What is it Like to Work with Families?

Most people consider my occupation to be macabre; some even it think it gross.  They believe that I work with dead bodies and cannot fathom how I can possibly stand it.  Their feelings about my occupation are merely a reflection of their personal feelings.  They truly misunderstand what it is that I do.

My job, though it entails planning for someone that is deceased, is not actually working with them, but actually with those who have been left behind.  I work with families.  I help them through a very difficult journey.  I build a relationship of trust with them, and usually do so within a one hour period.  Often times when a family meets with me, they have no real guidance, and are seeking my expertise to educate them and direct them through the burial process.  I get to know the family, and through them gain a small knowledge of the deceased.

It is not always easy.  There are rules and regulations that must be explained, and sometimes those are not easily understood by those who are grieving.  When emotions run high, many things can occur that would not normally occur.  People act differently than they normally would without the burden that they are carrying.

Early on in my career, I was working with a Buddhist family that was arranging for the interment of their Mother.   The culture believes that the deceased must be interred within twenty four hours, and due the inclement winter weather, many barriers had to be overcome.  There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and I was told that the ground was frozen, which would extend the normal amount of time to open the grave.  When I told the family members this, the son reacted with anger.  He was in my face screaming at me.  He could not believe that as a cemetery we would take such a position.

I had two options:  to react with the same demeanor as his, or to remain calm and further explain the situation.  I chose calm.  I explained to him that he did not have to treat me that way especially since I was acting as a representative of the cemetery in his behalf and things would proceed much better if we would remain civil.  As the situation began to diffuse, he was starting to listen again and he discovered that indeed I was working out various alternatives to insure affirming his beliefs.  In the end, we did inter his Mother in accordance with Buddhist beliefs.

Every occupation deals with consumer complaints.  Not every occupation has the emotional impact that mine does.  When I work with families, I educate and guide them through the process.  I also schedule a follow up so that after the burial we can reiterate what was done and said prior to the burial.  It is a very emotional time and many people think they understand what is going on, but their emotions affect their perception making this aftercare appointment all the more important.  I must always realize this and build a lasting relationship of trust each time I shake a family member’s hand for the first time.

If you have an experience at a cemetery that you would like to relate, or any comment on this post, please respond below.

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