Quality Funerals

    Quality of a funeral and a funeral home is something which does come up, especially with those in the industry or those who are interested in the industry.  What I have noticed is that many of these people use little procedures or practices to value a funeral home.  Things like which way they turn the coffin.  Yet most mourners do not notice these things, nor care when they are told about them.  The way an undertaker looks at a funeral is completely different from the way a mourner looks at it.

    From this we can learn a lot about the role of the mourner and of the undertaker and start to question what is actually important in a funeral.  How perhaps many of the practices on a funeral are more for the undertakers than the mourners.

    The quality of a funeral and/or funeral home is an interesting discussion and one that comes up in the industry.  Upon seeing other rival funeral homes many undertakers will comment on the mistakes or shortcoming of the funeral service.

    This is something I notice pointed at InvoCare.  Many comment on how they do not do a good service.  One person told me of a White Ladys crew who carried the coffin head first.  Another time I heard of a Simplicity crew who did not keep in step and who's shoes were scuffed up.  I have also heard of about how a Guardian crew did not instruct the family how to carry the coffin properly which resulted in the coffin being carried poorly and awkwardly.

    I must admit I noticed at my grandfathers funeral how poorly they turned the coffin.  The conductor stood at the foot end, facing away from the coffin and toward the family, then while using only one hand on the coffin and at the same time talking to the family she turned it with the hearse driver.  Not a great sight.

    At WNBull that would have been shocking, if an staff member acted like that they would have a "friendly" chat with the boss to give them a helpful reminder of the correct way to turn a coffin.  Overall the staff at my grandfathers funeral were like that, they were nice, very nice actually.  But I noticed a lot of mistakes like that and a general sloppiness.

    But here is the important part.  Nobody else noticed, talking with people afterwards I found nobody noticed or realised at the time.  Even when I brought it up they had to think for a moment.  Furthermore when they were informed, when they did realise, nobody cared.  Not one mourner cared once I told them.  At first I thought this was just my family.  After all, most are rather relaxed about things like this.  So I have attended other funeral and talked with other mourners, from a variety of backgrounds and with funerals done by different companies.

    What I have found is mourners is that mourners do not notice these sort of mistakes, no mourners I talked with noticed any mistakes of this nature.  Also only about twice did they care or mind once I told them.  Even then they did not mind much, they were all still happy with the funeral and funeral company.  All of them said they would go back to the same funeral home (as did my family).

    We must not the type of "mistake" I am referring to.  Naturally "big" mistakes, such as dropping the coffin, a car being late, the funeral staff being rude and so on will be noticed.  Instead I am talking about the little details which make the difference between a 'funeral' and 'service'.  Things that undertakers should know and do, such as turning the coffin clockwise when leaving the church or first service.  This is to represent the passage of time, the movement of the coffin in this way is symbolic of the movement of life.  Only undertakers generally know and do this kind of thing.

    These little mistakes are what undertakers use to evaluate and assess other funeral homes, how good they are.  They are the benchmark by which conductors and undertakers operate.  They are also used by people outside the industry, but knowledgeable about it.  They are the mistakes by which certain people pick funeral homes for themselves or for others.

    A great example of this is how when the boss of WNBull went to watch a funeral of a Catholic priest by a rival InvoCare company.  WN Bull is considered "the Catholic funeral home" as she use to say.  So a Catholic priest going to another funeral home, and another InvoCare one was quite a big deal.  She came back from the funeral commenting on what a poor job they did.  How the staff were obviously unfamiliar with the liturgy, some had scuffed shoes, they turned the coffin the wrong way and so on.  What she did not realise that one might by now know is that nobody cared, except her.  None of the mourners, the one's who pay for the funeral and who chose the funeral home, cared or noticed.  

    This raises an interesting question.  Where the emphasis on a funeral should be.  If the mourner, who is the one that choses and pays a funeral home does not notice or care about these things then are they actually important? 

    Now, not all mourners do not notice.  In fact many mourners do notice and care a great deal about these sort of things.  I have been speaking with a couple of these kind of people recently through this blog.  Those who have not worked in the funeral industry but are either interested in it or care a great deal about their funeral or a loved ones funeral.  In every case they are well informed and know many of these little details, noticing and valuing them as the mark of a quality funeral.  Having said that this kind of person is rare, very rare when compared to other mourners.  

    In the vast majority of cases nobody will notice or care.  To further prove my point think of Eddie Marbo and his funeral.  One of the most famous and important people in Australian legal, land right and Aboriginal history.  His grave and body had to be moved off mainland Australia due to vandalism, a process that was mostly documented and filed.  In the footage his coffin is clearly carried the "wrong" way, head first rather than foot first.  This is someone who is very famous, and a moving of the coffin which is rather emotional and significant and it is filmed.  Yet at the time and after years of many people watching the films nobody noticed this mistake.  The fact his coffin was carried head first has gone un-noticed and un-noted.  Then after working in the funeral industry I cannot help but notice this.

    As when nobody at my grandfathers funeral noticed or minded the way the undertakers turned the coffin even though I did.  This shows that there is a difference between the undertaker and the mourner.  How different the "mourner's gaze" is from the "undertaker's gaze" and how different the roles and perceptions are.  The mourners do not see or care about the same things as the undertaker.  Just as the undertaker does not see things from the mourner's perspective.  

    At the end of the day the things people who know about the funeral industry (such as undertakers or those interested in it) are using the value and evaluate funerals and funeral homes are not important to the majority of people.  Quite simply most mourners, who chose funeral homes, do not notice or care.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Many might find it "a bad sign of the times", but really, it does not speak to people or society but to the roles we play and live in.  To draw out a large social statement from this little observation would be a bit of a mistake.  Instead we should use it to think about how we see the world, as in how our backgrounds and interestes influence our perceptions and priorities.

    It is an interesting way to rethink the roles we all live in, the role of the mourner and how different it is from that of the undertaker.

    Perhaps we should also rethink the way we evaluate funeral homes or funerals.  That if those who are paying for the funeral, the mourners, and thus the vast majority of the population do not prioritise or value these things then perhaps they hold no value.  This little actions prided by undertakers are perhaps actually meaningless and pointless.  Maybe many of these things are more for the undertaker than for the mourner.


    I do not mean to constantly pick on or look at InvoCare.  They are simply one of the most interesting companies for me personally.  And they are the company I worked for.  InvoCare is also very odd, on one hand great to work for (listen to employees, care about OH&S, happy to spend money to help customers/staff, throw a wonderful x-mass party, etc) yet on the other hand can be terrible (use a shared services model, fire people quickly, there way or no-way, can be de-humanising, etc).  Because InvoCare is the biggest, most interesting and relevant to me I talk about them a lot.

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