likely the remainder of 2020 and probably well into 2021.
Nothing's simply going to "snap back" into place. Everything will have changed.
The New Normal
So the question is this: What does all of this change have to do with your deathcare firm? Does it mean you have to start making some extensive changes, if you haven't done so already? Or do you still think you can wait for all of this to just blow over?
As we've dealt with all of this over the past several months, I've come to a few conclusions:
A shocking number of funeral industry business owners still think this is a temporary inconvenience, and everything will revert back to normal soon. They're wrong, and their loss can be your gain.
Many of the evolutions demanded by this crisis, especially videoconferencing and remote project management, are critical initiatives deathcare firms should have long before now.
Those same initiatives will be incredibly important for cremation providers long after COVID-19 is under control and virtually all restrictions are lifted.
Many people in this industry think making their processes more digital will require lots of time and money. It won't. These tools are incredibly cheap and easy to learn—even for technophobes.
Tools You Can Use
Now, I've spent much of the last six weeks telling anyone who will listen about some of the specific tools they can use. Some depend on what you need to achieve in your particular business.
If your setup is such that you regularly consult with families or individuals, it's obviously a good idea to leverage videoconferencing. You can use it to meet with clientele, staff, or vendors.
If you typically handle life celebrations and are still restricted from doing them (or remain limited in the number of attendees), you can look into livestreaming services or recording them for family and friends to later watch online.
There are lots of options for videoconferencing. You're likely aware that Zoom is the most popular right now. You're also likely aware that Zoom also got hammered with heavily critical news reports due to security lapses and a scary (but actually very rare) type of treacherous trolling known as "Zoombombing."
Here's the bottom line: I use Zoom all the time at my company. It works wonderfully for us. It's also incredibly inexpensive for the basic professional version, and the free version's pretty useful for most companies too.
Zoom is also so easy to learn that I could teach the most technophobic person in your family how to install and use it in less than 10 minutes, guaranteed. So that's why I use it (for about six meetings every workday, on average) and encourage others to do the same.
(This is where I like to note that I have no promotional agreements whatsoever with any tech product or tool I mention here or anywhere else. If I recommend something, it's because it works well—not because anyone's being paid for it. I'm certainly not!)
The learning curve is getting used to communicating empathetically with people through the internet instead of face to face. It's mostly the same, but there are some subtle differences, and you'll want to practice at least a little before jumping into a consultation with a grieving family.
My other strong recommendation is that you look for ways to do more project management and coordination online. Even when there's no pandemic, it's much more convenient and efficient to handle the disposition of cases through cloud-based software than on a physical whiteboard in the office.
Yes, of course I know that all change can be challenging and stressful. And yes, I've spoken to many a funeral professional who explained to me that the whiteboard he's using is the same one his father did, which is the same one his father's father did, and it's worked just fine all this time and yadda yadda yadda.
I certainly respect these traditions, but when the traditional way has been long eclipsed by much more efficient processes, it's usually best to bite the bullet and evolve.
I can run my entire business, with more than 50 full-time employees from home. Our home office in Las Vegas has been empty for going on two months now, due to the pandemic, and we haven't missed a beat. I haven't laid off or furloughed a single worker. And we actually have more clients now than when the lockdowns started!
There are lots of reasons for that, but one of the biggest ones is that we had all the necessary remote tools and techniques already in place long before the COVID lockdowns began. They were just our standard way of doing business! I could run projects and coordinate with my teams anywhere in the country or in the world—from a laptop or even just from my smartphone.
Now, I don't expect cremation service providers to become as technologically advanced as a marketing firms that specializes in digital tools, but there's no reason you can't use some.
Try out Trello for project management: We've found it indispensable. We also use the Microsoft suite of tools for various creative projects, along with MS Teams for basic messaging and chat. (Slack is also an excellent choice for those who prefer that interface or simply don't use Microsoft computers or devices.)
How many forms do you use that could be both filled out and legally signed digitally, but you're still using paper for everything? If you're like most deathcare businesses, the answer is somewhere between "most" and "all." While I realize that some paperwork remains restricted to literal paper in some places and for certain purposes, those situations are ever fewer and further between.
Find a Degree of Certainty
And honestly, that's just the tip of the iceberg. But you don't even need to concern yourself with the iceberg yet. Just start looking at how these cloud-based remote work tools benefit your business during the lockdown time—and picture how beneficial they'll remain long after.
The more you've evolved your business technologically, the more prepared you'll be for anything that comes along. The work you do right now to better handle COVID-related restrictions will pay dividends in the future.
At the very least, you need to keep up with competitors making these changes. And if they're not, you can be the one to take advantage. It's the best way to take control and find some degree of certainty in these uncertain times.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Updated: Monday, May 4, 2020
Funeral professionals have a challenging job under normal circumstances; these are not normal circumstances. Covid-19 has simply turned the world upside down. As a psychologist who works with funeral homes and also works in one, I want to offer several suggestions for dealing with the additional stress created by the current epidemic. Many of these ideas come from my work on the Finding Resilience program sponsored by Homesteaders. You can download free materials here.
Professionals in a wide variety of fields consider it a badge of honor to wear many hats in their business. However, I don’t know of any professionals who wear more hats than funeral directors.
Within a single week, you might be expected to demonstrate knowledge of:
Reconstruction, Cosmetology, & Hair Dressing
…and countless other tasks.
In the last few months, you have also had to add “remote videographer,” “social distancing expert,” “Covid-19 expert,” and “creative rituals coordinator”. Not only are all of these duties happening under significant time pressure, but also in the midst of continually changing state and local regulations. It’s no wonder that funeral directors are feeling the effects of compassion fatigue and/or burnout.
Ideally it is best to make relatively small changes to reduce feelings of burnout before it becomes overwhelming. These changes may include hiring additional staff, delegating responsibilities to others, or finding a colleague to cover during much-needed time off. Funeral professionals experiencing profound burnout, anxiety or depression may seek professional help from their physician or a therapist. Hopefully, you may only need a few “course adjustments” to keep you on a productive, lower-stress path. Here are my suggestions for reducing stress under normal circumstances as well as during the current crisis.
SAY “NO” TO NON-ESSENTIAL TASKS
Especially now, there are going to be some tasks that should be postponed. There may be certain types of long-range planning or reviewing production options that are best left to another time. Even better, it is an ideal time to eliminate some of your daily and weekly tasks that don’t impact your business operations or your quality of service to families. I call this process “smart subtraction”. By reviewing your daily and weekly schedule, you may find tasks that can be eliminated, automated, or outsourced.
MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
My work schedule has shifted. I have tried to have “fun nights” with my wife and three daughters, and I have had to adjust to extended family living with us for the last two months. This has destroyed my regular sleep schedule (and I don’t even have to go on middle-of-the-night death calls). When you add the economic stress and uncertainty to changes in daily habits, it is difficult to stay on a regular schedule and get quality sleep. Here are a few tips to help make it more likely that you can fall asleep.
Avoid drinking too much before bedtime.
Alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, but you may be more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
Try to reduce your use of screens in the hour or two before bedtime.
This includes phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. There is a considerable amount of research that suggests certain wavelengths of light emitted from screens that mimic daylight – which is exactly what you don’t want to be viewing just before bed.
If possible where you live, try to get some light exercise.
Even walking a mile or two can help reduce stress.
Practicing your personal spiritual rituals (and especially gratitude) are ideal just before bed to put you in the right mindset.
WRITE IT DOWN
Recording thoughts and experiences – especially about things that inspire gratitude – can be helpful for people who routinely experience stressful workplace situations. This does not have to be a regular journal or even complete sentences. Doodling and writing short bulleted lists of your thoughts and feelings can work just as well.
DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE
Practicing meditation and mindful activities can often seem so counter-intuitive. When my thoughts are racing around my brain at record speed, it can be difficult to be still and try to not think of anything. Thankfully, there are many different forms of mindfulness and meditation. It can help to try a meditation app or focus on slow, deep breathing. Mindfulness can also come from your religious practices such as focusing on meaningful scripture. Establishing a regular time to practice mindfulness can train your brain to transition more quickly.
LISTEN TO MUSIC
I am “old school” when it comes to music. I still have a large pack of CDs in my car and I actually listen to them. I have one CD with “In Case of Spiritual Emergency” written on it. It’s a personal compilation of Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, John Hiatt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and other favorites. I never cease to be amazed at how the right songs can lift my mood, refocus my mind, and give me a more balanced perspective. I’m not sure what should be on your “In Case of Spiritual Emergency” CD, but I encourage you to create that playlist.
KNOW YOU ARE NEEDED
I have been talking with many funeral professionals across the country and the most consistent reactions I hear include sadness. Funeral professionals are feeling sad that they are not able to provide the full range of funeral rituals and events to bereaved families. They are sad that people are dying alone. And they are sad that families are not receiving the benefits of funeral rituals including support and healing.
I know you can’t do your job the way you would like, but please know that you continue to provide an invaluable service. You may not be able to give someone a hug, but your simple presence and compassion (even if expressed through a video chat) are still a vital service to grieving families. Thank you for the sacrifices of your own potential safety to serve others. Thank you for the innovative ways you have created to meet the needs of the bereaved. Do your best to care for yourself. The world needs you more than ever.
Jason Troyer, PhD., specializes in helping death care professionals serve their families better. Additional resources unique to death care are available in his Finding Resilience program.
Circumstances like a pandemic require extra care for yourself and your colleagues. "Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation." Use the support resources from the CDC available by both call and text, and work together to stay healthy.
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.
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