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Community service is at the heart of the NFDA’s endeavor

A portrait of Lacy Robinson, the National Funeral Directors Association’s director of member development

Lacy Robinson, the National Funeral Directors Association’s director of member development

When you’ve just lost a loved one, it can be hard to think about making their funeral arrangements, even if they had a plan or told you exactly what they wanted.

That’s where caring funeral professionals step in to support the bereaved. It’s an important role with huge responsibilities – but an organization called the National Funeral Directors Association has their backs.

Full of positive energy, the NFDA’s director of member development, Lacy Robinson, supports funeral directors to reach out to meet the needs of the recently bereaved. Here, she tells us just why she’s so passionate about the role she’s been in since 2015, beginning with the personal losses that inspired her.

A career in caring

I was in the eighth grade when my grandfather died of cancer – 1993 was a life changing year for me. I remember every detail of that entire experience, from what my grandmother wore to the funeral, to Going Home embroidered on the casket panel.

Not long after, my other grandfather died from a stroke. Again, I remember every single detail. A female funeral director helped me place a letter in my grandfather’s suit jacket and I remember how she walked alongside with her arm around me at the cemetery.

Both those funerals triggered my desire to learn more about funeral service. After then, I made every project or research assignment that came my way during high school about funeral service. From researching the chemical composition of formaldehyde to early American funeral customs – teachers came to expect my homework assignments to stand out from the others!

The summer before my senior year of high school I walked down the street to the local funeral home and asked if I could have a job. From then, my dream was to become a licensed funeral director and embalmer.

My heart was always on serving families – at first, I was extremely focused on following directions and absorbing as much knowledge from my co-workers as I could. As I grew more experienced, my empathy and interest in the lives of every person I looked after increased. That translated into the work I put in behind the scenes, particularly when it came to caring for the person who had died and ensuring they looked just as their family remembered them.

Every funeral home I’ve worked at has been unique and with its own place in the community and ways of helping families memorialize their loved ones.

Bringing people together

Funerals and memorials are for everyone who was touched by the life of the person who has died. A memorable life tribute event allows for people to express their grief, remember the person’s life and continue on with their life without their loved one.

The funeral elements that many people prefer today include personalized music, photos and a gathering of friends and family with an uplifting atmosphere. To that, I would add a talented celebrant or officiant and some form of ritual or way for family and friends to participate.

Keepsakes or favors, displaying meaningful vignettes and sharing stories, together with delicious food and beverages can make a funeral service very special. When a funeral home can bring those different elements together, a good funeral can become a really memorable one.

My energy comes from funeral directors that care about what they do. Over the past 12 years of my career, I’ve been traveling the U.S., listening to funeral directors in need of an idea, or with thoughts about a new personalized service they’re planning. Their energy and desire to learn is extremely motivating and really gets my adrenaline going.

I’ve been traveling the country facilitating the NFDA’s new Arranger Training Program since 2016. It’s an eight-hour workshop which provides funeral directors with new resources and keeps them up to date with the latest ideas for helping the bereaved.

I want to deliver the very best tools available to funeral directors and that’s an incredible motivation for me. Funeral directors also open up to me about their frustrations, business challenges and general concern for the future of funeral service.

Putting community at the heart

I listen to the bereaved as much as I listen to funeral directors. People’s choices have changed dramatically in the last 10 years and the wishes they have for honoring a person’s life certainly have, too.

It’s important to be aware; from being in tune with the priorities of women consumers, to following the progression of the Right to Die movement and its impact on funeral service and its values. Taking time to understand the needs of the consumer gives me an additional drive.

I’m a firm believer in the value of community outreach – reaching out to senior groups, hospice organizations, churches or schools is always worth a funeral home’s time and effort.

When the relationship is there, people take more interest in the unique service offerings of the funeral home and how a funeral director can help their family during a time of need.

There is no substitute for building relationships through face to face community involvement.

We're there to care – reputation is among the top three considerations for families choosing a funeral home. If funeral homes want to be trusted by families to care for their loved ones, they must put in the time to cultivate a customer-centric environment.

If a funeral home’s service is mediocre, or exactly the same as the funeral home’s down the street, families may struggle with making a confident decision about choosing a funeral home.

Not only does the client experience need to be absolutely seamless, it needs to exceed the expectations of every family served and every guest who attends a memorial event.

The success of the funeral home is largely dependent on employee performance. Training on the fundamentals such as building trust, conveying empathy and following protocol is essential.

Encouragement and support

Being a funeral director is both extremely rewarding and very stressful at times. Our Arranger Training Program addresses the challenges that are often faced by funeral directors of all experience levels. Our overall goal is to ensure funeral directors help families honor their loved one’s life in a very meaningful way and create a comfortable and supportive environment which allows the bereaved to express their emotions.

The Arranger Training Program covers everything from customer service skills to detailed aspects of event planning and I encourage attendees to share with the class whatever’s on their mind.

If it’s on their mind, I want it to be on my mind – and there’s a room full of other funeral directors willing to help and explore solutions. It’s a very interactive learning environment. To further assist funeral professionals and their family members during stressful times, the NFDA has a free hotline staffed by experts who can offer resources and support. This service can certainly help to make life outside of the funeral home a little easier.

I love meeting people who love to learn – spending time with mortuary school students is always something I look forward to. The NFDA launched an Arranger Training program for students in March and the response from mortuary schools has been exciting. I’ll be visiting with several before the end of the year, helping students enhance their customer service skills.

The NFDA event I’m most looking forward to this year is our International Convention and Expo in Boston (October 29 - November 1). It’s an opportunity for professionals to learn about new educational programs we’ve developed and to network with each other. I’ll be facilitating Arranger Training as part of a pre-convention seminar and am anticipating 50 or 60 attendees for that. The bigger the class, the more excited I get.

Parting thoughts

Death’s life lessons: Despite the enormous amount of time I devote to my professional responsibilities, I will encounter something completely unrelated to my job that reminds me just how precious this gift of life is to us all.

It’s in those moments that I’m also reminded that people are grieving and hurting inside from that grief. Taking time to honor a person’s life is important.

When my time comes...my family and friends can expect my favorite music to be played, lots of storytelling, delicious food and of course party favors! I already have my life celebration planned as well as my final resting place selected.

My wish is to be embalmed, to showcase the amazing talent of embalmers. I want a beautiful wood casket and lots of gorgeous floral arrangements. I don’t want to give away too many details. I want attendees to be surprised and feel appreciated for impacting my life. I can assure you it will be the must-attend event of a lifetime. Everyone will have a good time!

  • The Arranger Training Program is one of hundreds of resources that NFDA provides its members and their families, from professional learning and support to help with personal wellbeing and domestic issues.