The Need to See and Share Strikes Again

“Are you ok?” my wife said to someone on the phone last Saturday morning. The tone of her voice told me that something serious had happened.

The caller was my 87-year-old mother-in-law. It turns out that my in-laws had woken up to alarms going off and a house filled with smoke. They were now standing in their driveway (in their PJs), watching their home of 60+ years burn while a team of volunteer firefighters tried to contain the fire.

Fortunately, my in-laws were not injured, and nearby family members were already arriving to lend their support.

My wife finished her call and announced, “I have to go.” My in-laws live 600 miles away from us, so we typically planned that trip well in advance. But this wasn’t a typical time.

As she packed a bag, she said, “I have to see for myself that they’re ok.” She called one of her brothers, who lives about 400 miles away from his parents. He was already on the way because “he needed to see.”

It’s human nature…when trauma happens, we need to see.

As a funeral professional, how does this aspect of human nature impact you and the families you serve? That’s what I’ll discuss in this week’s newsletter.

Years ago, a friend’s father passed away. I went to the visitation, signed the registry book, found my friend in the crowd, and expressed my condolences.

Did I need to see the body? No.

I needed to see my friend and see if he was ok. I had never met his father so viewing his body was not something I emotionally needed.

Did my friend need to see his father’s body? Absolutely.

Key Take Away – Some people will need to see the body, and some won’t. The people who don’t need to see the body are not doing so because they’re afraid of death. They simply do not have that emotional need to see that particular person.

After finding my friend and expressing condolences, we talked about his father’s passing for a few minutes. He surprised me when he said, “let me introduce you to Dad.”

I expected him to walk me up to the casket. Instead, he walked me through a series of stations that the family had set up with the help of their Funeral Director. Each station showed a different aspect of his father’s life.

His father had been a military veteran, so one station was filled with memorabilia from that era. He had been a successful entrepreneur, so they had a station showing all of the businesses he had launched. And, of course, there was a whole station dedicated to his family life.

I had expected my friend to be devastated, but instead, he beamed with pride as he talked about his father.

Key Take Away – Focusing on the loss is hard but focusing on the life story is therapeutic.

Eventually, my friend was called away. We embraced (this was pre-covid), and he went off to repeat the process with another guest.

I’ve touched on two events in this newsletter, my in-laws’ house fire and a friend’s father passing away—very different events but traumatic in their own way.

My in-laws have moved into temporary housing while the insurance company and building contractors work out the next steps. It looks like the house can be saved, but it could take a year or more to complete the restoration.

My wife returned home yesterday, exhausted from the events of the week. She described how her immediate family had all gathered at one of their homes on the first night.

They each shared the story of the day from their perspective. First with my in-laws telling about waking up to the alarms, then a son who lived nearby describing hearing sirens and wondering where the fire was, and so on.

Traumatic events trigger a natural desire to see those close to us, to see that we’re all ok. Once that need has been met, the next step is to share the stories related to the event.

Key Take Away: Sharing stories is how we process traumatic events. Whether you are sharing the stories of a house fire or the stories of a life well-lived, it’s the stories that allow us to process the event.

Mortuary schools primarily teach new Funeral Directors how to restore bodies. But who is teaching them how to facilitate the telling of the stories of a lifetime? I think that will be the key still of the next generation of Funeral Directors.

Remember, you are in the business of helping families process and heal from a traumatic event.

Stories are the key.

Until next week,


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