When did you know you wanted to be a funeral director?
I knew I wanted to be a funeral director after I started working at my local funeral home when I was a sophomore in high school, I didn't truly fall in love with the job until my junior year. I don’t have any family within the business, my mother is a school teacher, and my father is a CAD drafter/ surveyor, although I do consider the people I work with a second family of mine because we know each other very well. When I started, I had two great mentors who I give a lot of credit to for showing me the profession and everything involved. I completely fell in love with the job, dealing with people, and the whole job itself and the amount of depth that you have to take to ensure that each funeral is perfectly suited for each and every family you serve.
How has this career affected your personal life/dating life as a 20-something-year-old?
This career hasn’t truly affected my dating life per se, but definitely my personal life since I knew I wanted to be a director straight out of high school, most of my friends have become accustomed to what I do, the many different aspects of my job, the ups and downs, and being available or not. Now that I have finished school before the rest of my good friends I find it very different when my friends are going to parties while still in college, and I’m working. I think that another aspect is because this job is so involved, your days are never the typical 9-5. I have found many times, having to bail on my friends, or events, because of a late night call, or because I am staying late at work. Thank god they understand.
What do you wish people knew about funeral directors?
I want most people to think of funeral directors as normal people because we are. We are the people you see in your neighborhood, and we are your friends. Luckily for me, I live in a small rural town, Hyde Park, New York, and I know a lot of people, so the idea of a community is definitely present, and the idea that a funeral director is a normal person resonates very well within my town. I see a lot of the people whose families we have had the privilege of serving, and they truly, appreciate everything you do for them and for the community.
Are there any industry trends you’ve noticed emerging recently?
I have noticed a couple of trends, I think the idea of a personalized funeral is the biggest one many people call it “cremation,” I look at it as a form of personalization because it is easier for families to wait and get everyone together in a month, or a couple of months, instead of just a week or so. I also see that there are many different things you can do with the ashes, such as have them at home (a sense of comfort,) or bring them to a place that the person frequented. It gives people a personalized touch - which we see going away in this technology era - during that, someone’s life being brought back. I think that we have to open up our minds and realize that as funeral directors. With that being said, I do appreciate a full burial, because I think it does give a sense of finality, and allows for people to have the factor of knowing that their loved one is in the casket, and this is the last time they will see them on this Earth. I think it also allows for the bereavement process to be fully involved.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do? Hobbies, interests, etc.?
When I am not working, I enjoy golfing, fishing, biking, going out with friends, watching a game on T.V. (big sports enthusiast) or just being around my family.
What area of your job would you like to improve upon, personally?
Personally, I hate this question. I think that in our profession, if you don’t have a desire to excel in every part of your skills - whether it be embalming, restoration, cosmetics, dealing with people, improving your personal skills, bettering yourself in the job, or profession you have chosen, then what is the point? Our job requires many specific skills sets, and if you don’t want to make them better and enhance your skills, why do the job? One quote that I go back to is, "you can learn something new every day, about someone, something, or anything."
What’s your favorite quote?
“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” –Yogi Berra
This is a quote I have hanging on my desk. I am a big baseball fan, I don’t have a team, but I truly just enjoy the game. I grew up playing all my life and wore the number 8 because of Yogi Berra, it just so happened that he had a great, funny quote that also fit my career very well. The reason I enjoy this quote is because it's truly a joke, but it also has a lot of sense to it, if you go to someone’s funeral they can't come to yours, there is no possible way, but it also shows respect if you know someone, or someone in the family, go to their funeral - it does mean a lot to the family, more than most realize.
If you were asked for advice from another young person interested in pursuing a funeral industry career, what would you tell them?
I would tell them take the chance, I did. “Don’t have any regrets in your life” – My father, one quote that I apply to many of my decisions. You never know what you're going to miss if you don’t take a chance.
Has working in the mortuary field changed your outlook on life, or how you live your life?
I have always been a glass-half-full kind of person, but it has taught me to appreciate the little things, the moments, spending time with the people who are close to me, knowing that I have always been a person who thinks older than most, so that has some impact on the way I see things, compared to others.
What do you do to unwind after a particularly tough day on the job?
It depends on the day. I usually do different things, if I'm not on call that night, I usually enjoy a drink. If I am on call, I go home and relax. I don’t let being on call change my life much, I usually carry a change of clothes with me around when I am on call, but I will go out with friends and live a normal life. I think that is one of the things most people forget to do, is live their life while being on call.
If you could change anything about the funeral industry, or how it is viewed by the general public, what would you change?
If I could change one thing, it would be the outlook that people have on the industry. We are regular people. Yes, we see dead people, but it's part of our job, we are people just like everyone else. We are members of our local community, and we live lives with our families just like everyone else.
What is a normal workday/week like for you, schedule-wise?
Ha, this doesn’t exist, a normal work week. I have gone from weeks where I work 70 hours, to then 40 hours. This job has no schedule, death has no schedule, therefore neither do we. We are so unlike any other job, we respond 24/7. I always joke with my colleagues, let me know when your lawyer or accountant is going to answer your call at 3 in the morning, yet we are willing, and I say "willing," because we are professional, and it is our job to talk to someone if they want to call and discuss clothing for their family member at 3 am, or they finally found the information that we were waiting on for the death certificate. We are ready to talk to them or arrive at their house because someone has died, or they need the reassurance that the clothing they already brought in is going to be perfect for their loved one.
What is the strangest request you’ve received?
The strangest request I have ever had - we had one person who wanted his dad to be cremated so he could turn the ashes into fireworks (he was a pyrotechnic), so that was an interesting one, but I have many different requests - it depends on how you look at it, some people may think that a guy being buried in a full suit with slippers is crazy, but if you talk with the family and realize he always had slippers on, it becomes normal, or a part of this person's life, so what is strange to one may not be strange to someone else.
How would you describe your experience as a mortuary science student working toward your career?
I would say I'm living a dream come true. I love my job, the people I work with, and everything that comes with it. One thing that goes into this is my love of what I do, there is no greater reward to me than helping a family and being there for them at the time of their greatest loss of a loved one, and being able to help them through that time.