In my absence from the blog, many things have happened. Some have been a real challenge in a trying way, and others in a very joyous way. The difficult road since March has been in the wake of the loss of my mother to cancer. As her primary caregiver, she and I battled together as hard as we could, and in the end, that nasty disease won. I will save the story of my care for her for another blog post, but what we’re here to talk about, has a happy side of the coin and a tie in.
I have a wedding coming up in a few months, and I have had the honor of doing a fair amount of the planning. Not because the bride didn’t want to, but because a natural outgrowth of being a funeral director and funeral home owner is that you have all of the connections in the community that your neighborhood wedding planner has: venues, caterers, florists, and transportation. All of the things that one needs to create a successful memorial service also exist in the wedding world. The difference is that the memorial service or funeral has to be pulled off in days, not months.
I’ve said it so many times; in this blog, in interviews and in conversations, that a funeral director is nothing more than a wedding planner on a compressed time scale. Many of the same tasks need to be prepared in time for the big day. The added responsibility of getting a death certificate is the most difficult part of the whole thing, and if we can get that done, the rest is a proverbial walk in the park. The real difference for a family is that there is the shock and/or difficulty in the emotion of grief.
When I lost my mom, I really did take care to tend to her body and the cremation. The death certificate filing, notification of social security, permits, transfer of her body – all of it. But when it came to putting together a memorial service for her, somehow, my professional capacities failed me. I’ve put together some great funerals and memorials. I’ve orchestrated inordinately large services with a high degree of complexity without the benefit of assistants or other funeral directors. And when it was my mom? I failed.
Why? How could this walk in the park come up short? I can’t say exactly, but the short answer is that I was too exhausted emotionally checked out to really be creative and detailed in the execution of a mid-size event. After I had made sure that all the T’s had crosses and I’s had dots, I just didn’t have it in me. I did what was tantamount to professional failure: I turned it over to her friends to put it together. They came together and put together a fantastic event that was perfectly fitting, but the one thing they did that really made it a special event, and they didn’t even realize that they had done: they got a ‘funeral director’. They had two ladies that were, for the most part, unconnected to my mother to come in and help with the food, decorations and set-up.
I’ve always encouraged people to do what they can to save costs and use the experience to begin the grieving process and start healing through the process of planning. I still believe that to be true, and I think that families should come together to collaborate on what personal elements should be included in the service. I have learned though, that having someone outside the family and friend circles to coordinate and execute on the service details is the difference between a service that leaves people feeling as though they have begun their path of healing, and one that merely increases the stress level of the time and creates busywork when there doesn’t need to be.
If you don’t feel like paying a funeral home for the experience and assistance of a funeral director, at the very least, find someone far enough “outside” that will volunteer to help you out.