Apr 12, 2016
Guest Blogger: Jill Johnson-Young
ASD is pleased to share this month’s guest blog post in our new blog series from Jill Johnson-Young. The blog series is focused on aftercare, self care, and helping families with grief recovery. Jill Johnson-Young, LCSW, is a clinical therapist in private practice in Riverside, California. She is the co-owner of Central Counseling Services, where she specializes in grief and loss for adults and children, as well as individual and family therapy. Jill is certified as a Grief Recovery Specialist through the Grief Recovery Institute and has more than a decade of experience as a medical social worker in hospice both in California and Florida. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of South Florida and is licensed in California. Jill is a member of the Orange Belt Funeral Director’s Association. Her passion is seeing people work through the losses they experience and finding a new path where they can thrive in a life they choose. In this post, Jill explains how attending a Death Café reveals how many incorrect perceptions exist about the funeral profession and why directors should lead local discussions about death, funerals and grief to help debunk these incorrect assumptions.
Demystifying the Funeral Profession
I’ve spent the last month presenting several times at the Death Café at Cal State Fullerton’s OLLIE program. It’s their lifelong learner college, lead by seniors who have led busy lives and aren’t about to stop being relevant now. There are octogenarians teaching classes that look a lot more fun than my college years. One is titled “Publish before you perish!” This is a group of people who are fully aware of their status as seniors, and who lose friends regularly. One Death Café member is currently fighting a battle with a fast moving lymphoma. The Death Café meets weekly to discuss all things death related. They have a list of topics they want to discuss, and send it out for facilitators. I love speaking there because they love to jump in and take the conversation to new levels. I prepare an outline knowing I’ll probably never touch it. If you’ve never attended a DC I can’t suggest it strongly enough, especially after the group two weeks ago.
I’d suggested an “Ask a Funeral Director” day for two years. They finally scheduled it, and I took my spouse to present. My funeral director has been in the profession for 31 years, and has made more arrangements and run more services than can be counted. But speaking publically beyond organizing a service moving to the cemetery? Not a chance. I love public speaking. My Funeral Director? A root canal without anesthetic would be a much better time.
So there we were, with a room full of people who literally talk about death daily, and what did they need to know? Literally everything. How does embalming and cremation work? Is it possible to have a viewing and still cremate? Pre-need would really truly make it easier for families and stop conflicts between families over arrangements? And, over and over, “you mean people in that profession do this because they care, not for big money?” I have to admit that being married into this profession has been an eye opener. I provide grief support and help for individuals and families, but now I also address the misperceptions about the role of the funeral director, the mortuary, and the values I know to be true to those who spend their days serving families in the mortuary.
As I watched the discussion unfold, I saw the same behavior I have witnessed in so many people from all areas in the funeral profession. It’s absolutely rare for any of you to contradict the perception that you are in a high-income industry supported by up selling huge dollar items to grieving families. You see yourselves essentially being accused of fraud by those who don’t know better. You know that the current laws preclude any of the actions assumed to be taking place in virtually every mortuary. You follow the laws carefully.
The eye opening moment at our DC was when someone said out loud what they’d all heard and assumed to be true “mortuaries wait for grieving people to take advantage of them.” I stepped in for a moment and asked if anyone had ever needed a mortician on a holiday or weekend. Several said yes. Did anyone find they were not served no matter the day or time? It was a pin drop moment. That’s when my FD finally did what all of you should: explained that the folks who work as funeral professionals work all hours, all holidays, every weekend to help families in crisis (who sometimes aren’t very nice and are always stressed), ensure their loved one looks as good as they can and arrange a service that meets the family’s needs. The Death Café crowd heard the reality that the average income is not Cadillac, it’s far less, and that all of you do this because it’s a calling, not a job.
That moment should belong to all of you. Your families know the hours you keep. The public assumes something else entirely. By the time we were done, 45 minutes after we were supposed to be, the group couldn’t get enough. For them, it was like speaking with a consulate officer from another country. They learned how much they didn’t know, despite talking about death every week. And they learned one hugely important lesson: the people in your profession are there because you care. Just like so many other professionals who are held in high esteem.
Go enjoy the spring (it’s going to be 91 degrees here today) and the longer days (yay for Vitamin D!). And if you get a chance, lead a discussion locally about what you do. Demystify it. Make it visible. Let others see why you’re there- because you care.
Check back next month for another guest post from Jill Johnson-Young.
Be sure to read Jill’s Other ASD Guest Blog Posts:Guest Blog Post #1: Providing Grief Support to Families
Guest Blog Post #2: Self-Care Moments for the Funeral Profession
Guest Blog Post #3: Tips for Handling Funeral Home Stress
Guest Blog Post #4: Supporting the Children of Funeral Directors
Guest Blog Post #5: Hearts with Ears for the New Year
Guest Blog Post #6: When a Funeral Director Buries Family
Guest Blog Post #7: Challenging Careers Create Their Own Humor, Funeral Directors Included
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com