Posts About Me
This article was posted in the Erie Sense magazine, a nationally distributed insurance mag. While all the quotes ascribed to me are mine, they may employ a slight hyperbole when describing me as a TV Star.
Three fresh-faced funeral directors discuss the job they love and how it changed their views on life—and life insurance.
By: Amanda Prischak
They’re young. They’re cool. And they’re… funeral directors?
Yes, such people do exist. And their insights into their profession might make you rethink everything you thought about it.
Another thing they might make you rethink? The need for life insurance, being that they see firsthand the role a good policy plays in covering final arrangements—and in providing for those left behind.
The Author (and Pinup Model)
Todd Harra, funeral director, McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes and Crematory, Wilmington, Del.
Thirty-year-old funeral director Todd Harra hasn’t just organized hundreds of services. He’s also coauthored Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt, a tell-all collection of short stories about being a funeral director, and served as Mr. January in the 2008 edition of the Men of Mortuaries male calendar. (Both sold very well.)
“I like my job’s personal interaction and that each day is different—though that can be the most aggravating part,” says Todd, a fourth-generation funeral director who often works during major holidays.
Easing the stress of a loved one’s passing is preparation. “People are so grateful when life insurance kicks in to pay for a service,” he says. (As we reported in “Why do funerals cost so much?”, the average funeral costs $9,111.)
Unfortunately, not all cases are so smooth. “I’ve seen a lot of sad situations in which we’ve had to counsel families into a less expensive service with a more economical casket, eliminate the limo service or even switch to a cremation instead of a full burial,” says Todd. “You see family members dipping into their 401(k)s, scrounging for a loan or requesting donations to cover funeral expenses in lieu of flowers.”
Lori Diaz, funeral director, Diehl-Whittaker Funeral Services, Columbus, Ohio
For Lori, a career in the funeral industry happened by chance. “I researched funeral homes for a class in grad school,” the 37-year-old wife and mother of two teenage girls remembers. “I thought it would be a good fit for me, so I decided to do an apprenticeship.”
Her hunch was spot-on. “I love helping people, and I feel like I’m making a difference,” says Lori, who works at the oldest African-American-owned and run mortuary in Columbus, Ohio, and is a regular blogger on funeraldivas.com. “I walk families through a difficult time and help them plan a celebration of their loved one’s life. I don’t deal with the dead—I deal with the living,” she says.
Lori, an ERIE Customer with Andrew Insurance Associates in Powell, Ohio, says her on-the-job experiences shaped her views on life insurance.
“I see families all the time scaling down a service or delaying it a week so they can borrow money,” she says. “It’s so worth it to have even a small policy to take care of arrangements—not to mention taking care of the loved ones left behind.”
She continues, “I have a policy and wish others would educate themselves. I often see how even a small, inexpensive policy can help a grieving family immensely in the aftermath of someone passing.”
The TV Star
Caleb Wilde, funeral director, Wilde Funeral Home, Parkesburg, Pa.
Caleb always wanted to help people, but he never thought his sixth-generation family business would be the vehicle to do that. Instead, he did overseas humanitarian work. But that funding stream dwindled, so he returned home—to the funeral home, that is.
Since then, the 30-year-old has launched “Confessions of a Funeral Director,” a blog featuring his insights into the profession, the grieving process and mortality. It attracts 20,000 to 30,000 readers every month—and the eye of 20/20, which recently broadcasted a clip of Caleb’s musings on being a funeral director.
“We are like mainstream pastors who provide comfort to those in pain,” he explains. “Some people do paperwork—we do people work.”
Still, there’s only so much he and the staff at the 162-year-old Wilde Funeral Home can do to ease certain pains. “Every few months, I plan the service of a deceased breadwinner who had no contingency plan,” says Caleb, who bought a life insurance policy before adopting a son earlier this year. “I remember one gentleman who passed away unexpectedly without a life insurance policy, leaving his wife and four kids to fend for themselves—it was incredibly sad.”
Exacerbating the problem is the growing trend of funeral homes requiring full payment up front. “We don’t do it, but families facing that situation undergo a massive amount of stress, especially when they have to downgrade a service,” he says.
Though he acknowledges that it’s hard to talk about dying, Caleb says there are many benefits to doing so.
“Planning ahead for the unexpected can help you live more fully and have peace of mind knowing your loved ones will be taken care of.”
This past week my good friend J.R. Briggs interviewed me over at his blog. J.R. is one of my favorite people in the whole entire world. We met each other in a seminary class on the history of hermeneutics. And while the class was mostly exciting, the duller moments were filled with us trading IM conversations.
J.R. describes himself as such: Husband. Daddy. Friend. Author. Shepherd. Teacher. Follower of Jesus. Church planter. Peace-maker. Rule-breaker. Dreamer.
J.R.’s mentor and pastor is Eugene Peterson (the author of The Message [J.R. and Eugene wrote a book together called "The Message//REMIX Solo"). Eugene is Bono's (of U2 fame) pastor. Thanks to J.R., I'm can totally say that I know someone, who knows someone who is Bono's mentor. Really me and Bono are like besties 4 eva! Holla at my boy!
You can catch J.R. interview of me here.
Also, catch J.R.'s latest post entitled, "[ 10 ] Ways to Help Those Who Are Grieving“. It’s a fantastic post, full of wisdom.
Two weeks ago ABC’s 20/20 came out to Parkesburg and filmed me on site at the funeral home for about an hour and a half.
Somebody at the studio had been reading my blog and thought I’d fit into a segment called “True Confessions.”
As a condition to the interview, I asked the producer to be respectful toward my family’s business as I didn’t want our 160 year old reputation to be sullied in a two minute nationally televised TV show. They accepted my stipulation, so I agreed to the interview.
I only told a couple friends that 20/20 was interviewing me (actually, I don’t think I told anyone … my immediate family did most of the telling … and I told them not to tell too many people because I was afraid I’d look like a moron). It aired last Friday and I think one or two of you caught it and gave me a text/tweet/facebook shout out.
John Berman was the interviewer. He was a pleasant person. Harvard educated. A New England sports fan. Very relaxed and generous in person.
The producer was a tall, pensive, well-spoken man. At one point I say, “People sometimes buy (caskets) out of guilt.” That line was at the producer’s prompt. The association between guilt and an expensive funeral fancied him.
The camera and sound crew were all local guys who were independent contractors. Some were out of West Chester, others out of Philly. And I liked them all … the main cameraman was especially entertaining (did you know that professional cameras start at around $70,000?).
I had my suit dry cleaned, bought a new dress shirt and tie, created and purchased “Wilde Funeral Home” t-shirts for all the crew and had one sleepless night all for two minutes of national televised face time.
Even though they forgot to post my twitter handle on air, it was a good experience and so far (based off the responses I’ve received) the Parkesburg community seems to be proud of the fact that 20/20 came out to Parkesburg.
Here’s a couple behind the scenes shots.
Here’s the video.