Up until recently, I haven’t been open to speaking engagements, mainly because getting off work is a job all in itself. And I don’t like to fly … so there’s that.
But, with the addition of new staff at the funeral home, I’m a little more flexible. Anyways, here are some things on my calendar. If any of these events are applicable to you, I’d love to meet you … assuming I get up enough unction to step onto the plane (which I will because noise canceling headphone really help).
Sunday December 9th, 2018 11a.m. – 3p.m.
Only 75 tickets available
*Counts as Full Continuing Education Credits*
Please RSVP by Dec. 1st to firstname.lastname@example.org
This event is for Canadian funeral directors.
Thursday, February 7th at 7 PM
St. John’s Lutheran Church
7601 York Road, Towson, MD 21204
The event is free and all are welcome.
This event will be religious in nature.
Bernalillo, New Mexico
Friday, March 8, 2019
This event is for the New Mexico Funeral Service Association
When I work with younger people, I’ll usually give them my cell number so they can text me whenever they want. Texting is just so much less stressful and easier for those of us who grew up with cell phones, and it seems to be a comfort for the families when they know they can reach me via text anytime of the day.
This is a text exchange I had with a young mother who birthed stillborn twins. And I don’t share this to brag about my supposed sainthood in providing a free funeral to a bereaved mother. It’s the opposite really. Saintliness implies something extra good, or extra human, or god-like. This act was very much just basic, normal humanity. This is nothing exceptional.
Most funeral directors enter and stay in death care because we’ve experienced death and want to use our experience to help others who are experiencing the same. The best of us are grieving people helping grieving people.
Every funeral director I know heavily discounts, charges cost, or gives both services and goods for free when their “customer” is a child. It’s not a rule we were taught in funeral school. It’s not unspoken code. It’s just human.
And I guess I want you to know that death care workers are not saints, and unlike the many stereotypes, most of us aren’t sinners out to exploit the grieving public. We carry the same grief you do, and we know how far a little goodness and grace can go. So next time you see us in real life, or portrayed as a charlatan on TV, know that we’re neither saint or sinner. We’re very much like you . . . and just like you, when we see a grieving mother, we do what anyone would do by giving the best we can give.
A few years ago, Pop Pop stepped away from making funeral arrangements for a few reasons, namely that at 87 he’s outlived and buried most of his contemporaries, an accomplishment that would make some feel lonely, but for him it feels like completion. He was here for his friends and family when they needed him, and now that most of them are gone, he focuses on other things at the funeral home.
Even now, every once in a while, someone Pop Pop grew up with will die, so he puts on suit and tie and takes charge of the funeral arrangements. Today was one of those days. A 91 year old friend of our family passed, and Pop Pop met with her family.
I came down in the middle of the arrangements to grab some information (and snapped this photo in the process) so I could type an obituary draft for the family to read before they left. Pop Pop’s proud of me being in the business, as any family patriarch would be. When I entered the arrangement room to get the info, he started doing what grandfathers do when they’re proud of their grandson.
After talking about my book (he’s read it four times, or so he says), he started talking about passing off the business. He said, “I’d give it up, but I can’t. I’ve always loved my job, there’s nothing else I’d rather do, so why stop doing what I love just because I’m 87?”
There’s a number of things that make for a good life, and one of them is finding what you love, and somehow or another making it your profession. It’s rare that we do what we love, but when we do, it not only benefits us, it benefits everyone our work touches.
Pop Pop’s love for the business and the people he serves has benefited those people just as much as it’s benefited my Pop Pop. He might be 87 years old, but when he’s working with his people, it’s like his 87 year old body momentarily drinks from the fountain of youth. That’s the magic you find when you do what you love. And that magic spills over to the people you love.
There’s a reason our kids don’t ask Santa for a toy casket. And why Disney doesn’t offer a destination funeral experience.
When one of our loved ones die, it’s never fun.
It’s not pretty.
Death is impossibly hard.
It’s so, so very messy, circular, cloudy, vulnerable, and tiring.
It can hurt, it can be lonely, and the tragic kinds of death can literally ruin our lives.
It doesn’t “make us stronger.” It does, however, make us weaker . . . or maybe it’s best to say it helps us see just how fragile we really are.
Death is important.
It’s important because it tells the truth.
It tells the truth about who we are. And there’s so many things in our biology, in culture, in religion, and in ourselves that keeps us from talking about it.
Death positivity is the simple idea that death talk is okay. It’s good to talk about because even though death is like mud, it holds the vital ingredients to life.
One. Can I ask you a weird question?
THERE ARE NO WEIRD QUESTIONS. Dying, death and death care are clouded in a sense of mystery. After our loved ones die, they’re whisked away by the hospital staff, or by a funeral director. Once at the funeral home, the body is either transformed through embalming or cremation. That whole period — from death to disposition — offers all too many questions for the deceased’s loved one. This is why there are no weird questions. Ask us anything and everything and we’ll give you an honest answer.
Two. Can I help?
Firstly, this is YOUR loved one. It’s not ours. One of my sayings I like to tell families to reaffirm that idea is this: “you’ve loved and cared for them up to this point, so don’t stop now.” There are some things we can’t let you help with, like embalming, but there are a hundred other things like dressing your loved one, helping in the transfer, doing the hair, makeup and even riding in the hearse.
Three. Can you fix …?
If you’re having a viewing, it’s always good to pre-view your loved one before the public viewing. If mom’s hair is off, if the clothing isn’t on correctly, if it isn’t your mother lying in the casket … you need to ask us to fix that problem.
Four. Can I see your General Price List?
The General Price List shows the itemized list of our prices so you can make an intelligent financial decision when shopping for a funeral home. In fact, the Federal Trade Commissions requires us to give you this list. The FTC states, “You must give the General Price List to anyone who asks, in person, about funeral goods, funeral services, or the prices of such goods or services.”
Five. Can I have a little longer with my loved one?
OMG, yes. And any funeral director who responds otherwise should be fired. Remember, this is your loved one, not ours.
Six. Can you rub my back?
Embalmers generally massage the arms, legs, and face of the deceased to help with fluid distribution. So, we are able to massage. And even though your body might be strained from grief, we’re probably gonna say “no” to this question. Sorry. You’ve got be dead to get that service.
Seven. Can I watch …?
This is a valid question. Again, most funeral directors will say “no” if you ask to watch an embalming, but just about anything else is on the table. Many crematories will even let you hit the “start” button.
Eight. How can I save money?
Funeral directors should have YOUR best interest in mind, not their own. If you want an inexpensive funeral, the funeral director knows how to cut corners better than anyone. (And, just as free advice, this question should be asked BEFORE your loved one passes. Call around. Ask funeral homes for their GPL. And find one that you’re both comfortable working with, AND, is inexpensive. You could save a couple thousand just by shopping around.)
Nine. “Can you cut out the heart of my husband and have it cremated separately so I can put the heart ashes in a cremation locket? I want the cremation locket of his heart next to my heart.”
This was an actual question a widow asked a buddy funeral director. He said “no.”
Ten. Can you help me with …?
If we got into this work for anything than other than service we’re doing it entirely wrong. It’s not bad if we make money, but the main reason we’ve maintain a place in society is because we’ve helped you in your hardest moments. Good funeral directors are service oriented, and the best ones are both service-oriented and intelligently helpful.
If you like my writing, consider buying my 2017 Nautilus Book Award Gold Winner, Confession of a Funeral Director (click the image to go to the Amazon page):
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