Read : February Article for FST Alex James

Alex-James (1) At Your Service

Alex James Offers her support and advice for funeral directors in Funeral Service Times 

This month I’d like explore Service, what good service means and how we each have our own expectations and standards as do our clientèle.

Working with people who are in stressful situations may mean that they are vulnerable , they may not thinking as they usually might in ‘normal’ circumstances distracted by the emotional and mental focus of the situation. They may agree to things that usually may not fit with them and in some respects they can fall prey to unscrupulous others who are quite willing to take advantage of them.

Having said this I do believe that most of us in the industry are passionate about our work and go the extra mile to give good service, in difficult and sometimes challenging circumstances, faced with the expectation that each individual holds and interprets from within their own frame of reference.

If things have been managed previously in a way that they feel cared for and upheld then their expectation of others will be a continuum of that standard – not always achievable in all circumstances. Sometimes service providers can become the scape goat as everything that the client feels has been poorly managed is vented and laid at our door. For instance …..

Marjorie had nursed her mother through terminal illness for a year on her own. As her mother’s health deteriorated it was necessary for Marjorie to receive external support and help with care. Marjorie felt that the carers didn’t offer the level of support and care that she had anticipated they might and when her mother died Marjorie was left with a massive angry space. At first her relationship with the funeral director was agreeable, Marjorie seemed very pleased with the care that was suggested and given to her mother. A simple misunderstanding about an appointment to view her mother’s body, pre the funeral, opened a portal in Marjorie where she became disagreeable and angry. In spite of the funeral directors efforts to appease’ Marjorie continued to vent her anger on the funeral director on his staff and to find other things that were disagreeable to her. In the end what had begun as a normal customer client relationship ended with the funeral director becoming a victim and taking the rap, not only for his failure to agree a mutual viewing appointment but for all of the many things that had upset Marjorie not leas her mother’s death.


This situation may be applicable to any circumstance where service is given. We all hold in our mind our story, an expectation that is our own of how things will be – set a standard in our heads and expect others to fulfil that standard. We have a self-designed line that we expect others to adhere to we may be hugely disappointed when our needs aren’t met.

Sometimes it can be difficult to apportion blame at those that have caused our distress and so our anger and disappointment lie  in wait and may be launched at someone else whose let us down.

Very often funeral directors and other professionals who offer services to the bereaved are under huge pressure to ensure that every aspect of their work is without fault and that the service offered meets the idealistic criteria of the client. With little room for any mistake and of course no room for correction the funeral being a one off event. This is a very stressful profession which I do feel is rarely acknowledged as such.

The importance of self-care and support cannot be underestimated as we place ourselves in the minefield of emotions of others and   try our best to ensure that they feel cared for and regarded by us whatever their circumstances and that their expectations though sometimes may be unrealistic are met. Communicating with those who may be emotionally unstable and ensuring that the service provided meets their criteria requires huge skill and endless patience. The funeral director must sit and listen to the story of their client with genuine care they must offer guidance and support and in some cases mediate with estranged family members or complicated relationships.

Walking a fine line and without over involvement – which isn’t always easy, entrusted with the final end of the loved one. I started this month’s contribution by talking about service I’m writing this because I think it’s important that we recognise that being a funeral director is a very stressful job indeed and albeit perceived as a lucrative profession it is a public service that demands perfection in a one off scenario. Unlike others where there may be offers and room for correction a funeral cannot be re done.

We often hear the saying ‘you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time ‘and of course this is absolutely correct. All that we can do is offer our best in a situation that demands ever changing framework. In offering our best we must look after ourselves and we at bereavement uk know from requests for our free email  support that many funeral directors are stressed by their work, that for some , personal relationships suffer as a result of the demands of work. It is hugely important that staff don’t feel isolated, that regular training and discussions are held within the business, so that staff are able to continue to offer their best service to the bereaved.

Heres a few tips

1 Set aside regular meeting times

2 Discuss potential problematic situations and encourage conversations and shared experiences

3 Give regular training to your staff in listening skills, boundaries and self-care.

4 Remember that those to whom you offer services are not in their ‘normal frame of mind ‘Try not to take situations personally and always provide opportunities for your staff to debrief

Bereavement UK offers free online support to anyone working in the industry who feels they may benefit from our support. We also offer regular training courses which can be specifically tailored to your company

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