Death has no schedule. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3 a.m. or if you’re in the middle of opening birthday presents, funeral professionals must be willing to put everyone and everything before themselves, and this often means missing out on holiday celebrations and events with their own family and friends. So how exactly should you “plan” to celebrate the holidays or special occasions when plans are always tentative? If you keep several important things in mind, you can create meaningful memories with your family during the holidays, even if you're on call.
With the holidays upon us and the end of the year in sight, many funeral homes are decked out in festive décor and ready to ring in the new year. As a funeral professional, you may not be quite ready for the hustle and bustle that signifies the end of the year in the funeral business.
With more deaths reported on Christmas, the day after Christmas or New Year’s Day than any other single day of the year, it’s no wonder funeral professionals are exhausted by the time the new year rolls around. They don’t always get the chance to fully enjoy the holiday season with their families and the downtime that comes with it, or at least not necessarily when they originally intended. They may get a call right in the middle of their family’s festivities, forcing them to postpone, cancel or miss out on celebrating as planned. In fact, it’s probably an unstated rule that funeral professionals don’t ever 100% confirm attendance at events anymore and their families are accustomed to working around tentative plans by now.
Jamie Dravecky has worked in the funeral industry since she was 19 and currently works as an Account Executive with Homesteaders. Her husband, Dave, is a funeral director, and when asked about adjusting holiday plans, she said, “We have had countless plans changed around last minute due to Dave being called out. We don’t really have a backup plan per say, but we do typically try to take two cars to family events in case he is out all night. We try to just adjust to whatever happens. One holiday we opened gifts at 6 a.m. before he went on a call because he had already received two calls back-to-back.”
Brianne Niedermyer, Training and Development Specialist with Homesteaders, grew up in the funeral home her parents owned. She said that she felt her dad did a great job at juggling his client families and their own family and adds, “I can’t think of any time where I felt like we were pushed to the back, but we also always helped him, so maybe that was how he did it. He just always included us in the business, so he didn’t have to pick.”
Funeral professionals have an important role in honoring the life and death of their client’s loved ones, and most are so passionate about their work that it doesn’t seem like they’re compromising by missing out on the occasional holiday or birthday. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still celebrate holidays and special occasions, it just means some flexibility, understanding and creativity may be necessary.
Here are five best practices to ensure you remain engaged during your family’s festivities, regardless of when they take place:
1. Be Flexible
Flexibility is one of the most important traits for any successful funeral professional, and it is one job in which the whole family must be onboard with the same level of flexibility to make things work. Being on call 24/7, you aren’t always able to leave work “behind” at the end of the day.
“Always be ready for a quick change of plans, make something fun of it: dinner at 10 p.m., Christmas at midnight, whatever that looks like,” said Dravecky.
2. 'Tis The Season
The holiday season is called just that – a season. There are no rules set in stone saying you must celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Lots of families gather outside the days surrounding Christmas, and there’s no reason you can’t celebrate Christmas or any other holiday whenever you want to! Get called out as you’re headed to grandma’s house for Christmas dinner? Invite family over the next day for Christmas brunch instead. Know you’ll be busy and can’t travel to your relatives for Christmas Eve this year? Celebrate on the Eve of the Eve of Christmas Eve! Some of the best memories may be the most unexpected ones.
3. Remember WHY You're Celebrating
Don’t get too caught up in the timing of things that you lose track of what you’re celebrating in the first place. Will your kids remember that you got called out during Christmas Eve dinner, or that you were back home to tuck them into bed and watch for Santa out their window later that night? Odds are, even if you do get called out during an important celebration, your family will remember your dedication to service more than anything.
“I’m sure we missed something along the way, but when you grow up in the funeral home you know that there is always a chance thing might be put on hold for a bit. I honestly don’t remember having to wait for my dad to open presents or any of that,” added Niedermyer.
4. Know When To Say 'No'
There may be times where there’s a significant life event that you just cannot, or will not, miss. That’s OK! Be sure to make plans for someone to cover your role, should you get called out, so that you can be fully present in whatever event or activity it is you’re doing. It’s important that you set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself, and participate in things outside your job from time to time, for both you and your family’s sake.
When asked if there were ever any events or occasions where her dad chose not to be on call, Niedermyer remembers, “For our graduations and weddings, my dad was sure to have someone else on call so that he could be at those events uninterrupted. He also had people on call while we were on vacations. For a while it was my grandpa, and then my dad was fortunate to have some friends who own funeral homes near Woodbine (their hometown), and he has also been fortunate to have an additional funeral director on staff to split the duties and have some additional freedom.”
5. Help Your Family Understand the Importance of Your Role
A successful career in the funeral profession is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for people who aren’t willing to put everyone and everything before themselves. Helping people on one of the most difficult days of their lives is a tremendous gift you can give to your client families, and one that does not go unnoticed.
“I honestly don’t know many people who work like Dave does. He gives everything he has to this business. He has a Type A personality and struggles with how to shut work off, but I also really respect how hard he works to make sure the families in his care have the best possible experience in such a hard time,” said Dravecky.
As a funeral professional, it’s important to help your family understand that you’re not just running into the office to do paperwork at all times of the day or night, or intentionally missing out on important milestones or celebrations, you’re being called to serve in significant moments when people’s lives change forever.
Niedermyer added some advice for families of funeral professionals, “Be patient and understanding. Your loved one doesn’t want to miss anything, but they are also helping someone on one of the worst days of their lives. You can celebrate Christmas, birthdays, anything anytime. Those families that need your loved one won’t get that time again.”
How do you handle special occasions or holiday events with your family when you're on call? What ways do you ensure you are present with your family during the holidays?