Stress…Our Very Best Friend

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

February 22, 2017
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Article provided by guest contributor: Dylan Stopher

I know, I know… you’re thinking to yourself that I must be crazy to propose that stress could be our “very best friend” in our chosen profession. But give me a few moments, and I’ll explain why I see it that way. I promise, I’m only a little crazy.

For starters, let’s clear the air and establish that I am not speaking about chronic stress; that would be unrelenting demands and pressures that never seem to have an end. These stressors are constant, and awful, and painful. These are not your best friend. Further, we have chosen a profession where we, as licensed funeral professionals, will be the face of either the good or the bad. And it doesn’t matter if it’s actually “our fault,” because the family will always come back to the funeral director. That’s the choice we’ve made.

What I want to talk about is acute stress. This is momentary, and comes from any number of sources, and I promise you it is definitely your best friend. You know why? Because when you are under stress due to the pressures of the family you are currently serving, you rise to the occasion and exceed expectations. That’s our wonderful pressure-cooker of a profession of choice, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

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So let’s examine the first thing about serving families that we all know is a stressful subject… deadlines! We all have them, we all know them, and the families we serve are not aware that there sometimes really is a time past which the obituary will not run in tomorrow’s edition. There is also a time frame in which a DVD can be produced, and the family may not know or understand that. Nor should they, unless their funeral professional educates them clearly on that topic. (Remember, we do between one and four funerals and/or arrangements each day, and the families we serve may make arrangements three times in their entire life.) It is in this way that we must learn the finesse of explaining an absolute time to a family in a state that is somewhat void of time as they struggle to understand their loss. Granted, not all families have the same level of struggle.

But grief is real for every one of them, and in almost 20 years I’ve never met a family who makes every single deadline with every single item… something always comes up.

Second, how about we look at the other major stressor in the case of the families we serve, which would be our own mistakes.

Don’t shake your head like that, you definitely have made at least one of every possible mistake if you’ve been in our profession for longer than a year. Personally, I could tell you stories about people who absolutely have cut clothing up the front (a $500 ladies sweater), buried jewelry, shaved facial hair that shouldn’t have been removed, placed people in incorrect caskets (corrected before visitation, before anyone ever saw them, but still), cremated before getting fingerprints or hair samples, etc. Trust me, we’ve been there in almost any scenario you can imagine. However, there’s a truth about moments like this with regards to the people who make these mistakes… you either learn from them or you leave. Some people cannot handle the stress, and they bail in the face of huge mistakes and embarrassment. The rest of us (I’m including you, because since you’re reading this I assume you stuck it out) take that situation and learn from it. I tell people all the time that I have made every mistake you can imagine, but I only made them once. If you learn from these stressful moments, you will be the better professional.

And last, let’s also look at a truth that we need to understand about ourselves. There are two types of people when it comes to stress in general… those who suffer under it and those who thrive. I know both types of people, and I have served with both types of people. I cannot speak to the suffering under the stress side, because I am not that person. For me, the stress in acute situations brings a laser-focus on the right steps to accomplish the same goal that existed before, but now with a course correction. This is how we’re trained to think. One of my former professors used to tell us all the time that when a mistake happens, you need to slow down and breathe. Don’t rush.

Think for a moment. And he would reiterate this in every class, all the time. Consequently, everyone who is still in the business from my graduating class will always apply this method when an error arises. Therefore, I would encourage you to remember that you need to know yourself. If you’re not sharpened by stress, then you need someone to lean on so that mistakes won’t be compiled upon other mistakes.

And to touch on one small thing, the finesse I mentioned earlier is a necessary skill to develop. You see, in the face of giant mistakes or tiny and almost unnoticeable error, someone has to go and explain to the family what is happening and why… and what will be done about it. That someone, funeral professional, is you. It’s me. It’s all of us at one time or another, and it is imperative that we remain the picture of absolute calm confidence as we explain what has happened and what will happen going forward. The family will lean on that confidence, and that is what will get them through in most situations. In others, prepare to be dressed down in full view of multiple people. And you stand there and take it, because you are the big shoulders… the face of the firm… the one responsible for the successes and the failures, whether you earned them or not.

So here’s the thing… people always talk about stress, and everyone of us understands what that means in our daily lives. We all know why we’re a little crazy, and we all know why we sometimes just need to cry for a second. Stress is real. Stress is common. And in the case of acute stress, I will advocate that it is the best friend and companion of the licensed funeral professional. Would you like to know why I believe this?

Because it makes you better for the next family… every single time.

About the Author

The author, Dylan Stopher, is the regional sales representative for Wilbert Vaults, based in Houston. A funeral director for the past 13 years, he graduated from Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in 2002.  Dylan is a member of TFDA as well as the Emerging Leaders group. He also serves on six TFDA committees.  He resides in Friendswood with his wife, Mollie and 3 children. He has enjoyed writing his entire life, and has published three books (all found on Amazon) and multiple industry-related articles.

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