Working funerals is a unique and specialized service. For operators, the challenge is learning how to deliver service above and beyond at a time of great need and sorrow. The key is to strengthen your relationships with funeral services by exceeding their expectations.
While every event is special to our clients, none is more difficult or crucial than working a funeral. Whether contracted by the funeral home or the family, a single mistake can add more stress and grief for mourners. Learn what to expect and what is expected of you and your chauffeurs from funeral directors and a cemetery owner.
Details, Details, Details
There is probably no other time in life that an event has to be planned so quickly and thoroughly as a funeral. Unlike a wedding, there is no coordinator booked months in advance to make sure the plans go off without a hitch. In fact, most mourners understandably are lost and in shock, and are looking to professionals for guidance on even the smallest of details, such as who should ride in the limousine, where to enter the chapel, and even where to sit during a family service. With so many details to execute, funeral directors typically rely on chauffeurs to help them, says Mark Anspach, owner of Hopson-Anspach Mortuary of Bakersfield, Calif.
Anspach says the more funerals a chauffeur works, the more experience he gains in recognizing where clients need help and acting on that without being asked. Funeral directors usually work with a very small staff, Anspach says, and that staff may work three or four funerals in a day. They are responsible for tending to the needs of the family and mourning guests seeking information about post-service receptions, graveside location, flower deliveries, family plans, and hundreds of small details in each day. Anspach recommends that chauffeurs keep an ear open for details and an eye open for needs.
“Don’t be afraid to jump in and assist if you see something that needs immediate attention,” he says. For instance, Anspach says people frequently show up at the church with flowers. Chauffeurs who already have delivered the family can help by taking the flowers and placing them near the casket and other floral arrangements.
John Basham, owner of Basham Funeral Care of Bakersfield, Calif., says it is most important to him that chauffeurs appear to be part of the funeral home staff if contracted by the funeral home. This means following the same funeral home policies as the employees.
For example, Basham does not allow BlueTooth headset cell phone devices to be worn on the ear at any time while serving a funeral. He believes it to be a distraction with the light flashing every few seconds. The family may think the chauffeur is on the phone at an inappropriate time. He also does not allow any employee to wear sunglasses or speak to the family while wearing sunglasses. Basham believes it is more personable when people make unobstructed eye contact. Chauffeurs are allowed to wear sunglasses only while driving a vehicle.
Michael Helm, manager of Greenlawn Cemeteries of Bakersfield, Calif., says that many families fail to make plans for such services as guest book management or pall bearers because they are too distressed or don’t have anyone willing to perform needed functions. So a chauffeur who is not providing immediate service to the family can help in moving the casket, tending to the guest book, placing flower arrangements with the others, directing traffic, handing out programs, and similar functions.
Helm also says that chauffeurs should offer help without the need for the director to ask. A chauffeur should never tell a mourner that he doesn’t know the answer to a question because he works for a limousine service, but rather should find the right funeral employee to answer the question or relay one through the chauffeur.
Transporting people is what we do best. When working with a funeral director in advance, get the entire plan, schedule, and routing for the service. An example of chauffeured service might consist of picking the family up at home and taking them to church for a service, then following the hearse to a cemetery for a graveside service, and then taking the family back home or to a reception location.
The chauffeur should know exactly at what entrance to drop off the family at the house of worship. Many churches and mortuaries have special entrances and seating areas for immediate family members. If there is any doubt, call the house of worship or mortuary in advance to ask, Helm says. “There is nothing worse than the family walking around looking lost.”
Once the family has been delivered to the chapel, the limousine should be positioned directly behind the hearse. Remember to keep enough distance for the hearse door to open, and maintain at least six feet beyond the open door so pallbearers can load the casket into the hearse. In most funerals, the family will follow the casket out of the church so the chauffeur should have the limousine ready to go as the procession exits. Be aware, however, that family members are likely to talk to fellow mourners on their way from the pews to the limousine.
Basham says this is a time of “hustle and bustle” as the casket is loaded in the car and all the flower arrangements are loaded up quickly and discreetly by funeral home staff to be transferred to the cemetery by funeral home staff before the family arrives at the graveside. Any help a chauffeur can provide at this point is much appreciated by everyone involved, Basham says.
However, he points out that if the family looks as if they are ready to go, the chauffeur should honor his first priority of serving the family.
Follow the hearse at a safe distance and remember when arriving at the cemetery to allow the same space behind the hearse for unloading as you provided for loading at the house of worship. At the conclusion of the service, verify where the family would like to go next as it is not uncommon for a reception venue to change at the last minute, or the preferences of mourning family members to change.
SIDEBAR: Appearance Is Everything
Marshall “Digger” Helm, owner of Greenlawn Cemeteries, says that vehicles should be clean and in immaculate mechanical condition. Complimentary alcohol should never be provided in a limousine used for a funeral, even where it is legal to do so. Decanters should be completely removed from the vehicle, Helm says.
Chauffeurs should pay careful attention to their appearance, making sure they dress up to the level of mourners. That means a black suit and tie, neatly styled hair, and minimal jewelry. Helm also says that chauffeurs should stand next to their vehicles or at the rear of the chapel when not working on a task, and always should stand with their hands clasped together in front of them in a sign of reverence.