Autumn. A time for pumpkin picking, hayrides, apple cider – and exploring cemeteries. There’s an energizing crispness in the air, and the cooler temperatures are perfect for long walks. In fact, … Continue reading My Favorite Cemetery Travel Books
Tag: female funeral director
Elaine & Jimmy: A Tale of Two Restaurateurs
During a recent conversation about iconic New York City restaurants, I mentioned Elaine’s. “Elaine’s? Never heard of it,” someone said. “Never heard of Elaine’s!?” I asked in surprise about the … Continue reading Elaine & Jimmy: A Tale of Two Restaurateurs
What to Know About Choosing a Cremation Urn
Cremation urns have come a long way from the days of ornate, claw-footed brass urns with intricate gothic carvings. Today, there are myriad choices to select from, in a variety … Continue reading What to Know About Choosing a Cremation Urn
A Dying Business
Once upon a time, a young woman walked into a funeral home in Queens, New York. She needed an after-school job to earn some money, while she worked her way … Continue reading A Dying Business
What To Know About Choosing a Cemetery
Recently, I arranged a funeral for the husband of a woman named Arlene. The couple did not have cemetery property. Nor had they discussed where they wanted to be buried. … Continue reading What To Know About Choosing a Cemetery
Moonrise at Green-Wood Cemetery
Last night, I attended a most unique event at Green-Wood Cemetery with my friend & fellow funeral director, Doris Amen. It was a two mile stroll through the grounds, after … Continue reading Moonrise at Green-Wood Cemetery
Post Pandemic Funeral Service – Can We Find Some Normalcy?
As the winter of 2020 turned to spring, the death toll from Covid-19 seemed insurmountable. For funeral directors, it was the darkest and most challenging time we’ve ever faced. In … Continue reading Post Pandemic Funeral Service – Can We Find Some Normalcy?
In a Book
I’ve been mentioned in newspapers, magazines, and even on television (as a Jeopardy question), but it is quite a kick to be mentioned in mystery writer Thomas O’Callaghan‘s new novel NO … Continue reading In a Book
Me llamo Neuva York
A couple of years ago, I received a call from Francesc Peiron, a reporter from La Vanguardia, a Spanish daily newspaper which dates back to 1881. He was working on … Continue reading Me llamo Neuva York
What It’s Like to Work as a Funeral Director
“What’s it like to work as a funeral director?” This is a question I’ve been asked time and again. My response: It’s not easy, given the complex emotions involved. It takes enormous commitment and dedication, along with a compassionate nature and respect for tradition and ceremony.
Funeral directors deal with issues of mortality – our own as well as those of our clients – on a daily basis. We work long and erratic hours, and we are never truly ‘off.’ In fact, I sleep with my cell phone by my bed in case someone needs me in the middle of the night.
The ever-present sense of urgency is a reality of the job. One must be able to adapt to sudden changes because death is unpredictable.
Myths and Realities
Some people think that funeral service is a 24/7 goth fest. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we interact more with the living than with the dead. People who have just lost a loved one need to talk, and we often serve as counselors and confidants.
It’s true that our work can be very physical and sometimes exhausting. Funeral directors remove bodies from their place of death, embalm them, apply cosmetics and then dress the remains. In some cases, we may do reconstructive work as well.
We also arrange the funeral details, supervise the visitation and direct the funeral service. To comply with city, state and federal regulations, we have to deal with a seemingly never-ending mountain of paperwork.
While our work has many demands, the pay, contrary to public perception, is not commensurate with what we do. And not surprisingly, my work wardrobe is primarily black.
The Career Found Me
Death is perhaps one of life’s only certainties, and the mere mention of it often evokes a mix of curiosity and discomfort. It did for me.
Having been orphaned at birth, I often thought about death. But I relegated those thoughts to the back of my mind as I aspired to a career in journalism until an after-school job in a funeral home changed my career path. I began to see funeral service as a viable career option.
Mortuary school followed on the heels of college, as I put my plan of becoming a writer on hold. Many of my classmates were children of funeral directors, less common these days because large corporations have absorbed many of the once family-owned funeral homes.
Getting the Job
After completing mortuary school, I set out to find an apprenticeship, a requirement for licensure. This was not an easy feat in the late 1970s, especially for a woman. To the public, it may appear that jobs are easy to come by, but they are not.
After much pavement pounding, I was hired by a busy family-owned firm in Queens, New York. Immediately, I was thrust into an intense work environment, with my days being spent driving around New York City in the service vehicle, making removals.
I spent many hours in the preparation room embalming body after body, learning the craft. I quickly understood that the emotional quotient of the work could overwhelm and turned to writing as a catharsis.
The result: a published memoir called Grave Undertakings. My experiences as a funeral director became a source of inspiration for my writing. Soon, I was able to meld the two careers.
I have worked as a funeral director for more than 35 years, prepared thousands of remains, and conducted countless services. As I’ve grown older and lost friends, family and colleagues, I’ve understood more acutely what my client families go through.
The most difficult thing for me as a funeral director is looking into the faces of those who have lost a loved one and knowing that it is not in my power to do what they want most: bring them back.
Still, I strive to ease the transition between life and death by providing a service that, in the words of funeral director/author Thomas Lynch, “… gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.” The funeral, as I see it, serves as a metaphorical bridge from this life to the next.
This article originally appeared on https://sixtyandme.com/what-its-like-to-work-as-a-funeral-director/
The Saturday Evening Post Article
The article I wrote about the importance of keeping the funeral tradition alive is in the current issue of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s an honor to be able to make the argument in such a venerable publication. Here’s a link to read it online:
Let’s Keep the Funeral Alive
“The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician”
This recent piece on Ranker, titled “The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician” was called to my attention. Apart from the redundant terms funeral director/mortician (an antiquated term, as well), the author is on the mark in titling item #1 It’s Hard to Break Into the Death Industry. A couple of my colleagues came up with a list of the closed funeral home sin the NYC/LI area, and there were many. I feel for the young people who spend a considerable sum of money to attend mortuary school, only to learn that jobs are few and far between.