Updated: May 25, 2019
“Aren’t you scared?”
“No, what is so scary about your grandma?”
Maybe you too, have been told you’re brave to work with the dead. Funeral professionals are considered an odd group of people for one reason; our daily activities denounce the superstitions caused by folklore and horror movies. We never expect a corpse to wake up and touch us, or sit up and speak, the way that many ‘normal’ people who don’t work in death care do. We also don’t hold the belief that death itself is contagious and will somehow be transmitted to us by being around a body.
This is the only thing that makes us different than non death care professionals. It allows flexibility and creativity within our field. The use of logic surrounding death causes some people believe we have a profound superpower to function in an unfamiliar environment. But just because we don’t hold the same superstitions doesn’t mean we are not fear driven individuals.
We are fearful people, just like everyone else. Fear comes from feeling powerless. We hate feeling like we have no control over a situation. I can think of times when a funeral procession didn’t exactly go smoothly. My fear of imperfection made me feel like I was going to be sick. Sounds dramatic, but I tend to be a mildly dramatic person. Thoughts of loss of control and imperfection give us the desire to check out and in doing so retain some type of control.
The old boys in this industry are no different than I am, or than that of the publics irrational fear of the inevitable. They may not be as overtly dramatic, but when it comes to ‘the changing face of funeral service’ there is a lot of checking out. I have heard people say “I wont have to worry about it, I’ll be retired by then.” Being passive about the situation, while consciously aware that things are changing, and not being involved with that change; is not a great way to end a career in an industry which you have dedicated your life to.
Death is change, that is all. It is normal to fear any change which we are not in control of. The decision to take charge of the situations and experiences in our lives is what makes us leaders. We may not have the ability to control everything in our world, but we do have the choice to decide our thoughts and our involvement, on how that change is implemented. Deciding to ignore or just complain that people are becoming less interested in the traditional practices of funeral service, is problematic and serves no one.
Do we ever sit down and think why most of us prefer the traditional model of funeral service? The answer I have predominantly gotten has been about the bottom line, money. On the surface, it would appear that this is the main reason, but we all know there are a million ways to make money. Anyone can sell anything and profit from it. Antiques shops selling other peoples garbage make money. Monument companies are selling rocks to the public for thousands of dollars. I even know someone who makes a very good living, selling Pokémon cards, the most useless thing on the planet. So if we can create value with anything and make money from that value, then money is not the issue.
The reason for opposition to industry change, comes from our feelings. It comes down to each individual holding a negative thought or feeling. Negative thoughts cause us to emotionally distance ourselves and prevent us from problem solving and growing from the circumstance.
It’s easier to continue to ignore the needs of employees, colleagues, the industry, and the families we serve, than it is to change. What taboos, stigmas and beliefs do we currently hold towards cremation, or towards families being more involved with the process? Why do certain requests make us feel uncomfortable?
Changing what we do on a daily basis, for someone else, is more difficult than changing what we do for ourselves. The gratification is less instantaneous, less obvious and difficult to identify since we are not an immediate direct recipient. It has been easy for us to do the same rituals keep the same business practices and models as what we were initially taught. Learning and taking risks is challenging.
We have 2 options regarding the future of our industry: The first option is to be leaders. Changing our feelings, towards new ideas and that which others are asking for. Through this, we are able to problem solve, grow and create our own industry changes, taking back control over the inevitable and getting involved.
The second option, is to hold onto our negative feelings about the changing face of funeral service and continue to believe that the traditional model will at least hold out until we are retired. This option will not serve you as a professional, your industry, or the people whom you impart your wisdom. It does not promote change and does not allow us control over what happens to our livelihood.
I want to encourage you to reconsider just one negative thought towards families doing a service on their own, or the concept of green burials, or even immediate cremation. I want you to consider that these concepts can actually make your business more successful if you can let go of your negative ideologies around these practices. You will never come up with the solution until you change your mind that these practices are actually neutral, it is our feelings towards them which hold the negativity. We cannot adapt if we continue to hold onto the taboo thoughts that these changes are bad. These changes are happening with or without us. If we don’t keep an open mind and we are not active participants, we cannot learn or grow.