Me and my son on a hike.

Here’s 10 coping methods I’ve seen funeral directors use.

The first five are coping methods that are negative techniques.

The last five are positive coping methods.  One or more of these methods MUST be used if a person is to stay in this profession AND maintain a healthy personal and family life.


One.  Displacement.

Funeral service is a business that is both uncontrollable and unpredictable.  Since funeral directors can’t control death and death’s schedule, we attempt to control those things and/or people that we DO have power over.  We too often take out our frustrations, fears and anger on those closest to us.

Two.  Attack.

And we often displace those emotions on those closest to us with some kind of aggression.  In an attempt to cope and find a sense of control in our uncontrolled and unpredictable world, we will often emotionally and verbally manipulate and control our family, co-workers, employees, associates and those closest to us, making us seem nearly bi-polar as we treat the grieving families that we serve with love and support and yet treat our staff and family with all the emotional turmoil that we’re feeling inside.

Three.  Emotional Suppression.

We are paid to be the stable minds in the midst of unstable souls.  We withhold and withhold and withhold and then … then the floodgates open, turning our normally stable personality into a blithering, sobbing mess, or creating a monster of seething anger and rage.  During different occasions, I have become both the mess and the monster.  The difficulty is only compounded by the fact that you just cannot make your spouse or best friend understand how raising the carotid artery of a nine-month old infant disturbs your mind.

Four.  Self-harm.

We cope with alcohol.  I know a number who attempt to waste their troubles away with a bottle.

Substance abuse.

Sexual callousness.  The sexual philandering that occurred in Six Feet Under was not just for higher TV ratings.

Five.  Trivializing.

Compassion fatigue happens to all of us in funeral service.  If we can’t bounce back from the fatigue, we begin a journey down the road to callousness.  Once calloused, we tell ourselves that “death isn’t as bad as ‘these people’ are making it seem.”  Once we trivialize the grief and death we see, we can easily justify charging the hell out of the families we serve.


Six.  Avoidance.

If this business is wrecking your life and the lives of those around you, then salvage what you have left and quit this business.  Quitting doesn’t make you a failure.  Quitting doesn’t make you weak.  You know more than anyone that you only have one life to life.  Live it to its fullest by doing something that breathes life into your soul.

Seven.  Altruism.

Learn to love serving others.  Probably the best means to cope with the funeral business is found in the people we serve.  Love them intentionally and don’t be afraid to find joy in meeting their needs.  Don’t be afraid to hear their stories and become apart of their family.

Eight.  Problem-solve.

Don’t be passive with the burdens you carry.   Actively attempt to find positive ways to deal with your burden.  Exercise.  Eat better.  Take a vacation.  Go out with your friends.  If you can’t shed your burdens on your own, seek counseling.  Find a psychologist.  Find a psychiatrist.  Talk out your problems with someone wiser than you.

Nine.  Spiritual Community and Personal Growth.

Using religion as an opiate to ignore reality is something I speak AGAINST on a regular basis.  Instead, seek a community where there’s faith authenticity.  Find people who can encourage you with their love and support as you worship together and ponder the mysteries and truths of a better world.

Ten.  Benefit-finding.

Emerson said, “When it is darkest men see the stars.”  We try our best to deny the darkness of death; we consciously and unconsciously build our immortality projects, hoping that we can live immortally through them.

And then death.  Weeping.  Our projects come tumbling down.  And it’s in those ashes, in the pain, in the grief, through the tears, we see beauty in the darkness.  This is a perspective that funeral directors are privy to view on a constant basis.  And, in many cases, the darkness can be beautiful.

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