Question: I am a new funeral director and I was wondering if you have any advice you can give me on how to relate to older people. My grandparents passed away when I was young and my parents are still living. How do I connect to a generation that is foreign to me?
Great question! By connecting to your families– as I have stated in other articles — a funeral becomes much more meaningful to them. To your families this funeral is all about them. It is about the loved one they have lost. Your families are trying to remember the connections they had to their loved ones. They want that relationship and that person’s life to have meant something that goes beyond death. There are a few ways to go about establishing rapport with your families that show them you care.
Talk about the loved one: Before you conduct any business matters ask the family to tell you about the loved one they have just lost. What is their greatest memory? What is something they will always remember about their loved one? Were they a hunter? Did they enjoy the outdoors? Perhaps this person made beautiful quilts or knit. Listen to what the family has to say and then pick out nuggets of information and suggest you incorporate what you have learned into the service. For example, if the loved one was loved to fish the family could bring in some fishing poles or put a picture of that person fishing on the cover of the funeral program.
Ask the family before proceeding: As you are going through the funeral planning ask the family before proceeding to the next phase if they are comfortable talking about this section of the funeral arrangements. For example, many people do not want to go into the casket selection room. Mentally it is too hard on them to have had their husband/wife/parent living the night before and today they are putting them in a casket. Asking shows consideration for their loss. It shows that you care. If they are not comfortable show them a picture in a book or suggest you pick one out for them. Perhaps they would like to come back the next day to make a selection, or suggest cremation.
Share stories that relate: Share your stories that relate to their stories. If you had a friend who died who loved to fish you could share that story. However, be aware that it is not helpful for you to talk about your own personal problems to the family. Remember, this is first and foremost about them, not about you.
Touch the families: It is okay to shake hands, give hugs, and pats on the back. People know then that you care. When you greet people it is an okay to gently and briefly touch them. Some older men feel most comfortable with a handshake. Women are okay with hugs from other ladies and handshakes from the men. It is a judgment call. The most important thing is if you are comfortable with it they will know you mean it.
I would suggest you visit some seniors at senior living places. Many people are lonely and would love the company. You can get to know about their lives and what interests people in that age category. You might surprise yourself and find out how much you enjoy the visit too!