Interview Questions

July 8, 2016

One should never retain end-of-life, death, or mourning support without learning more about the person you will be working with.   This is a deeply intimate juncture of your life, and you want to ensure you are retaining the highest caliber of support.   Some questions to ask include:

  • How or where were you trained?
  • If you didn’t take a formal training program, what background experience do you have, and why do you think this makes you a good support?
  • What is your own personal experience with death, dying, and loss?  Have you filled out your own end-of-life documents?
  • Are you familiar with essentially all common options legally available to us here
  • Do you have any affiliation arrangements with industry providers, such as funeral homes, cemeteries, casket manufacturers, florists, celebrants, etc?  (You want to ensure their advice isn’t driven by a nice bonus or reciprocal referral set-up, but rather, by what best fits your needs!)
  • Do you have a political or spiritual aim, when helping clients?  (advocating for you is one thing; using their role supporting you, to move ahead a political agenda, or meet a personal spiritual aim, is inappropriate! Your support professional should *not* be thinking of their own agenda, but clearing the space to meet your needs!)
  • What are your personal and/or spiritual views on death, dying, and final arrangements – I know this is personal, but can you share at least a little bit?  And…will these influence your ability to support my (perhaps very different) path?
  • IF YOU HAVE SPECIFIC CULTURAL OR SPIRITUAL NEEDS, ask the following:   I practice _____.  Are you familiar with our customs?   (if not, you can explain them)  Would you be willing to help me carry this out?
  • Are you well-informed about end-of-life documents, needs, supports, and concerns? Can you tell me a little bit about them? (they should be able to talk wisely on things like Advance Directives, Power of Attorney, Living Wills, Wills, disposition options, and more – not planning or selling anything to you, but informing and educating you)
  • Do you have a preference for disposition, ceremony, funeral location, etc? (there are wonderful options (depending on your taste), such as direct burial, reef burial,  or green and natural burial, which are great for the environment and oftentimes, your pocket – however, you don’t want to feel pushed or guilted into that option, if it isn’t for you; informed of that option is one thing, being moved by your support professional’s opinion is quite another!)
  • What limits do you place on your support, in terms of time, activities, and tasks
  • Do you charge for gas, travel time, etc – or is that included?  If it is included up to X, what are the limits, and will you put that in writing in the agreement?
  • Is your fee flat?  If not, what add-on charges are there, and will I be surprised by the bill later?
  • Do you have backup support in place, in case of illness or multiple clients? If so, how does use of this impact our arrangement?
  • How do you handle conflict?  For instance, if the funeral director doesn’t want you informing me of things, or if something is not as it should be, how would you respond?
  • Relatives can be difficult – actually, anyone going through loss can be emotional, or even sometimes inappropriate.  How do you handle this?   How would you react if someone snaps at you?  Not to suggest you should take abuse, but how would you manage such a situation?
  • If the dying client is agitated, or asks you to leave, how will you handle it?
  • When you work with a client developing a Death Vigil (if you are hiring a death doula), do you inform them that they may possibly be unaware toward the end, and not find oils, incense, or other elements some death doulas suggest, to be useful?  Do you advise them that while you can plan for one thing, to be aware that they may want something quite different when the time arrives?  And – how will you, as a doula, be prepared to deviate from the ‘death vigil plan’ to meet the evolving wishes of the client?
  • How will you spend your time with a dying client?  Will you read to them, sing or play music, watch tv with them, talk?  Are there things you will or won’t do?
  • If something goes wrong on the day of the funeral, how will you help us move through it?
  • If I’m working with you in the capacity as a professional organizer of material artifacts, are there limits to the hours or types of organizing/sorting you will do?   Do you drop things off at donation bins, arrange for pickup, list on craigslist or ebay, etc?
  • Are you trained in safety, for things like handling food, as you may be helping me lay out food following the funeral?   What about in blood-borne pathogens?  I know you are not trained to provide clinical support, but I want to know if you are at least trained in basic safety around the human body.
  • Do you understand the state laws, for things like transport of body, paperwork, etc?
  • Do you have a relationship with ____ (funeral home or cemetery you know you want to use, or are strongly considering.  It is fine if they have a good relationship – the earlier affiliation question was solely to ensure you weren’t being pushed in one direction due to the financial benefit the support professional may receive for pushing you in that direction)?
  • Will you outline all of the services you will provide, as well as what steps outside of that will require additional fees (or will not be handled. I know you can’t list everything you won’t handle, but at least the common ones), in a clear contract for service?
  • What is your grievance policy?
  • What is your refund or customer satisfaction policy?
  • IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN HOLDING A HOME FUNERAL, ask:  Have you been educated in the process of home funerals?  Have you ever provided support during one before?  Can you tell me a bit about them, and what to expect?  What are the pros and cons?  What may surprise me about it?
  • What role do you play in supporting us during the home funeral?  ASK SPECIFIC QUESTIONS SUCH AS:  will you help me dress and prepare the body?  Will you help me ice the body?   Are you willing and/or able to lift or move the body, or is that our responsibility?
  • IF A GREEN OR NATURAL BURIAL, ask:  If we must open our own grave, are you willing to assist with digging? (many may not be!  Please note:  Many are unrealistic about the level of work this may take, which can be quite difficult during a time of grief; you may want to pay someone to open the grave for you. Just something to consider. On the other hand, you may consider this to be very important work to do yourself, for your own healing. However, make sure you consider this carefully, especially considering the weather, labor, and your potential mind-state).
  • How and when do we begin?  Please outline the steps for our working together.  This is all new to me, and I need to be ensured you will manage our expectations.  We are moving through enough things right now – having to guess at what comes next would be stressful.  I’m counting on you, therefore, to be as clear as possible, and manage our expectations accordingly.
  • There are many more things you may want to ask, but these are very crucial questions.  Read them over.  Determine which ones matter to you.   Don’t underestimate how clouded your thoughts and judgment may be during a time of loss.  It may be worth your time to interview an end-of-life/death support professional BEFORE you need them, so you know who you will call in a time of need.  That is one of the best ways to ensure you are exercising best judgment.