A Funeral Director’s Perspective: The Importance of Transparency In Conversations with Families
Our thanks to Sympathy Brands for contributing this guest post, which was written by Arianna Rule, a licensed funeral director and certified pre-planning consultant with almost a decade of experience.
“What do you do for a living?” The question we dread as funeral directors.
“I’m a funeral director.”
Thus follows the usual string of questions: “How did you get into that? Isn’t that depressing?” Or even, ”At least they don’t talk back!”
It may seem frustrating to always have to answer these questions. But the true culprit is lack of knowledge: lack of knowledge from that individual, and also lack of knowledge and transparency among the funeral industry itself.
Many colleges offer a general education course on the history of death and dying, which often features Jessica Mitford’s, “The American Way of Death.” This book, first published in 1963, provides a critical look at the U.S. funeral industry. Mitford argues the industry has become a business that preys on the emotional vulnerability of the bereaved and exploits them for profit.
As freshman college students, this is often their first introduction to the funeral industry; and it’s not necessarily a positive one.
So, how can we help educate the public, and the industry, about how to discuss funerals, and in turn, change perceptions of dying, death, and funerals?
It starts by answering some common questions with factual, transparent information. Here are some of those common questions:
What Does a Funeral Director Do?
Oftentimes this question is answered with industry jargon, which means little to the outside world. “I make transfers, I embalm, I file permits and death certificates.” But, what does it actually mean to be a funeral director? How can we better explain ourselves and our job?
Start by providing details of the initial phone call, all the way to the disposition. Then, explain how the deceased will get to the funeral home from their place of passing. Share what information needs to be gathered for the death certificate. There are many laws and regulations regarding caring for a deceased, and one of the funeral director’s primary responsibilities is to ensure these items are handled.
It’s also helpful to explain the importance of the death certificate, and what they should expect when they visit the funeral home for arrangements.
Funeral directors play a crucial role in helping families during one of the most challenging times of their lives, so by being more transparent with the process, we can provide a higher level of guidance, support, and practical services.
What is the Role of a Funeral Director in the Cremation Process? What Happens with the Cremated Remains?
It’s often hard for families to understand why they need a funeral home if they are planning to cremate. They’ll often wonder why they can’t just go directly to a crematory. It’s our job as funeral directors to explain that they legally still need to go through a funeral home, because we are responsible for obtaining the necessary permits, preparing the body for cremation, and overseeing the cremation itself.
Funeral directors also work with families to choose an appropriate urn or another memorial item for the remains and can help plan a memorial service if desired. Educate families on their options, such as taking the remains home, turning them into art, etc.
What are Alternative Funeral Options?
Not all alternative methods may be an option in your state, but it’s still helpful to share this information with families, especially during the pre-arrangement process. Start with the traditional options, such as burial, cremation, and entombment. Also mention alternatives, such as composting – transforming their loved one’s body into soil, and alkaline hydrolysis – using water, alkaline chemicals and heat to accelerate natural decomposition. Often, families may not realize all of the possibilities available to them to memorialize their loved one.
There are many misconceptions surrounding our work as funeral directors. And while a lot of it is rooted in the funeral industry, the education of families, and therefore the general public, starts with us. If we can be more transparent and informative, we’ll help to change perceptions.