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
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.