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  • Kari Peters

Middle aged women and funeral arrangments. Why they drive you crazy.



We have all had that family who walked into the funeral home, who we realize within minutes of meeting are on the defense. You spend countless hours with these clients going over the graphic design of the memorial card and they never seem to be content, even if it is exactly what they asked for. They have a lot of questions, make a lot of demands, sometimes they're confrontational; and will come back, more than once, for an explanation of the invoice. When interment is over, you let out a big sigh and think to yourself, thank god that one is done!


A generalized statement would be, that these problematic clients are largely middle aged women. I am almost a middle aged woman, and I worry that when my mom dies I will behave exactly the way that they do: emotional, frustrated, demanding and trying to cut costs. Letting someone else handle the arrangements, who isn't receptive to my need for control, is something I anticipate happening. I expect I will be awful if a circumstance occurs where I am not permitted to be in charge. I want to address the situation and head space of a grieving family, and the reasons they can come off as being a real bear!


"I could do this job no problem." That is something I have heard a few times in my career. As professionals, we know the workload incurred behind the scenes, and not everyone can do this job. People don't understand what being a funeral director and embalmer entails, or that it takes years to learn the craft and the legislation. But that is irrelevant, because If they could and wanted to do the job, they would be funeral directors. People know they cannot actually perform all aspects of funeral service just from walking in off the street. They don't want to, otherwise they wouldn't have come to us in the first place. What is the causation of this lack of trust and frustration with these clients?


What they are thinking:

· This is my family member, not yours

· I know what I want to do and you are not going to let me do it

· You're not listening

· How can you provide what I need, if you don't even know me or my family?

· I need guidance, not for you to do this for me.

· This is the last thing I will get to do for this person, don't you dare take that away from me


We need to observe the level of participation that this demographic is searching for. Most women are caregivers, cooks, builders, organizers, take care of invoices, coaches, interior decorators, and have done their own hair and makeup for the past 30+ years. They are used to doing a lot of things themselves. Women who have families, are accustomed to hands on, problem solving. They use their creativity to achieve greatness. Many are very talented. In some of the aspects of a funeral, I believe that they are probably right, they can do parts of this job. There are people who can do a better display than me, at the front of the chapel and I need to empower them to do so


There is such a thing as over-serving and we need to look at the level of participation that some women are truly looking for. It is important that we provide service that people want. When dealing with these clients, who may not be the best communicators, but have incredible creative skills, we need to be asking questions and providing options for how hands on they want to be.

Nobody wants to handle the task of organizing the lunch, the staff, embalming, and most don't feel comfortable dressing a body or transferring form the place of death. A really handy woman who is used to doing everything herself wants creative control not technical. I sometimes cringe at this notion because this is my forte and I also want to have creative control. I have run a lot of funeral services and I know that sometimes, outlandish ideas can cause hiccoughs in the flow of the service due to poor communication and setup. The solution to this is not preparing the service for them, it is empowering them and checking their work so we can carry them through the process.


These women want a hands on personalized funeral which allows creative participation. When someone dies, there is the feeling of loss of control and power. Our job in funeral service, is to empower people so they can go through their own rites and rituals. Women of past generations participated by preparing the lunch because they were predominantly homemakers and this was their specialty. Today we have women with a spectrum of skills and they have a need to utilize these. Many women just want to give back to their loved one to the best of their ability. This promotes the process of grieving.


Identifying these clients during arrangements by their body language is the first step. Asking them what they do for a living and how they would like to participate will change your relationship with them. The big ice breaker with strong minded women, is to ask them how can we provide them with the space and tools, so they can facilitate a memorable service for their loved one. Ask them if they want to do their moms hair and makeup or if they would like to make the urn, set up the display, bake moms cookies for the lunch, even make the casket spray.


It is not our job as funeral directors to take away the important rites which some families need to grieve. I believe non traditional options are what many of these difficult clients are looking for. We need to be prepared to fill in the blanks so they can run with their ideas. Nobody wants to do the technical side of funeral arrangements. Nobody likes doing the paperwork. We all have a burning desire to serve, but we need to remember that over serving is not the same as overseeing.


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