The funeral process is an important event that is not often thought about until the time comes when someone dear to us passes away. Some people may misconceive that they do not need assistance with planning the service and attending to the body, however once they begin the process they will soon see the preparations can be overwhelming to the untrained individual. This process can be even more difficult for someone who is in a state of bereavement (G. Swearingen, personal communication, October 26, 2013). Enter the funeral director. Funeral directors have the important job of helping people plan the perfect goodbye for their loved ones. The funeral directing career can be challenging due to the sensitive context in which it takes place and work-related stressors.
Funeral directors have an array of duties vital to the funeral centers they work for. They are responsible for meeting with the deceased person’s family in order to determine details of the funeral service, burial, visitation or cremation (E. Lindstrand, communication, October 31, 2013). Directors may also handle paperwork, such as submitting documents to officials in order to receive the death certificate. (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The directors must also communicate with other employees, such as counselors, who are in charge of helping families choose tombstones or plaques and showing them the cemetery property (G. Swearingen, personal communication, October 26, 2013). What makes these duties all the more challenging is the emotional environment it takes place in.
Like many careers, there is a high level of multi-tasking involved in funeral directing, but unlike others, directors work in an incredibly sensitive environment. Directors must arrange for many details simultaneously, sometimes within 24-72 hours of the death and may be working on multiple funerals at the same time (Bureau Labor of Statistics). Another demanding aspect is that many directors are also on-call twenty four hours a day (E. Lindstrand, personal communication, October 31, 2013). In addition, directors work in an environment that is often quiet, somber, and at times, melancholy (Hyland & Morse 1995). Funeral directors also have the distinctive duty of creating a sympathetic and supportive environment for their clients and forming a professional, caring relationship for a brief period of time (Hyland & Morse 1995). Funeral directors must not only work efficiently but empathically as well, which can be emotionally and professionally taxing.
Funeral directing produces a unique set of stressors. This includes the lack of boundary between personal and professional life, depression, isolation due to profession, workaholism, and a preoccupation with death (Wilde 2012). As funeral director Caleb Wilde states: “To grasp the kind of stress surrounding a funeral, imagine planning a wedding in five days, except where there’s joy, sadness exists, and where there’s usually a bride, a body lies in state.” While Wilde further describes his career as rewarding because of the assistance he provides, he does not contest the burdens inherent in his profession. Death itself can be very stress-inducing so it is not difficult to imagine how challenging a career is that includes both the anxiety of death and the pressures of an everyday business.
The funeral directing profession influences the perception of death and aging for those involved in this field. Constant interaction with the bereaved and being surrounded by the reality of death can engrave the adage “life is short” in a funeral director’s mind (E. Lindstrand, personal communication, October 31, 2013). As one funeral arranger (someone who performs essentially the same duties as a director without the director’s license) puts it: “We live in a culture that tries to put death out of our mind,” but when dealing with death is an everyday occurrence, it becomes natural to think about death and preparing for it (E. Lindstrand, personal communication, October 31, 2013). Regardless, bereavement is a painful process. When asked if the elderly seem to handle grief better, Lindstrand says they may be calmer during the initial preparations but still become emotional during the service and burial (personal communication, October 31, 2013). Thus it seems that even though older people have had more time to mentally prepare for it, death is no less difficult.
Funeral directors have a career that is truly unlike many others. Due to the emotional environment and the work-related stressors unique to its field, funeral directing can be very demanding. While directors might seem fortunate to have an innate job security (there will always be people dying), the relentless necessity to deal with death, remain professional yet compassionate, and still operate within a traditional business is a task not for the faint-hearted.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012, March 29). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Funeral Directors. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/funeral-directors.htm
Confessions of a Funeral Director. (2012, July 16). 10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry. Retrieved from http://www.calebwilde.com/2012/07/10-burdens-funeral-directors-carry/
Hyland, L., & Morse, J. M. (1995). Orchestrating comfort: The role of funeral directors. Death Studies, 19(5), 453-474. doi:10.1080/07481189508253393