Funeral Director Spotlight: Sarah E. Lee of Lee-Ellena Funeral Home

Posted April 14, 2016

6 min read

Sarah E. Lee is owner of Lee-Ellena Funeral Home in Macomb, Michigan. As a Licensed Funeral Director, Lee started on her path toward funeral service following the death of her mother in 1999. Finding scarce resources to help those going through bereavement, Lee began reaching out to help others in the same predicament. A passion for funeral service was born. Believing every life is worth celebrating, the Lee-Ellena Funeral Home opened its doors in 2008, and since then it has been serving and supporting families in the community.

In our spotlight of Lee, she shares her approach and methods used to support families as they grieve.

“It’s a Journey”

“I am a big believer in grief support, and this is one of the reasons I began the funeral home—when I lost my mother unexpectedly, there was no grief support,” says Lee. “I was out there on my own to figure it out. Then I found myself compelled to tell all my other friends who lost their parents about grief, and what you do can do about it, and what it is, and is not.”

Typically, Lee tells families there will be a period of two or three years that they will have grief: “Our approach is to communicate how it is a journey and there’s no way out. The best way is to go through it,” she explains.

About 90 days after this experience, Lee will typically send a personal letter from her that describes how she felt after her father died, and how she was overwhelmed with grief.

“When my father died [after my mom’s death], I thought I knew all there was about grief—because I’m a funeral director! I found myself with these symptoms and I list them in this letter sent to people: Inability to get out of bed, not wanting to talk to people, not being able to concentrate, and not being able to answer quickly. And I thought I was losing my mind. I realized I was in grief,” she says.

She shares with mourners how even someone trained to recognize these signs and symptoms can still struggle with the grieving process. This letter and story helps continue to communicate how grieving will be a process, full of ups and downs.

Lee says this note sent to families also includes advice on how to better cope. First, she lets them know they should lower their expectations. “Two, recognize what it is you have, and that it’s normal. It will, over time, dissipate.” She also encourages grieving family members to take a vacation from their grief.

Exceptional Support for Families

Lee partners with a grief counselor company which families can utilize and she also encourages them to come to a monthly support group that is held at the funeral home. “Families are also invited to come to two services we have for the year. One is in the summer, and it’s where we release balloons. One is in the winter at Christmas, where we light candles. In both cases, the message to grieving families is, I can’t take away the pain but I can help you get through it.”

At the balloon ceremony, people give a short speech, write something on their card in remembrance of loved ones that died, and then they attach the card to the balloon. Together, the families then release the balloon. “It’s a striking visual. The balloon ceremony is very popular…And you can see why. Everybody else in the room is in the same spot you are. They’ve lost somebody as well.”

A Customer-Centric Philosophy

At times, what funeral practitioners tell families is not truly heard or absorbed. “The problem is there is always so much information being given in the arrangement process, and sometimes their eyes are glazed over. What I try to get through to people in various ways is that the journey will be difficult—and we are with them through this long journey. I am honest with them in that we can’t go back. It’s not going to be business as usual,” she adds.

Lee approaches each relationship not only with candor, but she appreciates how everyone grieves differently. “I tell them how the best thing to do when you feel grief coming on—and it is going to come on in waves—let it come just like a big wave. Let it just wash over you. If you’re in a private space, go ahead and cry. With me it always happened when I was alone or I was driving,” she says. “’It is going to happen to you,’ I do my best to communicate.”

Lee knows that not all practitioners excel at dealing with, and communicating about grief, but her advice is to do your best to hire for a mix of strengths that will ultimately support the families’ experience. Someone who may not be as skilled at the start when dealing with grieving families might be talented at keeping the business running smoothly. However, Lee does look to hire people who are aligned with their firm’s general philosophy towards grief.

“Our staff is small, and tight knit. And that is part of why we will say, ‘You are only as good as your last funeral,’” says Lee, a reflection of the firm’s mindset on how every family has to be served and supported.

About Sarah E. Lee & Lee-Ellena Funeral Home

Sarah E. Lee (formerly Sarah E. Lee-Ellena) started on her path toward funeral service following the 1999 death of her mother. Finding scarce resources to help those going through bereavement, Lee began reaching out to help others in the same predicament. In 2004, she became a casualty of the auto industry collapse which launched her new career track. Funeral service seemed an obvious choice. Lee enrolled in the mortuary science program at Wayne State University, graduated in 2006 and became licensed in 2007. Meanwhile, the long process to bring the Lee-Ellena Funeral Home to life began. Ground was broken in May 2007 and the funeral home opened its doors March 1, 2008.

Lee-Ellena Funeral Home is a funeral home unlike any other. Lee-Ellena Funeral Home provides funeral, memorial, personalization, aftercare, pre-planning and cremation services in Macomb Township, Michigan. Caring for the survivors has been Lee’s specific ministry all along as when she started out in 1999.  Find out more at www.lee-ellenafuneralhome.com.

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