The Personal Touch

Dr. Alan WolfeltWhat do you do with a client who has resigned themselves to believe that all funerals are generic, that the last send-off for their loved-one will be un-inspired, impersonal, a memory best to let fade?

They explain to you that they have been to three or four funerals over the years, that the ministers wore interchangeable expressions while ticking off the accomplishments of the deceased like a grocery list, a list often referred to instead of one known first-hand.

Your client grows restless, eyes skimming over the paperwork, your desk, her shoes. In her agitated state, she lets it slip that she feels like she is letting her deceased husband down, that he deserves more than a goodbye in his best suit, a flask of his favorite bourbon slipped into his jacket pocket. Fifty-three years of working hard, coming home every night to me, being the best man he could and this is the best he gets for it all? Fine. Let’s get this over with.

By now, it’s clear that she views you as no more than a necessity, a hired-hand to tend to unpleasant work made even more unpleasant by the impersonal nature of your business.

How do you deal with this without coming off like a used-car salesman flashing every bell and whistle you can conjure to brighten both your moods?

First, don’t consider your client a difficulty that you have to get through. Remember, she is the one with this task. Take this instead, as an opportunity to meet a challenge, disprove a bad rap and most important, provide the best service for that individual’s passage. It’s what you are there for. Don’t think of schedules, orders, the dry-cleaning, worry if the cat ate the geraniums. Right now, a client needs your full attention. Your demeanor is essential to help bridge a business transaction to human interaction. This is a key element of your client’s needs, the human element.

Second, when planning the service, don’t be afraid to go a little out of your way to be creative, add an unexpected personal touch. Look for ways to fill the gaps that an average service cannot, such as asking guests to inscribe a Memory Book, distribute packets of seeds of the deceased’s favorite flowers to guests. Was the departed a lover of books? Use a passage from their favorite author in the program.

These are all things your client’s will remember, especially those who believed their goodbyes would be ordinary, less than meaningful. You can give them more than they expect, something they can feel comforted by because you made the extra effort with a personal touch.

Gauging the client, you don’t always have to stop with the little things. I attended a service that incorporated a choir the deceased had sung with, contra-dancers he had trained. It was quite joyful, full of smiles and happy tears, something I will always remember.

For more ideas to you started, get a copy of Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Creating Meaningful Funeral Experiences at

Another great source of reference for items is The company offers a line of unique handmade urns, as well as several that are bio-degradable for environmentally-minded clients.

And for unique memorial gifts, look to They carry, among many fine items, pewter hearts that come with poems folded inside. Here is an opportunity to get creative — replace the poem with a stanza from the deceased’s favorite poet, quote or something they, themselves were known for saying. See, this isn’t as hard to put together as you may have thought. And your efforts will be appreciated more than you may know.

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