Breaking the Rules…

Breaking the Rules…

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”Maya Angelou



About two years ago, I was on a memorable first time trip to San Diego with just my grandmother and mom. The whole weekend was filled with singing “Wild Thing“, nonstop laughter, 40 ounce cans of Lime-A-Rita’s, and seeing new sites.

We were in California to see my cousin graduate from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot but we had plenty of time to get out and about for new restaurants and landmarks.

One of our trips was to the San Diego Zoo. In true great-grandma and aunt style, my mom and grandma wanted to make sure my cousin’s two year old son was able to feed the giraffes. We waited in a line for a little over an hour to get tickets and this is where the goofiness started.


There was a rhino cage right next to where we were waiting… I do not know if it was the sun or the rhino, but something caused us all to become giddy little school girls. After having the unforgettable experience of seeing this little boy and his parents feed a live giraffe, we set off towards the penguins.

We passed the sea lion exhibit and both my mom and grandma looked at each other with excitement. There was a children’s playground with a photo opportunity. There were children everywhere but that certainly did not stop them. On hands and knees, they got into the exhibit and asked me to photograph them through their laughter. I was mortified but could not help to be sucked into their joy.

To this day, they swear the exhibit was not for children, the other adults were just not as fun and outgoing as them. It is one of those small moments that I will never forget and it was one hundred percent because the two of them decided to step outside the norm.


Traditions and norms are not as relevant today as they once were. People are embracing their uniqueness and standing out. It is a beautiful thing to be able to be comfortable enough with yourself to not care what others think.

When I pick up a pre-planned file from many years ago, I can almost predict what is going to be inside. Serving in a traditional, Irish, Catholic community I know that they would have chosen a rose casket spray in either red, pink, yellow, or white. They would have chosen a holy card with either the 23rd Psalm or the Memorare on the back. And yes, they would have chosen to wear their best and fanciest suit.

Things are certainly changing in today’s world. People are finally choosing to embrace their personalities. They are wearing unique outfits (we just had a man wearing his auto body coverall and it was amazing), they are forfeiting flowers and choosing other items more near and dear to themselves (we had a woman who requested stuffed animals instead of flowers so her family could go to Children’s Hospital and donate them together) and they are sending other momentoes home with people instead of holy cards (we had a young man’s family design poker chips saying “He made his last deal with God”).


As a pre-planning specialist, it is extremely important to become a motivating factor in helping people to plan a unique service. Very few people have ever been in the arrangement room for an at-need service so everything they are hearing in a pre-need arrangement is brand new. Unless you give them the platform to make unique choices for themselves, they are not going to think of them.

There are so many resources out there to help families make unique funeral services but searching Google for anything related makes most people nervous.  They are very unlikely to find these ideas on their own so I t is your duty to your families to stay up to date on the new and exciting trends that they can utilize.

Yes, it seems a bit crazy to retain stories of bizarre and over the top stories but you never know what you may need someday. There are many things that are unlikely to fit nine of your ten families, but having it in the back of your mind will help that tenth family and they will love you for it.

The more you can focus on the person and the event, the less you need to focus on the financial piece and giving a value to the numbers. Plus, the most rewarding thing for a family to hear during a time of grief is that their loved one was thinking of them in a special way by planning a special tribute.

Don’t be the traditional pre-planner. Step outside the box and go play on the children’s exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.


Chasing Ambulances

Chasing Ambulances

“The world is so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we’re not. We are ruled by the forces of chance and coincidence.” -Paul Auster (actor and director)



Our pre-need person came into the office about in tears. She had made a phone call to a woman she met last year at a seminar. However, she did not dial the right phone number and reached a woman who gave her a piece of her mind.

This woman was screaming into the phone how she was an ambulance chaser and her son was barely out the door on his way to the hospital. How could she possibly be so heartless to call while he was still breathing?!

It was one of those fluke situations that could not have happened at a worse time. My coworker sincerely apologized, she briefly explained it was a wrong number and she was trying to reach someone else, and then she offered the most genuine words to the mother who was meeting her son at the hospital.

Afterwards, we consoled the poor pre-need gal and assured her that there was nothing she could do about it. She was rattled for the rest of the day and there was nothing we could do about it.


The next morning, our office gal came downstairs to an important staff meeting. She interrupted and grabbed our pre-need woman to tell her that she had a phone call. It was the woman from the day before. We knew it was urgent since she seldom interrupted the meetings.

My heart dropped, I just knew she was about to yell at her a second time. Watching her carefully through the doorway, I was shocked to see her smile and nod in agreement. After a long conversation and many notes, she got off the phone.

She took a first call. The woman’s son had passed away in the night after getting taken to the hospital. When the mother told the story of how rude it was that we had called so quickly, her family told her how absolutely far fetched it was that we would have even known he was taken by ambulance. The more they talked, the more they realized it was purely an accident.


Once he passed away, they started thinking about funeral homes. Being a very spiritual family, someone pointed out that maybe it was a sign from God and he was pointing out the funeral home to use.

We were located over 25 miles away from them, yet the decided to come by to meet us. They ended up staying and having his services at our facility. They were an amazing family.


As a pre-need person, there are going to be times when a cold call goes badly or an appointment takes a bad turn. It is so difficult to take the high road and tell the person what they want to hear. A sincere apology, an understanding agreement, or just silence is usually the best response.

A reaction is what is natural to most people. Tensing up, becoming defensive, or just blurting out something inappropriate are all things that are likely to occur. A response is a trained skill, it takes much practice. There is a distinct difference between the two and every pre-need specialist should learn more about the difference between responding and reacting.

Just take a breath and remember to respond, not react. That person will think more highly of you, and who knows, maybe they will use your services down the road because they were impressed by your class.


Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

“Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive, who is youer than you.” -Dr. Seuss



My boss stepped into an arrangement to talk with a woman who just lost her husband. As is typical when he says hello to a family, he immediately found something in common with them and had them laughing within minutes.

Somehow, the conversation led to baseball and eventually Twinkies. My boss offered to get her some Twinkies for everyone at the visitation to enjoy as much as her husband had enjoyed them. The initial reaction was, “Can we do that?”

After further conversation, the family became extremely excited and the whole mentality of the visitation changed. From that point forward, it was not referred to as a visitation or funeral anymore, it was going to be a celebration.


Every person who was involved in the arrangement decided to put their imprint on the service somehow. There was a daughter in charge of the Cracker Jacks and peanuts, there was a grandchild in charge of a memory tree, and another in charge of getting cribbage boards set up to play during the celebration.

Before long, everything was falling together and they were honoring the man perfectly.

During the celebration, people would come into the funeral home quietly and look to where to sign the book. However, they were greeted with laughter and a celebration. People were enjoying all kinds of baseball game goodies, people singing along to the Beach Boys in the background, and all kinds of wonderful memories being shared.


There were people who left in a hurry from the celebration because they were late for something else. Most of them could not believe how quickly time flew by. The truth is, they were actually enjoying themselves and they were enjoying paying tribute in this unique way.

I guarantee that each person at that celebration who eats a Twinkie in the future is going to think of this man. When they do think of him, hopefully they will pick up the phone and call someone in the family to see how they are doing.


Personalizing a service seems like it would be useful only after someone has passed away. However, it is almost more relevant to the pre-need side of the industry than after the fact.

No one knows you better than yourself. So, use that concept when other people are planning their services. Find out what they want to be remembered for, find out their favorite foods or treats, find out their favorite songs, find out all the unique information you can find out about them.

Oftentimes, people look at the general items when they are putting money towards their funeral. Make them think about the extras that they could be planning for and get their minds thinking about what makes them so special.


There was a man who loved Burger King so his family went through the drive-thru during his funeral procession and everyone received a Whopper. You will never know if someone wants to put money aside for hundreds of Whoppers if you do not ask.

We had a service for a woman who loved the Minnesota Twins. She chose a specialty Twins urn and her grandchildren all signed the ball that was under a glass globe on top. When the Major League Baseball team found out about this 84 year old superfan, they stepped in to offer her family a luxury suite so they could enjoy one last game together. If someone was a huge baseball fan, why  not help them plan to send their family to a game after the service instead of a luncheon?

Another example is a very social and well known man who passed away last year. His pride and joy was his street rods and attending different car shows around the state. We took the doors off the building and somehow got one of his cars inside and placed his urn in the driver’s seat. Throughout the day, over 58 other street rods came to pay tribute at his service. Eventually the street was shut down for people to be outside looking at the different vehicles. If someone has a car or motorcycle they love, encourage them to plan for it to be at their service.

Not ever person has to have something extremely unique to have their funeral service represent them someday. Put money aside to have their favorite candy placed around the gathering, put money aside to have a live violin group come play in the lobby, or put money aside to have a tree planted in their name.

There are so many resources on how to personalize a funeral service, you just have to be aware of those ideas before you can help someone to personalize their own life. Let’s start planning celebrations instead of funerals.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

What Goes Around, Comes Around

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” -Vincent Van Gogh



I just got done checking my bag at the Minneapolis airport when I looked up to see a very long line for security. As I started walking hurriedly through the airport, I could barely see the end of the line.

There were people everywhere and I was being bumped back and forth by suitcases or people trying to get by. Right in front of me, a woman dropped her bag so I quickly went to help her pick it up. I was heartbroken, she was in a wheelchair and trying to push her wheels while her carry on bag was on her lap.

After helping her to get everything situated, I asked her if she wanted me to push her to security since I did not have any bags to carry myself. She very eagerly said yes since she had been struggling for a bit without anyone helping.

As we headed towards the end of the line, an officer stopped us and instructed that this woman had to go through a special inspection since she had a wheelchair. This was great news for her!

I went to drop her off in the very short line and wished her safe travels. As I went to walk away, she grabbed my hand and said “Officer, can my granddaughter come through security with me or does she have to go to that other line?” He told me to stay with her and go through the short line.


I was absolutely stunned. First of all, we were lying to a TSA agent, but second of all, she was saving me an hour of time by skipping the security line.

As we waited for the line, she told me that she believed every good deed should be rewarded with another good deed. She was disappointed that so many people walked right by her. She could see that I was clearly late, yet I stopped to help. She believed that people will continue to do good in the world if the world does good right back to them.

After going through security, we were headed in the same direction so we continued with our granddaughter/grandmother relationship. By the time we said goodbye at her gate, she had restored my faith in the world.


Good is often times rewarded with good, and bad with bad; it’s the basis of karma. Well, if you can apply this idea to your work life, it could benefit you greatly.

I have known many great pre-need agents but I have also known some agents that struggle a bit. One of the biggest struggles I hear is the fact that the funeral directors or administrative staff do not necessarily jump to help them out, do them favors, or get them appointments.

When I have had agents question why, I ask how their relationship is with their coworkers. Usually it is not that great, so my first advice is to be present. I point out that if they are coming in 10 minutes before an appointment with a briefcase and leaving right after they appointment is over, they are never going to build that relationship with their coworkers.

Think of yourself, if you have an appointment at 11:00 AM and only have paperwork and calls to work on, do not work from home until your appointment. You should go to the funeral home, set up shop and work from there. At first you will probably be annoyed by the chaos that is usually present, but over the course of time, you will be able to understand and participate in the chaos.

Hopefully, you will be able to notice and refill the coffee pot that just ran out, you will notice the lobby glass is smeared and could be cleaned, or even things more relevant to your position, you will be able to greet and chat with the little woman who walks in to get a price list. These are clearly not things that are on your job description, however, they are things that make a difference. These little things will not go unnoticed, they will be appreciated by your coworkers and the families being served.

Additionally, you will begin to see the value in what you are selling. You will  begin to see the value in the people who will eventually take care of your client. The financial conversation will be much easier because you will believe deep down why the company charges for different items.


When the chaos goes away for a few minutes, you will be able to talk to those you work with. You will be able to have small talk and get to know each other. The more they know about you (and even more importantly, the more you know about them) the more likely it will be for them to trust a family with you or push a family to meet with you.

If the funeral director can introduce you to a family and say “Oh Lillian and Dave, this is Dennis and he grew up in Somerset, Wisconsin too!” It puts the family’s trust in you right away and breaks the ice with further questions about what street you lived on or if you ever at at Sportsmans Bar and Grill. If your coworkers do not know much about you, then they are simply introducing you by saying, “Oh Lillian and Dave, this is Dennis and he is going to be meeting with you today.”

My favorite pre-need specialists have worked visitations, taken an at-need family to their car with an umbrella because of rain, and they have dropped off death certificates at a family’s home so they do not need to wait by mail. These agents ones are the most successful ones because they have their coworkers’ utmost respect and trust; plus, their face is now ingrained in the minds of the current families and they will be recognized later when they make the call to them about pre-planning for themselves.

It is simple, be present at your company and remember it is the little things that will go a long way. If you make a difference to your coworker’s small, daily tasks, they will make a difference in your success as a pre-need agent. You should always try to be that person that stops your busy life to push a fragile little woman through the airport.

*Note: Lying to a TSA agent is a felony, do not try at home.

No Skirt, No Shoes, No Funeral Service

No Skirt, No Shoes, No Funeral Service

“Sometimes we let life guide us, and other times we take life by the horns. But one thing is for sure: no matter how organized we are, or how well we plan, we can always expect the unexpected.” -Brandon Jenner (actor and composer)



It was an early Saturday morning for our hearse driver, the funeral assistant, and myself. We were headed to a church across town and the service we were already running a bit late.

As we loaded the casket into our coach, I felt a tug on my skirt and asked the hearse driver to stop for a moment and hold the casket. My skirt had gotten caught in the rollers of the hearse. No big deal, right?

We quickly decided we would just reverse and unload the casket. Then, my skirt should unroll with it. Well, even the best thought out plans can fall through. We ended up tangling my skirt even worse and the hearse driver was stuck holding the casket end by himself.


As any retired man would say to a woman half his age, “Our only choice is for you to take your skirt off.” As funny as it sounded, he was right and it was the only option for us. The icing on the cake was that we were loading outside in the parking lot instead of the garage like usual.

After assuring that his eyes were closed and no one was driving by, I unzipped my skirt and ran inside with just my underwear and pantyhose on. I grabbed the first thing I could, which was a high traffic rug, and wrapped it around me.

With much effort, the driver was able to get my skirt out with just a three inch tear. It was discreet enough that I was able to staple it, throw it back on, and then continue with our day. The two other staff busted their butts to help make up for lost time.

The situation could have ruined our day, our mood, and ultimately the service; however, the three of us decided 20 minutes of running around was worth the humor of the morning.


Funeral directors are used to the rollercoaster that is every day in funeral service. But, more often than not, this is where pre-need specialists get frazzled.

It happens all the time. The pre-need specialist arrives at the funeral home to find out all the arrangement rooms are taken and there is a private view in the chapel. The available options are to meet in the lobby or the broom closet.

The natural response is an increased heart rate and panic. They run around the building frantically trying to make a meeting area for their appointment and work to line up the right catalogues and binders.

By the time the family arrives, they still have not calmed down. Usually they are unnecessarily apologizing for the circumstances and honestly, the family does not even realize the situation needs apologizing for.

The pace in these appointments is much quicker than it should be, and there is stress in the air. The family can always sense that something is wrong.


First of all, just take a deep breath. Your appointment relies on you calming down. They say that animals can sense fear, well the same is true about humans, they can sense anxiety.

Second of all, do not get upset with the funeral directors. Realize that every moment of their lives is hopping from moment to moment and they are used to putting out little fires throughout the day. They are constantly on adrenaline rush because they never know what the next hour will bring. This is not how the pre-need departments usually operate but the funeral directors cannot seem to comprehend that.

Lastly, remember that you personally decide your mood and your mood sets the atmosphere. Learn different techniques on how to calm down when things are going wrong. Do not let the little things affect the big picture. As long as you are not running through a parking lot with just pantyhose on, I would say your day cannot be that bad.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“You can talk with someone for years, every day, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.” -C. Joybell C. (author)



Before we were ever engaged, Andrew and I went to his sister’s gorgeous wedding in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was right on the river, the decorations were phenomenal, the food was delicious, and the music was perfect. As you know, there is always a “but”…

But… there were hundreds of people everywhere. Hundreds of people for the couple to talk with and say hello to. It was at that moment in which I knew we could never get married in the Midwest because his family is absolutely gigantic.


Fast forward two years to when we become engaged and we happily agree to have a destination wedding for close friends and family. We researched locations and decided on a resort in Tulum, Mexico. After sending out our save the dates, we began working with the resort and coordinators.

Since our coordinator was in Mexico and we were in the United States, we worked solely via email. Every question we had was answered with “Do not worry, it will be taken care of” or “We will discuss that when you come down here.” When something of substance was sent to us, it made absolutely no sense. It was a mash up of information and numbers.

The whole planning process was very stressful because we did not know anything about this type of wedding and we were not receiving valuable answers. We truly were second guessing the resort and second guessing going forward with a destination wedding.


Before getting on our airplane, we did not have answers and our friends and family did not have answers. We were just trusting the email correspondence.

Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted with attention and love. I cannot describe the moment we met our coordinator, Estefania. It was a huge relief getting that first hug from her and hearing that everything was going to be perfect.

We sat across from her in the boutique and she went through everything, every detail. She talked about the route my father would walk me to the ceremony, she talked about the garnish on the chicken, and she talked about who would give the champagne toast on the beach. When I had questions, she could see on my face that she needed to explain further. When I was happy with details, she could see how important it was to me.


Absolutely nothing can replace the experience of meeting face to face. The interaction during this time is the most effective type of communication.

When working with a family who is pre-planning, you need to remember the impact of your presence to them. Do whatever possible to get them right in front of you.

If someone wants information only, volunteer to bring it right to their door instead of mailing or emailing it. Better yet, get them in the door by seeing if they will come pick it up in person. More often than not, they will sit down at a table as you clarify the information.

If someone submits their information online or by email, pick up the phone to call them. By hearing your voice, it makes you a real person. It makes you more trustworthy and it makes them more likely to come to the facility.

Without a doubt, it is very hard to make a stranger feel welcome simply through written correspondence. Meet in person whenever possible, and settle on talking by phone when needed.


My favorite commercial about customer service is from Nationwide Car Insurance. They are spot on with their commercial about the impersonal nature of today’s world. When referring to customer service today, the commercial voice over says “It happens so often, you almost get used to it” as a drone haphazardly drops a package in front of someone’s house.

The commercial ends with a man hugging the insurance representative who is looking at his car in an accident because it is so uncommon to have face to face service anymore.

Be that stranger that person that someone hugs because they were not expecting an interpersonal interaction.


You can never replace human interaction with written correspondence. Let your face to face meetings be a core element to your job and strive each day to improve yourself within those face to face meetings. There are so many resources on how to become a superior service provider, utilize these resources daily.

Our wedding day would not have been the same without Estefania’s guidance and kindness when we got that first hug in person. However, you will never understand exactly how I felt in that moment so make sure to find your own in person example of when someone made you feel special. Use your own happy moment to drive you as you move forward in your career.

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

“Concentrate on small segments of your race at a time. For example, rather than obsessing about the distance that remains, simply complete the next mile in good form…try another, then another, until the race is done.” -Jerry Lynch (baseball player)



It was one of those moments when I was a bit late to the conversation between my friends. Everyone was super pumped and they were getting excited about a group activity, I got caught up in the excitement, and BOOM, I agreed to something ridiculous.

That’s right… I agreed to something I absolutely have very little chance of completing: a Tough Mudder race. Usually several states have the chance to host this intense race so we were excited that Minnesota was hosting one this year.

The kicker, however, is that the town I live in was hosting the race. Good old Hugo, Minnesota. So, I was easily convinced with peer pressure, “It is a sign, we HAVE to do it.”

One truly does not know what one of these races entail until they watch a video. The general idea is about a 10-12 mile run with some intense obstacles involved. By intense obstacles, I mean LIVE wires hanging inches above water or creating a chain of people to get over a 20 foot wall or jumping off a cliff into a giant pond of iced water.


My husband is a very routine and seasoned runner. Very seldom will an evening go by that he does not squeeze in a few miles of running, so this event is not going to affect him much.

On the other hand, I may have gotten a reputation for being a routine relaxer. I have always attributed this to his desk job versus my running around job, but the reality is that I am out of shape and have become lazy.

For Christmas, Andrew got me some amazing running shoes. It was the first time in my life that I actually owned a pair of shoes that were designed for running. However, winter was pretty cold this year and I barely set foot in those shoes.

Luckily, it was 60 degrees today, so for the first after a long, cold few months I knew it was time to dust off my running shoes.


Leaving for my first run, I was ecstatic. I used to run 10k’s and 5k’s without any issue. Just last year I ran the 7 mile stretch of a marathon relay. Turning on my music, I started my run with a little of P!nk’s “Get the Party Started” because it is the best pump up music I can think of. It was not long before I started struggling, P!nk wasn’t even to “I’m your operator, you can call anytime…” I was completely out of breath. My mind was so ready to run far but my body was not.

As I looked down, struggling for motivation, I realized I had been doing all the basics wrong. My shoulders were slumped over, I was staring at the ground a few feet in front of me, my breathing was not calm. I ultimately was setting myself up for failure.


As I stood there, I realized I needed to start my run over in my head, I looked up into the horizon and saw the beautiful trail I was missing. I took a deep breath, put my shoulders back, then took off towards home.

The last part of my run was much better, it was not up to the caliber that I had envisioned in my mind, but it was significantly better than how I started. The tools were there the whole time, I just accessed them too late.

The same lesson can be relevant when working with families pre-planning. Think of them as your body and you as your mind. Although you would love to be able to control them and have them finish the race right off the bat, sometimes they are not in a position to run the whole race in one time.

Like I could not control my body on that first run, you cannot control every client on that first appointment. They may need several consultations and they may need to be given the right tools over a period of time.

Remember, you can be a mediocre professional and let them control the pace without guidance, or you can be a wonderful professional and give them the tools to get their arrangements in shape and plan appropriately.

You will get them to the end of the race, it just takes the right training. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.