Funeral Directing

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

Finding the magic in life

A few years ago, Pop Pop stepped away from making funeral arrangements for a few reasons, namely that at 87 he’s outlived and buried most of his contemporaries, an accomplishment that would make some feel lonely, but for him it feels like completion.  He was here for his friends and family when they needed him, and now that most of them are gone, he focuses on other things at the funeral home.

Even now, every once in a while, someone Pop Pop grew up with will die, so he puts on suit and tie and takes charge of the funeral arrangements.  Today was one of those days.  A 91 year old friend of our family passed, and Pop Pop met with her family.

I came down in the middle of the arrangements to grab some information (and snapped this photo in the process) so I could type an obituary draft for the family to read before they left.  Pop Pop’s proud of me being in the business, as any family patriarch would be.  When I entered the arrangement room to get the info, he started doing what grandfathers do when they’re proud of their grandson.

After talking about my book (he’s read it four times, or so he says), he started talking about passing off the business.  He said, “I’d give it up, but I can’t.  I’ve always loved my job, there’s nothing else I’d rather do, so why stop doing what I love just because I’m 87?”

There’s a number of things that make for a good life, and one of them is finding what you love, and somehow or another making it your profession.  It’s rare that we do what we love, but when we do, it not only benefits us, it benefits everyone our work touches.

Pop Pop’s love for the business and the people he serves has benefited those people just as much as it’s benefited my Pop Pop.  He might be 87 years old, but when he’s working with his people, it’s like his 87 year old body momentarily drinks from the fountain of youth.  That’s the magic you find when you do what you love.  And that magic spills over to the people you love.

#confessionsofafuneraldirector

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