Helping Families Tell Stories Through Personalized Funerals
Posted July 28, 2021
5 min read
Danny Jefferson, Managing Leader at Pierce-Jefferson Funeral & Cremation Services in North Carolina, tells the story of a drive-through funeral visitation his firm held during COVID for a long-time, beloved fireman.
The casket, which was closed, had been rolled out to the front porch of the funeral home, and his family was beside it. Firetrucks were outside, and all the guests lined up in their cars and drove by to pay their respects.
The line of cars ended up stretching a mile down the road.
“We let everybody drive by and roll their windows down, and they waved at the family as they went by,” says Danny. “Some of them even had signs that said, ‘We love you. We’re praying for you,’ hanging outside of their car, so the family could see them as they went by.”
It wasn’t a traditional visitation, but it was an experience that encouraged healing during a time when people were not allowed to hug one another. “Many people told us then, and even later, ‘This is what I want to do, even if the pandemic is not happening at that time,’” says Danny.
It was a deeply impactful experience for the family—despite the circumstances of the pandemic—and it’s an example that highlights the significance of being able to adjust and adapt and still provide personalized experiences as a Funeral Home. Understanding the impact every funeral professional can have on families, on their communities, and on the profession itself, we spoke to Danny to learn more about how Funeral Directors can create meaningful and memorable experiences that tell the story of someone’s life.
As someone who’s able to balance and combine tradition, legacy, personalization, technology, and innovation when serving families, Danny has been in the funeral profession for nearly 50 years. In 2017, he was named the National Funeral Director of the Year by American Funeral Director magazine, and he’s been called “the consummate funeral service provider” by peers. Keep reading part one in our blog series with Danny where he uncovers how you create deeply meaningful, personalized experiences for your families.
Helping Families Tell Meaningful Stories Through Personalization
Personalization is what helps to share the story of a lost loved one, and it’s the Funeral Director’s role to provide these custom elements to evoke memories, emotions, and feelings to do just that, explains Danny.
Take for example Sally Knowles, a woman who passed away 10 years ago; in her community, Sally was known for her popular cherry yum yum pie. “Everybody in town loved her cherry yum yum pie, so I had the family give me a copy of the recipe,” says Danny. “I put it on the back of the program that we gave to every single person that was there [at her memorial], and I had a cherry scent in the room during the visitation, almost as if she was cooking the pie.”
It’s an example of a well-designed experience that celebrates the most joyful and meaningful moments of someone’s lifetime. “You’re aiming for people to remember that person in the light that you knew them,” explains Danny, “and that’s a part of designing personalization, which is done—it’s created—by the Funeral Director and the family, together.”
Are You Fostering a Mood…Or Just Food?
When it comes to fostering a mood and an experience in this way, consider lessons from the restaurant industry.
Take for example a restaurant like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, where every step of the experience is catered to your desires. At Ruth’s Chris, it’s not just about the food, it’s the entire experience that keeps people coming back. “Do you ask them to put the napkin back on your chair? Do you ask them to remove silverware from the table? Do you ask them for the valet service? If you go to Ruth’s Chris, or another fine dining restaurant, you expect the mood to be set,” explains Danny. You aren’t just going for the food—it’s the mood that creates the distinct experience.
At a restaurant like Ruth’s Chris, you also don’t hear people asking how much the dessert is—because it’s not about the price, it’s about the entire experience, and so people are happy to pay for the dessert because it adds to their superior experience.
We can apply this same principle to funeral service: “Somewhere along in our industry, the body became the food, and we lost the mood,” says Danny, making a comparison of how services and personalization are increasingly being stripped away—and so has the mood along with it. “I think those of us that understand the difference between the food and the mood will survive, and those will be Funeral Homes that continue to strive for excellence,” explains Danny.
Come back for part two in our blog series with Danny Jefferson to learn more about creating meaningful and personalized services for every family.
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