Clearing through Smoke and Mirrors

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Guiding families through the realm of the Family Assisted Dress Experience

Funeral Directors and Embalmers understand dignity and death are oxy morons.  There is no actual dignity in death.  Dignity is often times only restored when standard mortuary practices are applied before viewing.  There is no doubt that the average Funeral Director/Embalmer has more skill and professional know how than any death care consumer experiencing death for the first, second, third, fourth or even fifth time.  After caring for hundreds of dead human bodies you begin to understand the true challenges of death and the art of preservation.  American death care consumers are in denial not only about death itself but more astoundingly to realities of the path it travels upon after death has occurred.  An acquaintance recently asked me “You must think death is beautiful?”  Without hesitation I told her “no I don’t.  I think death stinks.”  She of course giggled.  But I was speaking literally.  Death does in fact stink.

Helping cremation families who choose to view their un-embalmed loved ones understand the natural decomposition process of the body after death is difficult.  There is a fine line between offering information that is honest and educational and being offensive and un-empathetic.  Still, more and more consumers are becoming open to death care education. Taboos are lifting and Death Cafes are becoming more and more popular and powerful in gaining consumers appreciation and respect. Death Care professionals on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are offering intimate insight to their daily lives as Funeral Directors, Embalmers, Morgue Assistants, and Pathologists and consumers are eating it up. Still much of the taboos surrounding death are related to misinformation.  Today’s death care consumers are information hungry.  Many of which forgo traditional accredited education opting for free online education through Google and Wikipedia.  Families want knowledge.  Why?, Because knowledge is power and families crave the feeling of empowerment. The level of need for interaction when planning end of life services has risen in the eyes of the consumer. Offering new and unique services that your competitor isn’t offering is what will make you stand out during a price call, make your funeral home unique, and ensure your firms future.

The Family Assisted Dress Experience is a unique and easy service to offer cremation or burial families.  It is easy for families to understand because emotional attachment to the human body image is powerful.  We all want our families to have the best possible viewing “experience.”  Being able to see, touch, and feel stimulates the senses, which in turn helps to jumpstart the grief process in a healthy manner.  For some, seeing the deceased laid to rest is not enough.  Cultural differences and family dynamics play a central role in understanding the Family Assisted Dress Experience.  It’s a way for the family “to do something” for the deceased.  Being able to dress and cosmetize the deceased is a very personal act and in some cultures considered a great honor. Offering new and unique services like this are a simple way to empower families.  One thing I’ve noticed while offering my services to funeral homes is the reluctance to offer this service on their GPLs.  I see the fear and lack of confidence in the eyes of the Funeral Directors and Embalmers when I talk about implementing the Family Assisted Dress Experience on their own.  Funeral Directors and Embalmers wear many hats but the tall black one is the one we wear best.  We know death better than we know our own family and friends.  I’ve had a Funeral Director say to me, “I don’t want to charge my families to dress their loved ones.”  I say, you aren’t charging them to dress their loved ones you are offering them a professional service and your time, which is valuable.  Our training, education, and licensing is hard earned and families understand this.  The rise in cremation should be seen as an opportunity to offer new and unique services that families can respect and feel good about purchasing.  These services need to be offered with pride.  Think outside of the box (no pun intended) by offering families the customized services they find value in.

Today’s Embalmers scramble to find ways around embalming to preserve the dignity of the recently deceased because more and more families are opting out of embalming.  Preparation of the deceased has morphed from a fantastical science and restorative art to an un-choreographed dance around time to battle decomposition. Educating families about death and decomposition is key to helping them understand standard practices of treatment and preparation of the un-embalmed body for viewing. Many funeral professionals are afraid to be frank with families in fear of being offensive or they mistakenly assume families don’t want to hear the details.  American death care consumers can understand simple scientific facts and more times than not appreciate this kind of communication.  I’ve found families are more apt to embrace the Family Assisted Dress Experience and are also able to understand the challenges we face in preparing the body for viewing when counseled previous to participating in the event.  Clearing through the “smoke and mirrors” while guiding the family along the way is extremely powerful. There is a bond of trust that cannot easily be mistaken or forgotten.

Life altering pharmaceuticals, cancer treatments, and diabetes are a few of the complexities Embalmers face when dealing with today’s dead human body.   These complexities are a challenge for the most seasoned Embalmer.  Still, we find new and innovative ways to prepare the deceased for viewing embalmed or un-embalmed.  How then you ask, with these challenges can we expect families to partake in a service like this? Simple…we make ourselves available to be there to GUIDE and ASSIST them with our expertise. Be confidant and straight forward with families and use proper terminology.  Don’t be afraid to be honest, but use tact and empathy in sensitive situations.  Pre-service counseling referencing the condition of the deceased and the standard mortuary treatments or clothing such as unionalls, plastics, and adhesives should be discussed.  Offer truthful explanations with sensitive verbiage for the use of such items. Assure them it will be ok, and that they can count on you to guide them through the entire experience. Families will naturally look to you for guidance and support; therefore, use this fact to your benefit and lead by example.

Important considerations to be aware of for a successful overall experience are:

– Have families sign appropriate waivers such as release of liability for viewing un- embalmed remains and release of liability for injury to protect yourself and your firm

-Keep families on task by setting time expectations and boundaries and encouraging participation at their own comfort level.  Offer your support and pick up where they leave off if emotions begin to take over

-Announce each step before beginning to control the ebb and flow

-Keep a mental note of the steps you will be guiding them through such as dressing first before applying cosmetics and hair styling. Nail polish should always be applied last

-Explain industry standards and reasoning such as tailoring of garments, use of identification bands, gloves, head blocks for stability during the dressing, use of adhesives, and cover incisions/buttons for dignity purposes

-NEVER LEAVE A FAMILY ALONE to dress and/or cosmetize their loved one. Always offer professional assistance with cosmetic challenges such as dehydrated areas, bruising, or post mortem stain camouflage before “everyday” cosmetics of the decedent is applied by the family. Assist them when they begin to struggle with cosmetics and offer your professional expertise using mortuary pigments and cosmetizing techniques

-Offer them a customized guided experience by creating a comfortable environment with soft music, a scented candle, and appropriate lighting

-ALWAYS maintain the dignity of the deceased by keeping private areas covered as much as practicable

-A licensed Funeral Director or Embalmer should manipulate and lift the body while guiding the family during the dressing of their loved one to avoid injury to the family

-View the body prior to meeting with the family and offering this service.  Use discretion and common sense when dealing with hard cases such as infectious cases, autopsy repair, MVA, or GSW victims. Use full precaution when dealing with purging or odiferous decedents. These and cases involving intense restoration are typically not suited for this service

People generally fear what they do not understand.  The same can be said about funeral service. We are in an era of change.  Many funeral service professionals are afraid of what the future holds due to the rise in cremation.  The longer you sit back and reject the changes taking place around you the sooner you will be out of business. If you do not find value in the Family Assisted Dress Experience I hope this article sparks your interest in other areas and possibilities for unique services that your firm can offer.  I am the founder of NXT Generation Mortuary Support Services, LLC.  I am not following trends in funeral service. I am the NXT Generation of funeral service helping to introduce alternatives.  I challenge you to do the same by starting to clear through your own “smoke and mirrors” in your funeral homes. Times change, cultures evolve, and traditions fade and re-emerge. The world of business and death care revolves of around one thing….relevancy. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I relevant?”

NXT Generation Mortuary Support, LLC is a progressive AZ based business that offers trade services and consulting to funeral homes nationwide and engages publicly with death care consumers. For more information on training for your funeral establishment on the Family Assisted Dress Experience contact LFD, LE, and Desairologist Monica Torres at  or connect with us on Facebook at NXT Generation Mortuary Support

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