The Dawn of Twilight Services

Date Published: 
July, 2004
Original Author: 
TIm Lancaster
Eternal Hills Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home, Klamath Falls, Oregon
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, July 2004

Who made up the rule that funeral services will be at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. weekdays?
For whom is that convenient, other than the funeral home and cemetery staff?
With some planning and willing employees, you can offer families services seven days a week, including evenings, without overtime charges or a staff mutiny.

One night as I was on my way to buy medicine for my daughter, who had a fever of 102 degrees, I thought to myself. "Boy, kids always seem to get sick at night. It's a good thing this place is open at 11 p.m."

As I continued driving, I started thinking about something my boss, Bob Gordon Sr., CCFE, and I had talked about after an ICFA meeting in Las Vegas. At the meeting, Ernie Heffner of Heffner Funeral Homes & Crematory in Pennsylvania had described a program he called the Twilight Service.

If a pharmacy can be open at night for the convenience of families, why can't a funeral home do the same? Sure, we're available when needed to handle a first call, but why don't we make it easy for families to schedule services in the evening or on weekends instead of during the work week, during regular work hours?

As we thought about how we could offer families this service without charging for overtime, we decided it was mainly a scheduling problem. We further realized that our employees would have to buy into the idea for it to be possible. Our office staff would be affected, since we would be keeping the office open on weekends. And when families wanted to follow an evening funeral service with a committal service in our cemetery, the grounds department would also be affected.

Flex Time and Three-Day Weekends
We began by creating three teams, each of which included a funeral director as unit manager, two family service counselors, one or two office staff members and one or two grounds crew members.

We then set up three different weekly schedules, which each team would rotate through.

• Schedule 1: Work Sunday and Monday; off Tuesday and Wednesday; work Thursday through Saturday.

• Schedule 2: Work Sunday through Thursday; off Friday and Saturday.

• Schedule 3: Off Sunday; work Monday through Wednesday, off Thursday; work Friday and Saturday.
As you can see, between weeks 2 and 3 the team members get a three-day weekend. This "bonus" every third week provides some payback or incentive for employees to go along with the system.

This is not to say that everyone immediately embraced the concept. There were the usual threats of mutiny that any change of this type tends to generate, but in the end most people realized it would provide a real service to the community. We also provided employees who went along with the program a bonus for each twilight service held.

A few people chose not to participate, and that was OK; our staff is large enough to provide enough people to handle the special shifts without 100 percent buy-in. We eventually worked out all the bugs and created a Twilight Service program that offers services and interments seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with no overtime charge to families.

Because of the 12-hour coverage, employee commitment to the program was essential, since it meant they were working a flexible schedule designed for the convenience of families. If staff has an interment scheduled for 7 p.m., they'll be coming to work at 11 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. so that they can stay late without overtime cost to be passed on to the family.

In addition to having the personnel in place, we needed to get our cemetery ready for services that might take place after dark through the addition of the following pieces of equipment:
•    generator,
•    halogen lights,
•    backhoe with lights and
•    tractor and trailer with lights.

Telling the Community
Once we were ready to offer twilight services, the next step was to let the community know. We created brochures which we placed on our arrangement tables and we placed television and newspaper advertisements.

We started marketing the new Twilight Service on a Monday. On Tuesday, I sat down with a family to make at-need arrangements. The widow, daughter and son-in-law of the deceased were there together. As we discussed the time for the service, the son-in-law said that Saturday would be fine, but that he was going through a year-end review at work and would not be able to leave his job until 4 p.m., so he would not be able to make it.

His wife and mother-in-law began to agree that he would simply have to miss the service when I spoke up to explain our new evening service option. They couldn't believe their ears, but happily agreed to schedule the service at 7 p.m. Saturday at no extra charge.

Saturday evening, the deceased's grandson closed his eulogy with a prayer and then raised his head just in time to see the sun setting behind the mountains that provide a scenic backdrop to our facilities. "Though my family and Eternal Hills planned this service for this evening," he said, "it is quite obvious that God has ordained it."

Since that first successful service, Eternal Hills has held many more Twilight Services. We are the only funeral home and cemetery in our area willing to accommodate families in this way, and the community seems to appreciate it. Seeing how families respond to our willingness to provide this service gives our employees a boost worth at least as much as the bonuses we give them.

From the brochure Eternal Hills uses to explain and promote its Twilight Service (the information is also posted on Eternal Hills' Web site):

-    Introducing the new Twilight Service. At last, funeral services when everyone can attend ... at no extra cost!
-    A Twilight Service is any service scheduled between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and conducted at our facilities. It may be selected with either burial or cremation arrangements.
-    Evening visitations and services make a real difference! Many employers only allow leave from work to attend services for the closest of family without the loss of wages. The Twilight Service allows everyone to attend and celebrate the life of that special person without financial penalty or disruption of work.
-    Are only certain services available for Twilight Services? No. All of our 20 value-priced packages or any of our services are available for the Twilight Service seven days a week without additional charges.
-    We encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas with us so that we can arrange a meaningful service. We pay close attention to details.