Funeral directors can crack anytime of the year, but during the winter, it seems our mental state becomes much more vulnerable to suffering from the occupational hazards of burnout, compassion fatigue and depression.  Sure, many of us who live in the colder climates of the world suffer through the winter blues; but for those in funeral service, winter often means more sickness, more death and more stress placed upon our shoulders.

Death runs strong before, during and after the holidays … and then somewhere before the start of spring, it seems he pulls a double shift.  And as those who follow Death’s movements, we too start pulling the double shifts.

After a month or so of pulling long days, we reach a point and suddenly we feel like we have nothing left to give.  So, we push through our exhaustion and it isn’t too long before we morph into stress induced monsters.  Yes, monsters.

Death is wild.  It has no desire to be tamed.  And it’s a capricious boss.  It doesn’t follow a schedule.  It doesn’t listen to our cries for reprieve.  It doesn’t stop when we’re exhausted.  We have no control.

And this lack of control is the problem.  Since death doesn’t hear our complaints, since it can’t be fought and subdued, we funeral directors will often displace our aggression onto ourselves and our families.  And this is where the monster is made.

Pedersen, Gonzales, & Miller write that,

“Displaced aggression is thought to occur when a person who is initially provoked cannot retaliate directly against the source of that provocation and, instead, subsequently aggresses against a seemingly innocent target.”

This “seemingly innocent target” is usually those around us: our spouses, our children, our friends and ourselves.

It’s in these time of burnout that some of us start to drink more heavily; some of us will see our families fall apart before our eyes; and others (like me) will spiral down into deep dark places of depression.  Those in the funeral industry can suffer burnout anytime of the year; but during this time of the year particularly, the road can become very difficult.

Often we don’t realize we’re burnt out until it’s too late.  We’ve been working so hard trying to stay on top of the funerals we’re arranging that we simply don’t have time to reflect and take stock of our personal lives.  Our schedules become so busy that we stop going to the gym, we stop eating healthy, getting enough sleep; and we let our hobbies fall on the wayside.

And out of nowhere our partner leaves us.

Out of nowhere we’re contemplating suicide.

Out of nowhere we’re using a destructive coping mechanism to get through the stress of Death’s spree.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve noticed that the funeral industry doesn’t offer a good support system when it comes to the personal mental and physical health of its workers.  When one of us gets burnt out, there’s rarely someone there to council you.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see those in funeral service being encouraged to see out professional help from psychologists.

And maybe it’s time to change that.  Maybe it’s time we start recognizing that it happens often in this industry.  Maybe it’s time to start doing something about it.

So, if you’re burnt out right now, let me encourage you: seek help.  It’s not okay for you to be burnt out.  In fact, you’re robbing your family and friends, the people you serve and yourself.  You are NOT strong enough to do this on your own.  It’s time to overcome the monster.

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