The Caregiver's Soapbox

Volume 17    www. thedead-beat.com    Issue 5

Dylan’s Directives

What Does It Mean To You?
“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”  ~ Sir William Ewart Gladstone

Dylan Stopher

What does it mean to you to be a funeral director?  Really stop for a second and think about it, please.  And I don’t want you to tell me what it means… which probably sounds weird, given that I’m the one asking… no, I want you to tell YOU what it means to be a funeral director.  Why?  Because every now and again, we need to remind ourselves why we do what we do, and what it means.

For a friend of mine named Abby, she says that being a funeral director means that she gets to serve others and be a shoulder to lean on in the worst time of their lives.  She gets it.  We’re there to be the stability, the braces.  We allow the family to borrow our own strength, to use our resolve, to stand on our platform of security with us.  We enable them to move forward, and accomplish that which they think is impossible to accomplish: saying final farewells on this earth to a loved one.

Another friend of mine named Jamie believes that it means being a therapist.  She’s not wrong, either.  We listen, we hear it all, and we maintain confidence with the families we serve.  Think about it for a moment, and I guarantee you there have been times when you’ve been trusted with the deepest and sometimes darkest secrets in the family you were serving.  You definitely have heard them before, because that’s the nature of the business.  Whether it’s relational, financial, emotional, or any other such thing, its private information to which we’re allowed intimate access… just like a therapist.

And my friend Zach has another take on it.  He says, “Being a funeral director is not only the ultimate responsibility, but the ultimate opportunity to celebrate a life well-lived.  We get to showcase an entire life in just a few days, and are entrusted to do so with compassion and sympathy.  We are event planners, embalmers, advice givers, solution seekers, and a shoulder to cry on.  These things are what make me proud to suit up and walk through the doors of my funeral home every day.”  Pretty stout stuff.

For me, though, it means that I’m accountable.  Everything has to stop with me, because I’m the licensee, and if there’s a problem… just like Vanilla Ice, yo, I’ll solve it.  It’s also true, though, that even the solved issues are still issues, and they all track directly to me.  It’s pressure.  And I love pressure, believe it or not.

It also means that I’m growing.  The business is changing as people are changing, and if you cannot see that and stay fluid with it, you will lose.  People who refuse to get aboard the Change Train get left behind, and all they talk about is “the good old days,” and how cremation is ruining the profession.  Yeah… I’m not that guy.

And it is in that vein that I have to share with you a little set of questions I wrote myself many years ago following the service of one of the most important families in my career.  There are eight of them, and I put them on a bookmark that I carried in my coat pocket.  I read them before every arrangement conference, and read them again before every service.  It was a serious ritual for me… and it kept me accountable and growing.

One, “Does my professionalism transcend my personality?”  I’m an outgoing, jovial, somewhat dry sense of humor kind of guy.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love to joke around about everything.  But in an arrangement conference, that cannot be the norm… at least, not right off the bat.  I have to be a professional first, and earn the confidence of the family I’m serving.

Two, “Does everything look good enough for me or my own family?”  Seriously, when was the last time you looked at a visitation room, chapel, or even arrangement office and asked if this was good enough for you?  Would you want your family to see things this way?  It should be that perfect, every time, and being in the shoes of the family who has lost someone keeps the focus in the right place for that.

Three, “What more can I do to ensure that the level of respect I demonstrate, with and without words, meets and exceeds the expectations of the families I serve?”  Have I hit the ceiling of what is possible in terms of serving a family?  Can I do more?  Is it the way I stand?  The words I choose?  What can I do to make certain the family knows I’m there for them, and that they are my primary focus?  It matters…

Four, “How can I better employ my own initiative to enhance the level of service I deliver to every family I have the privilege to serve?”  I’m a go-getter in almost every aspect of life.  I take charge, jump in with both feet, and I run full steam ahead until I’m done.  I wasn’t always this way, but at some point I figured out that initiative mattered to people.  And then I figured out how much it mattered to me.  So how do I use that to the benefit of the family?  I’m proactive, I get things done faster than expected, and I don’t waste time.

Five, “Am I able to set aside my title and allow for my name to be familiar to them, even when I don’t really know them?”  Not everyone is comfortable with this.  I knew a director once who INSISTED that people call him “Mr. {Last Name}” (omitted to protect the innocent J), and was furious when people called him by his first name.  It made no sense to me.  And yes, he even did that with the families.  It was baffling.  Also, some folks find that level of comfort to be… well, discomforting.  Can we step past that and be familiar?

Six, “How can I better show appreciation for their choice of me as a service provider?”  Don’t kid yourselves, friends… there’s a funeral home that competes with yours, and if the families feel better when they go to that firm instead of your firm, they’ll leave.  People spend lots of money in funeral homes, and telling them “thank you” isn’t too tall an order.  So how do we do it?  And do we keep that thought in the forefront of our minds as we serve?

Seven, “Do I deliver 100% of my very best to every family I have the privilege to serve?”  Do I?  Do you?  They lost someone, and we have a brief time to get to know them, and then deliver an amazing service of remembrance to honor that life.  They deserve our very best… not just the leftovers.

And eight, “Am I doing everything that could possibly do, and serving in every way that I could possibly serve?”  Again, the people we serve deserve everything I’ve got.  Everything.  All of me.  That’s how we meet them where they are, and serve them in the way that they wish: we give and give and give of ourselves.

I seriously read this card before each conference, before each funeral.  It changed my perspective on how I would approach things, put me in the right frame of mind, and reminded me of what it means to me to be a funeral director… I’m accountable and growing, and all for the benefit of the families I have the privilege to serve.

So what does it mean to you?

About the author:

Dylin StopherDylan Stopher is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in the states of Texas and Louisiana, and currently serves with Wilbert Vaults of Houston, LLC.  He is an active member of the SETFDA and the TFDA, and a regular contributor to both the Texas Director Magazine and the Millennial Director blog.

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