10 Things To Remember If You Love A Funeral Professional

funeral professional

Advertising executives, teachers, and doctors kind of have it made… at least in one regard.

Most of the time when you flip on a TV drama, the main characters work in one of these professions. Now we all know a regular day on Grey’s Anatomy isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of a doctor’s workday, but between all the drama and tears, the folks watching at home get a general sense that life in these professions is not for the faint of heart.

But for those of us in the funeral profession, there’s often a pretty big divide in what we do and what people think we do.

Our day-to-day lives aren’t often examined by those who don’t also live them, and what winds up happening is a lot of misconception about the work we do, and what our days look like. It feels hard to be understood by our friends and families, and even the people who love us can’t always relate to the demands and challenges of our jobs, try as they might.

Working in this field we’ve been called to isn’t easy. Some people will assume that’s because we’re so often surrounded by loss and sadness and spend long days supporting the grief of others—but that’s not even the half of it.

Sometimes, being a shoulder for someone to cry on doesn’t feel nearly as demanding as preparing to move a body literally three time your size. Yes, what we do is as physically challenging as people assume it is mentally and emotionally. Yet we get to work every day and continue to do our best to show the strength and determination we need to be successful in our work and valuable in our community. And we’re often underestimated and misunderstood.

So today, we’re asking you to look past the scary black funeral curtains, and learn the truth about the caring, humble funeral professional that you know and love…

1. Death never takes a day off, and neither can we. The field we work in never closes, takes a holiday, or calls off for the night. Our quiet evenings relaxing at home can turn into a full night’s work in an instant. As much as we would love some reliable down time, we’re expected to be there for the families that trust and need us when duty calls.

2. Not everyone places the value on our service that it deserves. Most of us do a great deal of work that is dramatically undervalued. A recent survey told us that 15.9% of people said they couldn’t care less about funerals and would just as soon opt for a cheap deal. Another 17.1% said funerals were a rip-off and unnecessary. But we know the real importance of a funeral service and how this life tradition is truly for the good of the people. Part of our job is to help people see the light, even when they don’t want to.

3. We always have to be present as professionals, even in the face of tragedy. We see all manner of death, even the ones most unfair: a small child, a suicide, a lost pregnancy. But we’re professionals, and we have to remain so for the families we serve. You don’t want to know how often we’ve had to hide somewhere to spill a few tears before putting on a brave face and going right back to work. It’s not always easy to remain professional, but this our our job—our calling—and we always return to task.

4. There was never another option. We didn’t pore over course catalogs looking to choose a college major. We felt a calling toward this field, and we know it is our passion, our purpose, and our duty to support people in their time of need.

5. But we still had to try to get here. Passion is one thing, but it doesn’t substitute hard work. Funeral directors have to go through mortuary school, an apprenticeship, and oftentimes fight through a family legacy for a position at a three-generation owned family funeral home. We followed our hearts to a demanding, challenging field to enter, and we work hard every single day.

6. We experience burn-out. Just like every other professional, but in some cases more so: We don’t have free weekends off. We work long hours in high-stress environments, but we’re still people who need just as much self-care as anyone else.

7. We’re trusted with important decisions. A lipstick color may just be a lipstick color to some, but when preparing a body, every detail matters to the families relying on us to get things right. We don’t take the responsibility of preparing loved ones for viewing lightly.

8. We see the best and worst of everyone we meet. People tend to let their guards down when grieving. We hear their happy memories, tragic stories, and everything in between. We have to remain open and able to listen, and continue on professionally and without bias, even after family secrets are spilled in our offices.

9. We strain our bodies daily, too. It’s not just emotional heaviness we work with. We spend long, sleepless hours on our feet, putting on a professional front, working with people and desperately wanting to just loosen our ties or kick off our shoes for some slight relief. We lift and carry and move heavy bodies and caskets, and we support the physical and mental weight of grief each day. Sometimes, we need to take a few moments to work through the heaviness.

10. We couldn’t do it without you. Your support for our career and life’s purpose means everything to us, and without your care for who we are and what we do, we wouldn’t be able to serve our communities. Your hand-holding, listening, and forgiveness when we’re late for dinner (again) allow us to follow our passions—and we’re thankful for you, even if we forget to say it sometimes.

 
As funeral professionals, we know that what we do is shrouded in misunderstanding—we’ve heard just about every possible misconception there is about working in the funeral profession. What would you add to this list?

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments.

  1. Jeff Friedman

    This is an awesome testimony to the fact that we have all found something we love so therefore we don’t see it as a job.

  2. Don Alesi

    I’m a Cemetery manager for a Township. Your insights have been invaluable to me when working with families. Keep up the good work.

  3. Rilee Chastain

    Thanks so much, Don. We are glad you found this useful!

  4. Jesus A.Zavala

    We receive God’s blessing every time we do a good deed in helping our families during their mourning period. By God’s grace we are called to do his will!⚰❤️

  5. Ron White

    You nailedit.

  6. Trinni Jensen

    I have a daughter who picked this profession as her own. I am very proud to be the mother of such a fine human being that shows the compassion and insight to love what she does. And I thank God there are so many more of you out there.

  7. Scott McAulay

    I am a 4th generation funeral professional. I have learned from my father and his father and his father that we stand at he door to the valley of the shadow of death. We are not the gate keeper, but we stand near the lantern. For those who will take their profession seriously they must learn the paths in the valley, its topography, the ways that lead to the end and some of the dangerous areas to avoid. This is an area where most people do not wish to go, but all will be at this gate sooner or later. We choose to learn this difficult and emotionally challenging place.
    May God watch over us as we serve those who need our care and may He comfort those who must walk through this valley.

  8. Alan H. Edwards

    Our profession is 24 – 7 a hard but justified job. As a funeral director you must provide the best most times simply one shot at the newspaper, the embalming must be the best detail, detail. It’s a hard job but a worth while task. I’m glad I chose this profession I have helped a lot of families and it feels very rewarding.

  9. Raygan Cogburn

    Great article! We are emotional beings and it takes a special person to embrace the challenges and emotional stress. To be truly great in this profession does require the ability to at some level to disconnect,. Grief is different for everybody, to offer ourselves as a sounding board for many families is a God given gift, without good , I repeat good, caring and honest folks in the Funeral Industry, not just selling them MORE than they can afford to fatten pockets takes an exceptional person and exceptional company. There are unfortunately people who have taken advantage of grieving people. I personally feel that all professional sales people in all professions have to keep in mind those we are selling to have “wants” and “needs” . We need to ask ourselves are we doing the right thing when it comes to wants vs needs?

  10. Rilee Chastain

    Thanks, Ron! Glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Rilee Chastain

    Trinni, thanks for the comment! We are so glad your daughter found her calling in such a passionate profession! It sounds like we’re lucky to have her.

  12. Rilee Chastain

    What a beautiful comment, Scott. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Rilee Chastain

    Alan, what a wonderful comment. Thank you for all that you do!

  14. Rilee Chastain

    Great insights, Raygan. Thanks for the comment!

  15. Lori Papa

    Please allow me to share a poem I wrote about my husband who has worked in the funeral profession for 37 years.

    http://www.myasd.com/post/1608480-the-mortician-a-poem-by-lori

  16. Rilee Chastain

    Thanks for sharing, Lori!

  17. Graham A Ketch

    We are ready to serve night and day, it’s a vocation not just a job

    G A Ketch,Dip,FD,MBIE

  18. Rick Clemes

    Young lady, you hit the nail on the head. I have been practicing for 40 plus years I am still making removals and embalming and meeting families. Well written, if you would be interested in moving to North Dakota, please e-mail me.. You have a great concept of what we do and who it’s fouyuyr–our families that we serve. Thanks again for writing this.

    Rick Clemes, the old guy.

  19. Rilee Chastain

    Rick, thanks so much for the kind words, and what you do for your families!! : )

  20. Sherrie Patterick

    Bobby you,Nettie,and all the people who work with you are So Awrsome, Caring, Giving and Compassionate. I still wish after all these years that my mother and father would have had you care for them. Love You!

  21. Joel Russell

    Well written piece, really gives insight into the difficulties of the job. Ad executives and doctors have challenges, too, but the funeral profession comes with some real intense emotions and expectations. Thanks for verbalizing them.

  22. Penni

    I too have a daughter who picked this profession, to her it was and is a calling. One in which she gives her whole heart and soul too. She does everything she can to help the families she deals with, no matter how tired or stressed she might be. She worked very hard to get where she is, and she had to make some tough sacrifices to get there. Thank you for sharing this, we love our funeral professional very much and appreciate the folks she works with too.

  23. Stephanie Longmuir

    So true. You can not do this work unless you truly love it.

  24. Jenkins Family

    We are the parents of a funeral director in Morgantown, WV. We are so very proud to know how dedicated to his profession he is & the compassion he shows to the families at a very sad time in their life. We are also very proud of his wife ( our daughter-in-law) who also is so caring and compassionate, and is always there to help make the families as comfortable as possible during this difficult time.
    May God bless all these dedicated professional funeral directors & others who work with them.

  25. Kat

    To expand on #2, the corporations that run some funeral homes also don’t value the work that those professionals do. Joke wages make a mockery of a once-respected profession. It’s a shame, and among the reasons I had to get out.

  26. Graham Burton

    Great comments from 1 to 10 spot on Rilee.
    We are all in this profession to help people in their worst time of their lives ,call it a calling or what every you will and much like people who provide and offer a service I.e police,ambulance personal and even the fire service people I have not know many who leave their profession as we are all people who want to help people .
    We have to have an understanding of ones loss and from young to the elder we have to help and guide ones family in their time of bereavement ,from day one we are the familys guardian and to look after their loved one after all one day someone wil looking after ourselves .In a word we have to take care and provide a service of which we would expect to be carried out on ourselves .
    Standards go along way to help familys ,in turn a letter of appreation or even a thank you goes along way in a serviceable occupation of which we are are only human after all ,as Funeral Directors to the family’s we become friends and to those familys we have looked after may I say God Bless You All .
    To you Rilee thank you .

  27. Rilee Chastain

    Thanks so much for the comment, Jenkins Family! It sounds like you are truly lucky to have such wonderful funeral professionals in your family!

  28. Rilee Chastain

    Graham, thanks so much for the kind comment. We are lucky to have you in this profession!

  29. Michael R. Richins

    You have to add Risk of infection to this list also.

  30. illum urn

    Thank you very much for pointing exactly out why this is a beautiful profession and we had to design our urns. It was something we wanted to do with all our heart … to help people with life, love and death and coming to terms with it through symbolism and silent but very deep rituals,

  31. Brooke

    Dear Rilee,
    Thank you for this article. It literally brought tears to my eyes. My family owns a funeral home on the east end of Long Island. My father has worked day and night for 27 years to bring comfort to families in our community. I have grown up on the second floor of our funeral home, and I have seen firsthand what my father does day in and day out. I can remember him leaving on christmas eve because he had a house call. I have heard the phone ring at 3:30 in the morning, after working an 18 hour day. He is the hardest working man I know, a man who carries a great burden of grief. He has seen more tragedy than 10 men in his lifetime. Even more so than the “normal” mortician. He was one of the first on the scene of TWA Flight 800. A passenger plane that was shot down off the coast of my hometown; there were no survivors. I was very little at the time, I didn’t understand completely what had happened, but now at 25, my heart aches for all of the turmoil my father has seen. It’s astounding that despite his life’s work, he is one of the most optimistic and laid back people I have ever known. He has taught me not to sweat the small stuff, to live life to the fullest, to indulge in little pleasures. He is loved and appreciated by everyone in my community, and i mean everyone. We live in a small town, I graduated high school with 95 people in my class – so everyone knows everyone. Growing up I looked up to my father, and how he provided a real service, a comfort, to people who are so engulfed in grief. He is truly an artist – if a family wants an open casket, my father will do EVERYTHING in his power to provide that for the family. Many funeral directors would advise against open caskets in certain cases, but my father takes the challenge and always triumphs. Growing up “behind the scenes” I was able to disconnect from death; I always had sympathy but I felt I was on the other side of the fence. I was in high school and was wrapped up in my own selfish world, my friends, my weekends etc. But as I’ve grown older I have experienced death myself. I have experienced tragedy. I have seen my father breakdown and cry at the news of his own fathers death. I have sat in a hospital room with my best friend as she lay lifeless after a horrific car accident – an accident I too should have been in. I suddenly appreciated my father so much more, he was not only a pillar of the community, he was their rock – my rock. And who has been his? Who has sat and cried with him? Who has been the professional for him? Who has been his rock? My father is my best friend and I try now to talk to him more about his work, about how he feels. And me…I am at a crossroads of discovering myself in my early adulthood. I have graduated college, I have traveled around the country a bit, i have tried on a few different hats while trying to find my niche. But I keep coming back to the funeral home – my home. My father wants to retire in a few years, and now the pressure is on. I am the middle child, but the one who does not yet have a set path..I have the opportunity and I feel an obligation to carry on my fathers life work. To continue his legacy and provide comfort to my generation of the community. Reading the words you wrote felt like I was talking to myself, and my father. These are the things I am afraid of. When I was younger I was able to disconnect, but now, after losing my best friend it is not so easy anymore. I am torn between my head and my heart. Will I be able to confront my own mortality on a daily basis? It is something I continue to struggle with. But I thank you in writing this, and for reading this.

  32. Rilee Chastain

    Brooke, thanks so much for the beautiful comment. Your father sounds like an amazing funeral directors, and a valuable member of our community – as I’m sure you will be, based on his guidance.

  33. Marilyn Wilkins

    Rilee,

    May I have permission to print this article in our monthly emailed newsletter for the Utah Funeral Directors Association?

    Thank you,

  34. Rilee Chastain

    Marilyn, thanks for the comment! Yes, you are welcome to republish our article in your email newsletter. We just ask that you please give credit to us and link to the original article on our blog page. Thanks so much!

  35. Gwen kimmitt

    I too am a mother of a daughter who made the choice, I have always been proud of her . Now even more, her stories of families and the comfort she can give . Stories of her wonderful colleges they support each other which makes them stronger together and able to be there for people who they feel need them .