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

July 13, 2014
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This article was written by Lauren Polanski and was originally published on the FuneralOne Blog

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.

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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 RossAlan 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 todo 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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