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10 Ways Funeral Directors Cope [Caleb Wilde]

Article provided by: Caleb Wilde, CalebWilde.com

There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response to my article “10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry“.  We funeral directors carry a unique set of burdens.  And there’s ways — both positive and negative — that we cope with our burdens.

Here’s 10 coping methods funeral directors use.

The first five are coping methods that are negative or maladaptive techniques.

The last five are positive coping methods.  One or more of these methods MUST be used if a person is to stay in this profession AND maintain a healthy personal and family life.

NEGATIVE COPING METHODS

One.  Displacement.

Funeral service is a business that is both uncontrollable and unpredictable.  Since funeral directors can’t control death and death’s schedule, we attempt to control those things and/or people that we DO have power over.  We too often take out our frustrations, fears and anger on those closest to us.

Two.  Attack.

And we often displace those emotions on those closest to us with some kind of aggression.  In an attempt to cope and find a sense of control in our uncontrolled and unpredictable world, we will often emotionally and verbally manipulate and control our family, co-workers, employees, associates and those closest to us, making us seem nearly bi-polar as we treat the grieving families that we serve with love and support and yet treat our staff and family with all the emotional turmoil that we’re feeling inside.

Three.  Emotional Suppression.

We are paid to be the stable minds in the midst of unstable souls.  We withhold and withhold and withhold and then … then the floodgates open, turning our normally stable personality into a blithering, sobbing mess, or creating a monster of seething anger and rage.  During different occasions, I have become both the mess and the monster.  The difficulty is only compounded by the fact that you just cannot make your spouse or best friend understand how raising the carotid artery of a nine-month old infant disturbs your mind.

Four.  Self-harm.

We cope with alcohol.  I know a number who attempt to waste their troubles away with a bottle.

Substance abuse.

Sexual callousness.  The sexual philandering that occurred in Six Feet Under was not just for higher TV ratings.

Five.  Trivializing.

Compassion fatigue happens to all of us in funeral service.  If we can’t bounce back from the fatigue, we begin a journey down the road to callousness.  Once calloused, we tell ourselves that “death isn’t as bad as ‘these people’ are making it seem.”  Once we trivialize the grief and death we see, we can easily justify charging the hell out of the families we serve.

POSITIVE COPING METHODS

Six.  Benefit-finding.

The funeral business contains many burdens. Yet, the good we can do and the beauty we can find around death – if we look for it – may outweigh the darkness.  Learning to see the light in the darkness of death is a positive way we can cope.

Seven.  Altruism.

Learn to love serving others.  Probably the best means to cope with the funeral business is found in the people we serve.  Love them intentionally and don’t be afraid to find joy in meeting their needs.  Don’t be afraid to hear their stories and become apart of their family.

Eight.  Problem-solve.

Don’t be passive with the burdens you carry.   Actively attempt to find positive ways to deal with your burden.  Exercise.  Eat better.  Take a vacation.  Go out with your friends.  If you can’t shed your burdens on your own, seek counseling.  Find a psychologist.  Find a psychiatrist.  Talk out your problems with someone wiser than you.

Nine.  Spiritual Community and Personal Growth.

Using religion as an opiate to ignore reality is something I speak AGAINST on a regular basis.  Instead, seek a community where there’s faith authenticity.  Find people who can encourage you with their love and support as you worship together and ponder the mysteries and truths of a better world.

Ten.  Avoidance.

If this business is wrecking your life and the lives of those around you, then salvage what you have left and quit this business.  Quitting doesn’t make you a failure.  Quitting doesn’t make you weak.  You know more than anyone that you only have one life to life.  Live it to its fullest by doing something that breathes life into your soul.

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.

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  • Matt Jones
  • SW Florida

    I have been a funeral director for about 8 years now. One of the most beneficial things to me is to actually look at things with a different set of eyes. I try to see the good in all things which sometimes actually works.
    I have found great stress in this business but I always see how the good I can do out weighs the bad. I try to expect a pleasant family and draw in positive feelings (try it… it works!) Dont get me wrong, we can’t please everyone but why focus on that one miserable arrangement when you can be focusing on the help you just provided to the other dozens on pleased and appreciative families.
    Thanks for the article… well said…

  • http://www.facebook.com/JAK1277 Jared Kirschenbaum

    What about finding an activity that will separate your mind after work like exercise. It helps me to get away from everything and have my own time not worrying if or when the phone is going to ring

  • Nicholas09

    Every day, regardless of what time I get home, I jump in the shower, then put on a change of clothes. For me, it’s a psychological separation between work/home when the suit comes off, and the jeans or lounge pants go on. There’s a certain catharsis that takes place with that. Also, it’s important to develop friendships at work. It’s the nature of the work that we do that unifies us as professionals in an industry to which few can relate, talking to people that ‘get it’ makes the world of difference.

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