Nodoby wants to buy their product, but everyone will need it. Making that process easier has been a longtime mission for this three-generation family business. Learn how ethical behavior and quality service go hand-in-hand.
Paul Lizer has a “product” that nobody wants to buy, but everyone will need. He owns and operates Delehanty Funeral Home, 401 River Lane, Loves Park, Ill., with wife Mary Kay Delehanty and their son, Garrett. The family greets people who are often at their lowest point – a task that can be difficult to navigate.
“The difficulty of being a funeral director is that when people actually do have to buy our ‘product,’ they don’t want to, and they usually don’t know much about it,” Paul says. “To be successful in this business, you have to realize that the business part comes second to providing a service to a family. That’s one thing my father-in-law taught me.”
Paul’s father-in-law, the late Thomas Delehanty, founded the funeral home in 1949 with his wife, Lorraine. The couple operated Loves Park’s first ambulance service from within the funeral home, forwarding information to the local police or fire department as necessary. Paul strives to maintain Tom and Lorraine’s legacy of avid dedication to the community and the funeral profession.
“My father-in-law was the epitome of ethics and involvement,” Paul says. “Yes, you need to make money to run a business, but if you’re involved in the community, if you build a good reputation and you run an ethical life at all times, including when you’re away from work, the rest will all fall into place.”
Paul also learned from his father-in-law that it’s important to keep a light, positive attitude throughout the day. Although other funeral directors may disagree, Paul believes it’s not the funeral director’s role to grieve with the family, but rather to facilitate arrangements and guide families through the funeral process.
Self-effacement is a common tactic that Paul uses to keep matters light.
“You see people come through the door that are all inside themselves,” Paul says. “They haven’t done this, or it’s been years, or they don’t know us, so interjecting a little levity can break the ice. We’re not replacing or taking part in their grief, because that doesn’t do anybody any good. Our job is to take this load off so that they can grieve and not worry if the details are done.”
Paul isn’t afraid to admit if he makes a mistake. His philosophy is to admit if something goes wrong, apologize, and do everything possible to correct the error, even if it costs money.
He’s also adamant about forgiving his staff members.
“I never throw anyone under the bus,” Paul says. “Our society is becoming so much less tolerant of each other’s shortcomings, and you know what, one reason I have longevity is that I’ll take the hit for my staff if someone screws up. I apologize, explain what happened, and do everything I can to make it right. It goes back to our reputation of honesty and integrity.”
Many of Paul’s best business decisions have been family-oriented. When he bought the funeral home from his father-in-law in 1995, there was no doubt in Paul’s mind that the Delehanty name would stay. The brand carried a positive, ethical reputation.
Welcoming his son, Garrett, into the business has proven to be another wise choice.
“Garrett is very personable, much like his grandpa,” Paul says. “An advantage of a family business is that it’s not just about the money, it’s also about your legacy and personal pride. In general, you provide a better service because it relates directly back to your history.”
Maintaining the family legacy is important to Garrett. He’s learned, from watching his father and grandfather, that it’s important to deliver on a promise.
A central component of upholding honesty and integrity for the Delehanty brand is facilitating whatever a family needs, whether it’s a Dixieland jazz band playing during a service, or an airplane fly-by at a cemetery.
“If we say something is going to be here, it’ll be here,” Garrett says.
Paul adds: “Long gone are the days of cookie-cutter funerals, where there was a visitation the night before, a funeral the next day, a graveside service at the cemetery and a lunch at the church to wrap things up. Since the 1980s, funerals have been much more personalized. There’s no normal anymore.”
Another crucial component of the funeral home’s legacy is its clean, attractive appearance. Paul makes sure that the building undergoes renovation every 10 years. Staying up-to-date on technology is important, too, especially with video projection and online streaming increasing in popularity.
For example, it was no problem for Delehanty Funeral Home when a family requested to have their pastor Skype in from another state during a memorial service.
“The pastor was a former Loves Park resident who had relocated to Oklahoma,” Paul says. “He couldn’t get here, but he could still be a part of the memorial service. This isn’t the norm, by any means, but it’s certainly what’s coming. Webcams will be used more frequently in the future, so staying ahead of technology is important for us.”
In addition to the rising use of technology during funerals, there’s also been a rise in cremation. Garrett finds that members of the millennial generation often like the variety of possibilities that cremation presents.
“You can scatter grandpa at his favorite fishing spot, or wear glass jewelry with Grandma’s ashes in it,” Garrett says. “They were even able to launch the creator of ‘Star Trek’ into space. You can’t send his entire body, but you can send a part of his ashes.”
Paul plans to continue educating people about the importance of recognizing and celebrating a life. He sometimes sees people using cremation as a way to avoid dealing with feelings of grief and loss. After 33 years of working with grieving people, Paul knows that those who don’t hold a funeral often regret the decision later on.
“There’s nothing wrong with cremation itself, it’s really just a form of disposition,” Paul says. “You can have a burial, a cremation, you can donate to science – those are all forms of disposition. However, you’ve got to recognize the life first. You have to go through the grieving process. So with cremation on the rise, I’m just very protective of having a service first. You’ve got to do something – as humans, we need closure.”
Educating people about the importance of having a funeral, the emotional value behind it, is Paul’s ultimate goal. There’s only one chance to get a funeral correct and it can be difficult for people to make wise, practical decisions in moments of emotional distress. But when people come in with some knowledge, the process can be easier for everyone.
“There’s nothing wrong with pre-planning,” Paul says. “You don’t have to make decisions with a funeral director, but talking to your family about your wishes is important for later on. I truly believe that if we can educate the public, people will make wise decisions. This is positive for the funeral profession, but it’s also positive for individuals out there. There really is a purpose to this, and if we educate people properly, it really does mean something.”