Leading Funeral Publication

Caleb Wilde Contributors News

10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry

Article provided by: Caleb Wilde, www.calebwilde.com

I shed the burden by climbing routes at the local indoor rock climbing gym.

Note: I wrote this article over the weekend and I wasn't going to publish it until Wednesday, but since I just spent my entire night [11 PM to 5:45 AM] picking up three deceased persons, I thought it's probably appropriate to post it now.  After I hit "publish", I'll be off to bed and back to work by noon.  Ah, the joys of a small family business.

If you're in the Parkesburg area and want to donate coffee* to my bloodstream, you'll find me at 434 Main St.

*I prefer a medium cup of Dunkins Donuts with cream and sugar : )


The following burdens are not necessarily funeral service specific, but many, if not all, come with this profession.  Those of us who stay in this profession do so because we find serving others in their darkest hour extremely rewarding, yet there are burdens to be borne.   Here's ten.

One. A Lack of Personal Boundaries.

The phone rings at 3 AM in the morning with a hospice nurse on the other end of the line telling you that so-and-so has died, that so-and-so's family is requesting your services and that the family of so-and-so is ready for you to come and pick up so-and-so.

The phone rings at 6 PM the next day.  Someone needs to see so-and-so ... he simply can't believe so-and-so is dead and must come to the funeral home at once to see so-and-so.

Two. Depression.

While those of us who stay in this business do so because we love serving people, the lack of personal boundaries can lead to depression.

Depression, because my son's baseball game was at 6 PM, but somebody in so-and-so's family needed to see so-and-so this very minute.  Depression because the emotional needs of others somehow always trump my personal life needs.  And all of a sudden "I'm not a good father" and "I'm not happy with my life."

Three. Psychosis.

Psychologist Carl Rogers described how he "literally lost my "self", lost the boundaries of myself...and I became convinced (and I think with some reason) that I was going insane".  When we in human service, and death service, become pulled into the whole narrative of death and dying, we can lose ourselves.

Four. Smells.

An iron stomach I have not.  Putrid smells, this business has many.  This is a burden that comes home with me ... a burden that my wife often notices shortly after I walk through the door.

Five. Life Secrets, Death Secrets and Practice Secrets.

When a person commits suicide or dies from an overdose, there are times when the family simply wants to keep the manner of death a secret from the public.

I don't mind carrying the burden of a secret, but when you live in a small town where suspicion can run rampant, secrets can become heavy.

Some things we see will remain with us forever.  They are so disturbing, so terrible that we do the world a favor by not sharing them.

Six. Isolation by Profession.

Death makes us different ... not necessarily unique, just different.  This difference creates a chasm between us and those not immersed in death.  Sure, police, doctors, psychologist, etc. have chasms created by their professions, but ours - because of the fear, sadness and undefined hours of our practice - creates us into something other.

Seven. Death itself.

Death can be a beautiful experience in the life of a family.  But when that death is tragic and unexpected, death is a heavy burden for both the family and for those who serve the family.  Specifically, when the death is a young person, our entire staff becomes agitated and moody.

Eight. Workaholism.

Many funeral homes are small businesses that don't have enough staff for shift work.  In order to serve our families (so that they'll return), we have learned that the way to overcome the depression and potential psychosis that can come with a lack of personal boundaries is to marry the business.  We make the work our life.  Such work addiction pleases the families we work for, but can leave our personal families destitute.

And while many of us don't carry the burden of workaholism, we do carry the burden of fighting off the addiction.

Nine. Death Logistics Stress.

Every business has stress.  Some more and some less.  And while funeral service can't claim a quantitative difference in stress, it can claim to have its very own type of stress.  To grasp the type of stress surrounding a funeral, imagine planning a wedding in five days, except where there's joy, sadness exists, and where there's usually a bride, a dead body lies in state.

Ten. Dress clothes ...

... in the summer heat.  Dress clothes in the dead of winter.  We are one of the few -- armed service members are the only others I can think of -- professions that wears suits outdoors as a matter of practice.  There's nothing like having sweat drip down your back and into your crack.  Well, nothing except maybe freezing your dress shoe covered toes in a foot of snow.

Caleb Wilde

I'm a sixth generation funeral director. I have a grad degree in Missional Theology. And I like to read and write. Connect with my writing and book plans by "liking" me on facebook. And keep tabs with my blog via subscription or twitter.

  • alan

    Bravo again to one of our profession’s most authentic and transparent voices. Thank you caleb for telling the real story. I am proud to be part of this profession and you remind me why.

  • Bob Mayer, Pittsburgh

    Funeral service needs to explore the subject of “Resiliency Training” it is being used by other groups who work under pressure. The strange part about funeral service is that as you grow older you become more valuable – you start to bury close friends and family – for many funeral directors “retirement” is not in their vocabulary.

    • Sarah

      As a third generation funeral director, I play the side roles in the burial of my father’s close friends. Generally, I get the question “Now that you are licensed, when is your dad going to retire”. Jokingly (laced with a bit of truth) I say, “When I drive him into the cemetery”.

    • At your suggestion, I’ve looked into “Resiliency Training”. It seems to be a tool specifically wielded by the Armed Forces. Do you have any book / material recommendation for a more general audience …?

      Also, I must say, it’s quite a complement to have the author of THE Embalming Textbook comment on my post : )

  • david

    Wow……so true….I felt like I was reading about my life….thanks for beautifully expressing the realities about our profession.

  • fluidpusher

    Well done, once again! Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Heaman

    Caleb, that was beautifully summarized. When I entered the business, I was told by one of my mentors that the funeral business turns its people into one of three things: a drunk, a nut or a bastard. That being said, it is also a viral business – meaning that it gets into your blood. I was a funeral director for more than a decade when I decided to try a different field. It wasn’t the same and all I could do was look for a way back into the business.
    Thanks for the good words for all of the folks still fighting in the funeral trenches.

  • mellowdog

    You forgot to mention litigation, the threat of litigation and the fact that at some point, most business owners will have to deal with an attorney who is looking to shake us down for insurance money.

  • Michael R. Leming, Ph.D.

    I am a professor. Have written 25 books on Death and Dying. I think this is a good article for the lay person and also for anyone interested in going into funeral SERVICE. If the attraction is high salaries, driving a fancy car, a wearing a nice suit, this article should give them a good dose of reality. Thanks Caleb for your good work. Michel R. Leming, Ph.D.

  • jaydee414

    There is a great scene in “Godfather II”, (taken as a package with “The
    Godfather”, THE greatest movie ever; especially viewed from a
    business/personal enmeshment much like ours), wherein the Hyman Roth
    character states, “…and THIS is the business we have chosen!”.
    I have often wondered in my 40 years of funeral service, if we chose it or if it chose us.
    are many days, Caleb, where I feel as though I have a trailer hitch
    attached to my posterior, and most everyone is hanging on, hoping I can
    pull them through the quagmire of death, grief, small business
    management, family issues,logistics, trivialities, etc…Then I answer
    the next phone call, the compassion and sense of responsibility for my
    neighbors, community and friends re-emerges, and, indeed, we strap on
    the tie, button the coat, and respond as only we can.
    “Because THIS is the business we have chosen.”

  • Pingback: 10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry : ConnectingDirectors.com … | Vacation Options()

  • Matt Jones

    Thanks for writing Caleb. Sometimes it feels like we are alone in our communities, in reality we “fds” are ALL in this together. I would add one item: the shear sadness of witnessing many families putting money and possesions above the importance and sacredness of their relative’s life.
    God has become a close friend over the years and this has helped me cope. Once again, thanks for your ambition. -Matt

  • plantur66

    I love this! So true in so many ways! Coffee. .. cheers !:)

  • Daren Preszler, Rochester, MN

    Outstanding article!

  • Pingback: 10 Ways Funeral Directors Cope [Caleb Wilde] : ConnectingDirectors.com | Premier Progressive Funeral Industry Publication | Stay Current. Stay Informed. Stay Elite.()