The First Step in Making Funeral Arrangements

“Stop trying to solve my problem!!” my wife yelled at me.

We were newlyweds, and I was already confused. Why would someone talk about a problem if they didn’t want you to solve it?

I’ve now been married for many decades. However, it took years of married life for me to learn a basic lesson….Just because a woman talks about a problem doesn’t mean she wants you to solve it.

As men, we’re wired to solve problems. I realize that’s a broad generalization, but for the most part, it’s true. We identify a problem, solve it, and move on to the next issue.

But women approach solving problems differently. When they talk about a problem, they need to be listened to first without you trying to solve anything. Only after you’ve listened will they be interested in hearing about your solution. 

Even then, the solution should be presented as the start of a collaboration, not the definite answer to the problem. Giving your solution too quickly or too assertively is a recipe for disaster.

This fundamental difference in how we approach problem solving is one of the reasons why many male Funeral Directors struggle to make arrangements with some families. 

If the family wants a traditional funeral, the Funeral Director collects the vital statistics and schedules the visitation and church service. The problem was presented and solved.

But if the family doesn’t want a traditional funeral, too many Funeral Directors assume that this means they only want a direct cremation, so they write up that order and move on. The problem was presented and solved.

For generations, making funeral arrangements was fundamentally a scheduling problem. As a result, most Funeral Directors can work through the logistics, collect the information for the death certificate and wrap everything up in about 30 minutes.

But today, making funeral arrangements requires you to address far bigger problems.

  • How do we bring meaning from the loss?
  • How do we celebrate their life?
  • How do we do something and still honor their wishes (i.e., not having a funeral)?
  • How do we have a service when we don’t have a church?

Today’s funeral arrangement session will feel more like a therapy session than a scheduling meeting. Plus, it will take a lot longer than 30 minutes!

The key to a consultative approach to funeral arrangements is to begin by listening. 

Listening serves two purposes. First, it provides the family, especially the women present, the opportunity to talk about their loved one. Remember, their loss is a problem for the family, and they have a fundamental need to talk about their loved one.

Second, it provides the Funeral Director with more information about the deceased, which they can then use to suggest appropriate memorial options. For example, you might learn about their hobbies, career, family, and more.

But to begin by listening, you have to ask some open-ended questions to get the family talking. Unfortunately, that’s where many Funeral Directors (or at least the male ones) struggle.

Here are some simple things you can ask to get the family talking.

1 – “What happened?”

That’s such a simple thing to ask. Still, it’s powerful because their answer will tell you things like their relationship with the deceased, whether the death was expected or unexpected, and whether there was a traumatic element to the loss, such as suicide.

2 – “Who had to make the phone calls?”

In every family, there is a person who takes on the task of spreading the word. They call the rest of the family members and inform them of the loss. This person is called the Family Planner and is the most important person in the arrangement conference. I’ll elaborate more on them in a future newsletter.

3 – “What can you tell me about their life?”

Some people in the room wonder why you are asking, but others welcome the opportunity to talk about their loved one. Listen carefully to everything they say because this is where you will hear the life stories that the family cherishes.

4 – “Is there anything you have already decided to do to celebrate their life?”

It would be best if you asked that question to the Family Planner you identified in the previous question. If she has something in mind already, that’s the starting point. But if she doesn’t, that’s your opportunity to start describing some unique things you could do to celebrate their life.

Start with those four questions in that order, and improvise from there.

A consultative approach to making funeral arrangements begins with asking open-ended questions, listening to the answers, and then collaborating on a solution. It is more than scheduling service times and is entirely different than order taking.

The best part about this approach to arrangements is that it positions you as a guide who can help a family create a memorial event that honors the stories of a lifetime. 

You’re not a “director” telling them what to do. Instead, you’re an expert they can trust to help them navigate the loss of a family member.

Until next time



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