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family unit
Aerospace Engineering

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The family unit
represents the basic focus of sociological study for funeral service.
The impact of death on surviving family members is the nucleus of all services offered.
The funeral director’s main focus should be
What role did the deceased play in the
Was the deceased the sole provider of the
family’s income?
Did the deceased make all the family decisions?
Was the deceased primarily responsible for raising the
children in the family?
One of the funeral director’s first responsibilities is to determine who governs the family unit.
Patriarchal Family Units
The male is the dominant governing force in the family.
Usually, it is the oldest male who makes most decisions.
After the death of the oldest male, power is transferred to the next oldest male.
Matriarchal Family Units
The female is the dominant governing force in the family.
Usually, it is the oldest female who makes the decisions.
After the death of the oldest female, power is transferred to the next oldest female.
Matriarchal Family Units
The female is the dominant governing force in the family.
Usually, it is the oldest female who makes the decisions.
After the death of the oldest female, power is transferred to the next oldest female.
Egalitarian Family Units
All members of the family unit have a voice in governing and decision making.
While the ultimate decisions usually come down to a parent or parents, the children often are heard and may influence the final decision.
Family Systems
There are as many as 20-25 identifiable types of family systems.
As society changes, family systems become more complex and less well-defined.
Extended (Joint) Family Systems
1. The father and mother.
2. Their unmarried children.
3. Their married sons, their sons’ wives and
their children.
After marriage, daughters are no longer considered members of their parents’ household.
True extended families, as defined here, are not found in large numbers in the United States today.
However, there are concentrations in certain areas of the United States:
1. Appalachian region
2. Deep South
3. Indian tribes
4. Amish communities
Some of the basic characteristics of the Extended Family in the U.S. are found in:
1. A few ethnic groups
2. Some immigrant families
3. Some 1st and 2nd generation American
Extended families are patriarchal in governing style.
Usually, the oldest male is the decision maker.
Generally, the position of head of the family is passed from father to son, with women subservient to the dominant male.
Generally farm-based and more self-sufficient than other family systems.
Generally have a strong religious faith with children being taught religion in the home.
Usually very conservative in thought, dress, and actions.

Tend to restrict their physical movements to a very small geographic area.
Little mobility involved in terms of vacations or relocating to a new area.
Usually stay on the land that has been passed down from generation to generation.
The family unit is not threatened to any great extent by the death of a family member.
If a parent dies, other family members help raise the children.
Impact from the death of a child is lessened because there are usually a number of other children in the family unit.
Nuclear Family Systems
One of the smallest possible family units; made up of the mother, father and their unmarried children.
Governing structure is not always clearly defined.
Economic condition of the family centers around total income of the family.
Both parents usually work outside the home.
Usually more liberal in thought, dress and actions.
More mobile and willing to relocate to another geographic area for better climate or career opportunities.
The effect of death can result in a greater impact on the family unit.
Death of a parent may result in the loss of half or even all of a family’s income.
Surviving spouses may have to raise the children and maintain the household.
Surviving spouses forced to re-enter society as a widow or widower.
The death of a child is a significant negative impact on the family unit.
Blended Family Systems
A version of the nuclear family.
Defined as:
One male and one female.
Their children from previous marriages
as well as their children together.
Poses unique challenges for the funeral director.
Will everyone agree on decisions?
Which customs and traditions are to be followed?
Will the family have problems making decisions and look
to the funeral director for guidance?
Are there internal conflicts within the family concerning the
heir to the position of authority?
Is there confusion about making proper financial decisions?
Single Parent Family Systems
A growing trend in society due to high divorce rate.
Takes on responsibilities of both parents.
The death of a single parent, in essence, eliminates that family system.
Any children must become a part of another family system; either the other parent, other relatives, adoption, or foster homes.
Modified Extended Nuclear Family Systems
Sometimes created by the Single Parent Family System.
Serves to provide security, protection and help to the nuclear family.
Can be developed through:
Related nuclear families.
Social friendships such as church, work or
Often provides assistance and emotional
support after a death.
Responsibilities of the Family
Ideally, all family units, regardless of type, meets a series of obligations to satisfy the physical and emotional needs of each family member.
Examples of these family obligations include:
Through the interdependence of the family unit, each family member develops a sense of security relative to the amount of needs filled.
This security can be shattered by the death of a family member.
The funeral becomes very important in re-establishing the family’s lost sense of security
through the physical and emotional support they give one another.

Through enculturation, the offspring of the nuclear family learns values, attitudes, and discipline, including attitudes toward death and dying.
As children observe adult behavior when a death occurs, they establish their own attitudes and values regarding the funeral rite.
Each family member gives and receives motivation and direction which creates a sense of belonging and builds trust and open communication within the family.

The family unit also assists in establishing and fulfilling the mental expectations of its members.
Expectations in extended families are more limited than in nuclear families.
Families that experience the greatest occurrence of unfulfilled expectations and internal discontent also have the most difficulty with the death of a family member.
The funeral rite often becomes a mere detail that must be handled out of necessity.
Sometimes, these are the families that request immediate burial or direct cremation.
Sociologists report a higher suicide rate for these families.

Families with unfulfilled needs and expectations often aims its anger toward the deceased, other family members, doctors, nurses, and funeral directors.
It is important to let family members vent their emotions during the arrangement conference.
The funeral director is a physical reminder of the trauma the family is experiencing.
Careful counseling is required; giving the family all alternatives available to them.
The family should feel in control of the situation at all times, making all decisions regarding the funeral.
Controlling and participating in every aspect of the arrangements can be therapeutic for these families as they work toward the successful completion of a common goal.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory
Individuals have many needs, and they are continually striving to fulfill the needs they have not yet satisfied.
These needs include:
1. Physiological – Most basic needs such as
food, water, air, and sleep.
2. Security – Need for safety, stability, and consistency , including
security of family and home.
3. Social – Need for love, affection, feelings of
belonging, and human contact.
4. Esteem – Need for self-respect, self-esteem,
achievement, and respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization – The need to become everything one is
capable of becoming. Once the lower needs are met, self-fulfillment
needs such as knowledge, peace and oneness with God are sought.
Examples of family expectations might include
Career choice
Marriage choice
This can become the central point of anguish for the family unit because of unfulfilled expectations.
The conflict of attitudes and values of different generations also cause discontent in families.
Examples include differing views on
Family lifestyles
Career choices
Relocation to another area
Other issues affecting the family:
Limited financial resources of the elderly
often affect what the children will spend on
the funeral rites of a parent.
Extended life expectancy leads to
“death-free generations” that have never
been exposed to death.
Institutional deaths limit the family’s
confrontation with death and makes death more
abstract to the younger generation.
Hospice is changing the family’s responsibility as it
concerns the dying process.
The Hospice Movement
Encourages the return of the terminally ill
patient to the home for direct care by
family members.
Counsels and encourages discussion of the
oncoming death to aid in the acceptance of
it when it occurs.
When Hospice principles are utilized by the
family, many unresolved issues and unfulfilled
needs can be addressed before the death, making
the funeral director’s task much easier
As America modernized, there was a shift from extended family systems to nuclear family systems.
Reasons for this shift:
1. Urbanization
2. Industrialization
3. Bureaucratization
A move from rural to urban areas.
Occurred in late 19th century America.
This population conversion caused a great impact on the family system.
Urbanization led to anonymity and a decrease in the importance of the individual.
The challenge to funeral directors: To honor the individual life that has been lived in a culture that promotes anonymity.
Urbanization also requires an effective public relations program to promote the funeral home and their services to an anonymous public.
has led to a decrease in the importance of the individual in society.
: The change from individual crafting of products to the manufacturing of goods through mass production.
While increasing production, it also led to a loss of craftsmanship and alienation of the worker from their product.
Also caused more complexity in governmental institutions.
Burial of the dead was no longer a simple task:
* Burial-Transit Permits
* Death Certificates
A governing system characterized by specialization, hierarchy, formal rules, impersonality, and a specialized administrative staff.
Brought about additional health regulations and licensure requirements.
Government agencies funeral directors must deal with:
1. Federal Trade Commission
2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
3. Environmental Protection Agency
4. Americans With Disabilities Act
5. Wage and Hour Regulations
6. Regulations for establishing and maintaining cemeteries
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