And So Begins My New Life

Join me as I embark on a new life and new career in Funeral Services.

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Location: Southeast, United States

I'm a Funeral Services graduate embarking on a new career. I graduated high school in 1981, served honorably in the United States Navy from 1982-1986, been married since 1986, and have one son. I've relocated to a new state and have begun working in my chosen profession of Funeral Services, and I've never been happier.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Sitting With A Family

In many of my posts, I make references to "sitting with a family." Sank posted a comment, which I will share here:
Hi Granimore-

I've been reading your blog for the last year or so, maybe more than that. Anyway, just curious, in your business, when you say "sit with a family", what does that exactly mean? Is that where you work out the details of the arrangements? Is there counseling, consulting, selling involved? Is it something that you train for in school? Just wondering...

To answer your questions, yes, we work out the details, no, we don't counsel or consult, and we don't really sell; we show the families merchandise they may need for the funeral, such as caskets, urns, burial clothing, memorial books, etc. We cover this to a small degree in school, but it's not something you can learn from a book. I've sat in on many arrangements and listened to the way my bosses explain things to families. It's a skill, because you have to be familiar with your prices and explain them to the family. Not only what the cost is, but what it covers. For example, our contract lists "Errand Vehicle...$225.00." So we explain to the family this is the cost of running any and all errands associated with handling the death, such as delivering the death certificate to the doctor's office to be signed, picking up the signed death certificate, delivering it to the Vital Statistics Office, picking up the certified copies from Vital Statistics, and any and all other errands that may need to be run, such as picking up cremated remains from the crematory. You must also be able to answer any questions they have concerning the funeral and all the surrounding details. You may be asked questions about which cemetery they should use or how to go about having a burial at the National Cemetery in your state. You must also be able to explain the cremation process; how long it takes, what steps must be taken to obtain authorization to cremate, when the cremated remains might be ready, etc. You also have to be able to talk to the families in such a way that you put them at ease and project an air of confidence. Families are very emotional and worried and stressed at these times, so you want them to know you are going to take care of everything for them, make it as easy as possible for them, and that they shouldn't worry too much about the details. If you met with someone who stammered and fidgeted and kept pausing to consult with someone, or look up information in a handbook, or who answered every question with "I'm not sure, I'll try to find out for you" I daresay you wouldn't feel very confident that your loved one was being well taken care of.

Here is what "sitting with a family" covers. It is the first-time meeting between a funeral director and the family of the deceased. The family sits down with the funeral director and together they go over all the appropriate information. This is the general order we do it in:
First is the full legal name of the deceased, followed by the legal address (I say legal address because some people may be in a nursing facility or hospice house, yet still own a home in their name). Then the funeral director takes information on birthplace and date, occupation, names of parents, and social security number of the deceased. Most of this information is for the death certificate, but it is also used for the obituary. Then we take information concerning survivors (by this we mean family members still living) and any religious affiliations, clubs, memberships, civic groups, etc., such as Masons, Knights of Columbus, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc. We then ask about military service and level of education, again, for purposes of the death certificate.

Then we get the name, address and phone number of the person who is supplying the information about the deceased. This person is referred to as the informant. Once all the vital information is gathered, we begin asking about funeral services; whether the family wants burial or cremation, whether they want a full service with viewing and visitation, a private viewing, or direct disposition. If the family wants burial, we proceed to the selection room to let them choose a casket, or if it's cremation we ask about urns. A lot of times families will select an urn at a later date.

If burial is selected, we talk about funeral services, if wanted, whether at a church or in the funeral home, or at graveside. We also ask about memorial packages, which is the guest book visitors sign, memorial folders or cards, and the Thank You cards. Once most of the details are worked out, we write up the contract showing the services selected and the prices, then we reach the awkward part, which is asking families how they would like to pay. Some use credit cards, some use life insurance assignments, some pay by check, some pay by cash. Some people have little money to spare, and those are the hardest of all to deal with. Our funeral home tries to be understanding and helpful in these cases, frequently offering our services at a reduced rate, or asking for a partial payment up front, with the remainder to be paid within a reasonable time frame.

Many times during these arrangements, the issue of benefits will arise. For example, the spouse of a veteran on full service related disability may have benefits due him/her. Or, spouses of retired government workers, or someone on Social Security Disability may be able to continue receiving a portion of those benefits. In the case of Veterans, we can file for claims to see if the next of kin is eligible to receive benefits. We also assist in filing for life insurance claims.

I hope this has clarified the issue. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to make arrangements for your loved ones, be prepared with the following information and documentation concerning the deceased:
Name (obviously)
Birthplace and Date
Names of Parents, including the mother's maiden name. If you absolutely do not have or cannot get this information, don't worry too much about it, but please do try to find out, if at all possible.
Social Security number
If the deceased is a veteran, a copy of discharge papers or form DD214, especially if applying for VA benefits or burial in a National Cemetery, which is free to all veterans who were not dishonorably discharged, and their spouses, with the following exception: A non-veteran spouse who re-marries is NOT eligible unless the new spouse is a veteran.
Life insurance policies. The actual policy is the most helpful, but if not available, at least the name of the insurance company. Funeral homes can usually verify the validity of a policy by calling the company.
An idea of any real estate holdings, investments, stocks, bonds, whether they used a financial planner, any automobiles, boats, did they own a home, bank accounts, savings accounts, etc. We won't necessarily need to know about those, but it will have a bearing on how many death certificates you might need.
And also, if you have Power of Attorney, that Power becomes null and void at the moment of death, at least in my state.


Blogger Sank said...

Great, thanks for answer. Nice to put the "things to have" should you find yourselves needing to make arrangements.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Granimore said...

You're welcome. I hope the information provided was useful to somebody out there. Many families are overwhelmed by all the questions we throw at them.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

What an excellent post. I guess, most people may not think about the funeral process from the other side, so to have this kind of informative post as a means to prepare the grieving family so that the process can go as smoothly as possible probably serves to reduce the anxiety associated with the process.

I clicked on your link from Anthony's Blog Carnival.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Granimore said...

Thank you for stopping by, Nicole. Until I lost my father, I had no idea how much information was needed to complete a death certificate. A lot of people can feel overwhelmed by all the questions we ask.

8:05 PM  

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