Memorial Day

You may see it in ads or on social media posts. I saw it in the newspaper for a local mattress company with a holiday sale announcement. It is the three words that anger me the most: "Happy Memorial Day." 

I read those words and I can feel my blood pressure start to rise. What exactly is “happy” about a day set aside to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country? How must this affect those veterans who served alongside a fellow marine, soldier, airman or sailor who did not return home from battle? What about all of our Gold Star families who are anything but “happy” every Memorial Day? When you “talk wrong,” you out yourself as "not authentic.”

When I see insensitive ads like this, I know one thing with certainty: whoever wrote and approved it is not a veteran or from a military family. As funeral directors, it is imperative that we serve those who have served with a level of honor and respect that is sincere. It is in our authenticity that we gain their trust and their business. There is a saying that goes, “People do business with those they know, like and trust.” For veterans and their families, it is the final piece of that which rings true. If you want to serve more veterans, you have to want to serve more veterans.

I have built my career on this. For the past 20 years I have learned everything I could about military culture. I know the ranks of each branch, can decipher a DD214 like a pro and can share stories about the veterans we have served to anyone who will listen. My entire staff knows to ask if a visitor to our funeral home or a phone caller served in the military. We make it a point to find out, for with this simple conversation starter we can begin to create a relationship built on admiration and respect.

As we approach yet another Memorial Day, what is your funeral home doing to recognize this somber day? Are you participating in a local event? Do you run an ad or post on social media a “We Remember” message? Is there a way to reach out to Gold Star families and let them know that you care? Perhaps place a wreath at a local war memorial monument?

As May gives way to June it is time to start planning for Veterans Day. This is a day that celebrates all who have served in our U.S. Military. Find out what is happening in your area and get onto that planning committee and take part in an event on Veterans Day. Host an event for veterans at your funeral home that week. Welcome them into your doors with a free lunch or even just a cup of coffee along with some conversation.

Veterans Funeral Care always participates in our local Veterans Day service. One of my pre-need staff  members takes the time to look through her files and determine who is a veteran who has either purchased their pre-need or has asked for pre-need information from my funeral home. She then calls each one and thanks them for their service and invites them to attend the Veterans Day event. That’s it. No sales pitch. No trying to make an appointment to “close the deal.” Just a simple “thank you” and “please come.” She has told me they are surprised and pleased to receive this phone call.

As the owner of the funeral home, I am proud of her for representing my funeral home in this way. She has had some great conversations with our veterans and, yes, she has also had some follow-up appointments because of it. However, that was a borrowed benefit and not the reason for her calls. Her sincerity showed and they responded. It seems like big corporations that have sales goals push their sales through a pitch, especially around certain dates. “Because you are a veteran, we will give you a free urn…but you must come in today.” Urgency. Deadlines. It’s about their needs and not about the veteran and it is apparent.

Offering an incentive to veterans is absolutely fine, but only if it is available every day of the year. There is nothing nicer than giving a veteran family a flag case with an engraved plaque with their loved one’s name on it. You can offer a discount on certain services or items to veterans or gift the family a patriotic item to remember their loved one.

It is all about how you honor veterans. Not with a slick ad or sales pitch. You do it every day in the way you speak with them, in the way you treat them, in the way you spend time to understand their story and in the way you set-up their funeral service beyond the expected military honor guard and flag presentation. If you are able to authentically “talk veteran," they will respond and the best way to do that is to never, ever, ever utter those three dreaded words, “Happy Memorial Day.”

This message was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of The Independent® magazineClick here to read the entire issue.

Jim Rudolph lives in Clearwater, Florida, but grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. He started his career in 1980 working at a local funeral home. In 2000, he founded Veterans Funeral Care - the nation’s first funeral home exclusively serving veterans and their families. Through its provider network, VFC now provides services in 16 states.

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