When news of the massacre at Virginia Tech first filtered out, I listened intently to small snippets of conversations around me.  Attending a kid’s baseball game, I had no access to the internet or television.  And I refuse to use the internet function on my phone.  (There has to be a tech-free zone somewhere in my life.)

I spent much of that evening and the start of the next day thinking about the tragedy and contemplating the role of funeral homes in the mourning.  Watching the convocation at the school just one day after the terrible events, I was struck by the speed with which a service was planned and the apparent lack of funeral directors in the planning.

Now, days after the killings, I see little reaction from funeral homes.  Dignity Memorial has added a paragraph to their website to offer condolences.  Funeral homes in Texas have gotten press for the register books they’ve set out for people to sign. 

Pugh Funeral Home in North Carolina has added this line to their website:

Please remember the Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff and their families in your prayers.

Found and Sons Funeral Homes in Virginia donated $500 to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and got a write-up in the paper.

Googling “Funeral Home Virginia Tech” gets these four instances and little else. 

While I can’t convince every funeral director I meet to set up books to be signed or video slide shows to run, I can remind you why it’s so important that you be involved.

Americans HAVE to grieve.  The public reaction to this tragedy should remind you of that fact.  And while funeral directors are seeing less structured, funeral director-led grief than in years past, people are still grieving.

If we are to encourage people to see us as a precious resource during these difficult times, we’ve got to be out front in these situations.

We can’t serve people only when we’re getting paid.

So set out a book and set up some pictures of those who were killed.  You might hang a VT flag on your flagpole (just make sure you follow standard flag placement rules). 

If you own a cemetery, you could set up a memorial site for people to drop off cards, flowers, stuffed animals, etc. and later bury those items in a casket in that space and provide a tombstone.  This would give your community a place to grieve and give you another opportunity to connect with your community some time after the event.

In public relations speak, this would also allow you to issue another press release.

As with any public relations effort, I suggest you let any outreach you do regarding such public events to come from your heart.  While some can accuse you of making money off the dead (isn’t that what funeral directors do every day?), no one can accuse you of being ruthless, if your heart drives your decision.