5 Things It’s “OK” For Funeral Directors To Do When Helping Families

funeral directors

“Is it OK that I sometimes want a day off where I don’t have to help families?”

“Is it OK that I sometimes get emotional during funeral services?”

“Is it OK that I like spending time with the deceased more than with the family?”

You’d be surprised by the number of funeral professionals who leave comments, send us emails, or ask us in person whether it’s “OK” if they do this, respond like that, or feel a certain way. Or maybe you’re not surprised, because secretly these are the questions that you ask yourself. “As a funeral director, what am I ‘allowed’ to do and not do? Is it okay if I…?”

In this profession, which is rife with ages-old traditions, centuries-long customs, and countless expectations from families and fellow professionals, it can be difficult to navigate some very human, though possibly confusing situations. Things like how you feel and what thoughts you have aren’t always within your control, but because you strive so hard to do the right thing for your families and employees each day, you might begin to second-guess whether or not you’re doing the best possible job that you can.

The truth is, funeral professionals do important work, and you deserve a round of applause for how deeply committed you are to serving your families and making an important difference in your community. But here’s one tip: Don’t make your work harder by beating yourself up about things you can’t control, like your emotions or the trying situations you’re confronted with. In fact, we’d like to give you the green light and make sure you know it’s totally OK to do these five things as a funeral professional.

1. It’s OK to cry or become emotional about your work.

There’s an idea that the funeral profession is all about death and death alone. You know that’s not exactly true: Your day-to-day work celebrates life, recognizes wonderful friendships and relationships, and honors the memory of your families’ loved ones. But it is true that death remains a theme in these otherwise beautiful things. No one could expect you to remain unaffected by this truth. Whether it’s a particularly tragic circumstance or your emotions are simply right at the surface today, you may find yourself overcome with feelings and just needing the space to cry. That’s OK.

Next time this happens, try to just remain aware of your situation and recognize if you’re able to keep your cool until you can find privacy. Remain compassionate and empathetic if you’re engaging with a family or colleague, and excuse yourself when possible and retreat to a place where you can feel your emotions fully.

2. It’s OK to not love it every single day.

We’ve never met anyone, in any professsions, who has never had a bad day at work, never disliked their boss, or never contemplated driving off into the sunset and never coming back to work. Every profession has its challenges, and the funeral profession is no different. In fact, your unique challenges as a funeral director may have you mentally gassing up the car more often than others. Exhaustion and fatigue may set in leaving you less than excited about your job from time to time. That’s OK.

Next time this happens, remember that it’s totally normal and don’t give yourself too much grief over it. Remember that your work is so important and valued by so many people. You serve a huge role in many people’s lives, such as the loved ones saying goodbye or those you help them memorialize and remember. They count on you, and you chose this profession because you wanted to do work that is bigger than you. You’re doing that! Give each and every family member the respect and attention you would want paid to you if the roles were reversed.

3. It’s OK to not know what to say.

You’ve probably comforted more grieving family members and friends than most other people you know. You’ve experienced many faces of grief and tragedy. But even still, you may find yourself in a situation or facing a family that leaves you stumped for the right thing to say. That’s OK.

Next time that happens, be honest. Be empathetic and supportive while admitting you have no perfect words. Remain steady in your support, but don’t feel the need to fumble around through all the wrong words. Sometimes silence and comfort is more healing than the wrong sentimental words.

4. It’s OK to feel frustrated with your colleagues or families sometimes.

We’re all human… and so are the people you work with. Personalities will clash now and then, people will have unreasonable demands, and sometimes the people you interact with will just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Feeling agitated or frustrated is simply a part of every job, especially when the work involves interacting with others. And even more so when you’re interacting with others who are struggling themselves. You don’t have to feel bad about sometimes fighting back an eye-roll or quippy comment when you’re approached by a frustrating or unreasonable situation. That’s OK.

Next time that happens, remind yourself that the more important part is how you respond to the situation. Find a few coping mechanisms that help in the moment and long-term. Perhaps a daily meditation ritual can help you remain calm when you’re tested. In the moment, you might try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. If you must, excuse yourself to the privacy of your office and request a colleague’s assistance in handling the matter. Forgive yourself for having a charged moment, and quickly move past it so you can return to the work you value—and are valued for—so much.

5. It’s OK to need to be selfish once in awhile.

The work you do requires you to be a support system for others, be on call all the time, and put the needs of your community and families before your own. Taking a break can sometimes feel impossibly selfish or just plain impossible. Sometimes, though, you can’t quiet the voice that says “Put yourself first today.” That’s OK.

Next time that happens, remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you’re letting yourself become burnt out on work, you’re no longer able to do the important work you do efficiently. It’s for the good of your business, your clients, your family, and yourself—yes, you deserve to be considered here too!—that you take a personal day now and then, practice self-care rituals daily or weekly, treat yourself when the need arises, and find other ways to make sure you’re not giving too much to others without saving some compassion for yourself.

For tips on how you can fit self-care into the “no time off” hectic schedule of the funeral profession, check out this article → Say NO To Busy: 11 Self Care & Productivity Tips For Funeral Pros

What has your work in this profession helped you learn it’s OK to do? Let us know what we missed in the comments section below.

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  1. Amy

    This is the best funeral related article I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s spot on! Thank you.

  2. Rilee Chastain

    Amy, thanks so much! We’re so glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Jessica Smith

    Thank you so much for validating all of these points! I find it especially challenging working in a male dominated industry and being made to feel I should just keep it together all the time. Much appreciated ❤️

  4. Rilee Chastain

    Jessica, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for doing what you do!!

  5. Bob

    Jessica, the funeral industry used to be all men or the good old boys mentality and when I asked them why don’t you want to hire women and their main response was if they get pregnant they wouldnt be able to embalm and they couldn’t lift. I disagree completely. Most women have built in compassion and families appreciate a woman. So what if you can’t embalm or lift you can meet the families. Some could see as a person dies another is born and that completes the circle of life. Today men’s thinking about hiring a woman is changing ( thank God ) and a lot more women are becoming morticians.
    As far as being emotional that is natural I have cried and laughed with the families because that is human nature. If you held back your emotions you might give the family the impression that you didn’t care!
    Good luck and continue to strive to be the best you can be!