Today is National Grief Awareness Day, a day established in 2014 to bring awareness to the realities of grief, the many forms it takes, and the importance of supporting those grieving the loss of someone they love.
The funeral industry is no stranger to grief. Funeral directors are forced to confront grief in all its forms each and every day as they help families celebrate the lives of loved ones and find some sense of healing and comfort in the service.
A Celebration of Life
While a “celebration of life” is a beautiful euphemism for having to say goodbye to someone we hold dear, the fact of the matter is that no matter how much funeral professionals try to frame the idea of death and funerals in a more positive way, you simply cannot create a substitute for the natural human element of grief and healing. And that’s OK.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t create experiences that truly celebrate the lives of loved ones. It just means that in the midst of these life celebrations, you should be cognizant of the element of grief that will inevitably be present and to make sure that you provide the support that families need to get through it.
People should grieve. It is healthy, and it is part of the healing process when dealing with the loss of a loved one.
In an article from The New York Times titled “Understanding Grief,” Jane E. Brody summarizes two authors who wrote books on grief saying that “grief is not a problem to be solved or resolved. Rather, it’s a process to be tended and lived through in whatever form and however long it may take.”
Acting as the starting point for families in their grief journey, funeral professionals have the opportunity to create a memorable service that allows families to exist in their grief but while feeling the love and support from those around them.
In a Time Magazine article titled “Life After Death,” Belinda Luscombe shares Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s journey through grief after unexpectedly losing her husband in 2015 and writes of her need for continued support from those around her.
“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do. And yet the bereaved are often treated like those to whom something unnatural or disgraceful has happened. People avoid them, don’t invite them out, fall silent when they enter the room. The grieving are often isolated when they most need community.”
The Role of Memories in Grief and Healing
Many people may initially need the time and space to grieve, but not long after that, they also need the support of family and friends to comfort them and to help them get past the immediacy of death. And that is where a memorable, interactive service can be an immensely instrumental factor of that step in the grieving process. When someone passes away, what you lose is tangibility. What you are left with are memories.
Family and friends should have the ability to serve as participants in the service, sharing stories and keeping the memory of the deceased alive. By doing so, the healing process is initiated and in a very positive way. It is also important to keep in mind who a funeral actually serves. While we tell stories to commemorate the life lost, we tell them for those left behind. Because after all, isn’t that why people attend funerals? To support the family. To support the survivors, which only further affirms the need to create a shared experience for those attending a service.
The idea of incorporating stories and memories into the service does not have to be an abstract concept. There are concrete ways to make this a legitimate aspect of your product offering that results in a shared experience for all those who attend.
Here are some things to think about in regard to framing services around memories:
- In the immediate days following a loss or following a funeral service, the family often begins their grief journey by gathering with loved ones and sharing stories about what they loved most about the one they lost. And these experiences are all occurring outside of the funeral home. So why not take this natural human response to loss and grieving and incorporate it into the service. Consider it to be part of your job as a funeral director to begin the healing process for families in the presence of all those who care about the family.
- Incorporating memories into the service could be a full-time job for someone on staff. Make it a planned part of the service. Work with the family ahead of time to coordinate what stories will be told and how. Make it an event. The planning of such an event is in and of itself a healing experience.
- The industry today is constantly talking about the rising cremation rate. And it is inevitable. Cremation is on the rise, and finding ways to slow the increase and to adapt to cremation are popular topics in magazines and at conventions. And the sharing of memories could very well be a useful tactic to utilize. When people attend the service and witness such a meaningful and memorable event, it suddenly becomes that much more encouraging to hold some sort of gathering even if a cremation is selected.
After the Service
It’s important to also realize that grief does not end at the service. Relatives go home, friends carry on with their lives, and families are forced to confront their new reality of life without their loved one. Your funeral home can continue to offer and provide support even after the service has ended. For families, that may be when they need it most.
A memorable service coupled with a heartfelt aftercare program can provide families with the extra support they need at this time as they learn to navigate their new sense of normal. When you provide a meaningful service and then continue to nurture your relationship with the family throughout their grieving process, you are not just providing a service. You are holding their hand and walking along with them every step of the way, so they don’t have to deal with their loss alone. And isn’t that why we are all in this industry?
Helping families manage their grief through funeral service is about honoring a life for the sake of the family: the survivors. It’s about helping them take their first step when they feel like they can’t stand on two feet. It’s about remembering good times and preserving a legacy. Above all, it’s about creating an experience that no one will forget.
By creating an experience for the family, an experience that nurtures healing and aims to help them walk through their grief, families won’t forget such an experience, and they won’t forget you.