March 26, 2011 By Anne Pryor

Funny thing, shoes.  They’re the first thing that people look at and judge you on.  You know it -what do you look at when you first meet people, are interviewing candidates for a job or when people are lined up in church to go to communion?  Their shoes.

Thirty days ago my dear aunt Carol died suddenly and I, along with my two uncles and their lovely wives, planned Carol’s wake and funeral.  I had never done this before so I didn’t know what to expect.  We called a funeral home that had been recommended to us and one that Carol had done some educational programs with.

Carol was an expert in handling palliative care and end of life issues especially for cancer patients and their families.  (This is an important step, to get the right funeral home, with a good reputation, space, kind people and people that the church likes to work with.  Call the parish office to see which funeral home they suggest and like to work with, it makes the process much easier.)

We arrived at the funeral home and met our mortician, Brandon.  Yep, I looked at Brandon’s shoes.  Guess what.  They were brown, worn, dirty and unpolished.  I judged him quickly; unprofessional.  I didn’t make a good first meaningful connection.  A bit harsh, even for me, but, I’m a high J on the Myers Briggs scale.  That means I move fast and I’m plan full and I’m very decisive.  We had many things to do in a very short time, not to mention that we were in Salt Lake City, away from my home in Minneapolis, and we only had a few days to get many things done in preparation for Carol’s funeral.

I had assumed that we’d spend maybe an hour with Brandon at the funeral home.  After all, I knew exactly what Carol wanted – to be cremated, a simple service and very elegant.  Well three (yes 3) hours later we were still with Brandon.  No matter what I tried I couldn’t get Brandon to speed up the process.  He was methodical, well rehearsed and slow.  I kept saying, “Okay, Brandon, that’s good, what’s next?” he kept saying, in the slowest most unemotional yet empathetic manner, “Next we’ll do this, Anne.”

I was so emotionally drained after our three and a half hour meeting that I didn’t want to go back the next day to proof the programs, prayer cards and DVD photo presentation.  This time, I decided that I’d change my mental approach.  I met Brandon where he was and slowed down to meet his style.

I had many rounds of changes to the programs – I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to creative formats, especially for Carol.  First, the fonts were too big, then they were too small, then spacing was off, then I wanted the prayer centered on the back…  Well, each time I wanted to make a change Brandon’s response was, “I’m happy to do that, Anne, not a problem.”

After hearing his compassionate response more than five times I began to respect Brandon and to appreciate his deliberate and disciplined approach.  He was successful at helping people in their time of loss.  He was calm and patient.  He didn’t judge me for wanting to make all of those changes.  He really did understand the process and he had fine tuned it to meet the customer/families needs.

Everything went beautifully for Carol’s prayer service and funeral.  I’m grateful to Brandon.  We did make a meaningful connection.  I told him so upon his return from a muddy cemetery.  Hence the bad shoes.