Funeral professionals work hard to be emotionally supportive for the bereaved, use their professional training to care for the deceased and create events that will begin healing. The people they serve are likely going through some of the toughest days of their lives. The last thing a funeral professional will do is complain about how difficult their job is.
To be clear, I am not a licensed funeral professional. However, I have interacted with them for almost a decade, and I have worked at a funeral home and cemetery for the last year. When I give presentations on topics related to Finding Resilience (a burnout prevention program for funeral professionals), I often have funeral professionals come up and share their stories. In many cases, their close family members and friends may not even know about these challenges.
I thought it would be helpful to share some of the realities of the funeral profession. They would never want to draw attention to themselves, but I’d like to explain a few things I wish everyone knew about funeral professionals.
1. Funeral professionals experience unique daily challenges.
Funeral professionals know that if they have a bad day, no one wants to hear about it. Part of this is maintaining the confidentiality of the families they serve, but it goes deeper than that. While other types of professionals can complain about a computer system that went down or an incorrect delivery, funeral professionals know that no one wants to hear about embalming a nine-year-old or sitting with a widower for an hour while he cries. This comes from a respect for the deceased and the bereaved. Funeral professionals also don’t want to burden their closest friends, family members or spouses with stories like that.
The result is that funeral professionals keep these painful emotions and experiences inside. Sometimes they go to conventions and conferences to see their colleagues and share their problems. But often, they just keep it inside. It adds more stress to an already stressful profession.
2. Funeral professionals are constantly balancing responsibilities to their family and community.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Well, at least it’s not a matter of life and death.” It can be a way of putting things in perspective and reducing our stress level. But for funeral professionals, everything they do is a matter of life and death. Typically, they are helping families with tasks and services that need to happen within the next few hours or days.
As a result, a funeral professional is continually leaving their own family to serve someone else’s family. Not only that, but they often leave in the middle of the night and direct services in the afternoons, evenings and on weekends. Their professional responsibilities may force them to miss birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, children’s sports games and many other events they wish they could attend. By taking care of others, they are away from the people they love – often at the most inconvenient times.
3. Funeral professionals face high expectations for their services.
Among small, local businesses, funeral homes sometimes seem to be unfairly singled out for seeking to make a profit. The general public often doesn’t realize how unique and challenging the funeral profession can be. For example, what other local, private business has to:
- Be physically available every hour of the day and every day of the year.
- Have modern, specialized vehicles (i.e., hearses, etc.).
- Have comforting décor, an easily accessible building and a medical suite.
- Have staff members wear formal, professional attire every day.
- Attract, hire and retain new professionals with the promise they will need to frequently work nights, weekends and holidays – often without much notice.
Although I am not a licensed funeral professional, I know enough about their weekly schedules and lives to know this: If they went into the funeral profession for an easy way to make money, they made a terrible choice.
These are just three things I wish everyone knew about the funeral profession. You won’t hear any of these things from them (they are far too professional to do that), but I hope knowing more about their important work will help you regard funeral professionals with the same respect and gratitude that I do.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a psychology professor, former counselor, grief researcher and consultant for businesses that want to better serve grieving families. He has written numerous aftercare materials, including the Finding Hope booklet series, and is a frequent presenter at funeral service professional events.