Two people at an interview

 

Written by Jacob Terranova

 

Kimberly Farris-Luke was born into a funeral family. A fourth-generation funeral professional, she is the president and owner of Farris Funeral Service in Abingdon, Virginia. The funeral home was founded in 1952 as a branch of her great-grandfather’s funeral home, which originally opened in 1918.

 

This October, at a Selected Independent Funeral Homes 100th Annual Meeting, Farris-Luke will officially start serving as the board president.

 

Her extensive education and background make her a perfect choice. Farris-Luke studied at the University of Richmond and received her MBA from the University of South Carolina.

 

“Education has always been one of my passions; I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, a Master of Business Administration degree, and have completed extensive graduate-level coursework in social work and Christian counseling,” she said.

 

Outside of the funeral home, Farris-Luke enjoys spending time with her family. She’s married and has four daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandsons. She also enjoys a variety of hobbies. “I enjoy writing — mostly journaling — and enjoy meeting with a few friends periodically to discuss the books we are reading. I live in a wonderful region for outdoor activity, and my favorite adventures are hiking and kayaking.”

 

We recently talked with Kimberly about her new role as board president of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, as well as her work in the funeral profession.

 

Q&A with Kimberly Farris-Luke

Can you describe what called you or motivated you to enter the funeral profession?

 

I believe I was born into this family for a reason, and my early life experiences living in the funeral home with three generations of our family under one roof certainly planted the seed for my future career. I initially joined our family firm during a time of transition for my husband and our family, as we moved from Georgia back to Virginia and I, quite frankly, needed to work. Luckily, my parents had a desire to hire someone to manage grief support and education, so I assumed that role early on. In time, my responsibilities increased, and I found myself truly feeling called to grow in this profession.

 

Who have been your mentors as you began your journey in the funeral profession?

 

My parents and grandparents had a huge influence in my life as I began this work, and I am very fortunate to have been able to work with all of them. My father is a very astute businessperson who has taught me a great deal about managing our company. My grandfather was quite a “people person,” and I believe I carry some of his same traits in terms of being comfortable working with people from all walks of life. In terms of grief work, I took eight classes at Alan Wolfelt’s Center for Loss, plus I’ve attended countless seminars led by Alan. I definitely count him as one of my mentors who’s influenced the way I accompany individuals in grief.

 

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing funeral directors today? And how can funeral directors embrace or adapt to the changes?

 

There are so many creative ways to celebrate a life well lived, and we face the challenge of making sure we offer relevant, meaningful services to consumers who may have other options available to them. Many consumers have understandably become more interested in greater value for their money spent on memorialization, so we must strive to offer merchandise and service options that match the needs of the consumer. Instead of assuming we know what our families need, we must allow them to teach us what is most important to them. We should also be looking for ways to influence our community’s appreciation of memorialization by providing educational opportunities and relationship-building events.

 

In some instances, trust in our profession has been eroded and we face the uphill battle of rebuilding relationships with people who are wary of what we do. I believe we must each determine who we are and what we do best, instead of trying to be all things to all people.

 

We also face the tremendous challenge of hiring and retaining funeral service professionals who are committed to the profession. As a leader in our company, my responsibility lies in understanding each team member’s motivation and learning style so that I can tailor training to match individual strengths and weaknesses. For the future of our profession, I am particularly interested in the content of our funeral service educational programs and the varying state licensing laws; both areas are ripe for change.

 

What are three things you wished you knew when starting out in the profession?

 

  • I wish I had understood how the emotionally draining work could affect my physical health so that I would have practiced better self-care earlier in my career.
  • I wish I had known how to better balance working with family members so that I could wear my “colleague” hat with confidence, leaving the “daughter/sister” hat for non-work encounters.
  • I wish I had understood the importance of walking with people in their grief, allowing them to lash out if needed without taking their actions too personally.

What is some of the best advice you have for funeral professionals who might be experiencing compassion fatigue?

 

First, make a commitment to carve out personal time each day, a minimum of 20 minutes and preferably at the start of your day. Spend that time in prayer, meditation, journaling – whatever best fits your personality. Secondly, give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling, and find a way to express your emotions. Ideally, have a relationship with a trusted friend, a pastor or counselor, someone who will allow you to vent without trying to talk you out of what you are feeling and without trying to “fix” you. Finally, take a day off, preferably once a month, to get away from the familiar and just be. Spend time outdoors, exercise, rest, and leave your phone/tablet out of reach.

 

What does being the first-ever female president of the Board of Directors of Selected Independent Funeral Homes mean to you personally?

 

Goodness, it’s humbling to recognize how many extraordinary women have been in our profession for many years and would have been very qualified to hold this role. My leadership style is uniquely my own, influenced by my gender as well as my life experiences. I look forward to continuing to serve our membership as I strive to be true to myself.

 

As president of the Board of Directors of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, what’s your vision for Selected Independent Funeral Homes as the funeral profession moves forward?

 

I would like to see our membership grow as we seek to partner with firms committed to excellence. I believe our association is uniquely poised to offer educational and training opportunities to our member firms, which will be key to remaining relevant and forward-thinking. We are committed to developing leaders, mentoring, and growing our pool of resources and partners to maximize the value of membership in Selected.

 

What advice would you offer to any younger funeral professionals, or to those thinking about entering the profession? Do you have any advice for female funeral professionals just starting out in their careers?

 

For younger funeral professionals, I would encourage them to seek education and/or training in things such as business management, HR management, accounting, marketing, technology, counseling – all components of the daily operation of a small business that cannot be fully learned in mortuary college. I believe our profession will continue to change as the world changes, so having skills that go beyond body preparation and meeting with families will be a plus.

 

For men and women, I would encourage the importance of setting proper boundaries in both professional and personal relationships. All of us need to create safe spaces where we can be ourselves and practice self-care. For women, I believe it’s important to trust your own abilities and be willing to do whatever the job description says, learning how to make the position your own. We can accomplish the same work, but how we do so may be unique to ourselves.

 

I also encourage younger professionals to know that while you can have both career and family, each of those areas deserves to be set apart as a priority from time to time. I am a wife and mother of four daughters, and there were many times I chose to leave work to attend school or sporting events, knowing that I would need to return to work later in the evening to finish some necessary tasks. But while I was with my family, I did my best not to be distracted by thoughts of work. I understand that some situations don’t allow one to work with such flexibility, but as a leader I know I am committed to giving our team members opportunities to work varying schedules to accommodate family time.

 

If you could describe your experience in funeral service in a few words, what would they be?

 

Emotionally challenging; tiring, yet at the same time invigorating; life-affirming; my passion and my calling.

 

About Selected Independent Funeral Homes

Selected Independent Funeral Homes delivers innovative and pertinent resources, solutions and ongoing support necessary for enduring excellence to its international network of independently owned deathcare providers who aspire to be the very best in their profession. Members of Selected operate according to specific standards and best practices in order to provide the public with reliable, high-quality funeral services and funeral-related information.

 

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