No Second Chances.

There are many jobs, many professions, many businesses, where if at the first attempt you don’t get it right, you have the ability to have a second shot to rectify your mistake, in my role as a Funeral Director there are second chances, no opportunity to fix mistakes. The very nature of the service we provide dictates, that we must get it right first time every time, our very reputations depend on what and how we conduct ourselves. Our families that entrust us to care for their loved ones, need it to be right, they need to feel like they are the only family we will deal with that day, month or year. Everything has and must be perfect, as we do not get a second chance to right a wrong! I’m going to delve a little deeper.

The Moment of Passing

From the very second a person sadly passes away, the family or friends or the deceased is already subconsciously, deciphering what they need to do? Who they need to contact? Was there a plan? Do they have a will? What did they want? And many many other scenarios. The importance of firstly being compassionate and understanding when we receive that call, will pay dividends as the funeral progresses, empathy and consideration, understanding and sympathetic to the clients needs will better serve us down the line. Clear and precise information during the first contact, although to much information at this critical time, can bog a family down and create stress and cause undue anxiety. Ensuring the correct up to date information is passed to the team who will be bringing the deceased into our care, is key critical to the smooth removal of the person who has passed away. Minimal conversating during the removal only discuss the core points of what is happening and what comes next, personal interaction at this moment of grief can be construed wrong and may and very often will come back to bite you. You are there in a professional capacity keep it that way! Be empathetic and above all dignity towards the deceased at all times is paramount, this could quite easily be your loved one. No second chances or re-runs at this point, first impressions last!

The Precision of The Arrangement

The arrangement process is so critical to the success of a funeral, only precision, empathy, understanding and knowledge, will ensure the family get everything they need, from understanding the procedures, the legalities and the plethora of information being given to them, to helping them grieve and to take the vast amounts of pressure away from them. Funeral Arrangers is the role that is almost always overlooked? Be it by large funeral companies or small independent funeral homes, it is not a role anyone can do, being able to offer so much empathy as well as being calm along with professional all at the same time, takes a very special kind of person, empathy is something you either have or don’t have! It cannot be taught its something deep within our genetic make up, that sets us aside Funeral Arrangers have it it’s that simple.

From the moment a family walks into a funeral home, everything should be showroom standard, funeral homes should be immaculate well presented buildings, clean and bright, there should not be flaking paint or hanging wallpapers threads, there should be no damp on walls anywhere. Pictures hanging on walls should compliment the decor of the building, carpets should not be thread worn but fresh and purposeful. Arranging rooms should be calming places, not emblazoned with product advertising (we are not selling cars here) to much “in your face” product pushing can break a funeral and unnerve a family. Uniform or clothing our teams are wearing is also a very big part of that “first impression” old tired worn out uniform, presents the wrong picture, immediately indicating to a family that this potentially is how their loved one will be treated or how the buisness conducts itself! All this can be taken from that initial observation by a family, if you wear white shirts make sure they are white, make sure you match your colleagues this always presents a united front and demonstrates all are working the same way on the same page.

Once you are discussing the funeral with a family, it is so important that you have everything to hand that you need, it shows you are in control of the moment, there is nothing worse than constantly getting up and down during the arrangement, it un-nerves the family, know what your talking about and be clear and precise in your explanations and guidance never ever “wing it” as it will come back to haunt you! One of the biggest attributes I’ve found during any arrangement is the ablitity to shut up and listen to the family or whoever is arranging, listen to what they want or what ideas they have, remember the word “no” should be used very sparingly, families need to feel that nothing is off the table at that initial point of contact, as you build a relationship with the family/client, you can then delve deeper with requests and maybe the need to say “no” will arise but trust has been developed and relationships formed making conversations easier. During this most critical of interactions there certainly will be no second chances here, get it wrong at this point there is a 99% chance that the family will take the funeral elsewhere, or the family will remain with you but the trust has gone,the funeral process from here will be difficult and problematic which will in the end, become complaints and investigations reputational damage will have been done, and the level of service we always strive to achieve will be compromised.

Matching The Right Product

Throughout the vast experience you have gained through your individual journeys in the funeral sector, will arm you with the tools to match the right product or service in such a way, that these choices will make the funeral experience an unforgettable one for all the right reasons. Get this wrong you do not get another chance to fix it as the damage will have been done, it will be irreparable and will have dire consequences. All of these choices and decisions can be achieved easily by simply listening carefully to the family/client, service type, music influences, colours, places, people, time of day, favourite things, things they dislike etc. Know exactly what the aspirations of the family/client as well as the deceased wishes are critical, lets look a tad closer.

1. Obituary or acknowledgement? First and foremost do the family/client want these products? Obituaries are slowly losing there momentum as social media makes the giant strides it is currently doing! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and so on, all places family and friends can post messages about their loved ones funeral etc at zero cost, now the draw backs to this are by placing an Obituary on social media could turn the funeral into a free for all, and spoil the dignified experience that the family is seeking, also on a darker side the family are advertising that they aren’t home on a specific day and time! Sadly the world we live in today, can be callous and cruel opportunist thieves will always be looking for an opportunity, this can also be said by a newspaper Obituary, I’m always concerned about advertising dates and times as are 80% of the families I deal with. If the family does want an Obituary in a local newspaper, help them with the wording and presentation, make sure it’s proof read several times as once it’s published, there is no retrieval, make sure its submitted in plenty of time, nothing worse than missing a cut off and having to explain to a family, that the details of their loved ones funeral will appear a week after the funeral, same goes with an acknowledgement listen to the family and what they want, don’t forget any names that the family/ included or any specific thank you’s, do this at you peril, as all the work you’ve done arranging the funeral will crash down around you if this is wrong.

2. Minister, celebrant & venue three words and in the greater scheme of things should be a simple pairing yes? Absolutely not! It’s so important that we get this right, as if it goes wrong the family won’t hold the religious minister or the church or celebrant accountable, it will be the funeral director that is firmly to blame, and this can have long last implications for you as a Funeral Director, sadly word of mouth plays an enormous role in society in today’s world, one wrong comment or one bad critique can become a lasting weight around your business. Its important to remember that when you are asking a minister or celebrant to conduct a funeral, they are working on your recommendation, you have contracted them to do a job for you, very often this becomes cloudy as some celebrants feel they work for a family and will offer all manner of things, without discussing with you! Guidelines and boundaries need to be in place with your clergy and celebrants on what as a funeral home you can and can’t offer! This is especially important now more than ever with the covid pandemic, many of us have ramped our safety protocols ups etc. It’s important that this is communicated to the clergy or celebrant, as well as discussing with the crematorium, church or cemetery. It is also very important that you know and familiarise yourself, with all your churches, crematoriums and cemeteries, families will expect you to know these places like the back of your hand, nothing worse than aimlessly driving around a cemetery looking for a grave! Get to know the area’s in advance, try to visit all your churches so you know where a family sits and which side they should be on, sitting them down then asking them to get up because you’ve seated them in the wrong place will bite you, the way’s in and out as well as being familiar with the fire emergency route, these things will pay dividends should the need arise. As a further tip try and get your celebrants or clergy to email you their service including eulogies, if the worst case scenario occurs and the minister/celebrant fail to show up, you can continue the best you can with the service readings and the all important eulogy. At least by stepping in you can save the service.

3. Order of Service yes in terms of time can become a headache but if you do, do them in house or your company works with a printer, it is key critical that they are right from the first instance, when capturing the information for an OOS always repeat it back to the client, double check dates, ensure the right picture is in the right place, check and double check for spelling mistakes, always send a proof to the client, and try to ensure before they sign it off that it is perfect, as once its gone to print mistakes may be unrecoverable. Always question colours and designs to guarantee your client is getting what they want, confirm the amounts they want, always use your vast knowledge of your business, so if a client is under ordering you can advise them accordingly, likewise if they are ordering to many ask why they need such numbers and again offer advice based on your experience. Once everything has been signed off and both the client and you are happy with the OOS, ensure it is sent to the printers affording you plenty of time, to receive it prior to the funeral day. Once you have it in your funeral home always advise the client it has arrived, giving them the opportunity to come and see the OOS before it gets to the service venue. If you send your families/clients to independent printing companies, make sure they are the best around, if you use a cheap and cheerful printers who offer substandard work the family/client will come back to you! As it is you that has recommended them, there will be no hiding place and it will be left to you to rectify and fix, this may be completely out of your remit but it will be you that is accountable.

4. Music choices can make or break a funeral, the choosing of music is so important to families so getting it right is thee most important thing you need to do, 99% of the time music is sentimental carries great meaning to both the deceased in life and the family as well, so if a family choose lets say “Time to say goodbye” by Andre Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, but instead you pick “Time to say goodbye” by Katherine Jenkins, this can and will devastate a families experience and I can guarantee this will not be forgotten nor will it be left silently, I wrote a piece in my blog on 01st February 2021 titled “The Power of Music at a Funeral” have a read of this and it explains the importance of why music is so critical.

5. Flowers again can be adored by a family and become the CenterPoint of a funeral, or alternatively they can completely blow a funeral out the water because we simply did not listen to what our family asked for, talk through colours, flower types, arrangements etc. always ask if the deceased grew flowers at home? If they did what did they grow? Always lovely to include the flowers the deceased grew in the spray adds a massive sentimental value to the spray your arranging, make sure you are using an excellent reputable florist, always compare your prices, families will always price compare believe me! So if your chosen florist is charging £45.00 per letter yet other reputable florists are charging £35.00 a letter be sure that a family will demand an explanation as to why there is disparity! When the flowers arrive once ordered make sure you check them with the florist present, if they aren’t to standard get the florist to sort the issue out whilst they are present, no point letting them go then telling them there is an issue. You are in control and again the family will not go to the florist to complain if they are wrong, oh no! It will firmly be on you and you will not get a second chance, first time has to be right, your family is looking to you to be that perfectionist to look at every spray like its your own to ensure it is flawless, to make sure that when the flowers are with the deceased, it all works in perfect harmony.

6. Dressing the deceased can be a very distressing subject for a family, not always but very often the thought of picking an outfit out can be daunting, an act that some families really struggle with. Again listen to the family/client when they are talking about their loved one, try and build a picture in you head of the person, that way you can offer the right advice. As a rule I’ve always leaned towards dressing a deceased in exactly what they would be comfortable in! So often families/clients think the deceased has to be suited and booted when resting in the coffin, I stray away from this as it can paint the wrong picture for visiting family members, If their dad never wore a suit in his life, he would not look right wearing a suit in his coffin, the same can be said of a lady in an elegant dress, if that was something they never wore, the family will struggle to associate the clothing with their loved one, and will ruin the experience for them. Offer advice and try to emphasise on what possibly the deceased would want? As well as pacifying the aspirations of the family. It is so important that they can familiarise with their loved one at this final time before the coffin is closed, this will always be a lasting memory it needs to be right. Explain carefully and considerately what can and cannot go into the coffin be it a cremation or burial, make sure you have all the relevant up to date guidelines from your crematoria and cemeteries, nothing worse than telling a family on the day of the funeral that you’ve removed an item due to local rules, have this conversation prior so your family/client are fully informed. You won’t get a second chance to fix this if it goes wrong, this will be a lifelong memory and experience for the family.

We can keep going with many other aspects which could include coffin choice? Hearse and Limousine style and colour? Horse Drawn? Or any other type of Hearse? I feel the ones I’ve mention and focused on are the ones that can cause the most distress to our families/clients. If any of these critical choices go wrong based on logistics, time and sentimental attachment, it will be unrecoverable, listen to your family/client, offer the wealth of experience you have to make their journey not only seamless but one they will remember for all the right reasons, and most importantly through your expertise, the family get the closure they desperately need to move forward with their lives.

The Day of The Funeral

The day of the funeral is when all the work you have done comes together as a final experience. I’m using the word “experience” for the funeral as that’s what it is! It’s not a transaction, or a business product you’ve created its an experience that you want the family/client to remember, and get all they need from the experience you’ve created together.

For me as the Funeral Director there are certain things I’m looking for on the day that I feel are critical to the success of experience you are directing for the family and for your funeral home. Each Funeral Director reading this will no doubt have their own thoughts on what you deem more important on the day? But for the purposes of the piece I’m writing I’ll explain mine, first and foremost I will have been in constant communication with my arrangers, discussing the funeral that has been arranged with the family, understanding how the arrangers has created an experience from a funeral arrangement, this dialogue is critical, if you do not discuss the funeral with your arrangers regular then the funeral experience will crumble around you. The arrangers are the most important piece of the jigsaw, as they have met the family and created the experience, ignoring their input at this point, would be the worst thing you could do, talk to them learn off them and understand the aspirations of the family by listening to your arrangers. During all this dialogue I create what I my own A4 plan of all the key critical information I need, I gain this by reading the arrangement, speaking to my arrangers, speaking with clergy or celebrants, also talking to the crematoria/cemeteries, as well as talking to the family themselves. I capture all the information on my plan which includes everything I need for the experience to go exactly right.

For myself on the day of the funeral first and foremost is how my team look? Presentation is so important for the families experience, are my funeral teams shoes shining? Is their uniform laundered properly? Are they all wearing the same uniform? Nothing worse than one member of the team wearing a slightly different shade to the others he/she will stand out like a sore thumb! Does the uniform suit look tired or past its day? Keen eye for detail at this point is what set’s us apart. Turn up looking shabby and worn, will leave an impression, that’s how everything is done “shabbily!” you need to be able to demonstrate that all staff are of pristine quality, if for any reason it’s not consider the role of the person on the funeral and where you need them, remember it can also be embarrassing to your colleague they won’t want to stand out in the crowd for the wrong reasons, all this needs rectifying at the funeral home well before the funeral start time. I incorporate this into my briefing with my team, where I explain all aspects of the funeral, down to routes, times, bearers, locations, weather, family concerns or things to look for, where the families are going after etc. Having a brief with your team and explaining how you want the experience to proceed, will help eliminate any issues or worries down the line, everybody is on the same page and working as one unit together, armed with key critical up to date information, leaving no margin for error, I also listen to feedback from my teams as the information they have can be also be critical to the success of the funeral experience, as much as the information I’ve just passed. They may know route issues such as roadworks or temporary lights etc. Always listen to your teams as they are as important as the arrangers in the experience, ignore them at you peril.

Vehicle cleanliness is a huge bugbear of mine, it is so important that when a family see’s our hearse or our Limousine its of showroom standard, polished and clean, free from dirt and grime, if it is grubby it needs cleaning at the funeral home before the funeral, families/clients aren’t interested how busy you are or whether the car has been on a funeral prior. In their eyes they are the only family using that vehicle that year, they expect showroom quality, if you are not providing that then you are letting the family down, and destroying an element of the experience that you could easily avoid, look at your fleeting prior to the funeral day, challenge any funerals that are to close! Within my company we are still operating to the high safety protocols concerning Covid-19, we are adopting strict measures to keep our families and our teams as safe as we possibly can, once a family has used our vehicle the driver MUST disinfect and clean the interior as per our internal guidelines, hence enough time must be allowed for this critical health and safety procedure to be carried out, if time isn’t being afforded then we are letting our families down in a big way, as there is no way the vehicles can be cleaned and presented to a showroom standard in time for the funeral experience. Always put yourself in the position of “how would you feel?” If you had arranged a funeral personally and a dirty substandard fleet arrives, what would your perception of that company be? Get it right first time everytime no second chances here.

This may seem long and exasperated but in my role I do not get a second chance, first time has to be perfection, anything else simply will not and cannot do. There maybe points I’ve made you completely disagree with? There may well be things that you find equally important that I may have missed, always happy to receive messages as I’m always learning each and everyday, as we all are. Stay Safe Paul 25.10.2021

By Paul Sargent

I was born in Manchester, UK in 1974, I'd like to say that I have worked hard at this attempt at life? I have had some incredible experiences on my journey up to now, and will continue to make memories as and when I can, I live in Leigh, Greater Manchester, UK with my fiancee and son. My current job is that of a Funeral Director, this current year has been an emotional roller coaster, due to the awful Coronavirus Pandemic, that has devastated the globe, I needed an outlet to shut out the realities of the day! A chance for me to escape perhaps my own sub conscious if only for a moment in time. As I expand my journey as a blogger will continue to open my mind and share my thoughts, I'd like to write about Life Through Ordinary Eyes, an honest interpretation at what I see and feel, what experiences I have had, and to perhaps share things that just might help you or someone you know on this voyage of discovery called life. Oh well here goes nothing. . . . . . . . . . . .

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