What’s holding families back

Have you ever driven a car through thick fog?

Maybe in the early morning hours when darkness plus fog makes it almost impossible to see where you’re going?

This happened to me a few years ago driving in the mountains of North Carolina. It was 5 a.m., and the mountain was covered in a thick blanket of fog. It took me over an hour to drive the ten miles to the freeway, where I could follow the tail lights of a semi-truck. Calling it a white-knuckle drive would be an understatement.

Your high beams make things worse. Your low beams don’t help. Fog lights at least help you see the lines, and you inch your car forward, hoping to stay between the lines and hoping other drivers do the same.

It’s natural to slow down. You proceed carefully and hopefully find someone to follow through the fog.

That’s what it’s like for families when they experience the loss of a loved one.

Their brains are flooded with chemicals, creating a thick fog that makes moving forward into the unknown hard. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is one of the big culprits, but there are many others. The chemicals in your brain create your brain fog.

I remember experiencing this when my mother passed away. I knew about brain chemicals but assumed that since her death was expected, I wouldn’t experience the fog. I was wrong.

The family in your arrangement room isn’t broken, and they’re not overwhelmed with grief (yet). In most cases, they’re in a fog, making it hard to move forward.

What’s holding families back? Brain fog.

If the deceased has preplanned their funeral, they’ve made it significantly easier for their family. Rather than stumbling around in the fog, the family simply has to follow the plan.

The Funeral Director might have to flush out the plan a bit, but hopefully, there’s enough detail to allow them to create a personalized memorial event. The fog is not too thick in this case, and the family can move forward.

If the deceased didn’t preplan, but the family wants a traditional funeral, it’s still relatively easy for the family to move forward because they understand the event. In this case, the fog is moderate, and there are some unknowns, but the family can still move forward by following traditions.

But what if the deceased didn’t preplan and the family doesn’t want a traditional funeral?

They might be interested in a more casual event like a farewell gathering, or they might like a Celebration of Life led by your in-house celebrant. But the family will still struggle to move forward.

Why? Because the fog is too thick.

You might be able to put on an amazing memorial event for them, but unless they’ve experienced it before, they will struggle to move forward because they’re venturing into the unknown. They’re driving into the fog, and it’s natural to slow down and be cautious.

You might hear a family say, “We’re going to do something next summer when we can get the family together”. That’s another way of saying they will wait for the fog to lift before proceeding.

Unfortunately, most services planned for sometime in the future never happen. Plus, there is tremendous value in having the service now when the need for an emotionally healing event is so great.

What can you do to encourage a family to move forward now despite the fog?

Here are three suggestions…

#1 – Clarify the destination

Most families have never experienced the type of event you are offering to conduct for them. That makes it hard for them to take you up on the offer. The fog is thick, they can’t picture the destination, and the easiest thing to do is…nothing.

For them to move forward, you will need to help them picture the event. In other words, you must clarify the destination. It’s show and tell time!

I recommend having a room in your funeral home that you stage to show the type of event you are proposing. Walking a family into the room and explaining how you will personalize it for them will help them understand where you are trying to take them.

#2 – Show that others have made this journey

Most people do not want to be trailblazers, especially while they are under the effects of brain fog.

To address this, you should be prepared to show how other families have personalized the experience. Pictures and testimonials will go a long way towards helping a family feel comfortable moving forward.

#3 – Create a roadmap

It would be best if you had a visual aid that shows the family exactly what steps they will be going through with your help. Providing them with a roadmap demonstrates that you know how to get them through the fog.

Once they understand the destination, know that others have taken this journey, and see the roadmap, it will be easier for them to move into the fog and follow your lead.

Be the semi-truck with big lights on the back that they can follow through the fog. Once they’ve made this journey a few times, new traditions will be set, and it’ll be easier for them to have future memorial events.

Until next time,


PS: Having a roadmap is one of the concepts I explain in my Family Support Arrangements course. You can check it out here.

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