Funeral Industry News

Some of Life’s Most Difficult Work is Handled by Funeral Directors

December 29, 2013

Ryan Thogmartin is the CEO of DISRUPT Media | Follower of Christ | Husband | Father | Entrepreneur | Host of #DISRUPTu! and #FUNERALnationtv | Lover of Skittles DISRUPT Media is a social media content agency that focuses on storytelling for funeral companies. We use real stories to build creative strategies that achieve actual business goals.

Some of Life’s Most Difficult Work is Handled by Funeral Directors

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I recently had lunch with a funeral director. That’s right, a funeral director. And no, he didn’t look like Lurch from The Addams Family, nor did he wear all black and have a sad, melancholy countenance. SHE was dressed in a casual sweater suit complemented by a red silk scarf and pearls, and she was wonderfully personable. As we chatted about our respective roles in caring for the dying, my friend told me that there were very few folks she could talk to about her job who could relate to her without thinking she was weird, ghoulish or maudlin.

She, like most funeral directors I have met, cares very deeply about what she does. It is a unique ministry — the last ministry a person may perform for the deceased and their loved ones. Therefore, it must be done with the utmost respect, sensitivity and compassion. Funeral directors love serving people in this sacred way. Unfortunately, she said, most folks have a stereotypical view of funeral directors and do not understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Hospital chaplains like myself interact quite often with funeral directors, so I thought I had a pretty good understanding of their daily cares and concerns. “When can we come pick up the body of Mr. Jones?” Basic administration-type stuff. But as my lunch with my funeral director friend progressed, I discovered much about her profession that most of us either take for granted or simply don’t think about.

For instance, death is no respecter of time. When a funeral director is on call, there is no down time. The phone rings at 3 in the morning and a hospice nurse says that so-and-so has died, that the family is requesting services and that the body is ready to be picked up. Or you get called in the middle of dinner because so-and-so can’t believe so-and-so is dead and they must come to the funeral home right away for a viewing.

Unfortunately, there’s not much respite during the holidays because deaths often spike then. And when one is pulled into the whole narrative of death and dying, one can lose one’s sense of self.

Many funeral homes are small businesses that don’t have enough staff for shift work. In order to serve families so they’ll return, many directors have learned that the way to survive is to marry the business. It’s easy for a funeral director to become a workaholic, isolated by profession and subject to fatigue and depression. And then there’s stress, a very unique kind of stress.

To grasp the type of stress surrounding a funeral, imagine planning a wedding in four days, except where there’s joy, sadness exists, and where there’s usually a bride, a body lies in state. Add to that an estranged family at odds, or no funds for burial, or a spouse’s constant changes to the memorial service. Don’t think for a minute that there aren’t “funeralzillas” out there. “Trust me on that one,” said my friend.

As we finished lunch, I asked her what kept her going in a profession fraught with such daily challenges.

“I love what I do,” she replied. “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have a sense that I’m called to help families in this way.”

She took a sip of water and continued: “You know, it takes a special person to do this work. It’s a gift God has given me. When I get to work with someone who is truly grateful, and it all comes together, and it’s a beautiful tribute to a life well-lived, it’s so worthwhile.”

Then she winked at me and smiled. “After all, someone has to do it.”