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Five Creepy Personality Types in the Funeral World

Today’s guest post is from Chrissy Kulcsar:

For some reason, it seems like the funeral business attracts very ‘unique’ people.  And by ‘unique’, I mean weird. I’m not saying I’m normal by any means.

So with this being said, let me describe to you the ‘wonderful’ personalities you may encounter in the funeral world!!

Example #1: The stereotypical ’funeral director personality’: dry, unfriendly, and very cold.

I just don’t get it- why do people who have made a commitment to serve their community have the personality of a … well, I guess the right term would be a CORPSE. The monotone voice, lack of personality, and the thin lipped, barely-cracking-a-smile thing is just … off putting. It gives us all a bad name, since that’s how most people expect us to be like. I’ve met my fair share of Lurches, and its scary.

Example #2: The embalmer that clearly never speaks to live people anymore.

Now, I’m not saying all people turn into this.  There’s times that I love not working with live people. The dead don’t talk back, nag you, or get annoying. They stay nice and quiet. But there are some people out there that seem to have lost the ability to talk to live people, co-workers and people in their personal life.

You want to meet a “socially retarded” person? Well… this is the type of guy (or lady). This type of person sometimes goes out of their way to be creepy. I’ve seen them pretend that nothing is too gross for them to deal with. The overly macho thing comes out a lot. I think most of the time, their personality just sucked and being a mortician made it even worse.

Example #3: The used car salesman.

Probably one of the most irritating things to listen to is directors pushing merchandise on people.

I’ve heard directors talking up merchadise like a car, and it makes you want to puke. This (besides the Lurch thing) is what gives this whole business a terrible image, taking advantage of people when they are very vulnerable.

I was lucky; when I was an apprentice, my boss told me that merchandise isn’t as important as the service you give to a family. As a result, I’m horrible at selling caskets, but I can’t say that bothers me.

Example #4: The ‘Player’ Funeral Director.

I know what you’re thinking, how is that even possible? For some reason, it happens. So many men I met in this business are CREEPS! Cheating on their wives, having a ‘love child’ with the local town deputy, hitting on the interns … it just boggles the mind.

I know what you are thinking. No matter what profession men and women are, there’s going to be weird sexual tension, affairs, you name it. It just creeps me out that some dude is staring at my behind when I’m trying to move a dead guy.

Example #5 The Straight Up Jerk.

This seems to dominate all the bad personalities I’ve come across. Seriously, this business is FULL of them. I didn’t realize it until I got licensed. My first boss always told me, “every funeral director out there is an A******!” I wrote this off at first as him just being old and cynical … but folks … its true.

Sorry to everyone just starting out doing this, you are going to come in contact with a ton of jerks. Its like high school all over again, but half these people are in their 40′s and 50′s. The passive aggressiveness, the two faced, smiley and bull talking; everyone pretends to be friends when they all secretly hate each other.

Just warning you out there, when you’re an apprentice, its one thing. The minute you get your license, you’re a threat. So don’t let these guys Lumbergh your experience.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! To those considering this career path, don’t let these horrible personalities take over. Its hard enough dealing with the creepo’s we have.

*****

Today’s guest post is from Chrissy Kulcsar.

Chrissy is a director and embalmer licensed in N.J. and AK.

She has been working in the funeral business for the past eight years, completing her internship and education in New Jersey.

When Ebola Takes Your Soul: Reflecting on Funerals and Ebola

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic

The CDC has already issued directions for morticians in the US regarding deceased cases with Ebola.  It’s a “better safe than sorry” admonition that reads, “Do not perform embalming. The risks of occupational exposure to Ebola virus while embalming outweighs its advantages; therefore, bodies infected with Ebola virus should not be embalmed.”  And farther, “Remains should be cremated or buried promptly in a hermetically sealed casket” (Via CDC).

Unlike most pathogens, the Ebola virus lives for an unknown period of time after a victim’s death (Via Scientific American).  Unfortunately, the assumption that the virus dies along with the deceased has been a major cause of its spread in parts of Africa where touching and handling the body is a common practice for the deceased’s living family members.  Some have claimed that ‘Up to 50% of victims catch Ebola at funerals’ (Via RT.com).

One case in point is that of the former Miss Liberia beauty queen, Shurina Weah.  Shurina’s sister died and even though her sister’s death certificate ruled out Ebola, shortly after the funeral was held numerous family and friends contracted the virus, many become sick and some – including the beauty queen Shurina herself – died (although the family continues to claim that Shurina died of malaria).

And this is the problem that’s being presented in Liberia: Not all deaths are able to be investigated.  Some could be due to malaria and some could be due to Ebola.  Since no one knows for sure, all deaths are being treated as potential Ebola cases.  And as of August, the Liberian government has declared that all deceased persons should be cremated (there are a few exceptions).

Now before you fall into the Ebola hysteria, remember that if you’re a US citizen you’re more likely to be killed by a falling vending machine than from Ebola.  More people in the US have supposedly died from spontaneous combustion than from Ebola.   And there’s less US citizens who have died of Ebola than have been married to Kim Kardashian.

For the Liberians, it’s a different story.  Not only are people dying, but their very death culture is being circumvented by government decreed cremation.  Traditionally, Liberian mourners bathe the body of the deceased, they clothe it and many even kiss the deceased as a token of farewell.   Per TIME:

The government directive, while logical from an epidemiological aspect, has taken a toll on a society already traumatized by Ebola’s sweep. It denies communities a final farewell, and has led to standoffs with the Dead Body Management teams who must pick up the dead even as the living insist that the cause of death was measles, or stroke, or malaria — anything but Ebola. “We take every body, and burn it,” says Nelson Sayon, who works on one of the teams. Dealing with the living is one of the most difficult aspects of his job, he says, because he knows how important grieving can be. “No one gets their body back, not even the ashes, so there is nothing physical left to mourn.”

Monrovia’s mass cremations, which take place in a rural area far on the outskirts of town, happen at night, to minimize the impact on neighboring communities. For a while the bodies were simply burned in a pile; now they are placed in incinerators donated by an international NGO. There are so many that it can sometimes take all night, says Sayon. )

For many people groups, death rites are foundational for the community’s ethos … for the community’s soul.  And when those death rites are denied, the community struggles for life.  And while the US will probably never have a Liberian experience with Ebola, I can’t help but think how mandated cremation (and/or direct burial) would affect our death culture here in the states.

Actually, I’m not sure our death culture would change all that much.  Because I’m not sure we have a death culture.  Here in the U.S. and the West, we view death (per Philippe Ariès) as “invisible death”, where dying is handled by institutions and the dead are handled by “funeral professionals” who make it as clean as possible.

Unless we’re a part of a traditional religious community, I’m not sure many of us have death rites.  And I know that few of us touch the dead like other cultures do.  Few of us are involved in ritual washing and dressing of the body.  Few of us see meaning in embracing the dead with a kiss … in fact, some probably see it as creepy.  In the US, we already treat our dead as if they have Ebola.

Luckily for us in the Western world, our death culture doesn’t have a “soul”, so we don’t have to worry about Ebola taking it.  If fact, government mandated cremation and direct burial might suit our death culture very nicely.

TEDx Talk: “Embracing Death”

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The North American leap from a culture of healthy death acceptance to a culture of death denial has been no leap at all. It’s been a journey of small steps. And this journey has, in part, been enabled by both the professionalization of death and the funeral industry. In this talk, I explore options that help us pursue death acceptance by taking back death care responsibilities.

 

How Heaven Can Hurt Grief Work

I have some problems with the idea of heaven.  I know, you might hate me for saying that.

The Barna Group says 81% of Americans believe in the afterlife.

The Washington Post quotes 75%.

The Council of Secular Humanism states 55% definitely believe in life after.

Anyway you look at, the majority of us believe in life after death.

My problem has less to do with the idea of the afterlife and more to do with HOW we use it. The afterlife is powerful; and like most powerful things, its easily abused.  The easiest abuse that arises is that we can pay more attention to the life after than the life here and now.  As the saying goes, we become so heavenly focused that we become no earthly good.

This plays out especially during death and dying.

The “Don’t grieve, deary, your husband is with Jesus” cliché death-related responses hit right at the heart of what I’m trying to communicate.

To start with, religious believers have a very difficult time accepting their grief as legitimate because many worship a god who is impassible … who is without emotion.  We emulate what we worship and nothing is unhealthier than humanity trying to act like their unemotive deity during times of distress, pain and death.

Compound this unemotive deity with the belief that death isn’t really real … that death is the pathway to another life … that we shouldn’t grieve because “your husband is with Jesus” and we have a recipe for disastrous dishonesty about our pain in death.

Religious people tend to downplay tragedy with clichés like:

“It’s God’s will”

“God meant it for good.”

“We don’t always understand God’s mysterious plans.”

And in the same way, we use the powerful antidote of the afterlife to downplay our grief and pain during times of death:

“At least you know he’s in a better place.”

“You can be happy to know she’s in the arms of Jesus.”

All this speaks to repression, delusion and the tendency to skip the first four stages of Kubler-Ross’ model and go right to a faux form of “acceptance.”

And this is why I think it’s unhealthy.  It’s unhealthy because it can too easily take away your grief work.  It’s a “get out of pain for free” card that all too many play to the detriment of their personal growth.  In the same way that I disdain a person buying a fake online PhD, so do I distain this attempt to skip the labor of grief, the growth of grief and the personal evaluation that inevitably comes with death.

Heaven’s the trump card.

The “Easy Button”.

We become so heavenly minded that we’re no good at grief.  We can become so heavenly focused, that we forget the here and now.  We see death as unreal, as almost fake; and we become just like our view of it.

 

Blessed are the Fighters, for They Shall Inherit Good Funerals

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Last month we had a large service for Tommy, a 40-something father of two, brother of two, half-brother of three, step brother of one, son of two parents, and step-son of two step-parents. All loved him – his entire blended family and the 600-plus people who came to his memorial service.

After those 600 people expressed their condolences to the grieving and exhausted family, the service began. It’s become a good trend to allow a sharing time during the service, and this service was on trend. It gives family and friends the opportunity to eulogize (though often it devolves into an open mic to say whatever the hell you want about the deceased).

The unorthodox,

frequently unrehearsed,

sometimes funny,

often revealing

short little eulogies change the pace and welcome back the dead in both the audience and in the casket. At services like the one today, people have been waiting over four hours in the pews for the visitation to end. They are hungry, tired, and grieving, and a hot head blowing his air in the form of a sermon can put them in a daze faster than a punch to the face.

But these listless and lackluster mourners miraculously perked up when the family stepped up to the pulpit to share.

The deceased’s dad told the story, when — at the age of 10 — Tommy played hooky for a couple days. After Tommy’s dad got a call from the school principal, he hurried home to find his son fishing in a little thing “you could barely call a stream.” When he asked why Tommy had been skipping school, Tommy responded that he’d been getting picked on at school. Tommy’s dad did what any good dad does – he taught Tommy how to fight. Apparently, he taught him too well.

This theme of “Tommy was a fighter” found its way into each of the five spontaneous eulogies: Tommy liked to fight.  Sometimes physically, but always figuratively.  Tommy knew what he wanted and he’d fight for it.  He’d fight for his family, for his friends and, even though he’d eventually lose, he fought for his life.

Over the years I’ve noticed something about fighters: they get the good funerals. Seriously. Fighters stand for something. Fighters value and believe in something. For every one enemy, they have five friends. People-pleasers, teacher’s pets, and “yes men” have the boring, we’re-all-here-because-we-have-to-be funerals. But fighters? They have friends till death and beyond. Their friends stand up and share crazy stories at the funeral.

Tommy’s friends will be there for his kids, supporting them with time and even money if needed.  In a way, Tommy’s fighting spirit will live on in his friends and family.

****

There’s a simple recipe for a good funeral. It goes like this:

1.  The deceased LOVED others.

2.  The deceased FOUGHT for those she/he loved (I’m NOT talking about the fist to face type of fighting, I’m talking about the figurative passionate pursuit of something we love and value … the pursuit of which is often bereft with hardship and pain and struggle).

Fighting does something to us.  The struggle does something to us.  To borrow a line from Fight Club, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Fighters know their limits.  And they know what they value.  And they know how much they’re willing to risk.  They’re confident in who they are.

So, what do you fight for?  And who do you love?

If you can answer those questions, let your funeral director know that when you die, she/he should be prepared for one helluva funeral.

 

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