Everyone’s life is a precious gift. Though loss of a loved one can be devastating to you and your family, there are professionals in our community to help us through our grief and give our loved one the special remembrance they deserve. In this week’s Seven Questions With feature, we talk about life — and death — with Candace Hawkins, Licensed Funeral Director and Life Story Guardian with Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home, Inc.

Your line of work requires you to meet with clients during a very emotional time. How do you help them overcome their grief?

Yes, people are often feeling a whole range of very overwhelming emotions when we meet them for the first time. Our job as funeral directors is to make sure they are equipped with the information and options they need to create a meaningful tribute to the person they have lost. That’s our best tool for helping them get through the beginning stages of grief — every major life event deserves to be recognized and fully experienced. You don’t really ever overcome grief, but there are steps you can take to get to a place where you can have a healthy relationship with your grief, and the first one is to allow yourself to experience it.

What’s the most common question you hear when meeting with a family?

We get a pretty wide range of questions, but I’d say more often than not what we see is that folks don’t even know what questions to ask. Most people only have to plan a funeral once or twice in their life, so on top of having just experienced a loss, they are also completely unfamiliar with the process of what has to happen to plan a funeral and they’re just lost and overwhelmed. So we have to guide them through all of those steps and often we are the ones asking them the questions, trying to make sure we understand what their goal is in planning a funeral so that we can make meaningful suggestions.

Again, considering your line of work and all the options that are offered, we’re assuming no two days are ever the same?

Never! I can’t even tell you how many times we all have our coats on and are heading out the door, and then the phone rings and we have to drop everything and respond to a new family who has just experienced a loss. We have to be very flexible and always be ready for whatever needs to be done next. Ours is a 24/7 business — nights, weekends and holidays, and what we do can range from meeting with families and directing funerals to doing the embalming and cosmetics to planning seminars and events. Often all in the same day!

A new trend at funeral homes seems to be the addition of comfortable lounges and refreshment stations. How has that change been received?

We get such great feedback. New York State was one of the last states with that restriction in the law that wouldn’t allow us to serve food in funeral homes. Now that they’ve changed it, it really allows us to offer an even higher level of service to our families. It used to be traditional for folks to plan a wake from 2 to 4 p.m. and then come back 7 to 9 p.m. so that they could go get a meal and the end result was that the family would be here all day, several days in a row, and it was a lot for them sometimes. Having food here makes it more comfortable, more homey and more convenient.

Do you offer any special benefits for veterans and/or their families?

We do! We are the only member of the Veterans Funeral Care Network in WNY and we are really dedicated to doing our part to thank our service members in whatever way we can for their hard work and sacrifice. We offer a discount on preplanning funerals for veterans and their spouses, and we participate in a ceremony to honorably lay to rest the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans at the national cemetery each year. We have also hosted a Veteran’s One-Stop program, where government employees, volunteers and veterans benefits experts set up at the funeral home to give information about what benefits may be available. Some vets don’t even realize all the things they are eligible for. We also collect toys every holiday season for Operation Toy Soldier to help the families of homeless and recently homeless veterans, and we have a flag retirement program that we collect flags for year-round to be retired with each vet we serve.

What are the benefits of pre-planning for the inevitable?

I can’t even emphasize enough how much easier it makes it on the people who are left to plan for the service. It’s difficult for a lot of people to have a conversation with their family about what they want to happen when they die, and so often they just never do. Which leaves the family not knowing what their wishes were or if they’re doing the right thing. You have the option of not only planning the funeral, that is, getting all your wishes down on paper and going over all of the information that will be needed at the time of passing, but also paying in advance for it through a trust. It makes it much easier for the survivors if they don’t have to pay for it out of it pocket, and the peace of mind of knowing that they are following their loved ones wishes can’t be overstated.

Once the funeral has concluded, are there other extended services that Lakeside Memorial can provide for surviving loved ones?

Absolutely. We follow up with our families the day after the funeral service with a Compassionate Care Appointment. During this appointment, we go over grief materials with them and explain some of the options and programs that are available if they need some extra help to get through that initial grief stage. Each family gets grief books to read at one month, six months and 11 months after their loss. We host a coffee hour on the first and third Wednesdays at our Hamburg location and are starting them next month on the second and third Wednesdays at our West Seneca location for anyone who thinks they may benefit from an informal meeting with some other people who are going through the same thing as they are. We also take all of our widows and widowers out to lunch on Valentine’s Day, and we have our butterfly release in the summer and our holiday program in November. We plan all of these to give everyone an opportunity throughout the year to set aside that time to remember their loved one. We’re always getting feedback and looking for new ways that we can really help people through this time.

If you are a West Seneca Chamber of Commerce member and would like to participate in the “Seven Questions With … ” business profile feature, please contact the Chamber at 674-4900.