By Thomas A. Parmalee
Andrea Resnick, the former director of operations of Sinai Chapels when it was located in Fresh Meadows, New York, as well as the former director of channel development at Sympathy Brands is starting a new adventure: president of her own consulting firm – and she’s open for business.
Resnick Communications is focused on enhancing communication strategies and development and will focus strictly on the end-of-life industry, she said.
A fourth-generation funeral director, Resnick’s great-grandfather started the family firm on the lower east side of Manhattan. When Resnick’s grandfather and father joined together to open a new funeral home in Queens, they named it Sinai Chapels.
In April 2022, Service Corporation International closed on its purchase of Sinai and relocated the business to Queens where it mostly serves the Jewish community. The business recently served about 800 families per year from a single location, Resnick said.
Resnick never thought she’d enter the family business growing up, but after working her first job, she wanted a change. Her dad suggested becoming a bookkeeper for the firm, and she began working there in 2013 – and she quickly discovered that she loved working with families. Previously a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, she earned her funeral director’s license at American Academy McAlister Institute of Funeral Service in 2017, completing her residency at the family firm.
Later, she joined Sympathy Brands, where she worked for almost two years. “I always loved this industry, and I thought I could take my license and do other things,” she explained.
The job at Sympathy allowed her to “get back to the basics of what I loved at the funeral home,” which is operational management, cultivating relationships and focusing on internal and external communications, she said.
“I’m particularly interested in how we train our teams, how we gather information from families to build a rapport and how we engage in outreach with the community,” she said.
She mainly wanted to explore what else she could do in funeral service beyond working at a funeral home day to day, she said. “I knew I could make an impact elsewhere, and I just really loved the operational side of things,” she said. “I loved the connections I was building, and I really wanted to focus on that.”
She was aware of Sympathy Brands since the family funeral home was a client, so she reached out to the CEO, and they had some conversations before she joined the company to expand its funeral home channel.
“I was learning new things every day about technology, and it gave me new insights when I was speaking to funeral homes,” she said. Sympathy Brands recently expanded its service offerings to include service folders and prayer cards and offers as suite of services through its digital care ecosystem, she said.
“Sympathy Brands is the parent company, and their first site was Shiva.com – and it grew from there,” she explained. “The idea of the shiva period is it is the job of friends and family to make sure the mourning family is taken care of.”
Funeral Homes as Community Centers
Resnick views funeral homes as “community centers” as they typically do so much more than take care of the dead and comfort the living. “People don’t realize how often members of the community come through the doors of a funeral home for things other than making preneed or at-need arrangements,” she said.
For instance, at her family firm, many times it was people dropping in simply to pick up a Jewish calendar – and “they were so upset when they ran out,” she said, noting that the firm made sure to keep an ample supply for that very reason.
Other times, people drop by when they suddenly find they need a death certificate for estate purposes. “Being that hub for people is so important,” she said.
As to what drives Resnick, she said she has tremendous respect for her grandfather and father, who worked tirelessly to make the family business so successful – and she intends to follow in their footsteps by making a mark on the profession. “We served everybody, although it was predominantly Jewish,” she said.
As for serving a Jewish clientele, one of the things she enjoyed most about that is it is “so rooted in tradition – but it is also what each family makes of that tradition.” In Judaism, there are certain prescribed things that should occur over the course of the funeral, she said, such as the interment should be 24 to 48 hours after someone’s death – and after that is shiva.
“I love the concept of shiva,” she said. “For seven days, it is the community’s job to rally around the family so you can focus on your mourning.”
“What struck me during COVID is that families couldn’t be together to practice these traditions,” she said. “It was also difficult for the funeral homes as you could only have two or three people at the graveside. Not being able to have people mourn with you and comfort you during shiva was so hard as that is a time for the community to rally around the mourning family. I felt terrible for the families as they couldn’t carry on these traditions as they are meant to occur.”
Even a year after a loved one died, when there are unveilings in the Jewish tradition, they were smaller ceremonies, Resnick said. Fortunately, technology allowed people to participate on a virtual basis, letting people lend support or deliver a eulogy if only from a distance.
With COVID-19 now being managed on an endemic basis, Resnick is interested to see if there will be more participation than usual at unveilings moving forward, with people who were not allowed to attend funerals perhaps showing their support on the anniversary of someone’s death.
As a Jewish funeral director, Resnick knows she brings a different perspective to the table. “I love to meet with people and understand where there is overlap in cultural and religious traditions. There are a lot of similarities, but I also enjoy seeing the differences.”
Open for Business
As to what she plans to do moving forward, Resnick wants to offer a variety of services through A. Resnick Communications.
“Anything family facing – that is where I would look to form relationships and partnerships,” she said. “With so many people in the profession retiring and not as many entering the business, I think owners and managers must refocus and use the people at their location in the best way possible.”
One way to immediately improve a funeral home is to make sure your best funeral directors are passing on their skills to others. “Are you really focusing on company culture and your approach?” she asked. “What are your goals and when is the last time you thought about that?”
While she intends to serve mainly funeral homes, she also thinks her expertise will be of value to others aligned to the profession, she said. “I think there is so much more to the end-of-life industry than funeral homes, cemeteries and monument companies,” she said. “For instance, there are elder care attorneys, hospices and financial planners and a whole network of other professionals that funeral homes and people like me can work with.”
In addition to content writing, Resnick plans to help funeral homes with strategy and onboarding new employees. “Any framework for processes and working on collateral fits in with my expertise,” she said. “I can also help craft the first call sheet and help owners navigate what should happen during that initial arrangement. We need to think about how we can make our processes more efficient.”
She also wants to help firms with staffing issues – “understanding who your team is and who to utilize where,” she said.
For instance, at a larger-volume firm, you may have an employee that is great at expediting the signing of death certificates, another person who is great on the phone with families and another who is great meeting with families in person. “It is a matter of finding a champion at each location,” she said. “We need to utilize our teams in ways that breed efficiency – and also make sure families are aware of all their options.”
Every funeral director needs to remember that even if someone has planned a funeral before, it is the first time that they are planning a funeral for this person. If you remember that, you’ll go about meeting with families a whole lot differently, she said.
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