The Life Of A Funeral Director… From Head To Toe

funeral director head to toe

Many of us get up day after day and night after night to juggle the many hats which make up the work we call “funeral directing.” This line of work is very different than most and it is not often easy. It seems to me, however, that we are not limited to the hats we wear. We put our bodies, minds, and very souls into the work we do. Sometimes, quite literally, we put our backs into it as well. From our heads to our toes, our investments are of great importance for many as they walk through the deep pain of loss.

Heads: Thinking, sensing, listening, speaking. We are detail oriented, sometimes to a fault. From selecting the perfect shade of lipstick for a beautiful 98 year old to catching a typo in an obituary just before it goes to press, our eyes and ears are in tune with each and every aspect of our job. We listen as you talk about your father’s service in Vietnam. We hear the fear in your voice over the phone when you call to say your sister is in hospice and you don’t know what to do next. Words fail as we try to string together some measure of comfort. The best we can do is offer some steps, some options, some structure to a harsh reality.

Hands: Gripping, moving, stitching, shaking. We extend our hands to you as you enter the office. This is not the place you planned on coming to today. Moments ago, gloves were stripped after transferring your little boy from the dressing table to the casket. His wounds are now stitched closed and his blue blazer is perfectly buttoned. It was the least we could do. Our hands shiver just a little when we grasp the steering wheel to leave work. They will feel the memory of his body’s weight for quite some time.

Hearts: Beating, bleeding, breaking, bearing. Sweat builds under suit jackets after a few minutes of rushing around cleaning up from visitation last night and putting the chairs back in their proper places. Blood pumps through every inch of the circulatory system as the embalming machine whirs beside the table. Hearts beat until they don’t anymore and the difference is striking. We catch our breath as pulses race along with the ringing phone. These are not the answers we wanted. We know this funeral will be a challenging one. There are many moving parts and we will miss family dinner tonight. Again.

Sometimes we can offer little else but a shoulder to cry on or a faint smile to try to break the silence. Backs often ache after transferring bodies from one place to another each and every day. The concept of “deadweight” is an unfortunate certainty for us. Dr. Scholl’s has probably made a killing trying to soothe our sore feet. Dress shoes are only so dressy once they are dusted with the fine powder blanketing the crematory. Knees bend while polishing the black leather and when they touch the ground they stay just a few seconds longer as if to offer a final goodbye to those already at rest.

funeral director head to toeAbout The Author

Caroline McGill is a young, Southern gal who loves living and working in Charleston, SC. She is a licensed funeral director and embalmer at J. Henry Stuhr Funeral Homes and Crematory, a Charleston tradition which has been celebrating Lowcountry lives for over 150 years! Caroline writes regularly for Southern Calls magazine and posts about “Mortician Life” on her blog, Connect on Facebook at

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  1. Dora Carpenter

    What an awesome, enlightening article. It sheds light onto the many facets of the funeral director. Thanks for sharing Caroline and continued success to you!

  2. Janis Hopkins-Nugent

    What a beautifully written article! And I think one of the most important things is we feel this every time and that what we do never feels “normal.” When we feel this deeply, we never stop being difference makers! God Bless!

  3. Graham Burton

    Very interesting reading .In a nut shell you have to have and show compassion ,have the understanding of ones feelings of their loss together with the knowledge and the experience one gains over many years that you can put yourselves in the beavered shoes .Many hats we may wear but it’s ones all round help to guide the families who put their trust in the appointed Funeral Director ,trust you have to gain over many years .There is no other job like it ,what ever hat you wear it’s more of a vocation for some of us .

  4. Neil Breed

    well written….I will share this if you dont mind me doing so

  5. Rebecca May

    Wonderfully written, thank you.

  6. Isabel Dennis

    the author of this fine article has certainly caught the feel of the moment as it happens. And it will eventually happen to all of us. Such a change of pace has to come about and come about quickly as the funeral director tries to direct his own personal life around the circumstances as they happen. Such a wonderful, tender and caring “calling” this must be to a man or woman. No less then the “calling” of a person to become a minister. His or her life is dedicated too God and naturally you want the best when God is in the picture. Hurrah too all the unselfish men and women that choose this vocation. Bless them and their families, as is needed.

  7. Dianna Mace

    Wonderful article, so true. I work for a funeral home as a greeter, I have seen so many hearts broken and sadness. I want to show compassion for the one who has a loss, hope I can lend a helpful hand and shoulder to lean on, as I continue my work as the greeter.

  8. Matt Soderstrum

    Good words. A great, heart-felt description of the life of a funeral director!

  9. Cherie DeArment

    My daughter wrote this for me after reading this article and I wanted to share it.

    My Mother is a Creep.

    When I tell people that my mom is a Funeral Director, the usual responses are “ew,” “woah,” “gross,” “weird,” and “is she a creep?” Every single time I correct them by saying, “it’s actually one of the most compassionate jobs someone could have. She loves every family she meets and treats their deceased as her own” it usually shuts them up, but sometimes people just don’t get it.
    This article definitely got to me because I see it all. I see what my mom does, I hear her and I watch her. She cries for, she mourns and she loves every person she meets after they have passed, some more than others, but there is always love. She not only loves caring for them in their final moments above ground, she genuinely cares about who they were as people, how they lived and loved and what they did for their family and friends.
    She hangs up on me, her (obviously favorite) child to answer a random number that could be a family, she refuses to take personal days off when her Mortuary is busy or when she hasn’t finished the process of a funeral to it’s entirety. She misses my sister’s games, she misses dinners, she misses time visiting with people when they’re in town, and she passes up on trips; however, she is always the first to jump on a long road trip for her job, even if it’s to pick up something and turn right back around and come home.
    What she never misses though, is a chance to hand a stranger a tissue box, a chance to give someone the final hand squeeze that lets them know they are in good hands.
    Reading this reinforced everything I know to be true about my mom. She is strong, she is compassionate, and she is human. She is in the right field, that’s for sure. With her creepiness and all.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mamma. I love you.
    funeral creep funeraldirector dying love compassion dead work mom mother mothersday iloveyou mammasgirl
    Apr 26th, 2016

  10. Dave Letch

    A read I know well. And most recently my partner of forty years passed. His anniversary was only two days ago. I selected an all female run parlour in our little village of Bowral, in the Southern Highlands of NSW, Australia. She made it easy. She helped with celebrants – this was “Sue” – a marvel of a woman – sympathetic, wrote down things I couldn’t even remember saying and captured, ‘womanfully’ – the life of my one and only partner in the world.
    Over the past t wo days I have had hundreds of fb messages, and post about a dozen of my favourite pics – from 18 month toddler – through the brilliant days of ‘prime’ and on to the end.
    I admire the work you do. You are thoroughly astonishg folk – it isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. Bless your cotton socksies Caroline McGil. You’re outta dat box!!!! Dave xxx