10 Things to Remember about a Funeral Director

Advertising executives, teachers, and doctors kind of have it made… at least in one regard.

Most of the time when you flip on a TV drama, the main characters work in one of these professions. Now we all know a regular day on Grey’s Anatomy isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of a doctor’s workday, but between all the drama and tears, the folks watching at home get a general sense that life in these professions is not for the faint of heart.

But for those of us in the funeral profession, there’s often a pretty big divide in what we do and what people think we do.

Our day-to-day lives aren’t often examined by those who don’t also live them, and what winds up happening is a lot of misconception about the work we do, and what our days look like. It feels hard to be understood by our friends and families, and even the people who love us can’t always relate to the demands and challenges of our jobs, try as they might.

Working in this field we’ve been called to isn’t easy. Some people will assume that’s because we’re so often surrounded by loss and sadness and spend long days supporting the grief of others—but that’s not even the half of it.

Sometimes, being a shoulder for someone to cry on doesn’t feel nearly as demanding as preparing to move a body literally three time your size. Yes, what we do is as physically challenging as people assume it is mentally and emotionally. Yet we get to work every day and continue to do our best to show the strength and determination we need to be successful in our work and valuable in our community. And we’re often underestimated and misunderstood.

So today, we’re asking you to look past the scary black funeral curtains, and learn the truth about the caring, humble funeral professional that you know and love…

1. Death never takes a day off, and neither can we. The field we work in never closes, takes a holiday, or calls off for the night. Our quiet evenings relaxing at home can turn into a full night’s work in an instant. As much as we would love some reliable down time, we’re expected to be there for the families that trust and need us when duty calls.

2. Not everyone places the value on our service that it deserves. Most of us do a great deal of work that is dramatically undervalued. A recent survey told us that 15.9% of people said they couldn’t care less about funerals and would just as soon opt for a cheap deal. Another 17.1% said funerals were a rip-off and unnecessary. But we know the real importance of a funeral service and how this life tradition is truly for the good of the people. Part of our job is to help people see the light, even when they don’t want to.

3. We always have to be present as professionals, even in the face of tragedy. We see all manner of death, even the ones most unfair: a small child, a suicide, a lost pregnancy. But we’re professionals, and we have to remain so for the families we serve. You don’t want to know how often we’ve had to hide somewhere to spill a few tears before putting on a brave face and going right back to work. It’s not always easy to remain professional, but this our our job—our calling—and we always return to task.

4. There was never another option. We didn’t pore over course catalogs looking to choose a college major. We felt a calling toward this field, and we know it is our passion, our purpose, and our duty to support people in their time of need.

5. But we still had to try to get here. Passion is one thing, but it doesn’t substitute hard work. Funeral directors have to go through mortuary school, an apprenticeship, and oftentimes fight through a family legacy for a position at a three-generation owned family funeral home. We followed our hearts to a demanding, challenging field to enter, and we work hard every single day.

6. We experience burn-out. Just like every other professional, but in some cases more so: We don’t have free weekends off. We work long hours in high-stress environments, but we’re still people who need just as much self-care as anyone else.

7. We’re trusted with important decisions. A lipstick color may just be a lipstick color to some, but when preparing a body, every detail matters to the families relying on us to get things right. We don’t take the responsibility of preparing loved ones for viewing lightly.

8. We see the best and worst of everyone we meet. People tend to let their guards down when grieving. We hear their happy memories, tragic stories, and everything in between. We have to remain open and able to listen, and continue on professionally and without bias, even after family secrets are spilled in our offices.

9. We strain our bodies daily, too. It’s not just emotional heaviness we work with. We spend long, sleepless hours on our feet, putting on a professional front, working with people and desperately wanting to just loosen our ties or kick off our shoes for some slight relief. We lift and carry and move heavy bodies and caskets, and we support the physical and mental weight of grief each day. Sometimes, we need to take a few moments to work through the heaviness.

10. We couldn’t do it without you. Your support for our career and life’s purpose means everything to us, and without your care for who we are and what we do, we wouldn’t be able to serve our communities. Your hand-holding, listening, and forgiveness when we’re late for dinner (again) allow us to follow our passions—and we’re thankful for you, even if we forget to say it sometimes.

As funeral professionals, we know that what we do is shrouded in misunderstanding—we’ve heard just about every possible misconception there is about working in the funeral profession. What would you add to this list?
Rilee Chastain