Working Funerals - Handling the Elderly

    Part of working funerals is dealing with the elderly, they are more likely to know and/or be related to people who die as most people who die are themselves older and/or elderly.

    I should define what i mean by 'elderly' as I am not just talking about old or older people.  There is no age limit or minimum to be 'elderly', one must simple be old.  I use 'elderly' to refer to people who act old mental and physically.  It is not just that they will have trouble getting about, will have trouble thinking, are slow to respond and so on.  They will also have an 'elderly' attitude and feel about them and often have many/odd/difficult requests.  However this is not always because of their age as some people who are quite old will act quite young.  They may have trouble getting about/thinking but are still lively and do not feel old to interact with.

    As the elderly are an unavoidable part of the funeral I thought that a short guide on how to handle them could be useful and/or interesting.  I may talk of attitudes to elderly at funerals another time, but for now I will just stick to handy tips and things to watch for.

Some General Tips & Recommendations:
    My top tip is that elderly love free stuff no matter what its value.  If you are having trouble getting rid of an older person and/or they are unhappy/confused for whatever reason offer them something for free.  They will then usually walk off, content with their new thing which they will inspect in detail while walking off or once they are seated.  However they do not want just any old thing for free, it has to be something nobody else is getting.  For example handing them an 'order of service' (or 'mass book') is not considered valuable as you are giving everyone the same thing.  So instead give them a pen or something else which nobody else is talking/getting (even if they are allowed to have one).  WNBull puts company bookmarks on its tables, something nobody generally wants at a funeral except people who are already a fan of the company.  As such nobody wanted or took them.  This made them the perfect thing to give to old people, it was something nobody else was getting making them appear to be 'special'.

    The elderly often have difficulty making decisions or communicating, or for that matter thinking in general.  This might only minor and mean they change their mind about something trivial once.  Or it coule be major in that they do not know who brought them to the funeral or who will take them to the cemetery (as happened with one of the priests on a funeral).  Long story short he had no idea about even the colour of the car that he came in, and quite possibly did not get a car to the funeral.

    Elderly people are slow, in body and mind.  As frustrating as it can be to stand about, waiting for what feels like an eternity while they think over a point or formulate a questions, you will have to deal with it.  A simple fact is that our brains often slow down as we age, so be patient and think of how you want to be treated when you get old.  The elderly are also physically slow, which blocks pathways and others movements.  Again, you will have to live with it, but it is perfectly fine and reasonable to ask to get past.  Always ask rather than push and they are often likely to move aside, many elderly realise they are slow and you are not and once made aware of the situation are quite happy to let you pass.  However just push past and it will be seen as rude and inconsiderate (which it is).

    They often had old fashioned or conservative views and attitudes.  Understand this, do not let it make you prejudice and do not bring up politics or religion.  If these topics come up do not get into it (they can be dragged out for ages if you do) and do not state your views if they violently contradict/contrast the other persons view (as they will either feel bad or the need to prove their point).  This is good advice for dealing with people in general in a customer service role, but the elderly are more likely to be old fashioned or conservative and depending on your age/ideas are also more likely to be furthest from your own beliefs.  It is rare that somebody will win in a debate on these topics.  This relates to my next point.

    As a result of these older attitudes they may have prejudice against you or preconceived ideas about you based on certain things.  Being in my early 20s in an industry where the average staff member is in their 50s made people look at me differently.  I often had older people try and tell me what to do as they knew best and I was just a kid.  That my opinions were invalid on the mear fact that I was young and thus they assumed unexperienced and/or uneducated (through life itself or books).  They did not like the idea of a 'kid' driving them about or having an idea they disagreed with.  On the other hand I had people who were very happy with me being a 'kid' and actually liked it.  They asked me about new things (such as the GPS in the car).  They would comment on my age and state how I was around the same age as their grandkids.  This example of ageisim is just one of many, but the point is elderly people will see things differently to you and you should make room for this.

    Technology is something they dislike and tradition is something rely on.  Unless they bring it up do not bring it up.  It is not because it is a controversial topic which can cause heated debate (like religion, politics, etc) but because they simply do not like or understand technology.  I remember one elderly lady demanded I keep the GPS off while driving even though I was not using it.  She did not like the picture being there as she thought that GPS and modern technology was the end of the world, people were relying on it and it was faulty.

Hazards to Watch For & How to Deal with Them:
    Know where the bathrooms are, many, including the elderly, will probably need them and not know where to go.  So know where the bathroom is and if it is unlocked, or at least roughly where it should be.

    Stairs or steps are perhaps the biggest issue to the elderly.  They have trouble getting up or down them and could fall.  Be ready to help them or direct them to a ramp.  And remember, a single step of an inch can be just as bad as a long staircase.

    They are liable to fall over or trip, almost as likely as a drunk person.  As one ages their balance deteriorates as much as the other senses thus making it harder to keep upright.  Also proprioception is something which deteriorates making it harder to control ones limbs.  Thus they can fall over, seriously injuring themselves in situations we take for granted or would not even consider difficult.  So watch them and be ready to assist them.  Some would say that you should also be ready to actually catch people if they start to fall, but this depends on weather or not you could actually catch them.  There is no point in both of you falling and getting hurt.

    The rain and wet is a major hazard to the elderly.  They can fall over, slip or get damp.  Either way it will cause them harm and/or grief.  So keep an umbrella handy and an eye on the elderly in the rain.

    The heat and sun can be worse for the elderly than the rain.  The only people I ever saw faint at funerals were with young girls (usually thin but rarely 'too thin') and the elderly (again, usually women).  With the young girls they are often fine after a drink and resting in the shade, however with the elderly it can easily involve an ambulance check.  So keep water and umbrellas handy to pass out to the elderly.  Simply do not let the elderly get too hot.  It can be a serious issue and involve an ambulance which is a spectacle and a lot of work for you.

    When giving water to the elderly (especially at a cemetery) be mindful of their bladders.  Offer them water but do not force it upon them.  It might turn out that person has a bad bladder, does not need the water and is liable to wet themselves if they drink it.

    They may have trouble getting in or out of cars, especially new cars.  Watch cars as they arrive and be ready to help an older person out, this will keep traffic flowing and prevent blockages.

    Elderly people do not make good drivers (in most cases at least) so direct them if needed and do NOT send them down narrow or difficult paths.  They have trouble judging spaces and can get bottled up which again blocks traffic.

    Be ready to take wheelers as they sit dow (a 'wheeler' is a walking frame on wheels).  If you let it sit in the aisles then this blocks the flow of people, so move it to the side informing the owner as you do so.  On the other hand be ready to pass the wheelers that have been moved back to the owner as they are leaving.

    WIth all of the above hazards prevention is the key.  Stopping something before it happens will keep people happier and save you a lot of time and effort.  So think of them and yourself and take a moment to prevent something rather than avoiding it and having to react after something goes wrong.

How to Avoid the Elderly:
    Yes, my top recommendation is to actually avoid the elderly, especially if they appear difficult.  This naturally depends on your disposition, many people actually like working with the elderly just as many enjoy working with children.  Simply everyone has things they do and do not like.  So if you are like me and do not think like this then avoid them.  So 'vanish' at the right time and somebody else will 'get' to handle these aspects/people you dislike.  Here are some tips on how to avoid the elderly:

    Be physically distant from the situation, or at least further from it than other staff and you are less likely to become involved.   For example go to the hearse, you might 'need' to get something out or put something back, this is the perfect time to do so as you - especially if the hearse is located quite far away.

    Be busy elsewhere, there is plenty to do on a funeral, so find something you would rather do before others find it.  This could involve sorting the condolence book, although this is not that good as you can stop and come back to this task, or another staff member could take over this task.  Or you could 'have' to move one of the funeral cars (especially if it is the car you're assigned to), although this is sometimes silly, out of place and not liked by certain conductors.  Another option is to already be helping someone with something, such as taking an unstable person to their seat or showing someone where the bathrooms are.  Either way, find a task that you can do, is a valid task that can be prioritised, that you cannot just pause or pass on and that will not make it appear as though you are avoiding work.


    Some things said here can make people a bit unhappy, they have thought this post takes a prejudice view against the older people.  I have nothing against the elderly, however they are annoying and inconvenient.  This is nopt to say others are not annoying/inconvenient, but that the elderly are different and sometimes more annoying and inconvenient.  On the other hand they can be quite lovely and wonderful to chat with, especially the Catholic nuns/sisters who are often very lively and full of humour.

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