So You Want To Be a Funeral Director

January 25, 2011
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Licensed funeral director and embalmer Jane Ludlow delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of her alma mater, Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. In it, Ludlow shares with the class advice that can serve as reminders to any death care professionals who serve grieving families. Below is an excerpt.

During my 16 years in the funeral profession, things have changed. More important than the changes are the things that have remained the same and are a backbone of the profession you and I have committed to. These are what I would ask you to remember not just this morning but every day of your meaningful career.

Death is scary and mysterious for most people. There are 12,544 books on Amazon.com trying to explain the enigma of death and dying. You have been embalming bodies for the past 12 months, so the fear and mystery of death have subsided for you. But let me tell you this: for 16 years I have seen people watch their children, parents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters die. It is never easy for them and they are always frightened. You are here to ease their fear. This task should be as important to you as choosing the right fluids for embalming.

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You need to reassure them that it is okay to be afraid, but that with some good sleep, the company of their family, a shower and something to eat, their fear will dissolve into a need to act and a desire to get something done. The fear that they had will be replaced by a desire to work at recovery. And when this happens, you will see the second thing that hasn’t changed in years:

Everyone dealing with the death of someone they love feels a need to keep their mind and hands busy. The moment someone dies, the family feels they have to get to work on the funeral arrangements. It is a process that gives them a sense of control at a time when they feel control has been out of their reach. To most it makes no difference which day it is. But the truth is that even in this day and age, there is very little a funeral director is able to finalize on a Sunday or outside of traditional business hours. Florists are closed, printers are closed, the casket company will ask you to leave your order on their voice mail. The cemetery office is closed, priests and ministers are usually unavailable

because of Sunday morning and evening services. While you are able to send a notice into the newspaper, until dates and times are confirmed with the minister and the cemetery, the death notice can’t be finalized.

Although there is little to be done, let me assure you, it will be imperative that you come in to the funeral home on a Sunday to make arrangements. Your family needs you to be there. If they are like most families that have held vigil watching a life end, they are now facing the horrible realization: “I don’t know what to do.”

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