3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Funeral Director

lauren-polanski

Funeral directors wear nice suits and drive fancy cars.

At least, that’s what I thought when I was a little girl.

That’s what I saw when I would go to the funeral home. My uncle would be standing there, talking to a grieving widow and walking her out to her car before he got into his Cadillac to lead a funeral procession to Church.

Funeral directors are prone to burnout. That’s what I learned in my college health class as I sat there studying ways to protect my own mental and physical health as I began my journey as a funeral professional. And I learned that everyone grieves differently from my grief class as I studied Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Alan Wolfelt, and any other grief expert that my professor claimed to be relevant.

Basically, when I graduated from Mortuary School, I thought I knew it all. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear! You see, my generation believes we are all know-it-alls. And can you blame us? Growing up with the Internet and having information readily available at our fingertips, we assumed we knew it all, or figured we could at least “just Google it”.

I’ve learned my fair share of lessons working in the funeral home. Real life will do that to you. I am grateful for every experience I have had, whether it be good or bad, because it has shaped me into the funeral director that I am today. But, there are three lessons that I wish I didn’t have to learn on the job. These three lessons, although they may seem basic, would have helped me out greatly if I had known about them from the start.

You have to have a good support system.

Yes, this is important no matter what career you chose. You need to have balance in life, and you need to have people to depend on, but this is even more important for funeral directors. We live to serve, and unfortunately this often means choosing complete strangers over our own families. Death doesn’t care if you’re at your daughter’s dance recital or in the middle of cooking dinner. Sometimes, you’ll have to leave a family party to go meet with a family or embalm a body. If you do not have a partner or friends who understand and support your career, you will eventually come to a crossroad where you’ll have to make a choice. And it will not end well, regardless of who, or what, you choose.

You’re allowed to put yourself first.

I know this may sound funny, after saying that funeral directors will put grieving families before their own, but it’s true. In school, we learn about burnout. It is extremely common among funeral directors because of the highly stressful environment and long working hours. I’ve experienced it myself. I was depressed for a long time and considered leaving the funeral industry. Then I made the decision to put my needs first. After all, how could I help families if I couldn’t even help myself? You’re allowed to take a day off. You’re allowed to get a haircut, or see a movie, or stay in the house one night and do absolutely nothing. You’re allowed to be healthy.

You’re not perfect.

To me, this was the most difficult lesson to learn. Funeral directors are perfectionists. We want to do our best all the time. We want to make death bearable for the grieving and we want to give our deceased an honorable burial. And, we want to do all of this without making any mistakes. The first (and thankfully, so far, only) time I forgot a Burial Transit Permit (the piece of paper you need to bury someone) I thought I was going to crawl into the freshly dug grave and die. The thing is, I am human. I make mistakes. I am not, nor ever will be, perfect. All I can do is my best. And as long as I’m putting in 100% to the families I serve, that is enough. Regardless if there are any little speed bumps along the way.


After all, there are always going to be speed bumps.

ABOUT LAUREN POLANSKI:

Lauren Polanski, also known as Little Miss Funeral, is a twenty four year old licensed funeral director in New York State. Little Miss Funeral was started in March 2012 as a platform for Lauren to share her thoughts and ideas on the funeral industry.

 

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  1. Hal Shue

    Thanks for sharing this, Lauren. I especially loved the statements regarding “You’re Not Perfect”. We ARE all human and as hard as we try, sometimes things just break down. It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes… a great learning opportunity.

  2. Sandie Hernandez

    Thank you for that. My oldest daughter is planning to go to mortuary school and needs to know how much hard work it is. She had a great support system from family but insight from those such as yourself is a huge help as well as an inspiration! ❤️

  3. Vanessa

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m currently contemplating a career change and leaning towards the death care industry. I’ve met with several funeral directors and they all tell me the same thing. I guess with any job “burnout” rears it’s ugly head and in the end it is always about your health and sanity. It’s comforting to read this and I can’t agree with you more that there is ALWAYS going to be speed bumps. We just need to take a step back and analyze what is more important. After all it’s not like we’re going to make it out of this life alive! Might as well make the most of it and love ourselves just a little more everyday.

  4. Barbara Condon

    Lauren,
    Once NYS gets their electronic death cert. sys. rolled out you can just jump on anyone’s computer or your smart phone and ta da… instant burial permit! It happened to me at our veterans cemetery last year. I was mortified at first and saw a clerk on a computer, asked if she had internet and borrowed her computer to print out a new permit. One less thing to worry about while rushing off to the cemetery.

  5. Michele Boston Beswick

    I’d like to add a few comments to Ms. Polanski’s statements. I see many similarities between her profession and my former profession as a Police officer (feel free to check out my page). I remember being a naïve 18 yr. old who asked God to show her all life had to offer, good and bad. Well, He did that in spades. I saw and and did things that most people in their lives wouldn’t dream of. Our professions rob us of a lot, innocence and child like imagination being two. Things that -like trust-can never be restored when lost. Seeing what people do to themselves and each other is mind boggling. Then there’s the flip side. As a cop, making thinks better for the wronged, holding those who hurt their loved one accountable or at the very least-make the playing field even. For the Funeral Director, there is the sharing and easing the pain of lost ones with dignity and compassion. Both these fields take a physical and emotional toll on those who choose them, yet the satisfaction of a job well done is the great Equalizer.

  6. Dave Savage

    Hi Lauren

    I just discover your blog from a link from Funeral One.

    I’d love to add your content to our website on creative – unique things you’ve seen families do help make their memorial or funeral service more meaningful, participatory or touching.

    Our website is in support of our upcoming book that will be available as a private label edition, to use in marketing or pre-need sales. See the private label page on our website, HeartfeltMemorialServices.com.

    I look forward to getting your comments.

    Dave Savage

  7. Tristan McKenna

    I think number 4 should read as you can’t make everyone happy. Some people are born miserable. When these people rip you up look at they’re criticism and ask yourself are the complaints valid. If so make this a positive change. Reputation means everything. Let them know you have made a positive adjustment from their criticism. You may make a friend and keep a family you would otherwise see go elsewhere. Sometimes you would like to see families go elsewhere when you can’t have even ground.

  8. Craig. Fulcher

    I kind of enjoyed your comments. Details are so important and in 30 years of being a fd/emb every funeral does not run the way u want it to. I to worked in NYC for 20 years and as long as u and your staff stay cool and the family doesn’t notice, no harm no foul. As long as it is minor. A mistake happens on every funeral, stressful yes burnout oh yea. Always learn because your way might not be correct in certain situations all the best. Craig

  9. valentine Miele

    Someone should have told me that the money was horrible and only and only a certain few make the big money. I work full time a a fd and have a trade business on the side to subsidize living expenses.

  10. chris

    I agree with them three statements at the top.

  11. Harjinder Singh Bilkhu

    I could have not said any better.
    Thank you Lauren.

    Harjinder

  12. Gary J. Cumming

    This was very well put. I have been a Funeral Director for 37 years with the same firm, and I am still going at it strong. Fortunately, I was told those 3 things before I even thought of entering mortuary school, but I wanted to be a Funeral Director. Everything you mention is true. Very good on your part.

  13. Celeste

    This is a great article…I initially found it on LinkedIn….I’m gonna try to share it.

  14. James D. Miraglia

    Incredibly well written, and one hundred percent honest. When you’re in Mortuary School, they always seem to fail to explain the level of sacrifice and stress you will endure as a Funeral Director. Perhaps as a way of avoiding scaring away potential students, who knows. But growing up in a Mom & Pop style family run establishment since childhood, I knew what I was getting myself into, for better and for worse, and do well to voice these same sentiments to my peers. These are all personal choices one must take into consideration, and be honest with oneself when it comes down to where your priorities lie. As you said so elegantly, you’re there to serve and help grieving families through one of the worst possible times in their lives. And as draining as it is after awhile, and as stressfull as times can be, it’s your actions as an individual that define what kind of Funeral Director you will and can be. Treat all families as if they are a part of your own family. Yes, you do have a business to run but your main focus is on serving the community, and always being there for support and comfort 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You do the industry a great justice in being as noble (yet still humble), and it’s a shame we don’t see more directors who hold the same attitude towards hospitality that you do. Keep up the great work, and always keep your chin up.

    – James D. Miraglia

  15. John Cook

    I agree 100%. I am a fourth generation Funeral Director and Embalmer and some days it is hard to come to work. Burn out is a real thing but I believe that I am good at what I do
    and I help the families that I work with. Every now and then just a couple of days away
    make all the difference in the whole outlook that I have about our profession.Everyone one needs have an outlet.

  16. John

    Very nicely written Lauren. Having lost my Mum and Mother in law earlier this year I can understand both sides… But I had never thought of it from a funeral directors point of view before… As you mentioned. “Death doesn’t care if you’re at your daughter’s dance recital or in the middle of cooking dinner.” But it is the most important day of someone else’s family. Yes, you need to think of yourself as well, but you also sound very caring, when you said… “All I can do is my best. And as long as I’m putting in 100% to the families I serve, that is enough.” Thanks for sharing this with us! John http://ceramicphotomemorial.com

  17. Caitlin

    Thank you miss!

    Regards, Caitlin

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  20. DBG

    I liked your article. The only thing I would add is you can take care of yourself provided you work for a place that allows you to do so. I’ve found lots of people in this business don’t allow you to do that because they’re married to the job. If they are, they believe and demand that you should be too. I don’t think so.

  21. Mariah Minton

    Hi! that really helped me get ready for my chosen career. I am going to go to college, starting dual enrollment at Jefferson State Community College and i have asked many people for advice on how to cope, the best advice along with this blog was, have a life. with as much time that you’ll be spending with the dead, you need to spend time with the living every chance you get so you don’t burnout.

  22. Stephen

    Just wanted to say this is one of the most heartfelt and truthful article I have read. You hit every point correctly. Thank you for your commitment to funeral service as I have place my whole heart in it as well. I started out of high school and have now been open myself for 18 years. It is long, hard hours but I am grateful to have the ability to serve every family that place their trust in us. May God bless you and keep up the good work.

  23. william lowell glasscock

    is the money worth it and would you say that this is an enterprise however that is going to be one in need of fresh meat or is this a drying puddle the things you say are from my experience things i learned becoming a father having a woman and taking care of our son and i just saw a movie about being a mortician and wanted to know if this was a worthy way to make money and to provide for my son i wish that i have heard alot of things and your testament being good but it does not say does the money compensate is this something that really will provide a life that will help me to take care of a family you sound like someone whom is a very practical and sound individual and i have not said anything bad i dig you i just wish life was nopt generally hard i feel like i do this the question is is it worth it.and unless you makin good money i do not think so but if it is a profession that will be in need or in a drying dead lake i have heard these things from other sources anyway you have a great one and continue on your path thanks sincerely,william