But A Funeral Director is Not Supposed To Cry At A Funeral. . .
I have always thought it was ironic that I felt a calling to become a funeral director. I have always had a tendency to be tender hearted and would shed a tear over even the most seemingly routine event. In school I was deemed to be a cry baby and didn't understand why I would visibly be emotional when others had no reaction to an event. These were not sobbing cries saved for those traumatic events of life, just uncontrollable tears and a quivering voice.
I remember going to family funerals as a child and seeing the outpouring of emotion as family would pass by the casket for the last time. As stoic as I tried to be there were always those tears when I saw others showing their emotions.
In my late teens I took a summer job working at a florist. I was around the local funeral homes on a regular basis making deliveries and became more comfortable around those grieving. One of my jobs was to deliver flowers to the cemetery following a funeral so that they were at the grave when the funeral procession arrived. In doing so I sat through many funerals and got to see the families have those emotional final moments at the casket. I would see their hurt and feel those emotions welling up inside of me. As time went on I became conditioned to this and I didn't feel the emotions as much.
I went on to feel that funeral service was my calling and pursued a career in helping others through the toughest days of their lives. In the beginning my biggest fear was how I would react to the things that I would experience in the preparation room. I soon adapted to that and the embalming room became my comfort zone. I felt there was nothing that I would see there that I couldn't handle. It was after I started meeting one on one with families on a regular basis that my resolve was tried.
Over the past thirty plus years I have attended to the needs of hundreds of families. Being around grief has become rather routine but I still on occasion will feel those emotions rise up inside of me and a tear will come to my eyes. As funeral directors we come to expect the deaths of those that are in their elder years but I still have those cases that tear at my heart.
Fortunately we don't serve many families that have lost a baby. Whenever we do I get the feeling that if I dealt with many child and infant deaths that someone else would have to do it. Dealing with young parents that have had a loss is too hard to do on a regular basis. We do not charge for our services whenever we serve a family that has lost a small child or infant. I feel it is least we can do for someone experiencing such a loss. Sharon and I experienced the pain of two miscarriages and I am reminded of that whenever I deal with someone suffering a similar loss.
During my career I have taken jobs in towns miles away from family and friends, so initially I wasn't dealing with those that I knew very well. This provided some insulation from my feelings since I wasn't helping those I personally knew on a regular basis. Down through the years there have been cases when death had come to someone's family that I had come to know and it has comforted me to be able to help them through those days.
As we grow older I know we will be called upon to serve the families of our peers and I will have to face the reality of helping friends and family on a more regular basis. The nearest relatives I have personally dealt with professionally have been my brother-in-law and my mother. With Jim, my sister’s husband, death came after a battle with cancer. After seeing him in his final hours, death came as a relief from his suffering. I hurt from seeing my sister losing a companion and my nieces losing a Dad. I can remember marveling at my sister being able to stand before us at his services and speak of Jim. I thought to myself that I could never stand before family and friends to share those feelings. I have a hard time standing before a group and speaking about something I have strong feelings about without my voice quivering.
Last fall we handled the services for my mother. We had seen age and various medical issues take a toll on her down through the years. Her death had been expected a few times in her life but when it came it was again a relief to seeing her suffering end. My tears at that time were few but I have had moments of emotion since then when something comes to mind that brings back a memory.
Recently a longtime friend of ours died from cancer. It was a death call that I knew was coming. When it came I had to choke back the tears as my friend told me the end had come for his wife. It was hard going to the house to make the removal and it was hard seeing the family come in to see her for the first time at visitation. My tears came and I discreetly dabbed them from the corner of my eye several times over those days.
You see it hurts to see others hurt. Over the years I have learned to accept this hurt, to disguise it and suppress it. I have a tendency to keep people at arms length to keep from developing close relationships knowing that one day something will happen to break those ties. Once for five years I worked in another job to get away from the emotions only to realize that I wasn't doing what I was meant to do. Unlike some fellow funeral directors I’ve known I have never turned to alcohol or drugs to mask the hurt. That only compounds the hurt.
I find comfort whenever I deal with the family of someone that had a personal relationship with Christ. You see they have that knowledge that their loved one is in a better place. I hate it when someone didn't have that relationship and hope that the service we provide will give someone an opportunity to hear the gospel and come to know Him. I have seen deaths have an effect on someone's life that resulted in lasting change in their lives.
I have the opportunity on a regular basis to ask the question, “Why?”, and I am reminded of the scripture that says for those that love God, all things work for good. I have seen people of all ages die from a wide variety of causes so I have become accustomed to seeing grief. That doesn't make me immune from feeling the pain when I see a young parent grieve the loss of a child or a youngster’s emotions when they will be growing up without a parent. So if your are ever around when I am serving a family and you see a tear, just know that for every tear you see, that there are more that I have learned to hide. I have had many tell me they don't see how I do what I do but I don't have to look very far to see others that I wonder how they do what they do. I hold those that work in long term care facilities in high esteem, especially if they do a great job in giving compassionate care to the elderly. I often wonder how an oncologist chose a specialty that causes them to constantly be the bearer of bad news.
Thankfully there are those that have been called to provide such care. Just know that while they may appear indifferent to what's going on around them they care about those they are assisting. If they don't care they will not be around for long.
There's an old adage in funeral service, “Never let them see you sweat.” No matter what goes on around us, we never want to appear rattled, just calm and in control. For that same reason you will seldom see us cry, just know that we do because we care. If you do see it just know that we are human and that we care.