Life at a funeral home – what a secretary does

In one word….. EVERYTHING!
Seriously, a secretary does just about everything, except embalm. Well at the funeral homes I have worked at anyway…the secretary does everything. I have only worked at 2 (technically 3, but the last one was owned by the same company) just would switch between locations.
So in my experience, the secretary does all the paperwork which includes, filling out the death certificates, calling to find out who will be signing it, calling the doctor to verify he/she will be signing and when can we come to get it. The secretary fills out the burial/cremation permits, if cremation, then fax it to the medical examiner (w/a copy of d/c). Create and print the prayer card/memorial folders. Any life insurance policies that the funeral home is taking an assignment on, the secretary needs to contact the ins co. and verify the policy is good and get the information that us needed to process the assignment, such as, is a d/c required (they usually are), claim forms and where do we get the claim form from…it depends on the ins co, some will fax us one, some will mail, email or we can go to their website and print one. Some will only mail the beneficiary the claim form and we then have to depend on that person/persons to bring it to us once they receive it. Also for ins we usually have to have the beneficiary/ beneficiaries sign an assignment form, so the secretary must also fill in the info on the assignment and have it ready for them to sign. Once everything is complete and signed we have to mail it off to the ins co. When a family is there making arrangements if they want an obit in paper the secretary usually has to type an obit so the family can approve it. There are deadlines for obits, so the secretary has to know when they are. For example, our local papers deadline for the Sunday edition is Friday at 10am. So if a family comes in on a Friday morning for arrangements and its after 10am, then they cannot have the obit in Sunday’sย  paper, they will have to wait until the next available edition, which is Wednesday. Wednesdays deadline us the same, 10am on Tuesday. There are NO exceptions! Because believe me, we get it all the time..”well, can’t you just call, I’m sure that they can wait 10 minutes!” No, they can’t!! So once the obit us approved by the family, it then has to be emailed to the paper. If the family wants a photo, the photo has to be scanned and emailed with it. Depending on what paper we placed obit in, they will call for a read back and at that time give us the amount of the obit, that amount must then be added to the funeral bill. Once the family is done and has left, the director will usually hand the file over to the secretary and then the secretary will look over the file to see what needs to be completed. Like I said before, the prayer cards need to be done. On the file it should say what kind of card/folder the family chose and what verse/prayer. The casket needs to be ordered as well as the vault, if its burial. The cemetery needs to be called to let them know the time we will be there and get the deceased info. They will let us know if any opening and closing is owed, sometimes the director will do this while the family is still there so he/she can let them know. If they do owe, then if its going to go on the funeral bill, then it needs to be added. Typically the director will contact clergy if we are getting clergy for the family. A clergy record needs to be typed up for the Priest, Reverend, Minister etc… and some clergy prefer we fax it to them. Some funeral homes own their own hearse and limousines, but if not, then those will need to be ordered. We need to let them know what day and time we need it and where we are going, is service at funeral home then to cemetery, prayers at funeral home then mass at church then to cemetery or instate at church then to cemetery. If its cremation but family still having church service, is hearse taking body to crematory or bringing back to us. If family ordered flowers thru yes, those need to be ordered. If deceased was a veteran and family wants a military service, we need to contact the honor guard to set up time. Will the honors be at funeral home or cemetery. Also if the family wants a rosary, that needs to be set up. An application for a flag needs to be done if deceased was a veteran (we must have the discharge papers to do this) and then the application and discharge needs to be taken to post office to get flag. We also get an application for veterans benefits started for the family. Once all the charges are completed the final bill needs to be done. So in the midst of doing all of the above the secretary must also answer the phones and take on any new work that comes her/his way. Doing any billing/accounting and any other work that they have. Some secretaries will meet with families if the director is unavailable. So ontop of doing their own work, they now have to do their work AND make arrangements with a family. If someone comes in to make prearrangements, the pre-need papers have to be typed up while the person is waiting so they can be signed.
Its a lot of work!! It can be very stressful at times. And there is ALOT to remember!! Sometimes you may have 3 arrangements or more on a single day and everything must be done for all 3 arrangements…it can become very confusing especially when the Director is asking you questions if such and such has been done yet or if so and so has called back yet. Then you have those families calling you asking you questions. You also have friends of those families calling for viewing and funeral times. Flower shops are calling for times because they are getting orders for those people. Then you have those families that can just not stop calling and questioning every little thing…I’m certain I have wrote about this before but, we get those families who micro manage everything! Let me tell you something about those families… Things WILL get messed up if you are one of these people/families!!! It never fails!! They question every detail. They LOOK for mistakes and if there are none, you better believe they will create one! They want this changed or that changed. They want times changed or obits changed. They decide they want a personal prayer/verse on the memorial/prayer cards or they want to write their own obit but have us submit it, which is fine, but again, DEADLINES!! And no matter how much we stress to them that we MUST have it by a certain time they Dont bring it in or email it until the very last second! So that means that I have to be checking the email constantly while watching the time all the while I am doing a hundred other things! I cannot possibly say to the family that I am busy because I also have other families that I am planning a funeral for! I/we have to make each family feel as if they are the only family we are concentrating on! But back to micro managing…they want the deceased name spelled out on the prayer cards a certain way, maybe the deceased had a nickname that everyone knew them by so they want that on the signs inside the funeral home but his;her given name on prayer cards and both names on obit. So all of this needs to be remembered. Then those types of families will get themselves confused and say, no, I wanted his/her name this way on that not on this when I know that they told me otherwise! So now they are thinking we are incompetent. Too many changes equal ERRORS!! Every time!! Then of course there are those families who like to change times at the last minute…and most of the time the reason times are changed is to accommodate……THE LUNCHEON!! WTF!?! I am still and will always be in amazement of how much emphasis is centered around the damn luncheon…I think that instead of having a visitation they should just rent a big hall, wheel the casket into the hall and eat ALL DAY and the deceased is right there in the luncheon room with them!
Anyway…its a lot of work to do all the things you HAVE to complete while doing 3 other things at the same time and remembering who you have to call, times, deadlines, getting things taken care of etc…
So anyone who thinks that its an easy job….WRONG! its a tough job and a thankless job. Most families Dont realize and never will know just how much work goes into planning their loved ones funeral…especially when dealing with not so nice families, especially those who just cannot back off and let us do our job!!

9 Responses to “Life at a funeral home – what a secretary does”

  1. Hi Bizz! Hope you are well. Looks like I will have to write everything down so I don’t get confused or miss anything. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Can’t wait for the challenge and change of scenery. I have really missed volunteering. At least I can put something on my resume. I will be moving near the capital in he next few months and have my driving test next week. It’s going to be stressful but all worth it I’m sure. (I hope!)

    Sorry, but a family went to their loved ones funeral in shorts and flip flops!!! Oh dear! Also why do people need to mess about changing things!? They are paying for a service and for you/your colleagues to help them. Why confuse you!?

    Thought of the day :- Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages.

    Take care Bizz. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. We got this funeral insurance ad on TV at the moment where this guy says, ” I’m about to say some F words: Ffffffuneral insurance, Ffffffamilies…” I’m sure there’s a heap of funeral workers who see that and start nodding their heads with the latter, going yep yep, ffff–k yeah!

  3. You nailed that one the head! My hat is off to the secretaries who do the work. In my funeral home, I do a lot of that myself. As a director, I like to do most of my own work when possible. That way I know things are getting done like I need them to. But you are right, the secretaries are the backbone.

    • Directors do alot as well tho!! But the Secretaries remember the stuff they dont. And as you, i’d say most of the time the directors will try to do as much as they can on the file depending on how busy we are. You have to really trust your secretary tho!! Because the secretary will be doing whatever the director didnt have time for or forgot about. But hats off to you on trying to do all your own work tho…it is a big relief to secretaries when they look at that file and see just about everything done!!

      • Kudos to Granimore. Directors do have a tough job. And Funeralbizz you are correct too, it is nice to have a file completed by the time it makes its way to my desk.

        I work with a couple of older FDs who think things should be a secretary’s job and they won’t do a thing to make my job easier. They won’t go near the computer if their lives depended on it. The pretty much just see families and do removals. The rest is up to me.

  4. AdminAsst. Says:

    Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. Being a secretary at a funeral home is a thankless job. We get the junk the funeral directors don’t want to deal with. Although most of the FDs where I work will take care of most of the administrative stuff, like entering contracts into the system, typing their own obits, doing their own prayer cards ect… but I get to do the rest, filing the dc, ordering certified copies, billing, accounts receivable, payroll and typing obits and sending them to the newspapers, creating reports, tracking deliquent accounts,

    One thing you are right about are obituary deadlines, but where I work, it’s not the families who don’t observe deadlines with the newspapers, it’s a couple of the FDs. We have the same situation several times and they never learn. Our dealine is 4pm. The majority of the FDs where I work are good and tell families (if they are emailing us the obit) that it needs to be submitted by 3pm no later. But one or two FDs will call me and ask (despite the fact that I’ve told them numerous times the paper is not flexibile with deadlines) if we can send it in by 5pm or 5:30pm. And every time I have to tell them “No!” the paper has a deadline because they have to get the paper printed and that is why there is a cut off time for obits, advertisements, opionion pieces ect.. And they give me the same question “Can we call them and ask them if they will make an exception?” Ugh. What part of “No” do you not get?

    But overall, I’d still much rather work behind the scenes as administrative support because I don’t envy the FDs having to go out in the middle of the night to make a removal, or having to stay late because a family can’t come in until 6pm. My job is pretty much Monday through Friday and I’ll take that over FD’s hours any day.

    • At our place we dont do any removals at night. We call our removal company. If its at a hospital tho, and it is near by or if it is at the medical examiners we will do them the following day. But all other removals are thru our removal company. I dont envy having to stand in a cemetery in all black in the scorching heat! Altho i have done it a few times when noone else was available. Actually about a month ago i had to meet a family for interment of cremated remains and it was about 95 that day and here the humidity will kill you! It was horrible. While i am standing there ready to fall over and feel the sweat drip down my back, the family in there shorts and flip flops are complaining of the heat! Ummmmm HELLO !!

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