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Welcome fellow ICCFA members to my first blog here on the ICCFA website. My hope is to inform and entertain through these posts.
By means of introduction....
My name is Norman Connors. I serve as a Funeral Director, Supervisor, and Certified Celebrant at the Curran-Shaffer Funeral Home in Apollo, Pennsylvania. The path to where I am today is a unique one, so I wanted to share my experience.
I did not grow up in the funeral industry. In fact, becoming a funeral director was the furthest thing from my mind when I graduated from North Catholic High School in 1990. After receiving my degree in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 1994, it was off to the "real world". In 1998, I was fortunate to marry into a local Western Pennsylvania funeral home. In 2000, I completed the Funeral Directing program at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, and in 2001, I officially became licensed.
The funeral industry fascinated me from a young age. My mother passed away when I was five years old, and I watched my father and my aunts plan my mother's funeral from afar. My mother had been sick for many years, so her passing was not a shock. While my father was devastated over the loss of his partner, he was more concerned with how I was going to deal with things. I determined then, even at that young age, it was imperative for me to put on a "strong face" for my family. Which I did. Over the years, I attended several funerals for various family members and friends (Including seven funerals in June of 1989- which has to be some kind of record). It struck me how unique each funeral home was, but not the services. They were all the same, with the exception of attending a Church service for the burial, or simply having the service at the funeral home. From a young man's perspective, I saw the luncheon or wake after the funeral as the time that was unique. In each case, when people were in a more relaxed atmosphere, the laughs started, the stories flowed, and the celebration of a person who passed away had begun.
Fast forward several years....
When I first became a funeral director, I didn't perceive my role as important as it is today. I saw it as a job, and did my best to get through each day. The hours were rough (they still can be today), the pay didn't seem in line with the effort, and it could be a very depressing line of work to be in. As the months and years rolled on, my thoughts about my job changed dramatically. The appreciation the families showed in almost every situation made me realize not only was my job a privilege, it was an honor. I tried to think outside the box with the services we can offer. Where I was first employed, it was a more traditional funeral culture, and the ideas weren't always well received both with the families as well as the staff.
In February of 2000, I was lucky enough to appear on the popular gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and sat in the "hotseat" with Regis Philbin. While I didn't win the big prize, I bantered back and forth with the popular host for thirty five minutes, and came home with a nice check. Since I was the first person from Western Pennsylvania to make it on as a contestant, there was a lot of television and newspaper coverage for the appearance. I suddenly had instant credibility with the families that I served. The outside the box ideas were now well received, and I was able to create unique experiences for many.
For me, it was just the beginning...
In late 2004, I made the difficult decision of leaving my place of employment, and heading out to Reading, Pennsylvania, where I went to work for another family owned group of funeral homes. I was impressed with their approach to family service, and the unique offerings they had available. It was a great learning experience, as there were families of many cultures, and many religious backgrounds to serve. Two weeks into my new position, in January of 2005, I served two families that couldn't have been more different. The first was a ten year old boy who passed away while having lunch with his mother after his basketball game in Hershey. The second was a Buddhist in her early 40's, whose husband and young children had little knowledge of their funeral customs. I was determined to make the funeral experience memorable for the families, and did so the best I could. Off and running....
One of the things that always bothered me as a funeral director was the way families that didn't have a minister were served. I had a rolodex on my desk, and called, as Ernie Heffner terms it "the rent a minister". Usually, the service ended up with very little information about the person that passed away. In fact, there were several ministers who gave themselves nicknames based on the length of their service(not us- THEY GAVE IT TO THEMSELVES). We had the "18 minute" minster and even the "10 minute blessing" minister. It drove me crazy. And you can tell in most cases, the families left unsatisfied.
In July of 2008, my entire life changed thanks to Kevin Bean, Ernie Heffner, and the ICCFA University. I was asked to attend the first ever 21st Century College at the University of Memphis. I had been to conventions over the years, and was less than impressed with the speakers and information shared. So you could imagine what my preconceived notions about my experience would be. On the Friday evening I arrived, I realized this was NOTHING like I have ever been to before. Over the next few days, my attitude towards funeral service was completely transformed. The focus of the College was to think WAY outside of the box, and really never entering the box again. Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury trained our class, and by the end, we were Certified Celebrants. I had the privilege of meeting some incredible people over those five days, and I am proud to call many of them close friends. There were so many ideas shared, my head was spinning by the time I boarded the plane back to Philadelphia. I highly encourage anyone reading this to get to the ICCFA University this July. It WILL change your life.
The University also gave me a new outlook on "me". I vowed to change, and over the course of the next year, dropped close to 90 pounds through strict dieting and exercise. In my eyes, I wasn't going to be much of much service to the families if I didn't feel good about myself. My confidence level needed to be at a different place, and I worked hard to get there.
Becoming a Celebrant changed the culture of our funeral home as well. We no longer had to go to a Rolodex, and now had the ability to offer a unique Celebration of Life to honor the person that passed away. My goal was to make these offerigns as personal as possible, but I also had an ulterior motive as well. I wanted each and every person in attendance to walk away and say that it was the BEST funeral they've ever attended.
Little did I know, about an hour after arriving home from Memphis, my first opportunity would be knocking on the door. Literally.
Until next time...