Shock factor

For a few years of my career I managed a funeral home in North Carolina. It was a small funeral home with minimum calls. My job was to try and increase call volume and bring awareness to the location. In my young and ambitious way I was constantly trying to find creative ways to show the community that I was around and that the funeral home was operating. Death is considered a mostly taboo subject in our current society, so I wanted to find ways to bring it out into the open and sometimes that meant using a shock factor. I went online and purchased casket key rings and casket shaped chocolates to hand out and then I designed pamphlets to hand out when I spoke at seminars. In this small town I had some resistance from people within the industry. I got comments like, “That is so irreverent”, or “This will backfire and you are going to give us all a bad name”. When advertising my seminars I always included on the flyers that there would be a question and answer session which encouraged, “Ask ANY question you want”, “What are you curious about? Your local funeral home explained” and “The truth about your funeral director”. The very first seminar I held was at a senior center in town. I laid out the casket paraphernalia and pamphlets and listened to the comments “Is that a casket?” and “Is it ok to eat these?”, some cringed a little and pulled their hand back until their neighbor unwrapped one and made it acceptable. As I talked of preplanning and its benefits and details, the room was losing interest. So I switched my energy and gave the time over to the room. “Ask anything you want,” I said, “and I will answer completely honestly, everything is on the table.” In the back of the room was a small clique of women who were whispering and giggling, hands over mouths and hunched backs to giggle privately, so of course I picked on them. “Let’s get a question from here, what do you want to ask?” So here is the big let down, the question was not even memorable. I was so disappointed. I was waiting for some question about blood or nakedness. In fact since that moment, I almost never get any interesting questions, at least not interesting to me.

Of course this got the town talking about the young funeral home manager and her out of the box ways. I ended up with a small following and in all the questions that were ever asked, most of the time the person was disappointed because the answers to their questions are not what Hollywood has taught them, things are not as they seem in the movies or in your mind. The day-to-day operations of a funeral home and the tasks that we complete everyday are just not what you envision.

I also spent some of this creative energy in the funeral home itself by stripping down the bathroom and giving them fresh paint, I covered the walls in decals like butterflies, deer, trees and every stall had some quote stuck on the wall. This may not seem like a big deal but in a small town in North Carolina all those years ago, it got some attention. The biggest jump in decorum was bringing food into the visitation or viewing room. I assumed there would be some resistance of having family and friends eating finger foods with the body in attendance but you never know until you try. I was even surprised when the first time it happened, everyone there was thrilled with it. After a few viewings with food involved, the word got around and it started to be that when I met with families, they were requesting the food. So not only did it go over well, it went almost viral. Soon I was serving food at almost every viewing I held. Of course there were a few families who were uncomfortable with it, so we would take the food to the lobby instead. Soon the solemn, stand in line with soft background music event, turned into mingling, snacking, chocolate chip cookie and red punch kind of event.

I am always curious as to how far I can push the envelope and most of the time it seems I can push pretty far. Your experience in creating an amazing tribute for someone you love is so important to me and suggesting things that are out of the norm just creates an even more personal experience. I would love to hear from you and what you have done or thought about doing for a funeral. Or what you have seen or experienced at a funeral that could be considered shocking to others.

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