Friday, April 29, 2016

What does it take to be a multicultural provider?

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Canadian Funeral News

by Ethan Darby, Director of Business Development

When is the last time you served a family from a different culture than your own? Or who have different religious beliefs? We live in a multicultural society that continues to change and evolve over time. In fact, did you know that over half of the population of Canada was born outside of the country?

Last year, I visited Toronto for the first time. And, while I was there, I didn’t notice much of a cultural difference in daily life compared to my hometown in the States. Eating in restaurants, checking into a hotel and traveling didn't look that much different from life in Illinois. But once I started visiting funeral homes and learning about their daily operations, I started seeing big differences. And I started learning a lot.

It got me thinking about the opportunities we have to express our beliefs and carry on traditions. Two of the most significant events I can think of are weddings and funerals. These are the times that even less religious people tend to want to honor their family's traditions. It can provide comfort and help us feel connected to our history. That’s why it is so important to understand different cultures when working in the death care industry.

My family owns a few funeral homes in the United States. It gives us a really unique perspective as a supplier. We get to use our own products every day and really understand what funeral directors need. We've had the privilege of honoring the loved ones of families with traditions and religions very different from our own.

One family brought incense to burn during the service. They placed it next to a bowl of fruit and a picture of their loved one. They were delighted to find an arrangement of lit candles in our lobby that happened to be lit for a remembrance service later that day.

Another family wanted to be present as their loved one was cremated. Per their request, they helped place the body in the crematory and stayed for the entire time.

Yet another family prepared the body of their loved one for burial themselves. All of the towels used had to be buried as well.

I wasn't familiar with any of these customs before. Even though I had to learn about the specific rituals, it's not hard to understand their significance as the families said goodbye. Understanding is the first step in becoming a more multicultural funeral provider. But what's next?

Whenever possible, say yes.
When a Jewish family explained to our director that someone would be here with the body of their loved one at all times, we didn't hesitate to figure out how to make that happen. It's not always easy to do things that are outside of your typical daily operations, but if it's important to the family and their traditions, I believe it's worth it. They only get one chance to honor the life of their loved one, and it's our job to help them do it their way.

Let the family lead.
It's been our experience that the family usually starts the conversation about the specifics of their traditions. While there's some benefit in doing a little research ahead of the arrangement, this is one time that it's absolutely okay to not be the expert. In fact, it might even be better to be in the role of student.

Of course your experience as a funeral professional has great value. You help families through the hardest days of their lives all year. But families will want to carry on their traditions their way. Your first job is to listen carefully, then to incorporate their requests along with the things that you know lead to healthy healing.

Pay attention to every detail. 
As funeral providers, we know that the details make all of the difference. Having a fresh pot of coffee ready when the family comes to meet with you for the first time makes them feel welcome. No matter if you are working with a family from an Islamic culture or a Jewish religion, you should know every detail from what their loved one is wearing to the direction the body should be facing. But, the most important thing to remember is to give the family what they want. They have the final say as to what customs and traditions they want to include.

Every family is unique. 
No matter where a family is from or what religion they practice, their loved one’s life mattered. The special effort and attention you give a family with traditions different from your own will also benefit a family who shares your background. Their loved one was just as unique, and their family's traditions are just as special. The bottom line is that if you're giving each family individualized service and listening to their requests, you know you'll be serving them well.

Ethan Darby is the Director of Business Development for Trigard and Trigard Memorials and is a member of the Darby family’s fourth generation. His family owns Trigard, Trigard Memorials, a memorial park and seven funeral homes across Illinois, Indiana and Arizona. 

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