Every business has its pitfalls … traps that can ensnare our lives and our relationships with ourselves, our family and our friends.  Here are ten traps in the funeral industry that can hurt the personal lives of its workers.

One.  Perfectionism

Mistakes are always magnified by a high level of emotional intensity.  If you’re not a perfectionist when you enter the funeral industry, you will be when you leave it.  There’s a thousand details involved in a funeral and every one has to be right.  Perfectionism isn’t bad per se; in fact, it’s a good thing for the funeral practitioner.  What I struggle with is when I bring that perfectionism home to my spouse, to my son, to my friends.

Two.  Lack of Boundaries

Work has never hurt me.  Good work is fuel to the body and soul.  And the funeral business is good work.  It’s easing an otherwise impossible task for the bereaved.  In fact, it’s such good work that many directors marry this business.  It’s easy to marry this business.

To commit to it as your first love.  It’s easy to pledge your heart to this one thing and no other.

It’s easy to let your own family take second in your priority list.

It’s easy to allow your personal life to get swallowed up by the voracious appetite of death care.

As long as you’re on call (and many of us are on call 24/7), you’re tied to the business.  That’s okay.  We’re here to respond to both life needs and death needs; but, the fact that it’s nearly impossible to “leave” work at work, is why it’s easy to capitulate to the funeral industry’s proposal.  And once you marry this business, it’s really hard to divorce it.

Three. Psychosis.

Psychologist Carl Rogers described how he “literally lost my “self”, lost the boundaries of myself…and I became convinced (and I think with some reason) that I was going insane”.  When we in human service, and death service, become pulled into the whole narrative of death and dying, we can lose ourselves.  When we can’t separate our personal lives from our business life, we’ve probably gone beyond the boundaries of normalcy and into psychosis.

Four.  Money, money, money, MO – NEY. 

You can make money in this business.  Like every business, you can make honest money and dishonest money.  Unfortunately, in this business, because of the confusion of grief and the lack of price standardization, there’s opportunity to make dishonest money.  Don’t sell your soul.  One of the greatest regrets dying people have on their deathbed is that they worked too hard and didn’t spend more time with their family and friends.

Five. Isolation by Profession.

Death makes us different … not necessarily unique, just different.  This difference creates a chasm between us and those not immersed in death.  Like police, doctors, psychologist, etc. have chasms created by their professions, ours creates us into something other.  And when we’re isolated by our job, sometimes it’s easy to simply disconnect to those who don’t understand us.

Six.  Codependency

Most people enter the funeral industry because they love to serve others.  The desire to serve/help/love is a healthy response to bereaved persons.  The unhealthy side is when those service oriented people of the funeral industry use the the grief buzz of the funeral industry to satisfy their own emotional needs.  People who become codependent on the funeral industry place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.  Codependency is a trap.

Seven. Narcissism

Unfortunately, many funeral directors become narcissists (the funeral industry also has a tendency to harbor narcissists who gravitate towards the pomp and professionalism of funeral service).  And while it would be easy to simply call these guys and girls “jerks”, the situation is usually more complex.  For many, the tendency for funeral directors to become self-absorbed isn’t a product of nature, but of nurture.  And when we give in to Narcissism, we’ll do anything to protect our image.

Eight.  Pretentious Bosses and Coworkers

In addition to narcissistic funeral directors, there’s also a bunch of pretentious funeral directors (I suppose the two go hand in hand).  Pretentiousness is so rampant in this industry it was even noted by FTC’s investigative report on funeral industry practices.  That’s right, one of the reasons the funeral rule exists is because funeral directors pump up their image.  We have a history of pretentiousness, as one of the main thrusts behind the rise of mortuary schools and the various associations at the turn of the twentieth century was to put us on the same plain as medical doctors, an attempt that is pretentious in itself.

The FTC writes, “the industry tends to promote the professional image and fight anything that would interfere with it or would … come between it and the consumer …. The more the public accepts the professional role, the less it will inquire, shop or bargain, and the greater the opportunity for high mark – ups.”

You’ll find many of the pompous “professionals” in the funeral industry and many of them can make your life a living hell.

Nine.  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.

Ten.  Emotional Displacement

And we often displace our suppressed 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.


If you’ve fallen into any of these traps (and believe me, I think we’ll all fall into at least one trap in our career), there’s always help and there’s always a way out.

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 falls into one of these traps, there’s rarely someone there to council you.

And maybe it’s time to change that.  Maybe it’s time we start recognizing the traps of this industry.

So, if you’re trapped right now, let me encourage you: seek help.  If you’re robbing your family and friends, the people you serve and yourself, it’s time to make a change.

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