It’s a recognized fact, one that’s been the subject of scientific research and innumerable articles in the professional journals for more than 20 years! That fact is that healthcare and deathcare providers must get with the program and provide holistic services to their clients, and that holistic care must include spiritual care. It’s a recognized fact today that no care, whether of the living or the dead (which is actually care of the living, the survivors), is complete without caring for mind, body and spirit. So why do so many providers chaff at the bit when we offer them the opportunity to provide a complete care package to their consumers?
It’s only natural, almost excusable, that many funeral directors, who have to face death and grieving on a daily basis, become a bit remote from their clients’ experience of the death of a loved one, an unique and transformational experience. That’s why we very strongly recommend spiritual care also for the funeral home staff; they have to reconnect with their human experiences, they have to work through their own experiences of grief, even the grief of others. They, too, are affected, even if they are not consciously aware of it.
Funeral Homes and their Directors Must Get With the Program!
Current Awareness and Continuing Education
Current awareness is part of any professional’s ongoing education. That’s why I subscribe to a number of thanatopraxis (the practice of death care; mortuary science and practice) information sources like Connecting Directors, FuneralOne, and NFDA, and a number of death, dying, bereavement, grief blog sites such as MaryMac and Everplans; I participate in several continuing education courses and events each year at the NCDE (National Center for Death Education Center) at Mt Ida College and HealthCare Chaplaincy Network and ; I am a member of ADEC (Association for Death Education and Counseling), and am preparing for fellow certification in death education and counseling, and I share the wealth of knowledge and information I acquire through my blogs, Spirituality, Bereavement & Griefcare, Pastoral Care, and Homiletics and Spiritual Care, where I publish many of my funeral and memorial homilies.
Thanatology Café Events
I’m currently canvassing venues like public libraries, social and benevolent organizations, even churches to host my Thanatology Café events, regular gatherings, where people can hear about and talk about death and death–related subjects, with the collaboration of local funeral homes and funeral directors. This is a unique opportunity to learn about death planning, dying, the dying process, death, and after-death care and disposition of the remains. My planned Thanatology Café events will be eye- and mind-opening experiences for everyone involved. Please stay tuned for announcements on my blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn. Find me and my tweets on Twitter at @chaplainharold.
Why all of this in addition to my bereavement chaplaincy practice? Because I, like you, appreciate the fact that death care is really care of the living, and I want to persuade funeral services providers, funeral homes, and funeral directors and their staffs that while they are operating a business, they are practicing an important ministry both the the dead and to the living. It is a tragic and avoidable development in many funeral homes that their goal is to attract as many families as possible in their most difficult moments, to get as many bodies as possible, to move them out the door as fast as possible, to dispose of them as quickly as possible. They manage to do this by appealing to the idolatry of money—we can make grandpa disappear cheaper than the competition. And our death-denying, self-centered culture just eats all of this up. What they don’t understand is the incredible damage they, both the body-disposal services and their customers, are causing to the memory of the deceased, his or her meaning and legacy to the living, to the bereaved in terms of their spirituality and growth, and to the culture and society at large. We need to think outside of the box, people, and return to being human, beings created in the image of the divine. Not just some rubbish that has to be collected and disposed of as neatly and quickly as possible!
This past week I spent some time visiting funeral home sites in the Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene counties to survey their coverage of spiritual care. As you might guess, the coverage was very poor. While most sites had a Resources page, that page included almost exclusively restaurants and florists, some included hotels and other accommodations. About 5 % even hinted at spirituality or pastoral care services on the site, even fewer referred to spiritual services on the Resources page. This is a serious failure in terms of providing complete service to the bereaved; it’s an ominous development in the death care industry. But it can be fixed.
I have spent years of formal study and have been awarded several degrees, I regularly attend courses and continuing education events to remain on top of the field and as up to date as possible, I subscribe to numerous funeral industry and death, dying, bereavement, grief resources for current awareness, information, and much more. I surf and read funeral home websites to keep abreast of how current they are and what they are doing.
The end result of all of this effort is so that I can provide personalized, specialist interfaith and humanistic chaplaincy services to participating funeral homes and their families in the S.A.R.G. region (Schenectady, Albany, Rensselaer, Green counties in New York state; BTW, did you know Sarg is German for coffin?). I offer those services to funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes because it’s a recognized essential service to those confronted with spiritual and existential crisis, like the dying and the bereaved.
Part of the problem is with the families themselves
But, regrettably, too many funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes are either slow learners or just indifferent to the holistic care of their clients. Why is that? We seriously have to ask. Part of the problem is with the families themselves: They simply don’t ask the right question. They should be asking: What can you provide me in terms of spiritual care to get me through this spiritually, emotionally, in terms of how I can use this experience for growth? Yes, that’s quite a mouthful, but that’s why I’m providing the words.
In the past, I’ve offered funeral homes or funeral home groups this service through my mailings and many of them have accepted my offerings. But I’d like to invite you to take one further step: I’d like to see you, my readers, do your part to ensure that our funeral homes and funeral directors are aware of the need to provide spiritual care to the bereaved in the context of providing post-mortem services. I’d like you, my readers, including funeral home operators, funeral directors, and families to be the the leaders in listing on your Resources page sources of spiritual care to the bereaved before the death, during the dying process, at the time of death, and during the final rites for the dead. I’d like to encourage families both at the time of making pre-arrangements as well as when making urgent arrangements, to ask about what the funeral home provides in terms of spiritual care and personalized funeral and memorial services.
Spiritual care is an important aspect of care in the funeral arrangement package!
If you’re familiar with the research and publications over the past two decades, you’ll know that spiritual care is an important aspect of care in the funeral professions. So why are funeral homes and funeral directors so slow to react to this reality? The likely answer is this: Because they can! I’d like also to challenge funeral homes and funeral directors to take the necessary steps to explore spiritual care resources and providers in their service areas, and to make those resources available to their families. Listing those resources and services on your funeral home’s Resources page, and noting that your funeral home has an on-call chaplain is a valuable opportunity for your funeral home to confidently inform your families that you offer a complete spectrum of services with a trained, expert, on–call chaplain. Read the trade literature if you have any doubts about this fact.
I’m attaching an example of an entry for your Resources page, and hope that you’ll agree to post it on your site. In return, you’ll be providing access to on-call pastoral and spiritual care for your families (arranged through your funeral home), and you’ll be adding an important and much appreciated service to your program.
Of course, I at all times extend the invitation to funeral homes and funeral directors to contact me if they want further information or if they’d like to meet face–to–face to discuss a collaboration, or if they’d like to have a chaplain present at the arrangements conference with the family. They or the family can contact me either by email or by telephone. I am always very happy to meet with the funeral home or with families to discuss how we can best work together to provide the bereaved and their families and friends with this essential service.
Once again, thank you so very much for taking the time to read my material. I hope you find my observations informed and useful. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to hearing from you when you leave a comment on this post.
If you are a funeral home or funeral director and would like to have some sample texts for placement on your website Resources page, please click this link:
Resource Page Texts for Download or Copying.