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The Heart of a Funeral Director

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

“How do you do what you do?” I hear this often, as a funeral director. Grief is hard, it’s messy and it’s profound. I learn a lot from the people I talk with and walk with, as grief comes into their life. I observe and I feel. I’m invited into their lives as they face death and grief and life. I am forever changed, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. I am grateful and honored. I grieve.

I have sat with grieving families of 20 somethings, who have taken their own lives with guns, pills and rope. Some have died as accidents and some have just died. Some of these young men were husbands and new dads; all of them were sons, grandsons and brothers. One was a soldier. He was honored, his flagged draped casket carefully removed from the airplane by six stoic men dressed in uniforms with white gloved hands. My job as the funeral director was to drive the hearse onto the tarmac to the plane, follow the officers lead, close the hearse door after the son, father, husband & brother was safely stowed away, then drive the two soldiers away. One sleeping in death in back, the other, the escort, sleeping from exhaustion in the seat beside me.

I have held mothers, clutching shoes, pictures, memories and shattered dreams, as their bodies were wracked in the pain of grief.

I have witnessed young couples grieve the death of their babies while at the same time celebrating the birth of the surviving twin. I have witnessed what diseases, illnesses and accidents do to the deceased and the survivors. I grieve.

There is the death that is done “right”. This is the death of the 80 or 90 somethings. The man or woman who has lived life, worked, raised a family, vacationed, became a grandparent and great grandparent. Their death, whether quietly or painfully done, follows the natural order—before the young, before their children, before the 20 somethings and the babies. Their cause of death stems from an aging body, worn out and always in the manner of natural. But, their death invites grief into the lives of those who loved them. I grieve.

Death is traumatic. Death is hard. I never want death to harden my heart. My heart needs to remain soft, empathetic and compassionate. Families come to me exhausted, relieved, beaten and bewildered. Families come…..some in cooperation, some in ambivalence, but all in grief. Grief is everything but pretty. Trying to make sense of the senseless is an attempt in futility. Is it better to question GOD? It’s OK to be angry and furious and heart broken and fragile. It hurts so deep that the depth is unfathomable. How does one begin to accept?

These are the times when living in the moment is so difficult. But, to be fully human and fully alive we must also feel. It is by feeling the depths of grief and sorrow that we can truly know what it is to be truly, fully alive.


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