About 50 years since the civil rights movement and much like other holidays, MLK Day is becoming more and more commercialized as a day when malls have sales, car lots have special deals, ski slopes are packed, and many look at the day as an opportunity for a long weekend as children are off school.
Despite all this, we need to remember what this day is really about. What we need to remember is that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader, a thought pioneer, and a disciple of change for the civil rights movement. Through his speeches, he was able to bring awareness to civil rights which in turn, helped to reverse the thought process of those who were in denial and unwilling to acknowledge the issues and unmotivated to change their actions.
By no means can we directly compare the extraordinary movement that MLK created to the funeral industry, but what we can do is draw inspiration for change from things he said.
MLK said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Do you have answers for the family who walks in and says they would prefer to skip the formal funeral, and have a party right at your facility with food and potentially even alcohol? Do you have answers for the 14-year-old who the service will mean very little, but the necklace locket with her father’s picture will be something that she wears every day for the rest of her life? How about for the preneed family that walks in to take care of arrangements for their loved one who is terminally ill and mentions they are struggling with a way to share the information to the 30+ inquiring cousins on the status of the ill family member, do you have an answer?
Do we as an industry have answers and solutions to these things, or have we become silent? Whether on the funeral supplier side or on the funeral home side, I have met both those in the industry who have embraced these things that matter to today’s families, and people who have “become silent” when these questions are asked.
MLK also said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Whether we like it or not, what the industry defines as the “traditional” funeral is changing. “Traditional” was once defined as a burial with a visitation the day before the funeral. Now funeral homes are defining “traditional” as a burial OR cremation service with a visitation the day of the funeral.
What we do know is that what we refer to as “traditional” is changing, but what is hard for us industry insider’s to comprehend is why this is happening. Why is a family not taking the time over two days to honor their mother or father (it’s the least they could do for their parents who raised them for 18+ years, right)? We may know what the answer to this question is, but a lot of times we cannot comprehend the answer. Regardless of whether us insiders can see the whole staircase; this mentality is turning into commonplace that we must not turn from but embrace. Those funeral homes who embrace ultimately have faith that this industry can and will remain relevant despite the entrance of new competitors in the form of hotels, restaurants, wedding venues and more… even though they might not agree with today’s new form of “traditional.”
Finally, MLK said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, and if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
The key to our industry’s continued success into the future is to keep moving forward, even if it’s just inches at a time. There will be those in any industry that fly and “set the world on fire.” Then there will be those who are late adapters and move a little slower. The common denominator though is that whether you are an innovator or a late adapter, you are still changing… you are still moving forward.
I challenge any funeral business, funeral home or funeral supplier… listen to the families, think outside the box, and at minimum if you are not leader become a follower – still change, still keep moving forward.