Here’s a typical conversation that I have when I’m out with friends, meeting new people.
“What do you do?” asks someone who doesn’t really care but feels obligated to engage me in conversation.
“I work for a trade association that works with independently owned funeral homes. I’m a meeting planner.” I respond to cut to the chase.
“Oh! So you plan funerals? Do you embalm bodies?” returns the individual who now has a stronger interest in hearing what I have to say and obviously wasn’t listening.
“No. But I know quite a few people who do. Why? Do you need a discount on an urn?”
The asker typically turns pale and isn’t sure where to go from there.
So goes many a conversation at cocktail parties and other events when I have the opportunity to interact with anyone who doesn’t work in funeral service. It’s made me stop and think about what funeral directors face when they share their story with others.
Since I joined OGR’s staff four years ago, I’ve learned quite a bit about funeral service professionals and have found that they have a pretty challenging job. They work long, irregular hours around strange smells, extreme emotions, and lots of paperwork. They respond to phone calls in the middle of the night, often miss holidays with their families, and care for dead bodies. They maintain composure and professionalism in the midst of family conflict, inclement weather, and national tragedies. A lot of what they do is behind the scenes, unseen and unheard.
And yet, our office is flooded with story after story of how thankful families are for the kindness and care a funeral service professional showed them during their time of need. OGR has started a series on social media, highlighting the outstanding service Golden Rule funeral homes have given to the families they serve, and I consistently shake my head at the stories – I didn’t know this level of service existed before I joined OGR staff.
I’ve compiled a list of ten things I’ve learned about funeral service, and while it is in no way comprehensive, it’s a good starting point.
Ten Things I’ve Learned from Working with Funeral Directors
- Funeral directors are not greedy, money-hungry people who will take advantage of you. Contrary to what some in the media portray or what certain TV shows highlight, they are not in the profession to get rich. Did you know the average salary of a funeral director is $52,990 per year?
- Actually, many of them speak of a higher calling as to why they are in the business.
- It’s not all gore and mayhem – au contraire, funeral home owners face all the struggles small business owners do: marketing the importance of what they offer, working with the maintenance and upkeep of their facilities, completing paperwork, meeting with customers (the families they serve), planning events, managing people, maintaining inventory, etc.
- Independently owned funeral homes are the best! They don’t answer to shareholders, they set their own prices, and many times offer more personalized services. (I may be partial to independents).
- Supply companies have great lotion – I mean seriously. While I don’t work in a prep room, I have a few bottles of lotion from trade shows that I use while I’m working at my computer. I know – typing can dry those fingers out.
- Funeral service professionals are a tough bunch. They handle immense pressure and see extreme loss. They feel stress and pain just like you, but they just cannot show it while they are on the clock. They keep on going and keep on serving.
- The funeral service industry is experiencing upheaval – like other industries (think the movie industry with Netflix, or taxis with Uber and Lyft, or hotels with Air B&B), traditional funeral homes are scrambling to respond to changing consumer needs. Cremation is on the rise, Baby Boomers are more adamant about having services their way, and discount funeral providers are offering to meet with families in strip malls and coffee shops. Who knows where the profession will be in twenty years?
- Funeral service professionals know how to have a good time. OGR holds several events a year, and when we gather our funeral directors together, I love spending time with them. They have the best sense of humor. They’ve seen a lot, and it keeps them level-headed and down-to-earth.
- Funeral service has both innovative players and completely traditional ones too. From funeral homes who have been serving their community for four generations in the same building and offer mostly traditional services (think a visitation, a funeral service, and a procession to the cemetery) to facilities that look like event centers which offer “celebrations of life” and creative memorial options, you’ll be surprised at what is available. There are companies who sell 3-D urns, offer creative ways to memorialize your loved one’s ashes, and offer you the chance to plan your whole funeral online. Look around and you’ll find there’s something for everyone.
- The industry isn’t dying. As long as funeral directors continue to do what they do best – serve families and meet their needs – they’ll have the opportunity to serve families for years to come.