little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Cremation Questions Answered!

A few months ago I sat down with my friend Matt Roberts from the Mount Calvary Cemetery Group to answer different questions regarding the cremation process.

This was something we had wanted to do for a while, so it was fun for us to actually sit down and connect. We want to do another video together, so make certain that you watch the one below and leave your questions in the comment section!

Is Cremation A Problem?

The funeral industry is changing. There is no denying that.

If you’re a funeral home owner, I can guarantee that you’ve thought about the rise in cremation and how it’s impacting your business. Gone are the days of the three day wake, church service, and burial. While there is still plenty of room for tradition, families are walking away from funerals as their parents and grandparents have known them and redefining them to accommodate their lifestyle.

No matter my personal beliefs, it’s my job as a funeral professional to make certain the families I serve have all the information they need to make educated decisions. And even though I am a huge advocate for viewing and spending time with our dead, I personally do not see anything wrong with cremation as a final means of disposition. As a funeral professional, it’s my job to educate the families I serve and figure out how to give them the services they find value in while still educating about the importance of a funeral. It may be a different picture from what we are used to seeing, but there are still reasons certain traditions exist. (I’ll definitely revisit this and go more in detail as to my opinions, don’t worry!)

But I don’t want to stray too far away from the topic of this YouTube video. Watch it below and you be the judge for yourself if cremation is a problem.

Confessions of a Funeral Director Review

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a huge fan of Caleb Wilde. Is fan even the correct word to use when referring to a colleague within the same industry? Is colleague the correct word to use when you’ve never met the person in person? Am I being too technical in the introduction of this post? These questions may never have answers, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I like Caleb and enjoy his blog Confessions of a Funeral Director.

I’m not even certain how I stumbled upon Caleb’s blog. I remember reading his post 10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry, exchanging a few tweets back and forth, and before I knew it, he had asked me if he could feature my post, The Top 5 Things You Should Know About Funeral Directors, on his blog. By the time it went live on his blog, Little Miss Funeral experienced the most traffic, well, ever. (Thanks, Caleb!)

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, because I want you to know that I am biased. I can relate to Caleb. We both come from a Christian background. We both work for family funeral homes. We both have been burned out and depressed. So when I found out he was writing a book, I grabbed my credit card and preordered it right away.

Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life was the first book that I ever “reviewed” on my YouTube channel. I put “reviewed” in quotations because I realized that I am horrible at actually reviewing things. I basically ramble on for five minutes and thirty four seconds about how much I enjoyed the book while trying to throw in some pros and cons about it because that’s what my husband told me to do (who actually reviews things over at his website, The Geekiverse, and knows how to do a proper review).

Regardless of your religious background and personal beliefs, or if you’re involved in the funeral industry or not, Caleb shares very personal experiences and details in his book. If you come from a similar background you’ll find yourself shaking your head in agreement at some things he says. If you don’t, you’re still invited to understand a little bit more about an unfamiliar world. His book deserves a place among your collection.

Still don’t believe me? Watch me ramble on about it for five minutes and thirty four seconds below.

Okay, but seriously, buy his book here.

I told you I was a fan.

On being present in the moment.

I was in elementary school when I asked my mother what her favorite day of the week was. I remember she was driving me to school. I don’t know why I asked her this; I don’t know why I did a lot of things when I was younger.

She told me her favorite day was Saturday, because it meant that she was off from work and could relax, but that she still had one more day to enjoy when it was over. She then asked me what my favorite day of the week was.

I told her it was Friday, because even though I had school and tests and homework, I looked forward to having the two following days off.

That was when I realized I lived for the future.

I’ve always looked forward to things. The anticipation of a vacation could sometimes be a bigger thrill for me than actually leaving that day for the vacation itself. I couldn’t wait till I was in high school so my life could begin. Once in high school, I couldn’t wait for college for my life to really begin. Once in college, I couldn’t wait till I graduated and actually started to work in a funeral home. The future was always better than the present. The future held so many opportunities.

It took working in a funeral home for me to understand that I was mentally living my life the wrong way. One funeral in particular when I was new to the industry shook me. A girl two years older than me  had died from cancer. I had to handle her arrangements. Looking down upon her face was like looking at myself. It could have so easily been me on that embalming table. Her tomorrow’s were over. Her future cut short.

Death doesn’t care how old you are. What kind of family or background you come from. What your future plans are. When death comes for you, there are no compromises.

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” – Eminem

Is it weird that a funeral blog just quoted Eminem? Maybe. But is what he said true? You bet. Honestly, it’s still a struggle for me to appreciate the time I have, right now. It’s something that I have to work at constantly. It’s so easy for me to slip into my natural thoughts of “tomorrow will be better”. Don’t get me wrong, I want to plan for the future. I just don’t want to always live for tomorrow. I want to appreciate how the flowers look outside my window right now. I want to feel the warmth of my dog as he lies near my legs and be content. I want this moment to be enough if this moment is all I have. I want all of my family and friends to know that I love them, and if tomorrow starts without me, I want them to know these things today.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”  – Henry David Thoreau

Friday and Saturday are both great days. And contrary to popular belief, so are Mondays. Breath. Take a sip of your coffee. No matter what is happening right now, the fact that we are here to experience it means we are a lot more blessed than others. I mean, it’s called the present for a reason, right?

What To Do On A Job Interview (At A Funeral Home)

Hi everyone! I’ve been so bad about sharing my YouTube videos on my blog, so I’m going to try to post a few of them every other day until I’m caught up. Or at least post them until I get busy with work and forget!

The next one that I want to share involves a little story of my first job interview (that kind of wasn’t a job interview) and some suggestions that I have for those who are looking to work in a funeral home. I hope you enjoy it.

On reminding myself to breathe.

It’s happening again.

I’m feeling myself tumble-down that rabbit hole just like Alice.

One thing, that I want to state before I go further, is that I love my job. I really and truly love being a funeral director. But I would be lying if I said it was easy.

The funeral home where I’m currently employed does quite a lot of calls every year. In fact, when I tell people the amount of calls we do, they’re often taken aback. It’s a small building with two funeral directors, one full-time assistant, a trade guy, and part-time help that I can count on one hand. It doesn’t make sense, how everything can get done. But it does, and we do a damn good job.

It’s a joke, it really is, that anytime the owner goes on vacation, everyone in my town dies. This past week and a half was no exception. Ten death calls in ten days. Seven full funerals (visitations, church services, burials). One cremation with a memorial service. Two direct cremations. And I was the only funeral director in the building.

I find myself conflicted emotionally during these times. In one way, I crave these challenges. I drown myself completely with work and the families that I serve because I love proving to myself that I can do it all and do it well. I get a high off of this. Instead of cracking under the pressure I push myself harder to be a better funeral director. My organization was so spot on and communication with my assistant so clear that these services could not have run smoother. I’m proud of myself.

But in the same breath, I only have so much inside of me that I can give. Today was the last burial. The phone hasn’t rung. And now that I’m coming down from my high, I’m tired.

Compassion fatigue is a real thing. And now, it’s almost eleven at night on a Saturday and I’m feeling the pull. I’m feeling myself slipping because I haven’t had a break and for a moment, I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself. I know the steps. I know what I have to do. But when you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole in the past, the route can be just a little too familiar.

So I wanted to write this down, to remind myself that I’m human. Sometimes, I do an exceptional job being a funeral director. And sometimes, I let all the bad stuff choke me. I have to talk about it, because it’s not bad that I’m feeling these emotions. It would be bad if I didn’t share these things and hid them away all to myself. There are resources to help me and people who care about me. This is just a little bump in my journey, not my destination.

Finding Resilience.

I actually did not know that there was a name for it until I started writing a presentation for the Ohio Funeral Director’s Association Convention back in 2016.

I was going to be speaking to college kids and young resident funeral director’s. My topic was Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Funeral Director, and I figured that I would just talk about my own experiences. Since I was so young when I first started working in the funeral home I had a unique perspective. Since I was a female I found myself having an even more ‘unique’ experience. I thought I could pass on some things I learned; or at least things that I went through.

Compassion fatigue. com·pas·sion fa·tigue noun

1.) Indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.

2.) A state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper. – Dr. Charles Figley compassionfatigue.org

I just happened to stumble across the term on google. The more I looked into it the more I realized that compassion fatigue was something that I suffered from early on in my career. When the demands of the job outweighed my self-care. When I worked so much with the grieving and dead that I didn’t know how to distance myself, or put myself first. I may have talked about compassion fatigue for only two minutes during my presentation. Once it was over, I was stunned at the amount of people who approached me stating that it was something that they suffered from, as well. They just never knew there was a term for it. The following year I was asked to speak again at the OFDA Convention. This time, my entire presentation was on Compassion Fatigue.

Jason Troyer, PhD CT contacted me back in July of 2017 right after that presentation. As a psychology professor/psychologist who specializes in grief, he understood the weight of the funeral profession verses the lack of resources available to funeral professionals. He wanted to create a resource for those of us who needed it.

His vision evolved into Finding Resilience: A burnout prevention program for funeral professionals. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced it firsthand (or maybe it’s because I contributed a small amount) but as I went through the journal and information I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement with everything that was presented. From the unrealistic expectations that funeral directors put on themselves to the long hours and depressing environment, it’s a shock that compassion fatigue isn’t something that is discussed more throughout our profession.

I have often contemplated if this profession is truly what I want for my life. Because being a funeral director isn’t something you can turn on and off. You can’t be half of a funeral director only half the time. You’re either all in or all out. The thing is, when you’re all in you can quickly find yourself drowning. That’s why it’s so important to talk about it. You need resources, colleagues and support. You need to be able to find some sort of balance. You need to put your own health first.

There were many nights when I would lock the doors at the funeral home and walk over to my car, alone, in the dark. The minute I would start my engine, I’d suddenly find myself crying. And it wasn’t cute crying. It was ugly crocodile tears, choking back air, full body shake crying. I would wonder what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I handle this job? Why was a profession that I’ve wanted to be in since before I was a teenage too much for me to handle? Why was it, that every time the phone rang at work, I would silently pray that it wasn’t a death call, because I knew that I did not have the energy to meet with another family. Why wasn’t my passion for helping others stronger than death’s grip on my life? Looking back, I can see that it’s because I had no balance. I was young and I wanted to succeed. I didn’t realize that by always saying yes to my job I was saying no to my own physical and mental health. When your entire life is death you’ll find that there is no room to actually live.

Finding Resilience is a resource that I wish I had five years ago. It’s information that makes so much sense that can help during a time when the fog is so thick you can’t think clearly on your own. I’m proud to be apart of it, and I encourage anyone in the funeral profession to explore it before you actually need it. You don’t have to drown, you just have to know when to ask for help.

Finding Resilience is a burnout prevention program in partnership with Homesteaders and Dr. Jason Troyer to create resources to help you cope with difficult situations and find the joy in the important work you do to serve your community. You can sign up for a free journal or weekly emails here.

 

Dogs In Funeral Homes

Hi everyone, remember me?

I know that I’ve been terrible at blogging this year. I’ve had a lot of personal things going on that I’ll be able to talk more about in a few months, but to say the least, I’ve been busy. I have been able to somewhat keep up with my YouTube channel (not completely, but much better than I have been with writing.) So below, you can watch a video where I talk about dogs in funeral homes, but more importantly, where my dog Lindy Ruff makes a special guest appearance.

Having a dog helps my mental state tremendously. Lindy is 45 pounds of pure snuggle and love when I come home from work and he immediately lifts my mood. I hope you like the video and don’t worry, I promise I’ll be posting more on here soon!

 

(Also if you want more videos on grief therapy dogs and their training you can check out this video from TalkDeath and The Modern Mortician)

Public Speaking + Advice

One thing that you tend to do a lot of in funeral service is talk. You talk to small groups during arrangements. You talk in front of larger groups on days of services. You talk one on one with a grieving widow. Mortuary school did not prepare me properly for all of the public speaking that comes along with this job.

In this video, I talk about my own tips and tricks that have been passed down to me by others and ones that I’ve picked up myself throughout my eight years of burying people.

Frozen feet.

I buy UGG boots because they’re supposed to be warm. But not those fuzzy slipper-looking ones. The boots that I buy have to be somewhat stylish, since I’ll be wearing them on services. I work outside for half of my job; the days of the funerals. These days we park cars, say prayers, and wait at the gravesite once the family has said their final goodbyes. We wait until it’s finished. We take care of these bodies until they’re placed into the ground.

I try to stay warm on these cold winter days. We always have snow. The air always hurts your face. I own fleece-lined tights, fleece-lined leather gloves, hats that cover my ears, and these UGG boots. But today, I couldn’t feel my toes. Today, the ice grabbed my feet and wouldn’t let go. Today I was alone by the gravesite, with only the cemetery crew to witness this body being placed into the ground. But I waited until it was done.

My grandfather passed away in the middle of November. My grandmother decided to die during the famous October storm of 2006. Google it. We couldn’t bury her for about two weeks.  And then, you all know about Eddie, who passed away on December 14th. Death always seems to come for my family when it’s cold.

Today, January 2nd, also marks a year since a close family friend died. His burial was one of the coldest I’ve ever done. I stood at the foot of his grave and watched as the vault lid went on. I couldn’t feel my feet then, either. But it’s all part of the job. Honestly, I don’t mind that much. During these times, I remember how I felt having to say goodbye. I remember the pain, feeling broken, and the tears. I remember knowing, that even though these are the shells of those that I love, that these bodies still mean something. They matter. It would have been so much easier, if the cold that I felt in my feet could have just traveled up to my heart. We sometimes think that are problems can go away if we numb out the pain.

But we have to go through this pain. We feel pain because we love, and if pain is the price we pay to love, then I will gladly take it all. All of those good times are worth it, they really are. We’re going to cry, and scream. There are days when we’ll try to numb out the pain and find that we can’t succeed. And in the middle of all of this, we’ll find ourselves laughing at a memory and then the tears will roll once again. We have to go through it.

You will always feel what’s in your heart. But today, I can’t feel my toes.