Disappointed family

It’s So Much Easier Working with Other Families

Sometimes in my day-to-day, non-work life, things happen that contain lessons for my work life.

Some recent events fall into that category, and I’ve been thinking about the right way to share the experience here, but I need to set some context first.

I share real stories, as close to what happened as possible, but I also modify details for privacy reasons, including people’s names, to protect the innocent (and the guilty!)

Only the Good Die Young

After a long battle with cancer, my brother-in-law, “Jason” passed away a couple of months ago, in his early 60’s.

Jason was the brother I never had, and someone I learned a lot from, especially as I think about his way of being. Alas, only the good die young.

His passing left a void that will be difficult to fill, because he was a leader and master of ceremonies for every occasion, including my wedding almost thirty years ago.

The memorial activities that my sister and their family organized required someone to step up and play the role that the dearly departed would otherwise have naturally stepped into.

Jason being unavailable, Steve was called on to facilitate.

I was honoured to play any useful role for the family.

The US Memorial – As Planned

My sister’s family moved to the US in the 1990’s, when the parents were in their early 30’s, with a toddler, a newborn, and another to follow.

One single memorial just would not work, especially with travel restrictions due to Covid, and many mourners on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

So they began with an American memorial on one Saturday, attended mostly by local friends of the family, and where I knew only a small fraction of the 120 plus people who showed up.

The following Saturday would be back in Montreal, where much more of the family could easily attend.

I offered to MC and handle the microphone at the restaurant, and clarified how I hoped to run the event with my nieces and nephew, and they quickly agreed with my ideas.

Everyone followed my instructions and requests regarding acceptable time for sharing stories and it all flowed seamlessly.

The Canadian Funeral and Reception – NOT the Same

The following Saturday, we began with a church service, with a reception planned at a nearby restaurant to follow.

A huge crowd came to the church, and there was no way the reception could accommodate even a quarter of them, so an announcement was needed to dissuade many from following along.

I was conscripted for this “simple” task, which I apparently finessed, since we ended up with a “Goldilocks” number of people at the reception. At least that request worked.

I checked with the family and we agreed that the formula from last week worked, so we’d just do it again.

I announced that we’d stop the music every 15 minutes or so, and then a couple of people who wanted to share stories would each have 2 minutes with the microphone, just like last week.

Your Family’s Respect Is Different

This crowd, however, was very different from last week’s.

Many of those who wanted to speak were relatives of mine.

Cousin “Keith” started off by reading his speech that took about 10 minutes, way over my “allotted time limit”.

Before I could get the music going again and attempt to re-establish my “rules”, his brother “Roger” came up an read his tribute, and it was even longer.

Things were not going as we planned, and the family facilitation fail was on.

These people had their own ideas, and they weren’t about to take orders from me. 

Oh well….

Reading the Room – What Needed to Happen, Happened

As it turned out, what needed to happen, happened.  When families gather, you need an agenda and a plan, and you need to be ready to chuck them in the garbage and go with the flow.

Read the room and adjust on the fly.

The big lesson for me was one that I could have, and perhaps should have, foreseen.

It’s really, really, really difficult to facilitate your own family members, they just don’t see you the same way and respect the “rules” that you put in place.

I’ve seen it before and likely will again, but at least I’ll probably see it coming.

Rest in peace Jason. And thanks for one last facilitation lesson.