Treating Grief with the Respect it Deserves

Updated: January 20, 2021
Published: March 24, 2016
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When you work in a profession with lots of life and death moments, it’s easy to become somewhat desensitized to the level of emotion around you.

I’d argue that it’s necessary, really, to be able to detach somewhat in order to maintain your own mental health. That being said, it’s also important to remember that what comes daily to you is a life shattering moment for someone else, and just because you’re removed from the situation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to at least empathize with the person you’re dealing with.

Because I do a lot of end-of-life work, I’m constantly trying to find the balance in those situations. One of the biggest struggles I have is in trying to offer people services or goods surrounding memorials. I truly believe people would like some of the things I’ve found over the years—such as memorial globes and nose-print necklaces, things that for various reasons need to be ordered before a pet is cremated—but can’t imagine offering those things to someone on the day they are euthanizing a pet, which is often the only chance I have to interact with the owners.

We offer them not because we make money on the items (we don’t), but because I think some people would truly like to have them. But there’s no way to offer them to owners during a euthanasia without sounding horribly crass, so we simply have the items listed on our website and hope people see them ahead of time. Most people don’t, but that’s okay. Until I find an appropriate way to present it, we’ll simply soldier on like we have been doing.

If ever I wondered if we were doing the right thing by being very conservative in marketing, those doubts were alleviated this week when I received an unexpected phone call in the middle of the afternoon. I let it go to voicemail, which in retrospect was a very good thing, because it probably would have been a horrible conversation.

“Hello, this is Tammy from the ABC Mortuary,” the message began. “Don’t worry, it’s not an emergency, nothing’s wrong.” So why are you calling me? “We had the honor of helping you with your mother last year.” I know. I haven’t forgotten. “I just wanted you to know we have a new service we are offering for pre-planning funeral services. If you might be interested in this, my direct line is: 123 456 7890.” I can’t believe I just got a call asking if I might have anyone else dying they could help with.

After hearing the message, I hung the phone up with my jaw on the floor. Maybe I’m sensitive since the one-year anniversary of my mother’s diagnosis is just around the corner and I’m already having a hard time with that, but I couldn’t believe the thoughts and emotions running through my head as I heard that message.

It brought me back to the day after she died, sitting in the mortuary office trying to figure out the address and phone number of a cemetery in Massachusetts where she might be buried. “You want to split the ashes?” asked the woman. “So what, like 50/50 or 30/70, do you think?” After that, we were left to ourselves in a room lined with coffins. On top, the $20,000 “Silver Bullet” lined with velvet. As you worked your way down the line, you saw metal, oak, maple, and various other options and colors. Furthest down, particle board, and then, dusty and sad in the corner, a dented cardboard box; “The Economy.”

It was horrible to have to sit there and pick all that stuff out, and the business is attuned to your heightened emotions and guilt to gently sway you into spending more than you intended. I’m sure we would have benefitted from doing it ahead of time, but nonetheless, that’s a choice I want to make in my own time. Yes, mortuaries are a business, but they had my phone number strictly to contact me about my mother’s cremation, not to add to their marketing list. A direct solicitation for memorial planning is, when unasked for, a horrible thing to do. It ruined my whole afternoon, which up until that point had actually been quite nice.

So there you have it, my own very informal anecdotal evidence that grief and loss business providers should never try to sell something to a person unless they are specifically approached by the client. I would rather never sell anything again than make someone feel the way I did when I heard that phone message.

What do you think? When is it okay to try and sell memorial items or services to a person?