The funeral service profession needs people.
We especially need young people. We are a profession made up largely of overweight alcoholics aged 60+, many of whom are bored and jaded with the job after getting pushed into the family business. They are often unable to lift and just plain don’t feel like working on Christmas anymore.
This is a great profession. I think I have the best job in the world. I love training interns, showing people things they have not seen before, perhaps teaching them things they did not get a chance to see in school.
But often in our eagerness for new (living) blood, we over-enthusiastically latch onto those who show the slightest interest in deathcare. We promise them a fascinating, lucrative career and throw them into a very unfamiliar environment and make them clean up blood.
I worked with one such young man recently. He was barely over 18 and when I met him, he said he was just working for a few months, helping out with removals and paperwork, before he went into the Army. Then, he decided to ditch his plans for the Army and stick with the funeral home. He didn’t really want the job, but didn’t want to join the Army either, and felt he had nowhere else to go.
It wasn’t just removals and paperwork. It never is. If you hire someone for assistance in your funeral home, tell them exactly what you will be needing them for and what they can be expected to do. This kid got weak in the knees whenever he had to dress someone.
One time I needed help in the prep room because I had to sew up a spinal autopsy. (Check every autopsied body you receive…sucks when you find out that’s been done just as you’re getting ready to dress.) But the cut extended from neck to tailbone, so I knew I’d need an extra set of hands. More jaded embalmers will just turn the body over, but I can’t do that to someone. So, when I get a case like that, I have an assistant hold the body on its side while I do the suturing.
And of course I called in this kid, who was already sick of the job. He wanted to be with his girlfriend and play basketball and get tattoos, not be constantly on call for a job he didn’t want. He had no idea what he would be helping me with and why, and he was thoroughly disgusted. He said he couldn’t believe he was holding a body while someone else was jabbing needles through its skin.
We all get impatient on the job. We are irritated when a four-hour viewing turns into five hours, or when the family is lingering at the graveside when we want to be on our way. But this kid actually yelled at a cemetery worker for not hurrying up.
And then, predictably, he took off to meet his girlfriend in a foreign country. He said he’d be back in two weeks. I knew he wouldn’t be back.
And, sure enough, when he was due to return back to work, he called to say that the border patrol searched his luggage and stole his shoes and threw out his passport and now he was stranded in a strange country and had no clothes and no money and no way to get home. I haven’t heard from him in months.
He never wanted the job. He’s probably working in a tattoo shop with his girlfriend, glad to be away from having to sew people up and stand around in cemeteries in the rain.
I would love it if one of my children took an interest in the business. I let them know they are always welcome to come to the funeral home. The youngest once asked me, “Mommy, can you take me to where the dead people are?” The oldest said, “This place looks sad.”
If you think funeral service would be an interesting profession, I suggest you start out doing removals. You will get a feel for what the job is like – irregular hours, grieving people, human remains – without having to invest time and money in a mortuary science degree for a job you may hate. One frequently quoted statistic in our profession is that after ten years on the job, only ten percent of us are still there.
I’m starting my tenth year and don’t want to be anywhere else.