March 11 is National Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day
Your head is reeling from the death of your loved one. Funeral? Burial? Cremation? Celebration of Life? Zoom service (thank you, Covid-19 pandemic)? Online obituary? Sudden death? Expected death in hospice? Is this a child? Military personnel? Religious affiliation? Paperwork? And don’t forget to add in family dynamics!
The last funeral I attended was for a classmate. I drove in from out of town, attended the service, had the ‘lunch’ in the church basement, shared some memories with classmates, then drove home. It never occurred to me all the planning that happens before, during, and after a funeral.
My recollections of funeral directors are the staid, quiet men wearing black suits, standing somewhere in the back of the church, directing ‘traffic’. These days, women are finding a calling as funeral directors. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, more than 60% of mortuary science students are women. Many of these women are also wives and moms and have a life outside the traditional black suit. What?! They cry, laugh and joke, and have feelings. Lots of feelings! They are deep listeners, organizers, and they possess super-genes for compassion and creativity.
This past year, I have gotten to know Mandy, a funeral director with Mueller Memorial. Mandy considered a career as a physician but found her calling as a funeral director. There is much more to the funeral director than the person we see at the back of the church. For Mandy, the most rewarding part of her job is helping people start their grieving process. She meets with families when they are most vulnerable and exhausted. I imagine there is chaos now and then. SO many decisions to make! Not every family made arrangements in advance – something I highly recommend!
The funeral director not only arranges and directs the funeral ceremony – they also coordinate transportation of your loved one to the funeral home/crematory and cemetery (even if they died out of state or in another country). They assist with writing an obituary (sometimes the words are hard to find), they file the appropriate paperwork (legalities)….the list goes on. Basically, they attend to all the details, including the ones you didn’t know existed.
Not all deaths come peacefully during the 9-5 workday. Funeral directors work with families who had to say goodbye to a baby or child much too soon, loved ones lost to suicide, sudden death such as a heart attack, accident, or crime. They are the listeners to the military and first responders’ families when a loved one dies in the line of duty.
Covid-19 has created the need for creativity by conducting funerals and memorials virtually. Who would have imagined a funeral by Zoom? Virtual funerals and memorial services can now include family and friends from all over the world with a simple online link.
Not everyone is a savvy shopper when it comes to funeral services. Grief will sometimes dictate what we spend – not a good idea! Cost is always a consideration, so make sure you ask for a detailed list of everything that is included (or not). If this is a cremation-only company, get details on what is provided (or not). A trustworthy funeral director will help you find a way to honor your loved one within a reasonable budget. There are always ways to spend more money, but it doesn’t mean you loved your person more if you have an elaborate, expensive funeral. Most funeral homes have a pre-planning specialist who can meet with you to discuss your needs and budget. If you can, tend to the details in advance. The perfect time is while you are creating or updating your Advance Care Directive. Your family will thank you for this loving gesture. If you haven’t taken care of your Directive, call me – I will walk you through the forms.
Cheers to the funeral home directors! Thank you for taking care of our loved ones. Thank you for being patient with the families who are not at their best when you meet them. And thank you for tending to all the details, large and small!
Special thank you to Mandy with Mueller Memorial for guidance on this article.