My family has been planning a wedding this summer. Excitement pulses through the family as we discuss what the bride and groom want in the ceremony, the music, and decorations for the church, the reception, the menu, and the cars for the bridal procession between the ceremony and the reception. Decisions are made on each part of the festive day and we start helping to develop the plan. It involves many people, some professionals such as the florist, the clergy, the musicians, the caterer. For decorations we came up with wonderful ideas, some of which we could put together ourselves in the do-it-yourself mode, along with the help of some of our close friends as volunteers. As the day draws near we have selected materials and developed the decor with the plan to install it in the reception venue the morning of the wedding….and then remove it after the reception. Those last two tasks are becoming a bit more tricky. Yes we will race to the venue, install the decor and then race back to the house to get dressed for the wedding and festivities….. lots of sweat anticipated there. That might not be so bad with the anticipation and excitement of the early hours of the big day making it nearly impossible to sleep in anyway. Also the camaraderie of the friends and family joining in on the early preparations helps build a bit more excitement. Right?
I hope our excitement doesn’t turn to frustration though, which it could if the decor doesn’t install as we had planned and we have to improvise, or worse yet skip part of it if we don’t have the time or materials to adapt some unforeseen snag. After all we aren’t professional wedding decorators. We are in the Do It Yourself and volunteer mode, because this will be fun…..right?
I also realize that I’m not really looking forward to having to remove all the decorations at the end of a wonderful evening with family and friends, especially after developing the glow of a couple glasses of my favorite champagne. Most likely all the volunteers and family and friends will have already departed the scene as well. The thought of having to tear it all down after the party definitely kills the mood of a happy celebration. That happened at the wedding of some close friends, when we realized at midnight that there were only a handful of friends and family, out of 300 guests and staff, left to transport all the decorations and gifts home…..hmmm lucky that those of us who were left had pickups with covered boxes and a van.
A parallel to funeral service.
That brings to mind the what we see developing as we serve families through our funeral home. Increasing numbers are opting to have us take care of the deceased person in our compassionate manner, then opting to take care of the “party” or “gathering” or memorial service at their local church or veterans hall. After all those venues are often free of charge if you are a member. They determine they will “do-it-yourself” and have their friends help. They also assume the church staff will take care of all the details for them.
Let’s think about that. Most of those venues and churches have no staff. They are run with volunteers. Most churches and venues have staff to run the office, not funeral or memorial services. Most luncheons in those venues are run with volunteers providing much of the food. The memorial service is usually well put together by the clergy. The set up, however; conducting the crowds; directing the people to be in the right place at the right time; and tear down afterwards, is up to the family and friends in most cases.
Church volunteers may be able to help the family develop a memorial service once in awhile on the volunteer/do-it-yourself plan. However in some cases these churches and halls are being asked over and over to provide their help and facilities free of charge. Once in awhile is great. Repeated requests, however, taxes the volunteers, creating volunteer burnout, and excessive wear and tear on facilities. In our community I have heard the luncheon volunteers groan over the phone that they have another family to take care of. This is not because they don’t want to help, but because they are so worn out from a recent string of free funeral luncheons they have worked on.
One local Pastor called to say that their church would not be allowed to host another memorial service without a funeral professional involved. The church had many requests for do it yourself memorial services where the church volunteers were expected to take care of many of the details the family wanted. The volunteers were becoming more than just volunteers and it was becoming taxing on their church members and staff. The clergy even had one family ask her to pick up the cremated remains of the deceased family member at the funeral home for the family!
It is very meaningful and often therapeutic for family members to be involved in a funeral or memorial. The downside that they don’t realize is that if they do it all themselves, they spend more time and energy in do-it-yourself mode worrying about setting up the flowers that arrive, (and finding something to set them on), making sure the urn is in the right place, getting the pictures all arranged nicely, and worrying about who is to be where and when. By taking of these details themselves they miss the opportunity to truly feel the support of the many friends who are there to share their grief and lighten their burden of bereavement. One widow remarked to me some time after their do-it-yourself memorial, “I spent two weeks getting everything ready, everybody ate the food, drank the beer and had a great time, but they didn’t really talk about my husband. They all went home, I had to clean up and I still feel awful.”
What is a good alternative?
A better way to develop and conduct a memorial is to avoid the do-it-yourself route and let the funeral home professionals arrange the plans, set up the venue, and conduct the services. They can help whether it is a church, a hall, or a home. The funeral director and staff will arrive at the venue early to set up flowers on the stands that they provide, pictures are often arranged on photo boards and easels that the funeral home provides, and the room is arranged and readied before the family arrives. As the guests arrive the funeral director and staff direct the family to where they will greet guests, and then guide the guests to the family, through the display of pictures and memory items, and then to their seats. The family is able to experience the healing power of the guests presence and conversations. They can revel in the favorite stories that friends bring to the conversation, some of which they may have never heard before. Afterward the funeral home staff takes care of the flowers and memory items, and pick up the venue removing all the stands, easels and memory items as the family goes on to the luncheon afterwards without having to worry if they got everything in the right car.
Yes there is a charge for the services of a professional. That is because the funeral director and his staff have dedicated their life to taking care and helping others. They are compensated for it as in any other profession. When you look at the breakdown of the charge for providing the assistance at the ceremony it often ranges from $300 to $600 depending on the circumstances, the services requested and the cost structure of the firm. For most people the cost is well worth the peace of mind knowing that the details are being taken care of and all they have to do is show up. The funeral professional also has many different resources to help with all the details.
So back to that wedding we are planning….. I am going to hire the florist and the venue’s paid staff to take care of those decorations and the other elements. I just want to enjoy the event…. all the way to the end.