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Isolation and Stoicism in the Funeral Industry

Stoic is the definitive word, which comes to mind when describing a funeral director. The philosophy of stoicism was founded by Socrates. It is defined as living in the moment, not allowing oneself to be controlled by our feelings of fear, pain or pleasure. The practice can be a useful aid during arrangements, averting us from becoming too emotionally involved. It allows us to sympathize, rather than empathize with families. It serves us to adopt the practice when in the arrangement office, but stoicism cannot be practiced without an outlet, because we are human beings with emotions.

The outlet which occurs when we always attempt to be unfazed in our lives, is gossip and isolation. A clear comparison to the stoicism in funeral service, are the struggles of a politician. I have received pamphlets in the mail and read articles about politicians from opposing parties, where personal information and belief systems are disclosed. This information doesn't seem to have relevance to their political avocation or position. It is used to discredit a party, when the opposition isn't leading and vulnerability is apparent.

We see this behavior in all types of professional industries, which deal with serious matters and people are required to be unemotional while being in the public eye.

The funeral industry can be isolating. In my last article about burn out, I touched on the topic. Isolation can be created from the stoic and sometimes apathetic way we interact with our colleagues, including funeral directors at other homes. We act as though we are invincible and have no concerns when we meet at annual symposiums. It feels necessary for the preservation of our ego and our careers, to appear at the top of our game, but it does not facilitate the necessary innovative purpose of congregating.

The old timers of the funeral industry apparently used to gather together, share ideas and party. The old boys club served a purpose to prevent isolation in our very private stoic industry. The elusive funeral fraternity is gradually diminishing, as that generation is aging and beginning to retire. To my understanding and experience, they haven't been very accepting of any new faces who didn't fit into a similar business model or attend educational programs of the same decade. Their solidarity served a purpose, but outsiders who don't fit their vision are ostracized and isolated.

There are new professionals trickling in and I hope that the future leaders of this industry won't adopt the gossipy, fraternity like mentality; however, the members of the old boy’s club still hold positions of authority. They are the ones who are inadvertently teaching us to be guarded and dissociative from our peers. Many still hold outdated ideas and opinions which don't serve new industry workers or the changing face of funeral service. It would seem that the members of such a club, have had to think, act and look a certain way. Politics and cutthroat business within funeral service has created a lot of caution and insecurity amongst non members. The professionals who do not participate in the industry gossip and drama are often disassociated from the infamous old boys’ club.

It is our insecurity which prevents us from sharing ideas and building each other up. If we were confident with ourselves, our business and our position, many of us would not be so shy to disclose and work together on the issue we are currently facing.

For many, the industry is not flourishing the way it once was, before the wave of immediate cremation took hold. There is a growing population which leans towards no service, or doing it on their own. This is a problem which not one person, or even one funeral home can rectify. The services provided are becoming skimpy. Not because the industry doesn't have the capabilities, or knowledge to change the public view; but because we are not working together to change it. We may be competitors in business, but we are still industry colleagues facing many of the same challenges.

I used to work alongside some amazing women, however, I would often find myself internally jealous and bitter, at their great work successes and seemingly perfect lives. In hindsight, it would have better served me; to start a group where we conceptualize business ideas, rather than disassociate, for fear of being judged or gossiped about. If I would have shared my thoughts, rather than silently avoiding and judging these women, we probably could've come up with some pretty amazing ideas.

By nature, humans love to problem solve, for ourselves and for the people around us. It creates a sense and purpose. That is why we are funeral directors. We are made to develop new ideas. By verbalizing these ideas, we receive the gift of validation and feedback. In sharing them, our peers and colleagues become influenced and inspired. They will go out of their way to support us, or they will adopt our ideas which also serve them. If we never talk about our desires or intentions, then they will never come to fruition.

Isolation will kill your dreams and your passion.Without support, we cannot instil change. We will become weary and fail, if we are an army of one. One person cannot change an industry or public perception. A group of educated professionals, can truly transform the funeral industry for every business. This industry, the people who work in it, and the sacrifices they make, are the reason that we need to fight the practice of isolation and insecurity amongst colleagues.

Why are the only industry ideas shared at council and at symposiums? If there are other groups, why am I not aware of them? There must be better ways of improving amongst ourselves within our professional community. We can all agree that there is room for improvement communicating with each other and the public.

Many professionals fear that if their competition hears about their new business ideas, they might use them for their own benefit. This is the common thought process found in many businesses and it would be accurate. Believing that a hive mentality, doesn't serve your business is foolish. Every funeral home in your district, is already doing a market report on your business, and every other competitor for that matter. They are all waiting to see if your marketing ideas pan out. If we were having open discussions about business wouldn't you do the same? That discussion could and probably would, fuel more advanced ideas than your original proposal. Maybe it would help us to think outside the box, rather than continuing on with an old model which isn't working.

I am more than likely in a different position than many of you. I am no longer ruled by, or as heavily influenced by colleagues on a daily basis. My time at each funeral home is limited. If I wasn't in my current position, as a rogue wandering funeral director, I might not have realized the oppression which I was experiencing previously, or the isolation which I created amongst my colleagues. It is easier to see the system when looking at it in hindsight and from an outside perspective.

We have become dissociative and don't always interact with other professionals who may be facing the same challenges, because there is a strong euphemistic culture within the workplace encouraging us to say "we're fine". We carry on doing what we have always done and avoid making waves.

My goal is to transform and revive this industry into a thriving forward thinking institution. One which listens and grows for the benefit of everyone involved. But that goal will not be realized unless we connect and communicate openly with our colleagues so we can work together and create a new perspective of our industry. This includes our competition.

At the next symposium, I would encourage you to have a conversation with someone you don't usually associate with, about problem solving ways to improve our industry.

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