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Now Serving...Compassion

Charity Gallardo - Friday, March 30, 2012

Today's post is by Fairhaven Service Director Kristina Kindred. Every day, Kristina is on the front lines assisting families with their services and helping them within that context with whatever they may need to ease the loss of their loved one. She sees firsthand how grief affects people and how what we do at Fairhaven helps them through a difficult time. She truly understands and exemplifies Fairhaven's core values of integrity, fairness, compassion and excellence and applies them when working with families every day. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator

In the almost eleven years that I have been a licensed Embalmer and Funeral Service Director with Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary, I have met hundreds of people at a very difficult transitional time in their lives. Through these experiences, I developed my own personal mission statement when working with grieving families. As a Service Director, I strive to bring comfort and closure to my families by facilitating the funeral ceremony in a professional and thorough manner. I do this through coordinating and accommodating all types of funeral traditions with a heart and attitude of service.

Amongst the Directors, we have a saying, “Funerals are just like weddings… we only have one opportunity to make it perfect." In reality, we can get married many times, but usually we are only buried once as funerals are a one time affair. Creating the perfect service entails a few key areas that the Service Director must be diligent about.

Meeting with the Family Service Counselor to go over the families’ expectations and basic service details in regards to the funeral arrangement is always our first priority. We often discuss such aspects as the proper religious affiliation and funeral set-up, musical selections for preludes and postludes, whether there will be live music or pre-recorded cd, soloists or bagpipers. Will there be a DVD memorial presentation or video taping of the ceremony? Other important details that impact the flow of the service are Military Honors, memorabilia displays, guest speakers, reception invitations and processionals. All these things must be managed and coordinated in order for the service to run smoothly. Then there are the minute details of visiting the gravesite prior to the service to determine the best route and proper placement of floral tributes.

Each of these things may seem insignificant by themselves, but if you don’t properly identify ALL of the aspects of each service, and any single detail is out of whack, the family may be unintentionally dismayed. In this respect, all my efforts come down to making certain that each of my families are pleased with the ceremony that they have designed to honor their loved one and in turn helping them along their grief process.

Upon my first meeting with the family, I try to express my concern and offer my support. It’s common to feel awkward when trying to comfort those who are grieving. Many times it is difficult to find the right words, even in my position. I have often been asked by guests attending a funeral, “What is the right thing to say to the family?” I’ve learned that there is nothing we can say to make it all better; we can only be present to offer our support, a kind word or a sweet memory.

Not knowing the deceased or the family personally may seem problematic at first look but in all honesty, I feel as though it has been much more difficult to keep up professional appearances when directing a service for someone I know. We are not robots and on many occasions I have shed a tear during services for those that I have not known. My goal is always to make my family comfortable and I have found that the best way to accomplish this is by going over the order of service with the main family contact before the guests begin arriving. This way, I can make any necessary changes and put our family at ease. Knowing the series of events and how they are going to happen is the best way to relieve the stress associated with the planning and execution of the funeral ceremony.

After quickly breaking down the service it is important to ask the family if there is anything else we can do for them. I offer simple things like a bottle of water, a box of tissues or give out the location of the restroom facilities. These simple gestures can easily make an enormous difference to someone experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions associated with the grief process.

 Helping our families to arrange the memorabilia displays that have become so popular in the last few years is probably the highlight of my work. Looking through the photo collages and memorial DVD presentations along with the particular items that the family has selected to memorialize their beloved helps us to get to know our guest of honor in a small way. On occasion, these items have been unusual and extremely large. We have displayed giant 10 foot tall framed collage of decades old love letters from the World War I era. I’ve helped to guide a top fuel dragster through the side doors of our chapel to display in front of the casket. But the largest and most memorable item I have personally assisted in displaying had to be an entire life size hang glider inside of our Waverley Chapel. The hang glider was the epitome of their loved one’s adventurous life. It was very important for it to be present at the service so measurements were taken, logistics discussed and a team of friends carried in and re-built the hang glider inside our chapel. All of the guests were shocked and amazed to see the actual glider in all of its glory right in front of them.

At the conclusion of this service, as the Director, I had to go forward to the podium to make several important announcements and begin the dismissal. The wing of the glider protruded into the sound booth and essentially blockaded me inside this area. There was no way around it as I needed to operate the DVD system to show a memorial video which included wonderful home videos of the adventurer and hang glider in flight.

When the time came to make the necessary announcements, in front of an overflowing crowd of more than two hundred attendees, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled underneath the wing of the hang glider with as much dignity as I could muster. I stood up and paused to re-adjust my jacket and unexpectedly received a raucous round of applause for my efforts. During the dismissal, many of the guests sought me out to express their appreciation and how much it meant to them to be a part of such an unforgettable memorial service for their friend and loved one. After the glider had been taken apart and hauled away, and all the guests had departed, the family expressed to me how pleased they were with all that we had done for them and thanked me with hugs all around.

Sometimes I still gauge the satisfaction of my families on whether they want to hug me or not. I know not all folks are huggers and many of my friends will tell you that I am not considered a “hugger”, but in our line of work, often a hug is the simplest expression of support or gratitude. Essentially, doing my job to the best of my abilities by creating the perfect service is the way I can make an impact in the lives of our families and help them along their journey through the grief process.

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