When I started mortuary school in March of 2003, I had only attended two funerals up to that point. One month after graduation in February of the following year, I received a job offer at a local funeral home. It was baptism by fire. After the first month, I was overwhelmed and drowning in a sea of uncertainty. Those were the longest thirty days of my life. The work took a physical and emotional toll. I was crying at services and grieving with families. I lost my appetite. I slept thirteen hours a night and woke exhausted in the morning. Things were going downhill fast. I was lost and confused. I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing. I also knew this was not the way I was supposed to be doing it.
Death and dying is shrouded in mystery. It does not become any less mysterious for those of us who are enthralled in a daily confrontation with it. Funeral Directors have many different reasons why they choose their profession. I generally see five main reasons. For some, the mystery surrounding death serves as bait to reel them into the profession. Some accredit their passion for helping and serving others as motivation. Some speak of an inexplicable magnetic pull, a calling if you will, as the driving force behind their decision for choosing funeral service. There is yet another group of individuals who were born into the business; groomed from infancy to following in the footsteps of their predecessors. While others are drawn to the profession because of the prestigious position in the community historically associated with being an undertaker. Whatever your reason or combination of reasons, you are here. Now that you are here, if you want to consider your career choice as part of your personal and professional successes, you must do an honest and thorough evaluation of the reasons that brought you here and determine whether those reasons are enough to justify you remaining.
The truth of the matter is, funeral service is not for everyone—not even for some among the many who practice. The long hours, the time away from family that is often required, the politicking, the “glass ceiling” phenomenon, the questionable pay and not to mention the emotional effects of the constant battle with grief both of your own and the families you serve. Any uncertain reasoning can be consumed by these factors and will certainly lead to a lack of fulfillment and much frustration. You must have a clear conviction of your purpose for being here to be able to thrive in this industry. After reading this post, you will either be confirmed in your decision to dedicate your life to this work of service or this may be the evidence for making a career change. Either way, you win. My mother reminds me often that preparation time is never wasted time. In essence the time you have devoted to funeral service thus far has been preparing you to take root, grow and blossom in the profession or given you the courage needed to move forward and blossom elsewhere.
If you are in the funeral service industry or are contemplating a career in this arena, here are a few important questions you should ask yourself. First, “Is/Will funeral service be a job or a career? There is a fine line separating jobs from careers. Your level of success as a funeral service professional will hinge on the position you hold on either side of that line. After having faced many challenges throughout my career, I came up with this statement as a reminder, “A job is a means to an end. A career, to its end, has meaning.” Second, “Do I feel I am/will be able to experience personal and professional growth as a funeral service professional?” The answer to this question goes back to my previous statement about including your career choice in the discussion as it relates to your measure of success. In other words, at the end of the day will you be able to affirm and appreciate the contributions you have made to the profession and those the profession has made to you. Finally, “Would/Do I recommend funeral service to someone else as a career choice?” Though this last question may seem simple, I challenge you to consider it as carefully as you have the others. Think about the last time you told a friend of a restaurant you absolutely loved, a beauty product you cannot live without or great customer service you received. Do you speak of funeral service with the same endearment and level of enthusiasm? Just as your passion about a favorite restaurant, beauty product or excellent service conjures a passionate response, so also should your passion for funeral service when you speak of it to others. I am not naïve in thinking the profession is without its fair share of challenges. To the contrary; every day in funeral service will not smell of fresh cut daisies nor leave you with feelings of euphoria. However, you will find that your most challenging days are filled with the greatest blessings. In the midst of the most difficult moments, you will find ways to use those moments as motivation to grow personally and professionally.