Part of my job with InSight Books is attending the national conventions for funeral professionals. For those of you who are not “in the biz”, there are three national associations: ICCFA—International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association; CANA—Cremation Association of North America; NFDA—National Funeral Directors Association. As indicated by the titles, each group has a specific focus and audience. But the overarching umbrella to all of them is that these are professionals who are in the death care profession in one form or venue of another.
InSight Books is a vendor to all of these organizations and their members. We sell our aftercare and bereavement resources to funeral homes all over the world. So, it is imperative that we have a booth and attend these annual gatherings. This year we were in Nashville, Manhattan and Boston. Nice places, but most of the time all you see is the hotel and the convention center.
If you’ve never stood in a booth at a convention, let me paint a picture for you.
The behind-the-scenes of a convention is fascinating. In a few short hours, carpet is laid, booths are constructed, banners are hung and it’s all pulled together and glorious before the first people walk through the door.
Setting up the booth. Opening up all the cases that you carefully packed at the office to set out your display. Finding that you didn’t pack something you needed. Deciding how best to position each of your products to entice the attendees to pause just a moment and glance your way. Vacuuming the carpet, arranging the chairs, going for that “come on in and sit a spell” look.
You hop in the shower, change into your business attire, grab a bad sandwich from the food vendor on the floor and place yourself in the booth ready to smile for the next three days.
And then it begins. The convention participants wander the aisles, looking warily at your booth, refusing to make eye contact because they don’t want to get drawn in. You stand on a concrete floor, your feet screaming and your face tired from smiling, hoping that someone, someone will come in and talk to you about your offerings. You give away pens, candy, samples, anything that might bring them in. This year at the NFDA convention, the booth next to us was a casket company and they were offering a drawing for a wine casket. Yes, a wine holder made to look like a casket. We are a strange and interesting group of people.
You visit with the other vendors—friends that you have made over the years as you all schlep from one convention to the next. You wonder why these attendees bother to come on the floor, since it is very clear that they are not interested in talking to any of the people who have paid a lot of money to be there for their information and enrichment. You look at your watch and realize that it’s only been 30 minutes out of the 5 hours of the floor time. It’s exhausting and soul sucking. But we still show up.
The best part is getting to see old friends and colleagues. Since we began Celebrant training, we have trained over 3,400 Celebrants from around the world. There are always Celebrants at these conventions who are eager to come by, to visit, to share their experiences and to get a hug.
There’s always industry gossip and we discuss who’s working where and what company is in trouble or selling. The funeral profession is seen as a staid and stable staple of the North American tradition. Everyone dies, everyone is going to need a funeral at some point. Right? Nope. In these days of cremation, home funerals, green burial and event planners, everyone involved in the funeral business knows that things are evolving and growing at a lightning speed and not everyone is going to survive. It is truly change or die. And for some, that is incredibly difficult.
But, what I do know, after 17 years of being in this profession and 45 hours a year standing in a booth, that there is a whole host of people out there who are trying to understand the shifting needs and expectations of families. That no matter the latest fads and weird things that are thrown out there--the casket designed in the shape of a Harley, biodegradable urns, jewelry made out of funeral flowers, or portraits created out of cremated remains—there are kind and wonderful professionals who just want to be present to families in grief, to walk beside them as we create the perfect tribute and gathering to say goodbye, to be a source of comfort and resource as they walk on the grief journey.
Funeral directors get a bad rap. Anytime something awful happens in a funeral setting or anytime a funeral professional gets caught in an embarrassing or illegal situation, it gets reported in the news in big, bold headlines. The public already mistrusts people who choose to work with the dead. So, they are more than ready to believe it when we act as creepy as they think we are.
Being a funeral director is not for everyone, that is true. Being a funeral product provider is not for everyone either. But, when you are facing the worst day of your life, when the unthinkable has become reality, when a death comes to visit at your doorstep, you better believe that you need a funeral director. We are not grief mongers ready to pounce on the vulnerable and bereaved. We are not used car salesmen who are just trying to upsell you to the premiere package. We are trained, caring professionals who try to guide our families to understand that you never get a second chance to say good bye in a healthy and hopeful way and it takes time, expertise, facilities and products to create that experience.
And funeral directors get those resources and learn about the latest technologies or options by going to conventions. Where people like me are standing in a booth, smiling, and hoping that they will stop and engage. It is exhausting and yes, sometimes soul sucking. But it is also exciting to think that we might be part of the help that is offered to a family. So, we buy comfortable shoes, pack our crates and head out again.
Glenda Stansbury is Marketing Director of InSight Books and Co-Founder of InSight Institute Certified Celebrant Program. She is also a speaker, a trainer, and an observer of life, and one of Doug Manning’s adorable and talented daughters. You may email Glenda at OrdersAndInfo@InSightBooks.com.