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Jun. 23rd, 2004 | 11:08 am

The following is a pretty good read... so, if you want to read it, feel free.

A Tribute to Our Funeral Director

He is an undertaker,
With hair as white as snow;
He is a man about our town
Everyone should know.

His wife, a loving helpmate
Has hair quite like his own;
This tireless, gracious couple
Visit countless homes.

Yes, he's an undertaker,
As gentle as he's kind.
God bless him for his loving deeds:
A better friend is hard to find.

Silently they come to you
In answer to your call,
Together drape the casket o'er
When sorrows darkly fall.

Tenderly, they tuck the silken lace
Above the precious bier,
And mingle with your own
Ofttimes [sic], a sympathizing tear.

God bless the undertaker,
Who visits in the hour of woe.
Such solace as he can give
Only those bereft can know.

They come to you in hours of grief
To lend a helping hand;
Such service they alone can render,
Only you can understand.

They speak low words of comfort
In tones of kindly cheer-
Truly "Good Samaritans"
You're glad to have so near.

Over and over, such things they do
For others, day by day:
With gentle hands and tenderest [sic] care
They lay the dead away.

They come to you when sorrow falls.
On them you may depend.
God bless them for their loving deeds.
Each is, indeed, a friend!
-- Della L. Campbell (unknown date, unknown source)

People tend to overlook what funeral directors do on a daily basis. Death is not something that the average person would like to think about, let alone talk about. The people of the funeral profession know this and adapt by waiting in silence until the time comes that they may serve another family with compassion. Funeral directors deal with many different tasks on a daily basis. It is said that in order to be a funeral director you most certainly have to be a multi-task person because of the many things that must be done in a short period of time. Funeral directors are also faced with the constant threat of large publicly owned corporations slowly trying to take over the funeral business in the United States. This causes a decrease in the amount of service expected of a funeral director and "cheapens" the funeral and grieving process. When all of these factors are added up, it is no wonder that funeral directors are prone to life damaging addictions. Addictions ranging from alcoholism to gambling tend to run rampant in the funeral industry.

I did not always want to be a funeral director. In high school I was an exchange student to Japan and came home with aspirations of being in the consulate’s office in Japan. However, plans change and people go about things differently. I did not enjoy any of the International Business classes and did not know what I wanted to do. My father, who is also a funeral director, was a very good friend of a funeral home owner. He always worked with him and was even the best man in his wedding. That funeral director died just two short weeks after he had gotten married. His death, for whatever reason, made me decide to look into going to Simmons School of Mortuary Science. I thought that if I could deal with the bodies, I could be a good funeral director because I like to help people. I got through my first couple of embalmings and stuck it out until I received my Associates Degree. Thereafter, I served my residency, passed my state law exam, and became a licensed funeral director.

On a daily basis, funeral directors are faced with numerous tasks that have to be completed. A funeral director is on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year to respond to death calls. Responding to a phone call from a family as soon as possible is important to a funeral director. The first contact that you have with that family will dictate how smoothly the funeral is run. If a funeral director waits too long before calling the family back, he/she may find that the family is not happy with the services from the start and the funeral director will not be able to do his job to the best of his abilities. When a call comes in from a family, the funeral director speaks briefly with them and then makes an appointment for them to come in to the funeral home and speak with him. Some funeral directors prefer to go to the family’s house to do this, but it is much easier at the funeral home where all the resources are readily available. During the meeting with the family, the funeral director also assists them in choosing a casket and, if necessary, an outer interment container (vault). Some funeral directors attempt to "sell" a specific casket and point out all the good aspects of the more expensive ones. Personally, I do not like the "used car salesman" approach and simply answer any questions that the family may have while picking one that looks nice and fits the budget they have. I find that by doing that, the family feels less pressured and will pick what they like the best as opposed to what sounds the best. Following the meeting with the family, the funeral director has a lot of paperwork to take care of. This usually takes approximately two to three hours depending on the amount that has to be done. There are many forms that have to be filled out to state law specifications along with death certificates, obituaries, printing of prayer cards and acknowledgement cards, social security forms, veteran’s forms, and the main contract. While doing this paperwork, the funeral director makes numerous phone calls to the cemetery, clergy, Casket Company, Vault Company, limousines, workers, etc.

After a funeral is all planned, the funeral director will go and remove the body from the hospital; however, this step is done first if the decedent died in a nursing home or private residence, because of the lack of refrigeration. Once the body is back at the funeral home, the funeral director will prepare it for viewing. This process is what is better known as embalming. During this process, the eyes are closed and the mouth is wired or sewn shut. The funeral director will then make an incision along the clavicle
and raise up the carotid artery and juggler vein. An instrument known as a canuela is inserted into the artery and embalming fluid is forced into it. The vein is then cut so that blood may escape through it. Because the circulatory system is closed, the embalming fluid goes throughout the body and pushes the blood out the veins. Following the embalming, in most funeral homes, the body will sit at least overnight and then be dressed in whatever the family may have brought for the deceased to wear. The deceased is then placed into the casket and cosmetics are applied to help give it a life-like appearance. Once this is all finished, the body is ready for viewing by the family and general public.

Another issue facing funeral directors is the infiltration of the publicly owned corporation. Local people own the majority of funeral homes in the United States. However, there are a growing number of corporate owned funeral homes. I have worked for both and therefore can state the differences with confidence. A locally owned funeral director is an active member of the community and can be considered a friend to many people. In a corporate owned funeral home the directors tend to view the work as a job. They come in at 9 and leave at 5, as opposed to not having any set hours in which to work. Locally owned funeral homes are also much more in touch with what a family needs in order to get through the difficult loss of a loved one. Corporate funeral homes are only interested in the money. While working at a corporate owned funeral home in Maryland I experienced this first hand. A family was returning from a camping trip in Pennsylvania when the car they were driving malfunctioned and rolled over while going 65 MPH. Everyone in the car was ejected, and everyone walked away, with the exception of an 8-year-old girl. The parents were devastated at the loss of their daughter and were not coping with it very well. I carefully made the arrangements for the final tribute to their daughter’s life and then came time for selecting a casket. The funeral home did not have any caskets on a price list that would be fitting for an 8 year-old girl. The family looked through a catalog and selected a casket that would cost the funeral home approximately $500 to purchase. I had planned on selling the casket to the family for $1000 simply because the funeral home had to make a little bit of money. In order to do that though I needed to get approval from the manager of the funeral home. He looked at the information and told me to tell the family the casket was $4000, but that he would give them a $500 discount. . I went back in to tell the family and it was almost as if they had been struck through the heart again. This family did not have insurance on their daughter, were not very well off when it came to money, and were visibly short on funds. They could not afford it. They also knew that she would be best in this particular casket. So they decided to go through with purchasing this casket and funeral. At which point in time, due to corporate policy, I was forced to tell the family that I needed full payment of the funeral within 3 days. Again, more unnecessary heartache was brought to them. This is a good example of how corporate owned funeral homes are only interested in the money. Family owned funeral homes are much more in touch with what the family needs and how they can help a family move along in the grief process.

Many funeral directors also tend to have personal problems. A funeral director is on call and ready to serve people 24 hours a day. It is because of this dedication that a funeral director is prone to damaging addictions. Many funeral directors enjoy a drink at night before going to bed. There is no problem with this in moderation, however, when the director begins to spend hours at a local bar in order to have that "drink" before bed, problems arise. There have occasionally been problems with funeral
directors being woken up in the middle of the night and then going to a nursing home or family’s residence to pick up a deceased while under the influence of alcohol. This is not only a danger to the funeral director, but a danger to the deceased who was placed into the director’s hands by the surviving loved ones. I believe that the urge to drink in funeral directors is present because of the constant depression that is seen throughout the day. Each day being faced with events that are out of a person’s control helps to direct that person to addiction. Another problem that funeral directors tend to have is gambling. I believe that a great number of funeral directors turn to gambling because they have the false sense of being able to control something as opposed to death where, they have no control over it. Many funeral directors have lost the businesses they built and everything they own because they were not able to stay away from the racetracks or casinos. There have been funeral directors that have turned to illegal drugs also. However, these directors are not very prevalent.

The work of a funeral director is never ending and not able to be predicted. A funeral director can go for a week without having a single thing to do and then have a week where sleep is a gift. The daily routine of a funeral director is about as predictable as an earthquake, you never know when, where, or how long it will last. Funeral directors are faced with business issues that ultimately have a direct effect on families and how well they are allowed to cope with the loss of a loved one. When all of these factors
are added up, funeral directors have the tendency to turn to addictions as a form of "unwinding" in what little free time they may have. As the poem above shows, a funeral director is a friend to all. A person can not go into this profession without the will to help people of all walks of life and at all times. A funeral director does not take time off; they only go away. They are always near a phone in order to help anyone who may be in need. Being a funeral director is not a career or profession, but instead, a way of life.

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