A recent article, “Is the Future Really So Grim?” by Michelle Carter elicited a reasoned response from Dale Clock of the Life Story Network of funeral homes.  Here’s how Michelle responded to his remarks:

I agree with what you’ve said- it is going to be a challenge. I am a bit familiar with the Life Story network, and it seems as though our philosophies and the services we offer are quite similar.

As for the impact all of this work and innovation is having on funeral directors, I think we’re going to have to find a balance between what we’re willing and able to do on our own, what we can farm out, and what we’re simply not able to do.

Here in NY, it’s both a blessing and a curse that we’re not legally allowed to serve food or drinks in the funeral home. Organizing a reception for me usually just involves a few phone calls.

I served my residency at an independent firm that handled nearly 600 calls the year I was there. I was on call 6 days/week. I lost count of the number of 12+ hour days I put in, got called out in the middle of the night, only to get little sleep and do it all over again.

We were fortuante enough to have a phenomenal office staff who did a lot of the more time-consuming clerical work, like scanning photos for tributes, ordering supplies, etc.

Now I don’t have that luxury, and I think most of us are in the same boat. We really are going to have to weigh what services we’re willing to offer, can handle offering, and whether the return is worth it. While I may choose to promote certain offerings over others, my families are aware that we can accomodate most requests, or offer a reasonable or even better substiution.

Having to do more with less is a trend that isn’t unique to our industry. After all, we no longer get meals on airline flights, we check out our own items at the grocery store, and fewer social workers are handling a more extensive caseload, etc., etc.

There’s no reason funeral directors have to do more than we’re able or willing to do. If you can’t stand video tributes or hate making memorial candles, then don’t.

But if you don’t offer it, someone else will.

I attended visitation at another funeral home not long ago for a family friend. The deceased’s daughter-in-law had recently lost one of her parents, and she had a DVD tribute made at the funeral home local to her family.

When my family friend died, his family used that other funeral home to create a DVD for this man. Sure, it was less work for the funeral home handling the funeral, but it also meant less revenue. Even worse, when impressed mourners told the family they enjoyed watching the tribute (on a TV the family brought from home), the family members often replied, “Yes, we got it from XYZ Funeral Home, isn’t it great?”

I agree that we’re moving from a merchandise-based industry to an experience-based one but it’s not going to happen overnight. The only way to do it, however, is to do it, and let people see it and appreciate it.

After all, we didn’t move from home-based funerals to funeral home-based funerals overnight either. There were a few families who gave the funeral home a shot, and it was only from others seeing it done, that they concept began to spread.

So yes Dale, I’d say we’re in for quite a ride.