Will anybody listen?
It has been awhile since I have felt up to blogging and I hope to get back to my normal routine soon, but an email from my good friend Kathy Jackson inspired me on to share a few thoughts. My questions are many but I sincerely hope that everyone offering education and training courses for the funeral professional considers her words carefully. Indeed, many minimize some of the areas she addresses, but that is mostly due to lack of understanding. There is a message here, but will anybody listen.
I applaud the School for Nursing that took the chance and hired Kathy to teach their students. We all need to hear prophetic voices like hers as Keynote speakers at the Conventions we attend. We need to be challenged. We need to be educated. We need to be able to offer her as a speaker when our funeral home sponsors a local hospice group or other such event. Her message is timely and important to each of our businesses.
Following, with permission I share Kathy?s letter to me – with you – and with the world through Ryan?s Connecting Directors network.
The question always loomed large ? ?how does a person with an M.A. focusing on Transcultural Death and Mortuary Rituals and a Ph.D which focuses on the Funeral Industry in North America apply her knowledge?? That really translates into `what kind of employment opportunities exist??
The truth is that I always envisioned finding a niche for myself in the funeral industry. I believed that with insight gained in the field over a four year period about funeral service, funeral ritual, into trends and the relationship between the bereaved, funeral director and the clergy that there would be a position that would draw on this knowledge. In some respect, this is true.
Independent funeral home owners seem to place a lot more value on my knowledge base than corporately owned funeral homes such as SCI. I was naive enough to believe that I might even offer valuable information and support to funeral service programs because I not only understand but believe in and support the work with bereaved families by funeral directors every day, all across North America.
I believe change in the industry is inevitable for many reasons including changing religious affiliations and the much discussed recession.
The buzz words which we are bombarded with are secular, humanist, and even post modern creep into our discussions.
What do people want and need is the big question on the tip of everyone?s tongue and how can the industry deliver this and survive fiscally.
I envisioned myself as the bridge between the public who are desperate for education about their own deathways, the choices which they can avail themselves in regards to funerals, memorials, the final disposition of their body and how they are going to get not only their body but their loved ones to a place they need to be. It is all about transition, going from here to there, a rite of passage. There are as many ways to accomplish this as there are dead and bereaved. Each funeral is unique in many ways because it symbolizes the life of the deceased.
I envisioned teaching funeral service students about how people die, what is important to them spiritually so that they might have a better understanding of how the bereaved will understand the death of their loved one and furthermore what funeral rituals they might choose.
I did not find a niche either teaching funeral service students or in the industry. Rather, I have spent the last four months teaching nursing students about how people die in their own culture and transculturally. They have learned what is important in life can have a huge impact on the process of dying, the initial moments following death, the care of the body post mortem, subsequently in their choice of funeral rituals and the way the utilize the funeral industry.
For most students it was a journey into the unknown and they grew with each and every tradition which we discussed. Their vocabularies increased exponentially as they mastered terminology and ideas from Hinduism, Buddhism, Native Canadian, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Islam, and Humanism. Also, they learned about how our understanding of death differs according to our cultural beliefs and impacts on the way we treat the body.
Another lesson they learned was how to distinguish mourning which is culturally determined from grief which is very personal and may clash with what is expected of the person culturally. In fourteen weeks, my sixty students grew as persons, embracing new ideas and reformulating preconceived ideas about death and how they understand and relate to death issues, their own and those of others.
Death education is very important for nursing students because they are on the front lines with the families that we will meet only a few hours later. Likewise, I see this type of education as being invaluable to funeral service students and professionals, who need to be aware and understand in a multicultural world the life values and practices of all their clients. Suffice to say that I supported my lectures not with films from exotic places but with guest speakers from all the traditions we discussed. These are real people, with real beliefs, who graciously gave of their time to speak openly and candidly about dying, death and mortuary rituals.
I believe that every funeral service program, every post grad program, every funeral home should be conducting mini inservice programs that will allow funeral directors to broaden their knowledge about the communities they serve.
I conclude by saying that teaching trans-cultural death and dying to the nursing students was a rewarding experience. I grew in my understanding as they grew in theirs. The patients they care for will receive care which addresses not only their physical needs but also embraces their spiritual needs.
Funeral service professionals need to gain this type of insight for many reasons, but the most important reason that I can think of is, to feel confident in how they understand and meet the needs of transcultural families from the moment they walk through the door.