Death hit close to home this week…

Death hit close to home this week…

I’m writing this newsletter while sitting in an airport waiting for a flight home. I’d shoot a video, but I don’t think my fellow passengers would appreciate it.

Last Friday night, we got the call. My 89-year-old mother-in-law had passed away. Her health had been declining for years, but it was still a surprise.

Saturday was a long day as we traveled from our home to a small town in North Carolina. I won’t give out the specific town to protect their privacy.

But I will say that the town has a local funeral home that doesn’t deserve to be in business…more on our experience below.

The funeral home’s website says it has three locations. In April, it had 85 obituaries. If it did similar volumes every month, it would be a 1,000-call firm.

If all 1,000 families had the same experience we had, no wonder direct cremation is growing rapidly in that part of North Carolina.

She didn’t want a traditional funeral and instead wanted to be cremated and have a small gathering at the family home. My gut told me that they’d be better off gathering at the funeral home because she came from a large family, and a lot of people would want to attend.

An appointment was set for 9 am on Sunday to go to the funeral home and finalize arrangements. My 90-year-old grieving father-in-law called the funeral home at 8:30 that morning asking if we could move the meeting to 10 am. He was told, “No, we’re busy today. Get here around 9 or you’ll have to wait until tomorrow”…Red Flag #1

Nine family members, including me, went to the funeral home that morning. When I entered the lobby, I understood why they didn’t want to hold their gathering at the funeral home.

Cinder block walls, worn carpet, dim lights, bad ventilation, and decorations for 1970 (at best)…Red Flag #2

The Funeral Director crammed all 9 of us into his small office dominated by his large desk. He opened by saying that the most important thing was to complete the death certificate and obituary…Red Flag #3

I asked if they could help us create a video tribute. He said, “We don’t do those, but I can give you the name of a local guy, but he’s going to charge you”….Red Flag #4

I asked if they had any cremation jewelry that we could see. He said, “We have some, but you’re better off buying it on Amazon. If you bring it in, we’ll fill it with her ashes”…Red Flag #5

He said she was ready for viewing and asked if anyone wanted to see her. My wife and I, along with a few other family members, were ushered into a visitation room.

My mother-in-law was at the front of the room. Her features were set, and her hair had been combed. But she was still in her hospital gown because the funeral home didn’t bother to ask for clothes. Someone had put some lipstick on her…it was a shade that she never would have chosen.

She was laid out in a cardboard cremation container with the lid slid back. The container had three very noticeable dings in the cardboard. She could have been in a sleigh bed or draped in a quilt. Instead, she was in a box, ready to go to the crematory…Red Flag #6

Looking back on it, there were too many red flags to count. The Funeral Director assumed we didn’t want to spend any money because she had chosen cremation. He was wrong!

We held the gathering at home, and well over 100 people stopped by. Most spent at least two or three hours reconnecting with family and friends.

One of my clients gave me access to his Tukios account, and we created a beautiful video tribute. (Thanks, Stephen!)

My wife recorded an interview with her mother a few years ago about her life experiences. I edited that into a 12-minute highlight reel and played it in the living room.

We staged multiple areas with memorabilia that celebrated her life and had copies of her favorite recipes printed out for everyone to take home.

My father-in-law loved the event, and our family and friends loved it. People said they had never seen anything like this….yet it was so easy to do.

I was glad the event went well. But I was extremely disappointed with the funeral home.

Here’s why…

1 – The Funeral Director didn’t even try to add any value.

He was prepared to do the paperwork, but as soon as we said that we would hold the gathering outside of the funeral home, he shut down. To make the event better, he could have offered a number of services (e.g., a guest book, a video tribute, photo boards, etc.), but he didn’t.

We would have gladly paid for the additional services, but he didn’t even offer to help.

2 – They did a mediocre job of preparing her for a viewing.

She could have looked a lot better with just a little extra effort. Instead, the few of us who did see her left shaking our heads. Other family members should have viewed her one last time. But I was hard-pressed to suggest that given how she looked.

3 – The funeral home owners need to invest in their facilities.

A 1,000-call firm with three locations and a crematory should be very profitable. Yet, the funeral home we visited was worn out and needed a complete overhaul. Where is the reinvestment?

These families deserve better!

4 – This funeral home business is vulnerable.

A well-run funeral home business that offers a better funeral experience could take 50% of their calls within just a few years.

I know it’s possible because I’ve helped my clients do exactly that. We find a market that is being underserved, create a new option for families, and take the market.

Unfortunately, my father-in-law has prearranged at the same funeral home. I’ve already started planning how we will make his gathering special because I know the funeral home won’t help.

Until next time,



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