In our next installment of Ask the Owners, Stephen and Diann Anderson, formerly of Anderson Funeral & Cremation Services discuss the importance of funeral home owners and cemetery operators having a strong understanding of what their consumers wants and needs are:
Ask the Owners: Rethinking Consumer Needs in the Funeral Profession
As we continue to look at Strategic Evolution it’s my hope that there will be something you read that will ignite or reignite within you a desire to challenge or go beyond the established norms, traditions, or practices within the funeral profession. As I mentioned in last month’s article “Developing a Mission of Legacy” we are going to start thinking about the importance of understanding your customer’s needs and challenges. Let’s begin with a critical issue-the gap in what the funeral profession offers.
Challenging Consumer Desires
Henry Ford’s famous quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” encapsulates the essence of consumer desires. Often, consumers don’t know what they want until they experience a groundbreaking product or service that reveals what was missing.
The Missing Piece and Peace in the Funeral Profession
In the funeral profession, there’s a significant gap in addressing the profound role we can play in helping grievers navigate loss with hope. Our profession keeps searching for the missing piece or should I say peace that people are looking for when they experience the loss of their loved one. The industry’s focus on selling merchandise and celebrations as a remedy for grief greatly misses the mark. Grieving families seek more than parties; they are trying to make sense of their loss, pondering life without their loved one, and grappling with their own mortality.
Overlooking the Needs of the Griever
While funeral professionals believe consumers want merchandise and celebrations, that isn’t what grieving families are seeking. It’s the American way to party our way out of feeling the emotions that grief encompasses. Grieving families are not looking for parties and celebrations. They are trying to make sense out of their loss. They are trying to figure out how they will re-engage in life without their loved one physically with them. They are trying to figure out what their life is going to look like now that their loved one has died. They are struggling with their own mortality because now death has touched them. Yes, they want to feel better, but not in the way culture prescribes.
For the Loved One of the Decedent There’s Two Different Problems
- External Problem – Something must be done with the decedent’s body.
- Internal Problem – Emotional, Physical, Cognitive, and Spiritual – Mostly spiritual – “What’s the meaning of this?” “What’s going to happen to me?”
It’s the internal problem that causes the greatest distress for the families you are serving. Research shows that every time the consumer purchases something or engages in hiring a service provider, they are trying to solve an external and internal problem. Research shows that the internal problem the consumer is trying to solve is usually the driving force behind their decision to make the purchase or hire a service provider. The interesting thing about this is the consumer usually doesn’t know that.
Solving the Consumers Internal Problem– Consumer research scientists have determined that when a consumer’s internal problem is solved by their purchase, they are happy and feel satisfied with their purchase. Research has also shown that when both the external and internal problem of the consumer is addressed with the purchase, they are extremely satisfied with their purchase.
The Funeral Profession’s Focus Misses the Mark – As a whole, our profession tends to primarily focus on solving the external problem for families with the main focus being on the disposition of the body. Very few funeral providers focus on the internal problem which is grief.
The Internal Problem is Grief and It’s All Encompassing – There are five major ways grief affects a person’s life – Cognitive, Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Relationships. The list below is not all encompassing but gives you a better understanding of what a person experiencing grief is battling.
- Cognitive Ability
- Difficulty Concentrating: Grief can lead to difficulty focusing on tasks or conversations. Individuals may find it hard to concentrate on work, school, or daily activities as their minds may wander or become preoccupied with thoughts of loss.
- Impaired Memory: Grieving individuals may experience memory lapses or forgetfulness. This can include forgetting important dates, appointments, or details of recent events. Memory impairment during grief is often attributed to emotional distress and preoccupation with the loss.
- Decreased Attention Span: Grief can result in a decreased attention span, making it challenging to sustain focus for extended periods. Individuals may find themselves easily distracted or restless, making it difficult to engage in tasks that require prolonged attention.
- Difficulty Making Decisions: Grief can cloud judgment and make decision-making feel overwhelming. Simple decisions, such as what to eat for dinner or what clothes to wear, may become sources of stress and indecision as individuals grapple with the emotional burden of grief.
- Slowed Information Processing: Grieving individuals may experience a delay in processing information and responding to stimuli. This can lead to slower reaction times, difficulty understanding complex concepts, and feeling mentally fatigued or overwhelmed by cognitive demands.
- Impaired Problem-Solving Skills: Grief can impact problem-solving abilities, making it challenging to assess situations objectively and generate effective solutions. Individuals may feel mentally drained and lack the clarity needed to address problems or navigate challenges effectively.
- Increased Rumination: Grieving individuals may engage in repetitive and negative thought patterns, known as rumination, which can interfere with cognitive processing. Rumination often involves dwelling on past events, regrets, or hypothetical scenarios related to the loss, further exacerbating cognitive distress.
- Emotions – grief is a deeply personal and multifaceted experience that encompasses a wide range of emotions. It’s important for individuals experiencing grief to acknowledge and validate their feelings, seek support from others, and engage in self-care practices to navigate the emotional challenges of grief. Some of the emotions a person may experience when grieving are:
- Sadness/Sorrow – Sadness can be overwhelming and may manifest as crying, feelings of emptiness, or a pervasive sense of despair.
- Loneliness – Even when surrounded by supportive friends and family, grieving individuals may feel profoundly alone in their grief journey.
- Guilt and Regret – Grieving individuals often experience feelings of guilt and regret, particularly if they believe they could have done more to prevent the loss or improve the relationship with the deceased. Guilt may also arise from unresolved conflicts or unfulfilled wishes.
- Anxiety and Fear – Grief can evoke feelings of anxiety and fear about the future. Individuals may worry about their ability to cope without the deceased, fear of facing life’s challenges alone, or anxiety about their own mortality.
- Numbness and Detachment – In the early stages of grief, some individuals may experience emotional numbness or detachment as a coping mechanism to shield themselves from overwhelming emotions. This sense of emotional detachment can feel disorienting and surreal.
- Yearning and Longing – Grieving individuals may experience intense yearning and longing for the presence of the deceased. This longing may manifest as searching for signs of the deceased, imagining conversations with them, or longing to relive shared memories.
- Relief and Guilt About Relief – In cases of prolonged illness or suffering before death, individuals may experience a sense of relief that the loved one’s pain has ended. However, this relief may be accompanied by guilt or shame for feeling relieved amidst the grief.
- Confusion and Disorientation: Grief can cause cognitive and emotional confusion, making it difficult for individuals to make sense of their feelings or navigate daily life. This sense of disorientation may contribute to feelings of helplessness and uncertainty about the future.
- Hope and Resilience: Despite the pain of grief, many individuals also experience moments of hope and resilience. These feelings may emerge from memories of happier times with the deceased, support from loved ones, or a sense of spiritual or existential meaning in the midst of loss.
- Physical – Grief can have a profound impact on physical well-being, affecting various aspects of health and functioning. Here are some ways in which grief can impact physical well-being:
- Sleep Disturbances: Grieving individuals often experience disruptions in sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, or early morning awakening. These sleep disturbances can lead to fatigue, irritability, and impaired daytime functioning.
- Changes in Appetite: Grief can affect appetite, leading to changes in eating habits. Some individuals may experience a loss of appetite and weight loss, while others may turn to food for comfort and experience weight gain. These fluctuations in appetite can contribute to nutritional imbalances and impact overall health.
- Fatigue and Lack of Energy: The emotional toll of grief, combined with sleep disturbances and changes in appetite, can contribute to feelings of fatigue and low energy levels. Grieving individuals may struggle to perform daily tasks and may feel physically drained even after minimal exertion.
- Physical Symptoms: Grief can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal disturbances, and general aches and pains. These physical symptoms may be exacerbated by stress and emotional distress, contributing to overall discomfort and reduced quality of life.
- Weakened Immune Function: Prolonged grief and emotional distress can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Chronic stress associated with grief can impair immune function, making it harder for the body to fight off pathogens and recover from illness.
- Cardiovascular Health: The stress of grief can impact cardiovascular health, increasing the risk of heart-related problems such as hypertension, palpitations, and heart attacks. Grieving individuals may experience elevated levels of stress hormones, inflammation, and blood pressure, which can strain the cardiovascular system over time.
- Increased Risk of Chronic Conditions: Prolonged grief and chronic stress can contribute to the development or exacerbation of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders. The physiological effects of stress on the body can worsen existing health conditions and compromise overall well-being.
- Physical Manifestations of Emotional Pain: Grief is not only an emotional experience but can also manifest as physical pain or discomfort. Some individuals may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or tightness in the throat, which can be physical manifestations of emotional pain and distress.
- Spiritual – The spiritual ramifications of grief can vary widely depending on an individual’s beliefs, values, and cultural background. Here are some common spiritual aspects and ramifications of grief.
- Search for Meaning: Grief often prompts individuals to search for meaning and purpose in the face of loss. Questions about the nature of life, death, and the afterlife may arise as people seek to make sense of their experiences and find solace in spiritual beliefs and practices.
- Existential Questions: Grief can evoke existential questions about the nature of existence, the meaning of suffering, and the existence of a higher power or divine plan. Individuals may grapple with questions about the fairness of life, theodicy (the problem of evil and suffering), and the concept of divine providence.
- Faith and Doubt: Grief can challenge one’s faith and beliefs, leading to periods of doubt, questioning, and spiritual struggle. Individuals may experience a crisis of faith as they confront the realities of loss and struggle to reconcile their beliefs with their experiences of suffering and pain.
- Spiritual Coping Mechanisms: Many people turn to spirituality and religious practices as sources of comfort, hope, and support during times of grief. Prayer, meditation, rituals, and participation in religious communities can provide solace, meaning, and a sense of connection to something greater than oneself.
- Seeking Divine Comfort: Grieving individuals may seek solace and comfort in their spiritual beliefs and the belief in a higher power or divine presence. The idea of divine love, compassion, and grace can provide reassurance and support in navigating the challenges of grief and loss.
- Questioning of Beliefs: Grief can prompt individuals to question deeply held beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife. Concepts such as the immortality of the soul, reincarnation, and the existence of heaven or hell may be reexamined in light of personal experiences of loss and bereavement.
- Sense of Transcendence: Some people report experiencing moments of transcendence or spiritual awakening during the grieving process. These experiences may involve a sense of connection to something larger than oneself, feelings of peace or serenity, and insights into the nature of existence and human suffering.
- Transformation and Growth: Grief has the potential to catalyze spiritual transformation and growth, leading individuals to deepen their understanding of themselves, their relationships, and their place in the world. Through the process of grief, people may cultivate qualities such as compassion, resilience, gratitude, and acceptance, ultimately fostering a deeper sense of spiritual fulfillment and connection.
- Relationships – Overall, the impact of loss on relationships with others is complex and multifaceted, influenced by factors such as individual coping styles, cultural norms, social support networks, and the nature of the relationship with the deceased.
- Emotional Withdrawal: Grieving individuals may withdraw emotionally from others as they navigate their own feelings of loss, sadness, and despair. They might find it challenging to engage fully in social interactions or maintain close connections with friends and family members.
- Increased Dependency: Some individuals may become more dependent on the support of their remaining loved ones as they cope with the loss of their significant other. They may seek comfort, reassurance, and companionship from those closest to them, relying on their support to navigate the grieving process.
- Strained Relationships: The intensity of grief can strain relationships with others, particularly if loved ones struggle to understand or empathize with the grieving individual’s experience. Misunderstandings, conflicts, and disagreements may arise as people attempt to cope with their own emotions and support the grieving individual.
- Changes in Social Dynamics: The loss of a loved one can disrupt existing social dynamics and interpersonal relationships within families, friend groups, and communities. Roles may shift, alliances may change, and the structure of social networks may evolve as people adjust to the absence of the deceased individual.
- Increased Vulnerability: Grieving individuals may feel more vulnerable and exposed in their relationships with others, especially if they relied heavily on the support and companionship of the deceased. They may struggle to trust others or fear experiencing additional losses or rejections in the future.
- Heightened Empathy: Experiencing the loss of a loved one can foster greater empathy and compassion in relationships with others who are also grieving or facing challenges. Grieving individuals may become more attuned to the emotional needs of others and offer support and understanding in times of distress.
- Reevaluation of Priorities: The loss of a loved one often prompts individuals to reevaluate their priorities and invest more deeply in meaningful relationships with family, friends, and community members. They may prioritize quality time, open communication, and shared experiences with loved ones as they seek comfort and connection during the grieving process.
- Resilience and Growth: While grief can strain relationships, it can also strengthen bonds and foster resilience among individuals who support each other through difficult times. Shared experiences of loss can deepen emotional connections, promote mutual understanding, and cultivate a sense of solidarity and shared humanity.
Addressing the Internal Problems of Grief – Creating a Safe Space
If ever there should be a safe space for the griever to be open and be given the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings, it should be with a Funeral Director. It’s quite odd if you think about it. We are professional Funeral Directors whose job is to help people navigate the loss of their loved one, and yet, we won’t talk about all the different aspects of grief including the spiritual aspect with the person who is grieving. The most important and effective way you can provide support to the grieving family is to give them your time and allow them to talk.
Companioning the Griever – There is much to learn to companion the griever. Some of the very basic ways to companion are:
- Practice active listening.
- Don’t rush your time with the grieving family.
- Allow the griever to express their feelings without feeling judged.
- Stop and think before you speak and then do it again before you allow words to come out of your mouth.
Educating Your Staff and The Families You Serve About the Importance of Funeral Ceremony
One of the most surprising aspects of our profession is how little emphasis is placed on the funeral ceremony. You may be thinking this is a strange statement, but I ask you to look at the state of our profession. Look at the statistics of the different categories of ceremonies i.e. cremations and burials without a service. Why do you suppose the trend is going toward more and more cremations and burials without a service? I can tell you it is not because the consumer doesn’t want a ceremony. It is directly related to what the Funeral Directors are arranging with families.
Years ago, Steve and I saw this trend creeping into our funeral home. It was alarming and it took some sleuthing to figure out what was happening. After digging in and looking at case after case, we determined that we had an educational issue with our Funeral Directors. We had to re-educate and train them in what, why, and how to guide families.
The Purpose of a Funeral Service – When a funeral ceremony is done well, it is multi-faceted and serves various emotional, cultural, and social functions. Here are some of the key purposes:
- Honoring and Remembering the Deceased: A funeral service provides an opportunity for family and friends to gather and pay tribute to the life of the deceased. It allows them to share memories, stories, and celebrate the person’s life.
- Closure and Emotional Support: Funerals play a crucial role in the grieving process by providing a structured environment for mourners to express their grief openly. The ritual of a funeral can offer emotional support, comfort, and a sense of closure to those who are grieving.
- Cultural and Religious Customs: Many funerals incorporate cultural or religious rituals and customs that hold significant meaning for the family and community. These rituals often help in acknowledging the spiritual or cultural beliefs of the deceased and their loved ones.
- Expressing Emotions: Funerals provide a safe and supportive space for mourners to express their emotions, including sadness, grief, and even laughter as they reminisce about the person’s life. It’s an occasion to share feelings and find solace in the presence of others who are experiencing similar emotions.
- Community Support: Funerals bring together the community to show support for the grieving family. The presence of friends, relatives, and community members can be a source of comfort and strength during a difficult time.
- Rituals of Transition: In many cultures, funerals serve as a way to mark the transition from life to death. The ceremony may include symbolic acts, such as the lighting of candles, prayers, or the lowering of the casket, to signify this transition.
- Acknowledging the Reality of Death: Funerals help people confront and acknowledge the reality of death. The communal nature of a funeral service reinforces the universality of the human experience of loss and mortality.
- Creation of Memories: Funerals provide an opportunity to create lasting memories of the deceased. Through eulogies, photo displays, or video tributes, mourners can preserve and share the legacy of the person who has passed away.
Ways to Help Your Staff Understand the Importance of Ceremony
- Celebrant Training: We required every person on our Care Team (even non licensed personnel) go to Celebrant Training. Not everyone is going to be a Celebrant but by having the training, they will understand and promote the importance of having a good funeral ceremony. Another potential benefit in doing this is there may well be at least one person on your team who will be a gifted Celebrant.
- Utilize NFDA’s Training Programs: It’s very difficult for a funeral home to have their staff away from the funeral home to attend enrichment education but it is also critical that the staff does attend enrichment education. We accomplished this by having NFDA come to our funeral home and conduct their Certified Preplanning Consultant Certification. This was crucial for our funeral home because it drove home the concepts to our staff about the importance of educating families about how they benefit from having a funeral ceremony and the importance preplanning.
- Train, train, and retrain: In-house training is not a one-time event. It is an on-going exercise and if not done periodically things will slip back into the path of least resistance.
- Celebrate the Successes: Take time as a team to celebrate what was done well with each ceremony. This reinforces why and how.
- Talk About What Went Wrong: As a team meet and talk about what may have been a glitch in a service. Brainstorm with your team to mitigate the glitch happening again in the future.
It’s Crucial That You Take Control of All the Funeral Ceremonies
The Funeral Ceremony That Went Off the Track: Have you ever been the Director of a funeral ceremony that went totally off track because of the Funeral Celebrant? Have you watched and looked at the audience’s expressions as the funeral ceremony is taking place and noticed a glazed look on their face? How do you control the ceremony?
We experienced all of that and decided no more. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a funeral ceremony where a pastor kept calling the decedent by the wrong name. It happened so many times during the service that the wife of the decedent became so incensed that she finally yelled out her husband’s name at the pastor. The icing on the cake was the pastor’s response to the wife “It doesn’t matter that I messed up his name because God knows who he is.” That did it for us – never again would anything even remotely like that happen to a service we oversaw. We became experts in conducting funeral ceremonies. We orchestrated and designed every detail of every ceremony. We cherry picked celebrants that had a passion for funeral ceremonies. Every Funeral Director was required to go to Celebrant training. We invested in sophisticated technology to enhance every ceremony no matter where it was held. We even purchased a large van decked out with our signature branding which gave us the ability to take our funeral ceremonies on the road. We pushed the envelope of professionalism and kept trying to improve every service.
Upset the Apple Cart in Your Market by Making Your Funeral Home Know as the Funeral Ceremony Specialists:
Steve and I disrupted the status quo of the funeral profession in Northern IL by focusing on helping grieving people find hope while they were experiencing devasting loss. By taking a servant leader approach to serving families, our care team and our community, it upset the status quo in our area of influence. We “kept our nose on our own paper” when we stopped focusing on what everyone else was doing and served people the way that we would like to be served.
A tangible way we served families was to design and implement ceremonies that brought meaning and told their loved one’s story. We focused on ceremony and continually taught why funeral ceremony is so beneficial to someone who is going through loss. We incorporated teachable moments into every funeral ceremony so that the audience was subtly being educated and taught the value of a funeral ceremony. We set a high bar for every funeral ceremony we conducted and that was another way to differentiate our business. Oh… and it was fun! Making an actual difference is so rewarding.
We look forward to continuing this journey with you and sharing more insights and expertise in our next exploration. You have but one life to live and you have been placed in this timeline of history for a purpose. What you do each day matters and has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives you touch. If you have a question or need a boost in moving forward, please call us as 815-601-3247 or 815-299-0100
With warm regards,
Steve and Diann Anderson
Anderson Funeral Consulting
Do you have a question for Stephen and Diann? Email firstname.lastname@example.org today for a chance to have your question spotlighted in their upcoming blogs!