Written by M. Gillies
In his 1884 novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain summed up the role of a funeral director. He wrote, “The undertaker, he slid around in his black gloves with his softly, soothering ways, putting on the last touches, and getting people and things all ship-shape and comfortable, and making no more sound than a cat. He never spoke: he moved people around, he squeezed in the late ones, he opened up passageways, and done it all with nods and signs with his hands. Then he took his place over against the wall. He was the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see, and there weren’t no more smile to him than there is to a ham.”
Twain was always known for his wit and satire but he also illustrated in another passage the role of a funeral director in the most sincere and candid way possible. He noted the professionalism, the deft integrity and the lengths one funeral director goes to serve his community. But more importantly, Twain explained how the funeral director, while indispensable, was also disregarded.
Over the years a funeral director has sometimes been bestowed the moniker of an emotionless, anti-hero type of character. But for those who have experienced the exemplary service of a funeral director in their time of need, they know that these professionals are actually unsung heroes and caregivers who have earned the respect from the families they serve.
Perhaps this incorrect stereotyping of funeral practitoners is because there has been little information presented to the general public of the true value of a funeral director – a value that extends far beyond just the listed price of service transactions. As a result, few people understand the full spectrum of services and benefits that funeral directors provide and because of this, some people mistakenly view the funeral process as just another service and commodity.
But for those who recognize the full range of compassionate services that a funeral director provides, they understand these death care professionals are individuals who should be respected.
It is the funeral director who answers the call of duty in the darkest moment of a family’s life and steps up ready to guide a family through the emotional roller coaster of saying good-bye to a loved one, all performed in a few short days. Few other professions work under these challenges.
The intrinsic value of the funeral profession are hidden within the intangible services that licensed funeral directors provide families. Their experience in understanding and navigating through the turmoil that death delivers to a family is part of the unwritten services they provide and these compassionate services are not shown on a funeral service contract.
For a funeral director, their tireless services are often called on in the middle of the night, because a family who has experienced the loss of a loved one requires immediate assistance that often cannot wait until the next morning.
Their confidence, calming presence and comforting words help families wade through the fog of death working as a guide who has walked the path countless times before. They listen to grieving families and encourage the sharing of memories of the deceased. They often provide a shoulder to cry on. They help with advice and take care of the smallest of details that the emotionally frail overlook. They provide options and help plan and organize a respectful funeral service based on the needs and wishes of the family.
They guide and direct families towards a path of emotional recovery by letting them know that it is normal and healthy to express their grief through mourning. They help build a supportive network that includes organizing the gathering of family and friends to ensure that the bonds of friendship and family are extended to others who also share their loss.
These services provided by a funeral professional are rarely seen by the public who show up at the funeral home to pay their respects and only see the results of the funeral professional’s diligent efforts to please their families.
It has been said that being a funeral director is a calling and a lifelong commitment and they are very often descendants of multi-generational experience. Attention to detail and excellent communication and listening skills are imperative.
Funeral professionals are composed and sympathetic and they act as confidants and accommodate the opinions of others. At times, they must act as a calm voice of reason during emotional disputes that arise between family members. They are proactive and prepared to attend to the needs of the grieving. The extent funeral directors will go to serve a family is nearly unlimited.
What a funeral director does is provide an unwavering commitment to see a family through a turbulent time. They are the practitioners of commemorating the dead through the combination of multiple traditions, rituals and religious doctrines. They are seen as promoters of positive emotional healing and with their funeral homes they’ve created a private, safe haven for families to find comfort in their grief and share their loss, free of judgment from outsiders.
Even in a day and age where cremation has become an alternative option for families, the role of the professional funeral director remains unchanged: To serve the needs of their families and help reinforce the significance of a life lived by bringing together a collective group that helps promote the required healing through an organized showing of support and love. Through this all, it is the funeral director who ultimately bears the responsibility of making this happen.
As Twain explained about the undertakers of his generation, “they do it without praise, without complaint and without criticism” and today’s modern funeral director understands that their purpose remains unchanged from Mark Twain’s time: to help guide families through their dark times by creating a meaningful and respectful goodbye built on the foundation of integrity, dignity and respect.