#1: Answering “The Call”
“I didn’t choose the profession, the profession chose me.” The highest and most fulfilling experience in life can be that feeling and recognition of following your calling. This might very well be the highest level of funeral service – and those in it for revenue or trapped by family tradition are probably miscast. In fact, given the long hours and low pay – the best survival strategy might be “only do it if you’re called, and try ignoring the calling first and seeing if it goes away.”
For me, it was a calling at age 16 that couldn’t be ignored. If it’s just a business or a legacy for you, it’s probably the wrong fit.
#2: The “Corporal Works of Mercy”
Works of mercy are expressed in the teachings of St. Thomas of Aquinas and The Bible, and are adhered to in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist denominations. But, they are widely practiced by all Christians. Specifically, they are:
1. To feed the hungry.
2. To give drink to the thirsty.
3. To clothe the naked.
4. To harbour the harbourless.
5. To visit the sick.
6. To visit the imprisoned.
7. To bury the dead.
Essentially, what goes around, comes around – “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7, the Beatitudes). Burial of the dead recognizes the misfortune of others, and your work is to alleviate or minimize the family’s suffering. Funeral service is one of the few professions or vocations where doing your job equates to “dispensing mercy.”
#3: Ancient Traditions
Funeral service is one of the world’s oldest professions, with roots in the Egyptian Empire (chemicals, supplies and facilities). The Romans, Greeks and Vikings all had rich histories in the profession. That rich and long tradition gives a proud feeling of being part of something larger than your firm or yourself, and makes you part of that historic fraternity of Anubis.
#4: A Variety of Disciplines
Funeral service is a variety of disciplines which integrate into one successful practice. For those who had difficulty selecting a single subject at university (or if you’re drawn to a variety of competing interests), funeral service offers a unique solution.
As a funeral home employee, you practice theology, psychology, chemistry, embalming, mortuary science, technology, marketing and business every day. For those of us who aren’t overwhelmed by the multidisciplinary demands, I like to think we sort of enjoy practising our wide range of expertise every day.
#5: Guardians of Public Health
One of the simplest and most important roles we provide is for public safety – and when I get irritated with licensing boards, I try to remember this:
Nobody else can do this. Nobody else wants to do this. But it must be done
#6: A Unique Opportunity
Your work takes you to the lowest place in a person’s life, particularly if it’s tragic, sudden, accidental or violent. And you have the opportunity to lift that person up and out of that dark place – even if maybe not immediately.
Like a teacher, your efforts will be remembered, but probably seldom expressed. Satisfaction comes from knowing you did the right thing and rose to the occasion. It might not be said, but you will probably be remembered, in a good way, for years to come.
Funeral service isn’t an easy career to get into. Half of the recognition or attention we get from people is negative. There’s always a new story on bodies being stacked up behind a crematory, graves being re-used or processions stopped and decedents held for ransom until the bill is paid.
But what about the free burials, tending to the homeless, or the kind words of comfort we give? Those usually go unnoticed by the press and most observers. The only one to notice and get satisfaction is probably you.
At the end of the day, all the troubles and inconveniences of a career in funeral service lead to one thing: passion. I didn’t follow my head into funeral service; I followed my heart. And if you’re here for the right reasons like I am, you’ll be here for a while.