2019, a year to remember and what’s up for 2020

As I wrap up the year at O’Connell’s, it brings so many feelings, both positive and those not so positive. First, I will be forever amazed at the love and genuine support of the community.  March 2, my life changed as my mentor, idol, and Dad died. He was given a righteous send off, thanks in part to John Knutson for an incredible eulogy, and Fathers, John and Jerry for a fitting Christian Burial. But Dad’s funeral, in true Tom O’Connell fashion, was not all about him, rather our staff too!

Being a funeral director is more than wearing suits and shiny shoes, being coddled by the Ladies Guild during funeral lunches, or driving mini vans. Rather, it is being at a family’s complete disposal to help them understand the totality of their loss, to engage in an emotional discussion about whether a child should say goodbye to their mom or dad who just died, or to hold the shaking hand of a widow as she bids

Janet, Pepper King Dan, and Tom “Tucker”

farewell to her best friend and husband of sixty years.  It is these moments that cannot be taught in school, rather watching a true craftsman at work. For me, it was my brother Dan, and my Dad Tom. One of the best qualities I learned from them is that you are no better than anyone else. The Golden Rule is our foundation at O’Connell’s. Treat others the way you would like to be treated! The rest all comes easy. So finding that special person who understands this rule and is willing to give themselves completely to grieving families can be a task. Over the years since Dan was killed, we have found some that didn’t fit the mold, and others that are shining examples of what a great funeral

Team O’Connell (left to right) Ian, Tony, Lilly, Cindy, Kathy, John, Nini, Nancy, Blaise, and Shirley. Not pictured Linda.

director is. I know my parents would be so proud of the team we have assembled. We have a great diversity of personalities that complement each other well, and that truly care for the family they are serving.   Furthermore, having partnered with Bill Benedict and Lisa Benedict in River Falls, Ellsworth, and Prescott has allowed us to extend this level of care and service to those communities at O’Connell-Benedict Funeral Homes.  Quite honestly, they are the finest funeral directors in the business.

I am humbled as 2019 comes to an end. It marks another year of providing our care to more families than the previous year. Truth be told, that has been the case every year since Dad opened in 1985. I can say without any hesitation that is one of my proudest accomplishments. Once again, it was an honor to serve such wonderful families. When you walk with a family during their most difficult times, you become part of their family. We get to meet some of the greatest people in our jobs.

Our Grief and The Holidays program, led by Lisa Benedict was an incredible night of healing and inspiration. The number of individuals prearranging has increased dramatically. A good share of funerals today are prearranged. Prearranging your wishes is one of the greatest gifts one can bestow upon their family. It is for this reason we spend a great deal of time promoting them as we see first hand the value and meaning it brings to families. You can download a PDF guide, “10 things you need to think about before your funeral” for a list of thought provoking questions. 

2020 will mark the first time that I will not have Dad or Dan with me in some fashion. Yes, I have run the operation since my brother’s death in 2002, but it was always good to hear the support of my Dad too. Many people think the funeral home business is steady, and that “people are just dying to see you.” The fact of the matter is that society is changing the fabric of the funeral industry immensely. Some of these changes are good, some not very good at all. As funeral directors, it is our job to help families process their grief. If grief isn’t dealt with properly, it can manifest itself in very ugly ways, especially when it comes to our relationships with those we love. So for O’Connell’s 2020 is also our vision at 20/20. It is clear, concise, and sharp. We need to have a comprehensive understanding of our family’s grief and loss. It means we have to stay educated with new training and ideas, use cutting edge technologies to our advantage, and most importantly be intentional and present with empathy.  In 2016, we completed a renovation at our Hudson facility which allows us to offer fully catered meals and serve families on a whole new level. This past year, we gave our Baldwin facility a facelift inside, and it has all been received wonderfully by the community. This upcoming year will once again highlight some necessary changes to Hudson. We will be adding a family room for visitations and services as well as recreating our office space and meeting arrangement rooms. We have so many exciting changes in the ways we support families, while holding true to my parent’s mission from day one, service above all.  

To end, thank-you from the bottom of my heart for giving us the greatest privilege anyone can ask for; caring for your loved one. Yesterday at an arrangement, I was asked “How do you do what you do, and how can you do it day in and day out?” It’s quite simple actually. The answer is YOU! We do what we do because we know we can make a difference in the lives of others. We know that what we do can shape the lives of others for the rest of their lives. To us, it’s not a job. It’s a way of life!

by Mike O’Connell