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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Funeral directors need a better model

I generally don’t make it a habit to tell other people how to do their jobs, but this one time I need to make an exception.

This is a shout out to funeral directors: You folks need to change how visitations at funeral and memorial services are conducted these days. Somewhere along the way, the model changed, and not for the better.

The last three visitations I have attended went something like this: People arrive at the church or funeral home. They are told to stand in a single-file line. The line backs up. The people wait. And they wait some more. And some more. If they are lucky, they get there early enough to get a chance to hug and console the survivors of the deceased. They quickly pay their respects. And they quickly leave, because they know the eyes of all of the poor souls behind them in the line are upon them.

At one service last year, I waited in a line outside of the church for 45 minutes. When I finally moved up in the line to get into the church, I discovered that the line weaved in around the narthex and the church for another 45 minutes. I saw several old friends I would have loved to reconnect with in line about 100 people ahead and behind me. But I could not go to see them, because I had to keep my place in line. I never did get to talk to them that day.

Eventually, because the process is so monotonous and tedious, the funeral director regrettably had to inform the dozens of people in the back of the line that the visitation was ending, and invited them to stay for another hour or so at the actual service. They never did get a chance to express their condolences to the family.

Here’s the thing. Many people at the service may only know the father of the deceased. Or the mother. Or the brother. Or the sister. Or the son. Or the daughter. Whatever. They only wished to attend the visitation and give that one person they know a hug, pay their respects and move on.

There was and is a better way: Station the family members in different parts of the church or funeral home. Allow people to mill about between them. Allow them to socialize with each other,

console each other and support each other. It would be a much better process for all involved, especially the loved ones of the deceased. As I looked into their eyes when it was finally my chance in line, they were glazed over by the monotonous, impersonal assembly line of it all.

Please, when the time comes, do NOT make my friends and family have to stand in a long line. I want them to celebrate my life with each other and support each other. It should feel more like a collaborative, social event than a line to get your physical when you enlist in the service or a TSA screening at an airport.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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