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 Perception is reality.

Tim has written often about we project our image to our communities.  It’s important, because like it or not, perception is reality.  If Ann Coulter, for instance, says something, and you’re offended by it, it doesn’t really matter if she intended to offend or not. Your perception that she says offensive things is what will stick.

That’s why we have to be so careful in public.  After all, if someone perceives me to a sloppy drunk, will they want me to care for their mom when that time comes?  If we drive around in dirty or dented cars, refuse donations to charity, or leave the lawn uncut, won’t that color how people think we do business?

But that’s also how my work as a funeral consultant has taken off so quickly.  What is a funeral consultant?  Basically, I’m a licensed funeral director, I just don’t have a registered funeral home.  So I can do anything any other funeral director can do, and I rent local funeral homes for the things I’m legally required to have one for.

How I’m branding myself is pretty simple.  I provide all of my services (I’m a certified grief counselor too) in my clients’ homes.  Because I’m not affiliated directly with any specific funeral home, families know the information I give them is not driven by a need to sell merchandise.  I also focus strongly on making a funeral personal.

Sometimes it’s the most simple act that makes the funeral personal and meaningful.  I directed the funeral for a local equestrian, and instead of a casket spray, we put his saddle over the casket.  It cost nothing extra, but was much more meaningful to the family than the generic horse merchandise I could have sold them.

Now, am I doing anything that any of the local funeral homes can’t do?  Of course not.  Am I doing anything that the local funeral homes aren’t already doing?  If you ask the families I’m serving, they’ll tell you yes.  Are they saving money by using me?  Probably not, but they see so much value in what I do that I’m often offered tips after the services are complete.

The fact is, if families perceive that I can save them money, or that I can provide a more personal service, it doesn’t matter if you can provide the same thing.  They already perceive that you don’t.

Likewise, if families believe that funeral prices are exorbitant, that funeral directors exist to rip them off, steal their pre-need funds, and bring their loved one to a crematory that may or may not actually cremate them, that belief will stick until you prove otherwise.  That’s no easy task.

At the New York convention, I had a conversation with the author and funeral director Thomas Lynch about this very topic.  He bemoaned the fact that there had been so many scandals that painted our industry in a bad light, and the associations- state, county and national- had largely kept silent on them.  What is so bad about standing up after the Georgia crematory disaster and saying, “This is wrong.  It should not have happened.  We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again”?

Mr. Lynch is passionate about the future of our industry.  Throughout the years, he’s made many efforts to promote the industry in a positive light, and has been frustrated that they haven’t been seized upon.

The fact is, as an industry we need to make more of an effort to reverse the increasingly negative light that’s often shone on us, and make it a more positive one.  I think it’s our responsibility.

On Tuesday, October 30, a documentary about funerals and funeral service will be airing on PBS Frontline.  It will feature Mr. Lynch.  However, it won’t be a cold look at pricing, or about satisfying the morbid curiosity of viewers.  It’s a documentary about why entire families enter funeral service and pass it on from generation to generation.  It’s about the feelings families have when they’re preparing for a loved one’s death, and how they choose to grieve and move on. It’s powerful.

One of the beautiful things about PBS Frontline, is that all of their programming is available online, in its entirety, after it airs.  You can put it on a DVD and share it with your clients.  You can link to  it on your funeral home’s website.  You can use it as a tool to help change people’s perceptions of us and our industry long after it has appeared on television.

Mr. Lynch referred to it as “another soft ball” that he’s lobbed into center field in the hopes someone would run with it, even though they rarely do.

 Let’s make it a home run.

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A licensed funeral director, Michelle Carter is also a funeral consultant and grief counselor from Westchester County, New York.

Through her company, New York Center for Transition, she provides counseling for those who have recently been diagnosed with diseases, grief counseling for those who have experienced a death and funeral consulting to families in need.

Michelle is working toward opening her own funeral home.

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