Author: Stephan Ridgway Author URL: Title: Raj’s funeral Year: 2011 Source: Flickr Source URL: License: Creative Commons Attribution License License Url: License Shorthand: CC-BY

You joined this business because at some point in your life you realized that you could do something good in death care.

Maybe you lost a loved one, and you wanted to use your pain and experience to help others walk through the difficulty.

Maybe a funeral director’s love and helpfulness inspired you to want to be the same.

Maybe you felt called to the dismal trade, knowing that deep inside you resides a resilience that few other people possess.

Whatever your reason for working in death care, the end was clear: you pursued this profession because you knew something good could come of it.

Then you started to look for a job.  And the market was much tougher than you realized.  The business was harder to crack than you could have imagined.  The family-run funeral homes that you wanted to work for didn’t have any open positions.  And the large, machine-like homes only offered positions with tough hours and cheap pay.

Whatever your story, you either ended up at a funeral home that you thought was great, or you ended up at a funeral home that was less than ideal.


For some of you, you worked your way up from the bottom.  You put in your due.  The night shifts.  You worked on holidays.  You cleaned the prep room.  You parked the cars.  You mowed the lawn.  You worked with Larry, the son-in-law of the owner who constantly makes off-color and sometimes sexist jokes.

Or maybe you got stuck with Robert, the owner’s nephew who slacks off, rarely pulls his weight, and constantly complains.

Then there’s John/Johanna, the supervisor.  When he/she’s in front of the public, he/she’s the consummate professional: caring, compassionate and consistent.  But when he/she’s out of the spotlight, his/her ability to supervise is nowhere near his/her ability to be a funeral director.  His/her temper is short, he/she blames failures on everyone else except himself/herself and the only time you’ve ever seen him/her smile is when he/she’s bragging about himself/herself or leaving for vacation.

You’ve finally worked your way up the ladder and now you’re making arrangements … doing the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Except, you’re not just expected to care for people, you’re expected to care primarily for the bottom-line of the business.  The tag-line of the funeral home would imply that families come first, but the truth you’re realizing more and more is that it’s really the dollar.

Upsell the caskets.

Upsell the packages.

Push embalming.

Obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate so that families don’t know the money saving options.

Use lines like, “This is the casket your loved one deserves.”

And, “This casket honors your dad’s life like no other.”

Or whatever line the kids are using these days.


First off, if this is you, I’m sorry.

Unmet expectations are difficult to digest.  Lousy supervisors make a difficult job even more demanding.  And finding out that — for some funeral homes — it really ISN’T all about service … finding out that many of these dudes are in it for the money … that discovery is enough to deflate the reason you pursued this career in the first place.

There’s a couple options for you at this point:  Sometimes, the good funeral director in a bad funeral home holds onto his/her job.  They kowtow to the system because — let’s face it — it might not be the best income, but it’s a job.

Some quit.  Let me correct myself … many quit.  They’ll go looking for a better funeral home with better people.  And those funeral homes are out there.  They really are.

Others will try to start their own funeral home, or buy out an old one so that they can implement their original vision of what death care should look like.

But for many, they wash their hands of this industry and make the healthy choice to find another profession.

To the good funeral director currently working at a bad funeral home, I’m not going to promise you that it get’s better.  Some things don’t get better.  Some things need to be burnt down (I’m talking figuratively of course).  Some things can be changed, through hard work and a labor of love, to be something better.  Some things need to be abandoned.

Whoever you are.  Wherever you’re at.  Let me say this: death care needs you, but you don’t need it.

If you entered this business with a heart to serve, YOU are what families need when they encounter a sudden death and have minimal funds.  YOU are what families need when they just want someone to honestly tell them their options.  YOUR ability to bring some sense of order to chaos is exactly what we need.

But, let me be clear: YOUR DESIRE TO SERVE DOESN’T NEED THIS INDUSTRY.  That heart to serve can play out in so many different professions.  EMT.  Nursing.  Coroner.  Medical Doctor.  Anywhere, really.  Because the world always has a shortage of people who genuinely want to help others, and if you genuinely want to help others, you’ll never have a shortage of opportunities.    




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):

Enter Your Mail Address