In movies and books, funeral directors are quite often characterized as emotionlessly cold characters who work with the dead. In my experience, this is a gross mischaracterization. If indeed, this was the only virtue of a funeral director, his or her value would remain indisputable; however, the actual value of a funeral director runs ever so much deeper.
While it is true that funeral directors work odd hours and often for days on end without rest, this too is not their value. They stand or sleep, whichever is necessary for their client, at the ready, springing into service at the ring of their cell phones. They instantly answer the call to homes, hospitals, resident facilities, and any other location where there is a family who has just received the worst news of their lives. Upon the death of a loved one, a family cannot wait until tomorrow, or until a more convenient hour for assistance.
The funeral director offers dignity, guidance, and comfort upon arrival at the death scene. Families who have experienced the death of a loved one before may be familiar with the schedule of events; however, they are most likely unable to provide and complete the comforting and legal assistance necessary to inter dead human remains. Although in some states funeralizing your deceased loved one may flirt legality, funeral laws and state regulated health codes regarding the handling of dead human remains are protectively restrictive. An endeavor of such magnitude would not only be inadvisable; it would be injudicious. Burying one’s own may have been necessary back in the days of one’s ancestors, however, with the enlightenment of modern science, as with the plague, we now understand the dangers that accompany the handling of bodies that carry poorly understood, misdiagnosed, or undetected transferable disease. The commencement of decomposition is immediate; and in a state of grief, family members are ill prepared emotionally, psychologically, physically, and legally for such an awkward, uncomfortable, and confusingly regulated task. Additionally, at potentially every turn, emotionally charged family members might battle for control. Quite suddenly, hazardous or psychologically damaging occurrences may call for immediate mediation, protective intervention, or cautious cleanup maneuvers of unsafe exposure to issues concerning the decedent’s body. Transferable diseases, continued leakage of body fluids, purging, or dislodging skin are just a few of the potentially disastrous physical issues families may find too great to bear during their time of need.
Details surrounding the care and maintenance of dead human bodies are not often discussed, as they seem undignified and disturbing. No one wants to hear about the ick that happens to them once they cease to breathe. This is precisely why the role and value of the funeral director are underrated. If one were to discuss the true duties of a funeral director openly, families would more keenly understand their value. Certain aspects of the undertaker’s services are unseen and hidden from those who are reaping the benefits and paying the bills. This is as it should be as these aspects would be disturbing and add to the distress under which the family of the deceased is functioning. Unfortunately, the observance of this propriety weakens the recognition and overall value of the funeral director’s services.
The modern undertaker tends to prefer the title of funeral director and wears many hats. He/she is required to obtain a degree in funeral arts and sciences from an accredited university or college. They comfort survivors and protect them legally and psychologically. They assist in planning, implementing, and coordinating the survivor’s wishes for interment. They accept the custodial responsibility of the decedent, as well as, preparation and maintenance of the body. These specific responsibilities make it safe for loved ones to have their final moments with their decedent without concern of harmful or infectious diseases. They provide an acceptable memory picture of the decedent for ongoing grief assistance toward recovery. They protect the dignity of the decedent and propriety of the services. Additionally, in certain circumstances, they act as ambassadors as they prepare international transportation of decedents.
Funeral professionals are composed individuals. They serve as confidants, mediators of disputes between survivors, and they accommodate the opinions and wishes of survivors through a combination of varying traditions, rituals, and religious doctrines. They promote grief recovery through aftercare programs and provide safe places for survivors to initiate their grief experience. In a day where cremation has become a viable alternative for survivors, the funeral director’s responsibilities have seen a growth toward psychological assistance and recovery. As America’s mores shift and families become less organized, death is not experienced through degrees of kinship as it once was. Today, survivors are more likely to be ill prepared to face the harsh reality of grief, as they have not had the opportunity to experience it in baby steps. Quite often, today’s generations first experience with grief is that of grave significance. This lack of distant loss leaves them without experiences from which to grow. Their virgin grief experience is very often one of great significance. Such a loss has the potential to be catastrophic.
In this new age of social media where an atmosphere of anti-social behavior and lack of interpersonal skills are the norms; where society has shifted its preferred method of final disposition and has accepted the disorganization of the traditional family structure; the value of the funeral director becomes quite apparent. Their purpose to help guide families through the dark days of life and facilitate recovery by creating a meaningful and respectful goodbye built upon the foundation of integrity, dignity, and respect, remains unchanged. Their value, however, has seen significant change. As society’s social abilities degrade to dysfunctional levels, the value of a funeral director seems to be growing exponentially.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.