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Faces of FRENCH: Employee Spotlight

The Importance of First Impressions

by Lisa Griesmeyer, Administrative Assistant

December 2, 2016

My face is the first one a family sees when they walk into our University location at FRENCH Funerals & Cremations. I do the best I can to ensure that this first impression is a positive one for families.

I began my career here at FRENCH two years ago, after getting my degree in Psychology. When I first started working at FRENCH, I was a little apprehensive and quite excited. I knew I wanted to work in a field that helps people, but I just didn’t realize at that time it would be at a funeral home.  My apprehension soon turned into nervousness, realizing that my face or voice would most likely be the first point of contact for these families. I began to wonder what I could I say or do to help people dealing with loss? I soon realized that my apprehension did not hold me back. I knew I could serve these families with the care and love they deserve because I am a naturally caring and compassionate person.

When a family makes that first call to FRENCH or when they walk into the building for the first time, they may be feeling a variety of emotions, similar to the apprehension I initially felt. My job as their first point of contact is to really listen to their needs. Attention to detail is key, as well as listening and answering questions with care and empathy. Showing a family you are there to support and care for them is an important component in gaining their trust.  

I remember a time when a family came in to go over information with their funeral director. The family was very distraught because they wanted to see the director and he was unavailable. I took them in a room and offered my assistance. This family was very detail oriented and expressed their concern to me. At this time, I used the training FRENCH provided me and reassured the family all their needs would be met. I spent time with the family making sure their obituary was ready to submit to several different papers. I also went over their jewelry order and made sure the engraving was just right. I showed them in for a visitation with their loved one. Once the family was leaving, they were very pleased and happy. The family just wanted reassurance that all their needs were heard.   

It is an honor to serve our families here at FRENCH. These families put their trust in us and I strive every day to earn their trust. Working for a company like FRENCH has been a true privilege. Serving families here has helped me grow as a person and I am honored to be the first face families see. 

The Younger Faces of FRENCH

by Amanda Valenzuela, Funeral Director

October 4, 2016

It happens all time. Families and guests walk past me to ask another FRENCH associate to introduce them to the funeral director. My associates politely bring them right back to me where I greet them with a smile and say, “Hi, I’m Amanda. I am your funeral director.”

I am not an older gentleman in a black suit and tie. Rather, I am a young woman standing tall in high heels and the beauty of it is simply that I am here. FRENCH Funerals & Cremations encourages the young to join together and stand alongside those with years upon years of experience. We are taught the customs and traditions by veteran funeral directors and are guided by their expertise. Along with these traditions, we can still bring to the table the uniqueness and creativity of our own generation.

When families are introduced to young funeral directors, their initial doubt is often palpable. Perhaps they doubt our experience, our knowledge, our understanding or our professionalism. Age can certainly factor into all those reactions, but we are not deterred. We have been trained by the best and are confident in what we do. We serve each family with excellence and the care and respect they deserve. It is only a matter of time before the families see what we are capable of and trust us just as they would a funeral director of any other age. From young to old, we all provide an unsurpassable level of compassion and integrity to every family that walks through our doors. Then, as the years go by and the older generation of funeral directors exits, the young will be perfectly primed to fill their shoes and carry the industry forward.

Next time you are introduced to a young face like mine and find us younger than you had in mind for a funeral director, do not sell us short quite yet. We have learned from the best and are eager to serve with a passion and vitality like never before. The faces of FRENCH are changing, but the heart never will. 

Life Can Change in the Blink of an Eye

by Karla Barela, Advance Planning Consultant

August 4, 2016

FRENCH makes great efforts to educate the community on their preplanning options.  Karla Barela, Advance Planning Consultant, will be presenting the “What’s and Why’s of Preplanning” on August 10 at 10 a.m. at the Bear Canyon Senior Center and August 18 at 11 a.m. at the Barelas Senior Center.  If you are a member of ANY Senior Center, you can attend either of these events.  Please call Karla at 505-417-6398 to sign up.

Having retired from an almost 30-year career in financial services, a friend from Quality New Mexico suggested I apply for a position at FRENCH.  I thought, “What? Are you crazy?”  I flunked retirement, but had never thought of a funeral home as a new career choice.  Almost three years later, I can now say it has been a wonderful experience.

A few significant experiences made me realize the importance of being prepared and the importance of preplanning and how life can change in the blink of an eye. 

My father was a Prisoner of War in WWII for 3 ½ years.  On the worst day of our lives, my mom and I went to the funeral home to make his arrangements, just one day after he passed.  My memory of that day is somewhat foggy, but I do remember being there for what felt like all day.  At a difficult time, we made emotional decisions and overspent because he deserved it for what he endured on the Philippine Islands.  My dad was a strong yet humble man, had he done his own arrangements, he would not have selected what we did.  He would have been more modest and said “leave that extra money for your mom.”  Many years later, the doctor tells us that mom needed 24/7 care and we could not provide it.  She went into a nursing home, and this is not where she (or any of us) expected to spend her golden years.  At over $5 thousand a month, it did not take too many years to deplete the funds she and dad had saved in 46 years of marriage.  We were now in a position where the lawyer told us to cash in her only asset, a life insurance policy, to qualify for Medicaid to keep here in the nursing home.  We preplanned her arrangements with the money from that policy.  Little did we know the gift we had given ourselves, until mom passed.  It was a much better experience the second time around.  Arrangements had been made and paid years ahead of time.

As I said earlier, life can change in a moment. One day you are healthy and the next moment you have cancer.  Several years ago, my husband and I visited the doctor for a routine check up. The doctor informed my husband that he had cancer and required a liver transplant. In 2011, we celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Mayo Clinic.  Now, 4 ½ years later, he is still bringing joy to people with his music. Yet another reason to have everything in place now for the future.

I had a friend tell me that her ex-husband died and left the funeral arrangements and payment to their daughter.  She said, “I’m not doing that to my daughter.”  Another lady I met at Highland Senior Center said, “For years I told my husband, lets get our wills and preplanning done.  He kept putting it off.  He died and “dumped” all of this on me.  A week after he died, I did my preplanning and got my other paperwork in order.”   These experiences reinforce my commitment to serve others and do what I do at FRENCH.

A Passion to Serve

by Trinity Montoya, Funeral Director

July 6, 2016

I originally entered the field of funeral service due to a mixture of curiosity and a great deal of a desire to help people during their time of need.

My first introduction to funeral service came when I began helping families plan funerals in advance. This experience quickly taught me that serving people was a passion of mine and I truly wanted to make funeral service my career. I took a job in Colorado that would allow me to continue to help families plan in advance and serve as a funeral director. I loved my Colorado experience, but soon realized that I wanted to return home to New Mexico and pursue a career in the Albuquerque area. 

When deciding to move back to New Mexico, I knew that FRENCH was where I wanted to be. Growing up in Albuquerque, I was familiar with the FRENCH reputation and I loved that FRENCH was a locally-owned, family-run business with a solid reputation built upon serving families with the highest level of care and professionalism. I longed to be a part of that culture and am so glad I’m now part of the FRENCH Family.

Losing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences of my life, and I am fortunate to be able to serve others who go through this life event. Each day I am thankful to guide the families I serve through the first days of loss and help them get on the road to healing.

Obituaries: Capturing the Story

by Aubrey Hovey, Office Manager & Funeral Service Intern

April 20, 2016

I wrote my first obituary when my great-grandpa Fermin died. I was a reporter at the Albuquerque Tribune and my family asked if I would write about his life. I had written about brain-scanning machines, fallen soldiers and triple homicides, but this was one of the most difficult topics I was tasked with tackling. My immediate reaction was to treat it like a story. So, I interviewed his three daughters – two of my aunts and my grandma. They didn’t quite understand why I wanted to know details about his trek across the US-Mexico border, eventually landing in Pueblo, Colorado and starting our huge family. They questioned why I wanted to know how he met my great-grandma Rose, or which sports teams were his favorite. I wanted those details so that I could tell his story.

My editor thought it was a great piece and decided to put it under a headline and give it my byline. I thought I still hadn’t done his story justice. Grandpa Fermin was the smartest, most interesting man I knew. I never stopped wondering what his obituary would have been like had he written it himself, before he left us. We all wonder.

To me, obituaries are stories of the people who have gone before us. I think it’s so important to capture those stories from every one of the families who passes through our doors here at FRENCH. When I was first hired as an office manager, I vowed to myself that I would help families honor their loved ones the best I could. Helping them draft colorful, meaningful obituaries is my way of doing that.

I soon took it a step further and pitched that we should also help people pen their own obituaries. In September of last year, I held the first-ever FRENCH Funerals & Cremations obituary-writing workshop. Nearly 90 curious people attended, from all corners of Albuquerque. I was thrilled to see that so many people wanted to tell their stories. The workshops consist of brainstorming exercises, clever obituary samples and writing tips.

People have told me they come to my workshops because they want to leave their families a lasting piece of themselves. Others have said only they know themselves best. Some have come simply to be near others who are thinking of taking on such a thought-provoking project. Whatever the reason, I welcome new faces to our workshop and I’m grateful for the chance to help people have a say in how they want to be remembered.

Our next workshop is Friday, May 6, 2016 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at our FRENCH – Wyoming location, 7121 Wyoming Boulevard NE. I would love to see you there! Please RSVP by either calling our Westside location at 505-897-0300 or via e-mail at aubreyh@frenchfunerals.com

Let’s tell our stories!

What Is a "Good" Funeral?

by Buck Dyck, Funeral Director

April 6, 2016

I'm edging my way to ten years in funeral service now, all of them serving here at FRENCH Funerals & Cremations.  Along the way I have made some great relationships (meeting my wife and later my son being the best!).  Many of the families I serve have never had to meet a funeral director in an official sense and many are unsure of what we even do for families.   

Ultimately, my job is to help build a bridge for people who have lost someone they love.  The connection we start when a death occurs helps families form a new relationship with the person who has died. There are, of course, the necessary elements of caring for the deceased.  However, what I enjoy is learning about who that person was, what is important about them to their family and friends and helping a family to connect the past and the future.  I appreciate FRENCH because our focus has always been on the individual.  Not just the deceased, but the individuals that were part of that life.

If I had to define a "good" funeral, it would be a personal, meaningful opportunity for family and friends to gather in a place that provided a healthy balance of laughter and tears.   This is true of other important life milestones, such as a wedding, a graduation or the birth of a child.   Often, I hear people say things like, "I just want to remember them the way they were" or "We want celebration of life with no sadness.”  It is incredibly hard to mourn the death a loved one.  It is not my place to tell people how they should feel or what they need to do; however, a good funeral director listens.   By really listening to people and making meaningful suggestions based upon their unique needs, a funeral director has the opportunity to help take a difficult situation for a family and in turn help create a lasting, positive experience for them.  This serves as a stepping stone as they form new relationship with that person.  As a small example, if someone has a special closing song played at a funeral in honor of that person, they will never listen to that song the same way again.   Sometimes it may bring back a great memory, sometimes it will bring on tears, but from then on, it will always be their song.

Being able to give a lasting gift like that is what being a funeral director is all about.  To have been able to be a part of something like that, I sincerely thank each and every family I have ever served for that privilege.

My Parents: Surprise! We Pre-Planned Our Funeral!

by Kathleen Strebe, Advance Planning Consultant
March 15, 2016

I was just 26 when my young parents exuberantly informed me that they had pre-planned their funerals. I thought two things. First, they’re too young for this. And, secondly, I didn’t want to hear this.

Looking back, I’m so thankful that my parents planned ahead. My father lost his battle with cancer at the age of 54. My mom experienced peace because his funeral plans were in place. My father had us in mind, too. He understood the importance of having services so that we would have a safe place to address our emotional, relational and spiritual needs. The bottom line is that pre-planning his funeral helped our entire family.

Had my parents not pre-planned, my father’s death would have been a stressful experience instead of a peaceful one. By pre-planning, my family was able to focus on my father’s funeral services and begin the grieving process that is so important for families who lose a loved one. It’s as if my father knew all along that pre-planning his funeral was a precious gift to us that we wouldn’t understand until the time came.

I never imagined that twenty years later I would be the person helping families pre-arrange their funerals. As an Advance Planning Consultant with FRENCH Funerals & Cremations, I have the honor of helping people give similar gifts to their families each and every day. I am passionate about my work because pre-planning helps families heal faster, decreases stress levels during a difficult time in life and brings peace to people who need it most.

My father gave me a wonderful gift when I was young, and it is my pleasure to help bring the gift of pre-planning to others. Whether you choose burial or cremation, having an intentional plan in place is a true gift you can give your family. Please give our office a call today at 505-275-7200. Or, learn more about Advance Planning by visiting the Funeral Planning section of our website. 

Blue Mass Offers Us a Chance to Say Thank You to First Responders

by Shelia Hocker, Funeral Director
February 15, 2016

If I’ve learned anything over my forty years as a funeral director, it’s that each and every service is as different as the life that’s being honored. Some people leave clear directives as to how they wish to be remembered. Family members and friends add their own touches to services. Often – especially in the cases of first responders – the community bands together to pay respect to the individual who passed on.

As the sister of a retired military veteran and the mother-in-law of an active duty member of the Air Force, I’ve developed a sincere appreciation for the people who are willing to protect the citizens of our country. That’s why the funerals of military personnel, police officers, firefighters, EMTS and all first responders mean so much to me.

New Mexico has mourned the loss of many first responders in recent years, and I love how our community comes together to honor the lives of the heroes who offer up their lives for the protection of ours. Throughout my career, I’ve been a part of services that included 21 gun salutes, the release of doves, fly overs, honor guards, ringing of the five bells and funeral processions that travel north to the national cemetery in Santa Fe.

While it’s important to mourn as a community during the memorial service of a first responder, it’s also healing for us to celebrate the lives of the first responders who are still with us. That’s why I attend the Blue Mass, which is an annual community event that allows each one of us to say thank you to the first responders who take care of us in our communities and in our state.

The ninth annual Blue Mass takes place at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque on Thursday, February 18th at noon. This moving service honors members of New Mexico’s police force, fire fighters, corrections department personnel, EMT’s, military members and other types of first responders. St. Pius X High School is located at 5301 St. Joseph’s Place on Albuquerque’s west side.

Archbishop John C. Wester will serve as the celebrant of this year’s Blue Mass. Archbishop Wester will lead us in the remembrance of the first responders who have passed on and bless the first responders who risk their lives every day. Archbishop Wester will even bless animals who help the first responders, such as the K-9 dogs and mounted horses.

I encourage you to take time out of your week to experience the ninth annual Blue Mass, sponsored in part by FRENCH Funerals & Cremations. The service is a time to be thankful for the people who have passed before us and for the people who are still around us.

I hope to see you there!

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