Executive Director Blog
We Need a Dose of Tough Love
April 15, 2013
A funeral director recently phoned a radio talk show host in Iowa to say, “Very little is new in my profession. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve learned anything new in 25 years.” If you haven’t learned anything new since 1988, you haven’t responded to the national cremation rate jumping from 15 to 42 percent, the Internet opening a floodgate of price shoppers, casket importers pushing down casket margins, female graduates surpassing male graduates at mortuary schools, Gen Xers demanding new workplace practices, cancer studies threatening to ban formaldehyde, the emergence of the green movement, “Consultants” who plan funerals, funeral home catering, a swell in families with no religious affiliation, or the impact of “The Great Recession” on families’ final choices, to name a few.
Nothing new, indeed.
When I read the “there’s nothing new under the funeral service sun” comment, my first thought was, “Have associations like OGR failed its members? Were we too complacent? Were we too nice?” Probably. Like most humans, Boards of Directors and Association personnel don’t look forward to upsetting the apple cart. But maybe it’s time for some tough love. The fact is, if independent funeral home owners and managers refuse to adjust the way they serve families and communicate with area residents, they risk losing their businesses.
OGR’s leadership has taken great efforts over the last few years to identify the skill sets OGR’s Board, committee chairs and members, Regional chairs and staff need to help independent funeral professionals make changes that lead to increased profitability and productivity. That’s not easy. Habits are hard to change.
But change we must. OGR members can expect to see new ways it will provide education and information. The days of traveling a great distance to listen to an “expert” lecture from a podium are numbered. Instead, we’re planning interactive sessions where experts and colleagues will collaborate on issues and challenges that relate to their interests, funeral homes and lives. We’ve taken a step in that direction at our Annual Conference & Supplier Showcase that begins next week, but watch for next year’s event to be even more of a radical change.
We’re also looking at new ways to keep members connected. OGR launched its first Study Group that brought a small group of funeral professionals together for ongoing study of successful practices. The Association expanded its audio seminars with webinars to broaden participants’ abilities to interact with presenters. We’re evaluating options for Regional meetings that will help members adapt their business plans to the new competitive landscapes they face.
Change is never easy, but prompted by tough love from OGR’s Board and committee volunteers, we’re well on our way.
Crocodile Funeral Is Our Profession’s Crystal Ball
February 15, 2013
I live for days when headlines like, “Phillipines Town Plans Funeral for World’s Largest Captive Crocodile” appear on my news alert screen. Most items are run-of-the-mill tales of cemetery vandalism or zoning disputes. Occasionally there is a “breaking story” (note sarcasm) about America’s rising cremation rate.
The crocodile piece was a little different.
For about two years a 50-year old one-ton crocodile measuring over 20 feet long had been living in an eco-tourism park in the town of Bunawan in southern Philippines. After Guinness World Records declared it the largest saltwater crocodile in captivity, the crocodile—named Lolong—drew attention, tourists and revenue to the community.
Townspeople were shocked when their beloved Lolong died after developing a bloated stomach and flipping on its back (the official cause of death is pending an autopsy). Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde told The Associated Press, “The whole town, in fact the whole province, is mourning. My phones kept ringing because the people wanted to say how affected they are.” The mayor described the crocodile as his “adopted son.” Talk about crocodile tears!
Lolong got off to a rocky start with villagers because he…well…he sort of ate a few villagers when he lived in the wild. But Bunawanans are nothing if not forgiving, and they eventually grew to love Lolong as one of their own—although I suspect they loved him in a non-huggy way.
Villagers set up two ceremonies to honor Lolong. The first was a tribal ritual involving butchering chickens and pigs as an offering to forest spirits in gratitude for bringing Lolong to the community. The second was a Christian prayer recital leading up to the reptile’s autopsy. These are very different ceremonies with a common objective: to bring people together to share their grief and honor the good the loved one (in this case a very large scaly loved one) brought to their lives.
It’s easy to believe that fewer people are interested in publicly acknowledging their grief over a lost loved one than in the past. This story reminded me that it’s human nature to mourn the loss of anything we love even if we’re convinced that we’re too busy or too poor to do so. Funeral service has experienced many changes over the past few years because more people are recognizing the need to acknowledge their grief when losing “friends” (i.e., people, animals, and even—Heaven help us—reptiles) in ways that are meaningful, not simply traditional. The crystal ball doesn’t get any clearer than that.
The fact that people want to push the boundaries of funerals to new limits should be good news for funeral professionals. It tells us that funeral service is here to stay even as it morphs into something new. The trick will be to adapt OUR services to THEIR wishes although we may think to ourselves, “WHY would anyone want to do THAT?” I have no great affection for reptiles, but it’s encouraging that so many people felt the need to mourn Lolong in the company of others.
As a footnote, there’s talk about searching for another giant crocodile to replace Lolong. Good luck with that!