What is it like to work as a funeral director?
It would take days for me to fully explain the intricacies of this career. Suffice it to say, this work is not for everyone. It takes enormous commitment and dedication. The hours are long and –contrary to public opinion — the pay is low.
Do you actually embalm bodies?
I have embalmed hundreds, if not thousands of bodies over the course of my career. At present, I primarily arrange funerals with families and guide them through the funeral process. I am there for them throughout the visitation period and with them the day of the funeral. However, I was called out of embalming retirement two years ago, by special request. That was quite a story which I will eventually write about.
Do you ever get squeamish?
Not at this stage in my career. I’ve just about seen it all.
What do you think is the best way to help people at the time of mourning? How can one best help them through it?
Listen to them. I’ve learned that people who have just lost a loved one need to talk about that person and what he or she meant. They often talk about the last experience they had together, as well as the details of the death and sometimes the illness that preceded it. They often tell these stories again and again to work through and try to make sense of what has happened. As funeral directors and friends, we need to be an available and caring ear.
How did you get into the profession? What attracted you?
By accident! I took a job in a funeral home the summer between high school and college. Working there piqued my interest. My plan was to get licensed as a funeral director, but continue with my dream of becoming a writer.
How did you make the transition from funeral director to writer?
As I mentioned, my life plan was always to be a writer and that’s what I was educated for. Still, it was my work as a funeral director and within the industry that gave me so much to write about.
Would you recommend this field to other women?
In good conscience, I would not. That said, I firmly believe that if someone is determined to forge a career in a certain field (even one in which job opportunities are extremely limited), they will find a way.
How can those interested in a career as a funeral director learn more about what to expect?
In addition to reading my memoir –Grave Undertakings– they can talk to established funeral directors in their area about the job market and what to expect.
Should they also contact the mortuary schools?
Only to find out the cost of tuition! The schools need to turn a profit in order to operate and so may paint a rosier picture of funeral service than what exists.