Funeral Directing

Validating my pain


Anyone else have trouble validating their own pain and problems because “there’s always people who have it worse?” 🙋🏻‍♂️

So, I’m riding shotgun with @nicwilde while she tries on new jeans at @express.  Those of you who have walked through this valley know this particular challenge.  I mean, I totally love my wife, even after the 36th pair of jeans we’ve appraised in the trifold mirror.  And if I want something other than pure joy, I’m entitled to that feeling even if nearly one billion people in the world are undernourished.

Real talk.  I actually love shopping with my wife because she’s lovely and I love spending time with her.  Also, it REALLY is hard for me to validate my pain and problems when I constantly see people in more pain than I am.  Why do we compare ourselves?  Maybe it’s some evolutionary function that has us continually sizing up rivals?  I don’t know where it comes from, but I know for a fact that it is hardly ever helpful.  Maybe it worked for our evolutionary ancestors, but it doesn’t work for us anymore.  It makes us jealous and unhappy and unsatisfied and mean and possessive and inhuman.

I’m starting to allow myself to validate my pain.  I know there’s people in more pain than me.  Believe me, I know.  And there’s a bunch of cliche reasons why I’m taking care of me, like: “in an airplane, put your own mask on first” and “it’s selfless to be selfish.” And all those reasons are good.  For me — right now— I’m validating my pain because I know I need to get better.  I need to be a better husband, father and funeral director.  And I think if I validate my pain, I can be better.  Because if I validate my pain, I might be able to go another round of 36 jeans.

Working with my depression





I’ve never been 100% sure that I belong in this business.  The ideal model of a funeral director is a paragon of sanguinity and stability.  I’m neither.

I have depression.  Whether it’s an illness, or due to the work I do, or a product of both, it’s bad enough that two different anti-depressants at above normal dosages are just enough to keep me from sliding down the slippery slope.  I’ve been open about my depression on the internet and it’s elicited a lot of support, but the voices that scream loudest come from those stable funeral directors who send me a “this job isn’t for you”, “it’s time to get out”, and “just suck it up, millennial” message or comment.  I’ve tried not to pay them mind (that is the first rule of an online platform), but it reinforces my own self-doubt.

For most of my career, I’ve been ashamed of my depression, of the thoughts that bombard my mind.  Ashamed that I spend SO MUCH energy trying to keep myself upright that I have so little energy left for others.  Ashamed that I’m not and will never be entirely stable.  But over the last couple of years, I’ve started to make a change in how I approach depression.  Grammatically, it’s a simple change in a preposition.  Here’s the change: for most of my career, I tried to work AROUND my depression, but recently I’m trying to work WITH it.

Here’s what that means for me: it’s an acknowledgment — that comes from years of reinforcement — that I have depression.  I no longer paint smiles on my face, or try to exude this veneer that I have it all together.  I’m just … myself.  I don’t want to go Pollyanna and give you the impression that everything’s better when we accept ourselves, because it’s not.  But it does give those around us the permission to do the same.  Oddly enough, around death and grief, my weakness can be a strength.  Because when we acknowledge our pain, we lay the cornerstone in the sanctuary of grief.  And if I can build a sanctuary for grief, that’s something I can feel good about.





FUNERAL SERVICE SUPPORT GROUP





Hey, guys. If you’re a part of funeral service and you’ve happened upon some embalmer/funeral director groups on Facebook, you’ve probably found that the content can be helpful as it relates to practice, but the emotional/practical/human support is rarely helpful. In fact, it’s often hurtful.

As in many human service professions, there’s a stigma connected to sharing our personal struggles. If we share our struggles, we’re often told:

“Maybe you’re not cut our for this business.”

“Some of us just aren’t called.”

“You need to learn to control yourself.”

“This business is only for the strong.”

“There’s no such thing as burnout.”

And it’s bull shit. All of it. We are humans helping humans.
If we acknowledge the humanity in ourselves, it frees us to acknowledge the humanity of those we serve.

So I created a funeral service support group. It’s for those connected to funeral service (past, present, or future) and I’m hoping it provides a place where we can share our troubles without feeling shamed.

HERE’S THE LINK: FUNERAL SERVICE SUPPORT GROUP





You’ve done good, Love





So, guys.  You know what’s okay to do . . . even though it’s hard and slightly weird?  It’s okay to tell yourself that you’re doing a good job.

Life is hard.  Death is hard.  Grief is hard.  Death care is hard.  Getting out of bed, getting dressed, helping the kids get ready for school, and walking out the door to work isn’t easy.  Some days, just getting out bed is a victory (especially after a night call [my selfie is a #nightcallselfie].

Let me speak for a minute to those of you in any kind of human service work (including parenting because that shit is the toughest of human services . . . and, lest I forget, the human service of self-care because the mental, physical, and spiritual health of ourselves is an uphill battle everyday, a steeper uphill battle for those of us with any kind of trauma or sickness). SO EVERYONE IS IN SOME FORM OF HUMAN SERVICE!

If you’re caring for the grieving, for the sick, or for the dead and dying, you’re doing a good job.  If you’re caring for your family, kids, parents, relatives or the family you’ve chosen, you’re doing a good job.  If you’re caring for yourself and your health and trauma, you’re doing a good job.  How do I know?  Because you’re here.  You’ve made it this far.

But, let’s be honest: I don’t know you.  I don’t know what you do.  I don’t know your faults and struggles.  I don’t know the nuances of your life.  BUT YOU KNOW MORE OF YOU THAN ANYBODY.

Of course you have your faults.  We all do.  Faults are part of learning.  Sins are chances for growth.  Shit can grow flowers.  But stop and look at how far you’re come.

I’m NOT an optimist.  And I’ve never been a huge fan of positive self-talk, but I’m also a realist who knows that telling yourself good things usually produces better things.  Because self-fulfilling prophecy works.

Today, I told myself that I’m doing a good job.  I took a minute to look at the good I’ve done over the past five years (and sometimes that good is just surviving). As we head into the weekend, remind yourself the same.  You’ve done good, Love.

#confessionsofafuneraldirector





Look for the helpers





The guy behind me plowing a path through the snow to a gravesite is Ed.  Last Friday, I showed up at a somewhat secluded cemetery to inter cremated remains with the deceased’s family.

When I drove in (an hour before the family arrived), Ed was plowing the cemetery drive.  I rolled down my car’s window, he shut his little snow plow off, and I yelled out, “are you the one who ordered this white stuff?” He chuckled and said, “No, but I’m the one getting this shit out of the way.” I had no idea who Ed was, never met him before.  I introduced myself and he explained who he was.

It turned out that Ed is just a neighbor who saw that the cemetery hadn’t been plowed.  He also figured out that there was a graveside service and decided that he’d plow the cemetery with his small plow so we could get into it.

Ed was easily into his 80s, hunched over, grey haired with a sailor’s mouth. “What kind of service you have today?” He asked. “It’s a private cremation interment, only the deceased’s mother and grandson are attending.  The mother uses a walker” I explained.  I had brought a shove because I figured I’d have to shovel a path from the drive to the gravesite, but as soon as I told Ed, he started his plow and carved out the path you can see in the photo.

This business is full of experiences that viewed alone would destroy your faith in humanity.  There’s the murders, the accidents, the death of children, but for every one thing horrible, there’s 10 Eds who restore our faith.

You’ve heard the Fred Roger’s quote about looking for the helpers (I’ll put the quote in the comments so you can read it again). Seeing the Eds — the helpers— is the privilege of working around death.  Because there’s so much in humanity that’s horrible, but then there’s complete strangers who curse like a sailor while cutting a path through the snow for a bereaved mother and grandson who make the horrible just a little better.

Look for the Eds.  And if you can’t find them, you know what to do because it’s written deep in your heart.  The helpers aren’t saints.  The helpers are me and you.  The helpers see snow and they plow it.

#confessionsofafuneraldirector





Go to Top