A Gentle Undertaking

The evolution of the funeral finds us at a time of increased pre-planning, with varied family structures to accommodate, and an increase in cremation services. There’s also a general desire to make funeral services as poignant and life-affirming as other ceremonies honoring family milestones.

Three years ago, Jim Bradshaw, owner of Bradshaw Funeral Homes, developed the Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater, a unique facility where all life events—from baptisms and weddings to anniversaries and memorial services—can take place. He’s gone from funeral director to group planner of sorts, though, because of his chosen trade, he never forgets the emotional particulars of an event, keeping his clients’ wishes close to his heart. He talked to Meetings about social changes, listening skills and commitment— important themes no matter what business you’re in.

“I didn’t grow up in funeral service and I see that as a real advantage for me, largely because I don’t carry with me the traditional ‘this is how it must be done’ mentality. I’m sure if I had been in a multigenerational business, my father would’ve said ‘this is how we do it,’ and his father would’ve said ‘this is how we do it.’ I understand that and I respect that, however my father was quite inventive and my mother was rather artistic. They taught me to be very hands on and to be a good listener. I think that’s one of the characteristics that’s a requirement for anyone who is serving people, whether you’re in the events business or sales or any work that you do. If we don’t listen to the consumer first, we miss the mark as to what their needs are.

Approximately 50 percent of the public do not have a connection to a traditional religion. They are spiritual but not necessarily connected to any particular denomination. Of the remaining 50 percent of the people who are connected to some denomination, only half attend church regularly. We also have different family structures, which changes how people interact with one another.

The Celebration of Life Center allows for separate kinds of services for different parts of the family. There’s a tremendous amount of dynamics that go on when a person dies—it can bring out the best in us and it can bring out the worst in us. Anyone who is serving families in a time of loss needs to be the best possible listener that one can be, and also be as creative as possible in helping the family meet their particular needs.

What’s most important is realizing that some of the things we do can have a lifetime affect on the family. It’s more complicated than just putting together an event for them. I’ve been around this work for more than 40 years and I consider myself still a young person in this work and continuing to learn. Societal changes are occurring at a rapid rate. The Internet has opened avenues that most of us have never imagined. All of these families today bring in a DVD or a CD and it needs to play on the right equipment, or they might ask us to create one for them. It wasn’t that long ago that we started putting out picture boards at memorial events—that was considered really stepping outside the box. Well, that’s not outside the box anymore, that’s back a generation.

Hospitality is big in what we do today in that we need to be welcoming to people. People are very conscientious of service today because we’ve reached a time where everything is high-tech but becoming low touch. Anyone who is working with someone at a time of loss or death needs to be doing everything possible to be high touch. We never let the family hear our anxiety. Families at a time like this don’t need to hear how hard it is for us to do something. They bought the service. They didn’t buy our heartaches. They have enough of that already. The best part of my job is helping people at a very difficult time. They need a committed person to help make their lives easier going forward. And we’re part of that.”