Being a Woman in the Death Care Industry
Growing up in a small rural area of Arkansas it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything just because I was a girl. The thought of working in the death care industry had crossed my mind a few times throughout high school but as a teenager I was more concerned with fitting in so I took the route of going to cosmetology school instead. After a few years of working in a salon I became bored and decided to move on to a new field, start a family, and was eventually laid off, which helped me make the decision to go back to school … funeral school.
The night before school started panic hit me. I thought “what if I’m the only woman in class?”
I was relieved to find that I was not the only girl but in fact that at least half of the students were female. I was surprised to learn that 57 percent of U.S. mortuary school graduates are women. The industry is definitely changing but it still shocks so many people to find out what my major is. The reactions I’ve received have ranged from nervous laughter to silence. I’ve even had a person that bluntly said “I didn’t realize women did that.”
I’m never offended by these reactions but I know that people look at me differently. I honestly don’t care if people think I’m odd. I believe the death care industry is extremely important to society and so often people chose to ignore that because we as a society do not like to think about death.
After a few months of classes I started an apprenticeship with a local family owned funeral home and I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to blend in as I had in the past with previous jobs. Most of the funeral homes in the area are family owned and consist of men fifty years and older.
When I was hired, I learned that there was no such thing as a dress code for women so we had to come to an agreement on what would be appropriate for death calls, visitations, and funerals. Another obstacle that I faced was the fact that all the men wore matching ties and suits on certain days of the week.
The owner offered to buy me a few reasonably priced suits if I could find something that closely matched theirs to “fit in.” I thanked him for the offer but thought to myself “A twenty six year old female is going to attract attention no matter what hanging around a funeral home.” Despite the age and gender difference I’ve still managed to jump right in with the guys and do what needs to be done.
The biggest problem I believe I have faced so far is the fact that men underestimate me being a woman. Because there is a fair amount of lifting involved in this line of work the men call upon each other for assistance completely overlooking me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe they ignore me to be rude but rather out of respect so I find myself constantly reminding them “I’m not as delicate and fragile as you think.” I do realize that I’m not always capable of doing everything alone but I’ve never let that stop me from pursuing my career.
Besides the obvious fact that hair dressing and makeup are not a challenge for me, being a woman in the industry is always a nice way to start a conversation when you find yourself working a funeral or visitation. I find it interesting how people are curious and seek me out to strike up conversations.
I love meeting new people especially the older generations. They always seem to be very eager to talk to me (especially the men) and find out why I do what I do. I tell them I enjoy my job because it’s not your ordinary 8-5 grind and you provide a service to families in need at the same time.
I never really thought much about it but I suppose a woman can be more approachable than a man when you are distressed and in need of comfort. It never ceases to amaze me when complete strangers open up to me and tell me how important a simple smile was to them as they passed me during the service.
When you think of important qualities that a funeral director should possess it would most certainly include being approachable, comforting, compassionate, and friendly so I think that we may have the upper hand in the so called boys club when it comes to that aspect. I’m certainly not saying that men aren’t capable of this but I think most men would agree that it may come more naturally for a woman. While I understand that this may not be the easiest profession for me to join I love the challenge and hope that other women will follow.
I’m a 26 year old single mom from Brookland, Arkansas. I expect to have my funeral degree by May 2013. When I’m not chasing a toddler I enjoy all things girly. I have a slight obsession with fingernail polish, and I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend who is also a funeral director.