The Unknown Underground of Funeral Director Fight Clubs
Unlike the Chuck Palahniuk novel and subsequent movie, these fight clubs don’t happen in basements. They happen in Facebook groups. And unlike the movie, these Fight Clubs aren’t a way to let out existential steam…. these fighters are out for blood.
There’s SO MUCH ARGUING IN THE FUNERAL INDUSTRY!!! For those of you that are in closed Facebook funeral groups, you know. My god, you know. It get’s so serious in these groups that one faction will try to have the funeral licenses removed from another faction. One faction will report perceived offenses to the state board, hoping to get an enemy they’ve made in one of these Facebook groups fined or fired. And it’s worked. On more than one occasion, these Facebook funeral director fights have gotten people dismissed from their jobs, in some cases blacklisted. Livelihoods have been ruined by these kerfuffles.
It’s gone so far that one faction will hack another faction’s funeral home website. One faction will splinter off from one group to create another group that makes fun of the original group. One faction will bully the other to no end until the victim leaves the group.
It’s dirty. It’s drama. It’s a legit reality TV show where there are about a dozen main characters and the rest of us just sit back and watch the shit show.
Embalmers / funeral directors are like the Protestant / Evangelical / Baptist Churches. It’s common knowledge that Protestants / Evangelicals / Baptists have a history of breaking off from each other to create new churches that distinguish themselves by being different than the original. I know because I grew up in such a splinter church that broke off from another because we had a disagreement over the morality of the insurance coverage offered to the pastor. I learned a couple things along the ways about people, opinions, maturity, and unity in the midst of individuality.
If you’re in the funeral director fight club, you have absolutely no desire to hear me out. Most of you have already expressed your feelings of antagonism towards me. But for those of us who watch the funeral director fight club, here are my thoughts on where things can go wrong:
TWO DIFFERENT WAYS CAN BOTH BE RIGHT
You live in New York City. Your buddy lives in Nashville. You’re both driving to Orlando for a family vacation at Disney World.
The best way for your buddy is to drive the 75 straight to Orlando. The best way for you is probably 95 all the way down. It’s utterly silly for you to argue with your buddy by telling him that “95 is the only way to Orlando.” Because different locations require different approaches. And your starting point often determines your journey. As long as you both end up in Orlando, you did it right.
If you’re in funeral service, different locations require different approaches. It’s sometimes possible that both funeral director combatants are right because we all come from different towns, different cultures, and from a different set of expectations. What’s right for funerals in Parkesburg might be wrong for funerals in New York City. What’s expected of me in Parkesburg, might not be expected of me in Nashville. What you emphasize might be different than what I’m expected to emphasize.
DON’T BASE YOUR IDENTITY ON YOUR JOB
Because if you do, when people question your job, it’s like they’re questioning you. When they question how you do your job, it’s like they’re questioning how you live your life. When they question your job performance, it’s like they’re questioning your value. When they question your job acumen, it’s like they’re questioning your intelligence. When they disagree with how you do things, it’s like they’re disagreeing with your lifestyle.
If the funeral business is your identity, any discussion about how you do your job, the correct way to do your job, etc. becomes incredibly and intensely personal. Because I’m not just questioning your job, I’m questing your very identity.
When discussions about funerals become charged, I step away. Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because my identity is wrapped up in this business, but this business is not my identity.
Here’s how religious fundamentalism works. There are three tiers of belief. The strong set of beliefs is what you could call “core beliefs”. These are the beliefs you hold most deep, and they usually have to do with who and what you love. Secondary to “core beliefs” is what you could call “values”. Values are practices and attitudes that we believe best enable us to serve our core beliefs. And the last category is what you might call “opinions.” This is the category where two people who share the same “core beliefs” and “values” simply differ and it’s no big deal (unless you want to make it one).
Fundamentalism doesn’t recognize these tiers. For the fundamentalist, everything is a “core belief.” Everything is worth fighting over. Opinions aren’t just opinions. Values aren’t just values. There is no context. There is no relativity.
The funeral fundamentalist has a problem with anything new. They have a problem with creativity. They have a problem with younger people offering a contextual perspective BECAUSE THE CORE BELIEFS HAVE ALREADY BEEN SET.
There’s a fine line between being a funeral director and being a narcissist. We’re called to be directors, to display confidence, knowledge, authority and strength during people’s weakest moments. But this environment that asks us to lead can too often enable us to self-enhance. We talk over our heads, project authority in situations that are best left to the family and tense up in disdain whenever we’re questioned.
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 recognizing the environmental factors that produce narcissism in funeral directors is a big step in making sure we keep focused on the heart of the funeral industry: serving others.
Until the stupid fighting stops, you’ll know where you can find me:
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):