Last week, a high schooler asked me, “Why are you a funeral director?” After a couple days of thinking about the question, here are ten reasons I’m a funeral director.
A couple years ago, a granddaughter was giving her grandmother’s eulogy at the funeral home. She shared that before she would take naps at her grandmother’s house, her grandmother would warm a blanket in the dryer, and as the granddaughter laid down, the grandma would drape the warm blanket over her.
After the service was over and before the family closed the lid on the casket, I grabbed the blanket that the family had laid in the casket and warmed the blanket. When I gave the warm blanket to the granddaughter, she couldn’t withhold her tears as now she draped it over her grandmother.
Situations like this arise regularly in the funeral profession. And, as a caregiver by nature, I find great satisfaction in seeing others have more meaningful death experiences because of my efforts. I enjoy serving.
Emerson said, “When it is darkest men see the stars.” We try our best to deny the darkness of death; we consciously and unconsciously build our immortality projects, hoping that we can live immortally through them.
And then death. Weeping. Our projects come tumbling down. And it’s in those ashes, in the pain, in the grief, through the tears, we see beauty in the darkness. This is a perspective that funeral directors are privy to view on a constant basis. And, in many cases, the darkness can be beautiful.
And it provides for my family.
Being told, “You’ve made this so much easier for us.” or, “Mom hasn’t looked this beautiful since she first battled cancer”, or “You guys are like family to us” means a lot to me. It’s important to know that what you’re doing is meaningful for the person you’re doing it for.
That verbal affirmation is a big reason why I continue to serve as a funeral director.
4) Safe Death Confrontation.
When I was a child, I’d lay in bed and imagine myself dying at a young age. I imagined death as a monster. That fear, though, has dissipated as I’ve both worked around death and I’ve grown to be comfortable with my own mortality and the mortality of those I love.
Perhaps there’s no greater freedom than to live life with a healthy relationship with death. That healthy relationship allows you embracing each moment, realizing that we are not promised tomorrow. This good relationship with death has been given to me by the funeral profession.
From old(er) women. Big sloppy kisses from older women. And what makes it even better is if they follow up the kiss with a, “If only I were 50 years younger…”
6) Power and Obligation.
You give us power every time you open up your family life, your deceased loved one and your grief to us. And when you give us that power, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with treating that vulnerability with as much honor as we can.
We honor your loved one as we prepare them. We honor you as we serve you. The power you give us, and our obligation to that vulnerability is the grounds that produce honor.
7) Lack of the Superficial.
There’s so much BS in the world. People pursing bigger cars, bigger houses and bigger salaries, that we become so materialized we can barely stand honesty, vulnerability and spirituality.
That all changes around death. Suddenly, you wish that the time you spend pursing that raise had been spent with your dad. Suddenly, you find some honesty about your life, some perspective and maybe even some spirituality.
I hate BS. I love honesty. I love spirituality. And I love watching as death helps us become human.
8) Informs My Perspective on God.
Whether or not funeral directors are religious, you’ll find that almost all are spiritual. Whether or not they believe in God, death has a way of making us look at the deep, the beyond and the transcendent.
For myself, so much of my faith has been informed by the doubt of death. I see God in a whole new dark. And it’s good. In fact, I’ve come to believe that God dwells with the broken because — it would seem — he too is broken.
9) Constant Challenge.
Somebody said, “It’s the perfect job for someone with ADHD because there is constant change.” Constant change and constant challenge.
Whether a call at 4 a.m., or a particularly tragic death, this job is always pushing us and (hopefully) makes us into stronger people.
10) Our Associates.
Today, a nurse — on her own free time — tracked down the hospital release for us. I told her, “You’re wonderful.” Every time we interact with hospice nurses, I always praise them for their work, for their love towards the family. When a church provides a funeral luncheon, I try to tell the workers that they are providing grace in the form of food. When a pastor totally connects with the family, I tell him/her how great a job they’re doing.
When somebody dies — during the hardest moments of life — we see the best in people. As I said in the beginning, sometimes the darkness is beautiful; and, sometimes the darkness makes us beautiful.
There’s many a burden to be borne in this business; which is why I have to remind myself of the reasons I remain a funeral director.
Caleb Wilde is a sixth generation licensed funeral director and embalmer. This post first appeared on his blog, www.calebwilde.com.