Mark K. Anthony is owner of Anthony Funeral & Cremation Chapels in Rochester, NY. His 40-plus years of experience in the profession have led him to share his insights through a new book, Living & Dying—Finding Love & Hope in the Journey of Loss. It is available to members from Selected Resources at selectedfuneralhomes.org/store.
What inspired you to write this book?
“I was moved to write down my thoughts about the funeral profession, working with bereaved families and about life in general. After three months of writing every morning, I had created a manuscript of free-flowing ideas. The book is an honest reflection of those thoughts. It was very inspirational for me to discover how the process of writing helps clarify my thinking. I also enjoyed the creative process. There is a story within each of us, and if we are able to get quiet with ourselves long enough, that story will emerge. I wanted to be sure the book was not about me—my ego, my successes, my failures. It was to be a resource for people who need to hear its message.”
And what is that message?
“The book is about transformational experiences—the very definition of change—transitioning from an old normal to a new normal. To me, the people who can transform and shift to a new normal are the ones who are living. The ones who can’t do this work are, in essence, dying. Change is a constant that happens in our lives every minute and every second. In our bodies, old cells constantly die and new ones are created. From a professional standpoint, we talk all the time about changes occurring in funeral service. In the book, I share stories from my professional experiences and the difficulties families have transitioning to their new normal. I also tell of my own, personal struggles with change in my life. I believe this shines a light on the fact that we all are going through struggles. And we can be a gift to each other by sharing experiences that resonate and help us in our journeys through transformational change.
“While I speak in the book of all the elements and values of a good funeral service, and I use stories and examples to help people understand the significance and the benefits of what we, as funeral directors, do; I’m really writing about healthy ways of living life by embracing change and recognizing that’s the way life is designed—that change is inevitable, and every moment will be a new normal.”
Are there stories from the book you can share that illustrate this?
“There are so many, but one that comes to mind is an experience with my daughter when she was five. She had been watching some baby birds on her windowsill, but they had died while she was at school one day. When I learned of this, I rushed home to get rid of them, so she wouldn’t have to see dead baby birds. But by the time she got home, I realized the big mistake I had made. So, in the book I tell the story about how we created an entire funeral for the birds including burial. Even with the wisdom and knowledge we have in serving families every day, when it hits home, we’re all affected the same way—we go into protection mode. We’re all trying to do the best we can, but sometimes we don’t always make the right choice.
“Another story is about me helping a young man make funeral arrangements for his father. He wanted a direct cremation with no services. The total cost was very minimal by our standards. But when I gave him the itemization form, he said, ‘Oh, my God! This is an awful lot!’ I probably was not at my best and, without thinking, I said, ‘My stereo speakers cost more than this!’ Of course, I immediately apologized; but I knew it was the truth. Nearly every day we see people making the wrong choices and not understanding the value of what we offer.
“These and many other situations have been great lessons for me, especially when I see families struggling with death and funeral arrangements. As funeral directors, we want everyone to have a successful experience. We make every effort to offer our best guidance and support, but we also have to remember that not everyone is capable of appreciating it at that moment.”
What kind of reception has your book received?
“It’s only been out for a couple of months, but I’ve been giving a copy as a gift to each family that makes pre-arrangements with us. I’ve already had many families write me about how certain aspects of the book have resonated with them and changed their thinking as to how they want to preplan their funerals! To me, that’s very powerful. If I can get this book into the hands of people before they need it, it will make a much bigger impression; because we all know it’s very difficult to communicate value to families in an at-need situation. They are more apt to hear us in an environment of less stress and anxiety than an arrangement conference. And even then, it’s hard.
“I believe that there is a significant opportunity for us in the funeral profession, as well as others who are tapped into transitional services, to provide a book like this as a resource, and I’m offering a significant discount to members though Selected Resources.”
Do you feel we are making progress as a profession and a society in handling change?
“I’ve always been one who gets excited about change, because I see it as an opportunity. But unfortunately, the world we live in is so upside down in many areas, and it’s so hard for us to focus because of all the distractions, that we end up clinging to what’s comfortable. So, it may not appear we are making progress, if we live our lives avoiding change. I think, to some degree, we are getting better. And this book is a reflection of that. I think Selected Independent Funeral Homes itself is a reflection of that. As members, we have a lot of tools, ideas and resources at our disposal; but its easy to forget and procrastinate. I firmly believe transformational experiences require action and follow-though for success.”
How do you envision the future of the funeral profession?
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I feel we have the opportunity right now to make choices as to what direction we want to go in the future. One direction is to fight change and be fearful of it. Another direction is to love it, accept it and moving forward in it. I think that’s happening in every aspect of our lives, and I know what I’m doing with it. I’m inviting people to participate in what I’m doing. I just started a website, mkanthony.com, and I’m going do 100 days of blogging where I sit down every morning and share my thoughts about what’s going on in my life in an honest and introspective way. Because, like my book, I feel those people with whom it resonates will receive value from it.
“Those of us who are willing be open to the world and live authentic lives are the ones who are going to change it. It won’t happen by being fearful or keeping our stories locked inside of us. It requires movement and expression. We do this every day as funeral directors. We sit with struggling families whose world has been turned upside down and try to be of help. We couldn’t do this if we didn’t have a strong faith or belief that there is something good available to us all, and that working through grief can be one of the most transformational of all human experiences.
“So, we continue to have hope, and we try to be a beacon for the people we serve. We need to keep writing our books and making our videos—getting information out there about the value of funerals—about living and dying—because the world is in dire need of it.”
“Principles are borne best on the wings of a story. With warmth, compassion, candor and humor, Mark weaves together a tapestry that considers death, consolation, family struggles, abandonment, joy, pure love and a host of other human experiences… he gently leads readers through a careful consideration of what it means to make deep, loving connections with our families, our friends, our colleagues and our world.” —Dr. William G. Hoy, FT