Looking for Stress? Become a Funeral Director.
Nov 06, 2019
Looking for Stress? Become a Funeral Director.
This essay was originally published in American Funeral Director magazine by ASD Family-Member Owner, Kevin Czachor.
In life, there are two events that bring together everyone you know, two events that result in the costliest purchases you'll ever make, two events that have to be planned with careful precision. Most people are not prone to thinking about a wedding and a funeral simultaneously. Yet, these two milestones are similar in that there is so much at stake.
According to the Association for Wedding Professionals, the average engagement in the United States lasts 15 months. Wedding planners usually have more than a year to ensure that everything is prepared in advance so there are no surprises on the big day. In comparison, a funeral director has less than a week, usually only a few days, to plan a service that honors and memorializes the deceased while bringing comfort to survivors. Even minor errors such as a mistake in an obituary or an incorrect font used on a prayer card can disrupt or even ruin the entire experience for those attending. Regardless of whether the fault lies with the newspaper or printing company, small oversights have the potential to tarnish a funeral director's reputation irrevocably.
Society seems to be reluctant to acknowledge and appreciate the crucial role the funeral service community plays in our lives. Funeral professionals are often portrayed in a harsh light by our media and entertainment industries. Across the country, directors have done outstanding work supporting their community and charitable organizations. Yet, in movies and on television, they are stereotyped as sinister or greedy characters. For every positive news story about a funeral home you will find at least a dozen focused on directors who have stepped out of line in some way.
According to David Burrell, author of the essay Origins of Undertaking, “Scores of magazine articles, television broadcasts, newspaper exposés and best-selling books have focused on the consolidation of American funerary businesses into heartless, profit-driven empires. Indeed, the modern media seems always to have found funeral directors and the costs associated with death to be good copy, not only since 1963 but for many decades previous.”
The media's cynical perspective on funeral directors seems to be a result of ignorance about why a person would enter into the business. Even in positive profile articles, there is often a question that reveals the interviewer's inability to relate. In a recent interview for Vice Magazine titled Funeral Directors are Morticious, a journalist asked a mortuary science student why she would become a funeral director. The subject responds with a thoughtful answer about the rewards of the profession and is then asked, “So, it's not just your latent obsession with death and dying?' This question reveals the interviewer's failure to separate his misconceptions from reality. A majority of media outlets cannot grasp that for most funeral directors, this vocation isn't a choice—it is a calling. And for many, the benefits cannot be counted or explained in newspaper articles and news broadcasts. They are intangible—a moment of peace for a distraught window or a few seconds of laughter from a child who is confused by death. These are things that are not easily measured or put into words.
Funeral Directors are tasked with recognizing a lifetime of memories in a short period of time. While a service may bring closure and comfort for most, it is next to impossible to hold a funeral ceremony without disappointing someone in the room. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish he would have talked about Bob's trips to Europe” or “Why didn't they acknowledge Ann's dedication to the Lion's Club?” Everyone has a different idea of the most important contributions of someone's life.
Death is a topic that is weaved so tightly to our own morals and convictions. As a result, there is a tendency in our culture to react defensively when others perceive death differently. There are many strong, divergent opinions about the “proper” way to memorialize death, which differ based on religion, age, culture, and other factors. Some feel embalming is crucial for providing closure to loved ones while others find it unnatural and disturbing. In the center of all of these contradictory opinions is the funeral director who is keenly aware of the fact that there is only one opportunity to hold the best service possible.
However we may feel about funerals or different customs, one thing most people agree on is the necessity. Cremation has been on the rise for decades now, yet an overwhelming majority of people still see the value in holding a ceremony to commemorate their loved one's life. Recent statistics have proven that more than 60 percent cremations include some type of memorial service. Why then if our culture recognizes the need for memorialization do we mock, condemn and vilify those who perform this sacred duty?
The double standard to which funeral directors are held is observable in a side-by-side comparison of how other industries have changed in contrast to the funeral business. The majority of companies now use automation or email in place of the personal approach of the past. The bar has been lowered considerably for almost every industry sector except the funeral profession. The enormous responsibility funeral directors have requires them to provide a higher level of a service to families with face-to-face communication and 24/7 availability. Although emerging technology has certainly streamlined funeral home operations, by and large the funeral profession remains a traditionally high-touch vocation with a stronger emphasis on personal interaction.
“Dedication” is not just a bullet point on a resume for those who work at a funeral home. Directors must present a professional demeanor and composure at all times. The time-sensitive demands of the business require practitioners be responsive and available to their community at all times. As the rest of the business world shifts towards automation, funeral directors continue to sacrifice time with their own families in order to provide support and comfort to the bereaved.
The fact is, funeral professionals should be recognized the same way we honor our community leaders. They are fulfilling an essential duty for humanity that most people are too afraid to even think about. They are extending themselves to the public far beyond what many would feel comfortable with. They devote themselves to the profession 100 percent, as death takes no vacation or days off. Where is the reverence these dedicated men and women deserve? Why aren't funeral directors valued more in our culture?
Perhaps we are too detached from the process. While planning a wedding can become an all-consuming mission for those involved, arranging a funeral in a few short days can be an alienating experience for family members. Unlike a wedding where every decision brings with it a sense of excitement and joy, selecting options for a funeral is like being continually reminded that a loved one is gone. As a consequence, families often leave the decisions to the funeral director and are unsatisfied later when they realize the service was not as they wanted.
As the media and entertainment industries continue to misrepresent the funeral business, many firms have taken great strides toward reinventing how they are perceived. A stronger emphasis on preplanning combined with an increase in personalized options have made the arrangement process easier and more comfortable for families. Other funeral directors have used new technology to stay connected with their clients at all times. The ASD Mobile app for iPhone and Android, for example, allows funeral directors to monitor all telephone activity from any location and offer families a truly personalized service by responding to their needs without delay. Many funeral homes have also leveraged the power of social media to establish an open dialogue with their community. These changes break down the invisible boundary that may exist between residents and their local funeral home, making the funeral process more familiar and less intimidating to the public.
Funeral homes have successfully shattered stereotypes by taking control of their own message. Taking advantage of the Internet’s power through websites, social sites, and online obituaries provides directors with an opportunity to separate themselves from the negative associations perpetrated by the media and entertainment industries. Creating an online campaign to support a local charity, sharing educational information or spreading the word about a holiday or grief education program allows funeral directors to be their own spokesperson instead of the media.
The best way to escape a sweeping generalization is to separate from the herd and lead by example. Societal perceptions will not change overnight, but by finding new and creative ways to connect with residents, funeral professionals have the power to change opinions in their own communities.
Kevin R. Czachor, Vice President & Family Member Owner of ASD – Answering Service for Directors, has helped develop telecommunication strategies for 25 percent of funeral homes located in North America. With a visionary approach to business, the ASD team has redefined the way Funeral Directors serve their families through combining unparalleled levels of training and advanced technology. Kevin can be reached at 800-868-9950 or via email at Kevin@myASD.com.
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