little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Category: Uncategorized

A little update.

My voice is becoming quiet. Something that I didn’t anticipate happening. I know through the years that I’ve been blogging I’ve gone through times where I’ve said less and times when I’ve written more. But this is different.

Becoming a mother has made me different in ways that I could have never seen coming. These days I’m on maternity leave, snuggling my girl, and dedicating my entire existence to her. I feed her, I change her, I love her. When she cries I answer.

The funeral industry has given me many gifts throughout the years. I’ve learned many lessons spending my days inside the doors of a funeral home. I’ve learned that life is short, death doesn’t discriminate, and that you should do what makes you happy. These days, I’m happy spending every moment with my girl.

When I do return to work, it’s going to be difficult to find balance. I’ve struggled with depression and compassion fatigue in the past due to the hours that I’ve dedicated to my job. Things are going to have to be different. I have something much more important now to dedicate my life to. I still have some time on my maternity leave, but when I do start working again, I’m certain I’ll have a lot to talk about. In the mean time, thanks for checking in. We’re all doing fine.

What Little Miss Funeral Wears (when she’s seven months pregnant.)

Morbid maternity photo shoot take two.

Seriously, that’s all I see when I look at these photos. But alas, I am currently (at least at the time I type this) seven months pregnant and still working full-time (and sometimes overtime) at the funeral home. All in all, I still feel pretty good. I’m getting bigger and all that means is clothes are getting more difficult to find and my back is starting to hurt.

I have so far refused to buy any maternity clothes. I have, however, experienced the blessing of others buying/loaning me maternity wear. This dress is from one of those angels.

I have a cousin who had a baby a few years back and she let me borrow this dress. Although clothes are getting more difficult to find, I’m still sticking with my black/gray/white theme as much as I can. When I look at myself in the mirror, I just see myself getting bigger and bigger, so keeping to my favorite color scheme helps me to still feel like myself. Since last month, I’ve retired my favorite stilettos and have switched to these thick high heels instead. My feet/ankles are not swelling (yet) so I’m still pretty comfortable wearing heels during the day. I do, however, take them off when I’m sitting by my desk. I hope I can wear heels for the remainder of my pregnancy, but we’ll see how it goes. One day at a time!

Since I am getting bigger, one thing that I love to do is wear a belt with my dresses. It makes me feel like I’m showing off the baby bump that I can no longer hide instead of feeling like a balloon. Even though I am so excited for this little baby and would gain a million pounds as long as it’s born happy and healthy, I still am very uncomfortable with the changes in my body. Being out in the community and around people, I’ve always been aware that people judge me based on how I look. One huge thing that I’ve noticed is how excited families get when they walk into the funeral home and see me. It’s as if my pregnancy sheds a light, if only for a moment. After all, I’ve always said, people love babies and puppies.

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That last photo has me laughing! Trying to look like a model, actually looking like a whale! If pregnancy has taught me one thing it’s to just roll with it, especially when you’re feeling large and out of control.

Dress – Liz Lange Maternity (similar style here)

Shoes – Nine West (similar style here)

Belt – H&M (similar style here)

My husband Josiah LeRoy took these photos of me in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Cheektowaga, NY.

 

Addressing something I’ve noticed within the funeral community.

There’s something that I’ve been noticing in the funeral industry that I’d like to address, however, I’m not certain how I’d like to go about it. I’ve been looking at my computer screen for quite some time already, pondering if I should even address it. But I’ve always been honest on my blog and I’ve always used it as an outlet to get my emotions out, so here I am, typing away.

I’ve always loved the funeral community that I’ve found online. I have been able to make some great friends and have valuable resources thanks to the internet and other people similar to me who work in the death care industry and put themselves out there online. I’ve always been proud of fellow funeral professionals who stand up for what they believe in and who put the care of families and the dead above all else. After all, I became a funeral director to help people. I’m still a funeral director because I believe that I’m good at helping people.

But recently, online, I’ve been seeing a divide. I’m certain that this divide has been here for a while, but I’ve just either been ignoring it or ignorant to it. Either way, the other day I noticed a comment on a social media platform that was very obviously directed at me. When I looked into the person who made this comment, I noticed that the hashtag #deathpositive was used in their profile.

I love the death positive movement. It encourages people to speak openly about death, all the while being able to stare our own mortality in the face. Part of this movement involves individuals who want to take back death by taking care of their loved ones directly in death. More family and less funeral directors. A concept that many people in the Western culture still aren’t completely comfortable with. You see, our society has been sweeping death ‘under the rug’ for so long, that we don’t want to see it or think about it. If we don’t get our hands dirty it didn’t happen. And when a death ‘hasn’t happened’ (although, spoiler alert, it actually has happened) that can complicate our grief because we’re not being an active participant in mourning the loss of someone who we love.

The death positive movement is something that we desperately need.

I became a funeral director to help people. And I realize that my viewpoints do not match everyone’s viewpoints. I realize that how I believe things should be done isn’t a universal truth. As a funeral director, I believe that it is my job to be able to supply myself with as much knowledge as I possibly can so I can be a resource for those when they do have to go through a loss. I call myself a traditional funeral director because that is the setting that I currently work in. This does not mean that I believe this is the only way to do things. I wish that my community had more green options when it came to funerals. I love the beauty and simplicity that comes along with a natural burial. My mother on the other hand wants to be cremated and has informed me numerous times if I don’t abide by her wishes she will haunt me. And I’ve seen families cry tears of thanksgiving as they’ve looked down upon their loved one who died such a tragic death, but were able to see them one last time because of the hours that went into embalming and restoring them. But still, by calling myself a traditional funeral director, there are some in the profession who immediately look down upon me or believe that I’m doing funerals the ‘wrong’ way.

All funerals are good funerals, if the care of the family and deceased are the top priority. As funeral directors, we honor the life of those now gone by treating their bodies with respect. We also provide a starting point for the grief process for those who are left with a hole in their heart by these deaths. You see, we cannot sweep death under the rug. We have to look it in its eye, acknowledge that it has occurred and that someone we love will no longer be with us. We have to honor that life the best way we know how and begin to pick up the pieces and reconstruct our life around that loss.

However

As someone involved in the funeral profession, I cannot be involved in what I’ve been seeing with other funeral professionals. I see so much of a divide between traditional funeral directors and new aged funeral directors.

Now do not get me wrong, I have seen many people involved in this career, who frankly, should not be. The minute you put your own gains above the people you are serving is the minute that you should no longer be in this profession. This is a service industry, after all.

And I appreciate those who are so passionate about a certain aspect of funeral service. For instance, Melissa N. Unfred, known as the Modern Mortician, is such a passionate woman who works hard everyday to be able to provide families with green burial options in and around Austin, Texas. She has so much knowledge and sees the beauty and dignity that comes along with a simple burial. Not only does her work help our planet, but she’s able to involve families in the final care of their loved ones, while still being a professional who can handle the details. Add in her therapy dog Kermit (who is amazing, by the way AND Texas’ first certified therapy dog in funeral service) and you know that by working with Melissa you’re going to be in the best hands. I’m thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to meet her and Kermit and I’m proud to be able to call her a colleague and friend.

Not every ‘traditional funeral director’ feels the same about her, though. She sometimes shares information that old school funeral directors do not want her to share and that has not made her very popular around them.

You see, the death positive movement talks and is open about death. This means talking about the industry and putting things out there that have previously been behind closed doors.

My entire career is based on being honest. I have always been very open about what I do as a funeral director. And if I continue to be honest, I can answer questions that people have regarding death and funerals. Embalming is not going to be right for every family,  for instance. But if someone asks, I can explain the process and tell them the pros and cons behind it. I can explain why it’s beneficial in certain instances and unnecessary in others. I can continue to be a resource by providing information and letting a family decide what option is best for them. Because when they lose someone they love, my personal opinions on death do not matter. What matters is how they want to honor their loved one, and I should be able to help them accomplish that.

This profession should not be an “us against them” fight.

This profession should be filled with caring people who want to help others. People who are passionate and arm themselves with knowledge and resources to serve families during one of the most difficult times of their lives. We cannot grow and change and be able to provide all different options to families if we are constantly pointing our fingers at others and proclaiming that “they’re doing funerals the wrong way!” We have to be able to work together as a team, lift each other up, and realize that when we are unfamiliar with a certain aspect of this profession, that there are others out there who can be valuable resources if we allow them to be. There is no one way to do a funeral. The minute professionals in this industry realize that, the better they’ll be able to serve families that need them. Because once again, shouldn’t that be the reason behind joining this profession?

 I am proud of the work that I do and the platform that I’m blessed with to be able to share it. And I’m going to continue with my journey, no matter where it may lead me, being positive, helping others, and hopefully growing my own personal funeral community by uplifting those who are making a difference.

St. Jude’s Novena.

I’m currently at my parents house (we have a family dinner every Tuesday) and my mom came up to me and asked what I know about publishing. So I asked her, “Like in a newspaper?” And she looked at me and said, “I guess” and gave me this novena.

After looking at it, I asked her if she wanted me to publish it on my blog, and she said yes. (Selfish reasons, I told her she better be praying for me.)

If you’re interested, I hope it can be helpful and a comfort for you.

St. Jude’s Novena

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, helper of the hopeless, pray for us. Say this prayer 9 times a day for 9 days. By the 9th day your prayer will be answered. It has never been known to fail. Publication must be promised. Thank you St. Jude. T.M.D.

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.

 

The funeral that is happening right now.

I’m sitting in the lounge of the funeral home, my back against the wall as I listen in on a memorial service which is currently in progress.

 

It is difficult for me to pick up on every word being said, but I hear some voices breaking into sobs and at other times laughter erupting.

 

This person, who has brought so many people together, reminds me once again why funerals are important. People are gathered together to mourn the fact that someone they love is gone. But throughout their sorrow they are also laughing about the good times that they shared. Remembering the little moments that made monumental memories.

 

These people, who may have nothing in common besides for the fact that the deceased made an impact on their lives, are all gathered to support one another during a very difficult time. They are here, right now, to show support for the family and to remind us all of the most important thing in life.

Love.

The time I was yelled at on the phone.

A few weeks back a funeral associate of mine was talking to a gentleman at a visitation about prearrangements. I was not available at the time to sit down and speak with him, so  he was given a GPL and a promise that I would call and answer any questions he had in detail the next day.

So I called him. Except, he didn’t answer the phone. His wife did.

A lot of times, when I call people about prearrangements, I don’t like to initially say where I’m calling from. I’ve been in situations where family members ask me not to disclose that I’m from a funeral home, for one reason or another. Even though I was not told to withhold that information here, when this woman answered the phone instead of identifying myself right away, I just asked if the gentleman was home.

That’s when the woman identified herself as the wife and asked who was calling.

“My name is Lauren and I’m calling from the funeral ho-” was about as much as I was able to get off my lips before the wife let out a huge sigh and exclaimed, “Give me a break!”

She then proceeded to yell at me over the phone, about how her and her husband have no time to talk about preplanning because they’re so busy and how she repeatedly told her husband not to talk to a funeral director and how dare I call their home phone number.

I couldn’t even muster one word in to assure her that it was alright and they didn’t have to meet with me before I heard a ‘click’ and the line go dead.

The point that I’m trying to make with this story isn’t about proper phone etiquette, but instead that the only reason I called in the first place is because someone had questions.

I won’t tell people I’m a funeral director when I’m not working unless someone asks. One reason I don’t go around sharing my choice of careers is because when one says that they work in the death care industry people always have questions. Which is great; I honestly love talking about death. But sometimes I need a break. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy a moment for what it is rather than spend that time talking about work.

Therefore, I want to also say that I don’t spend my spare time calling people asking them if they have plans for their corpse once they die. If you ask me your options, I will have a conversation, but I won’t bring up the subject on my own.

I do not know the circumstances behind the reasons why the wife treated me as she did. Maybe something had just happened before she picked up the phone that put her in a bad mood. Maybe a family member was sick and she couldn’t face talking with a funeral director at that exact moment. But it’s not my job to force people to confront their mortality.

I cannot make everyone comfortable with the inevitable. I do not try to force my own beliefs on others when it comes to how they care for their dead. The only thing that I ever hope for, is that people at least have a conversation with those they love.

I am a resource. It is my job to serve those who seek my help, but not to force myself on those when my knowledge is not welcomed. I wish that I could have explained myself and apologized to the wife before she hung up the telephone. But, just maybe, our brief encounter allowed for her and her husband to have a more meaningful conversation on their own time.

Things I think about at 10:03 PM on a Sunday.

A profession or a calling?

I was doing laundry when all of a sudden this question popped into my mind.

I am a funeral director, and often I hear that this is not a job, but a lifestyle, since I don’t typically work the average 9-5 (and by typically, I mean never) but is what I do day to day, a calling?

A strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation. When I google the definition of calling, that’s what comes up.

A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. When I google the definition of vocation, that’s what comes up.

But I’m not sure. I love what I do and I’ve wanted to be a funeral director since I was very young, but when I think back to what drove me into this field, I don’t think of a calling per say, I think of my grandfather. I think of his death and funeral. I think of wanting to help people. And I think of how I’d feel if I just walked away from it all.

I don’t know if what I do can be defined as more than just a job. But I know that what I do is definitely stamped upon my heart.

a whole lifetime ago.

I’m sitting in my bed drinking a Lime-a-Rita, which isn’t even half as satisfying as a real margarita, listening to Kate Nash and going through my old flickr account.

From about the time I was nineteen till twenty-one(ish), I was really into taking pictures. I don’t like to say I was into “photography” because I knew nothing of the craft. Instead, I looked through a lens and clicked away. I did, however, think I was cool enough to put the photos online for the world to judge. Who knows, however, how harshly they were judged because I’m pretty sure I needed an audience first.

Anyways, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m feeling a little low right now. I’m looking at these pictures and to me, they seem so raw and exposed. Looking at these pictures, I feel like I’m nineteen again, in college, feeling totally lost but free at the same time.

This was before I was a funeral director. This was when I was a wannabe funeral director. (mortuary school, you really weren’t that bad.) This was when I was honestly just a normal girl.

This was seven years ago and it feels like another lifetime.

And now I’m suddenly feeling overwhelmed once again at how quickly time goes by and how precious this life truly is.

Here ya go. This was me.

When the human overpowers the funeral director.

The past few days have been difficult.

You see, the past few days I’ve had a couple of different arrangement conferences that, well, for lack of a better term, kicked my ass.

They have been physically and mentally exhausting. For my fellow funeral directors out there, you know what I mean. Just down right draining. I had one arrangement that took me over three hours. The family had loads of questions that I did not mind answering, but at the end of our meeting I was done. If I would have had to meet with more families that day I would not have been able to because I had given my all to this one. The next day I had a double arrangement, for a husband and wife who passed away naturally a day apart. Needless to say, after that meeting I was drained as well.

And to top it all off at midnight, I received a pricing call from a gentleman who tried his very best to get my services for free. And who persisted that he wanted to get my services, you know, for free.

After a half hour on the phone where I told him that yes, we could help him and yes, he’d have to pay us I hung up feeling so very very tired and defeated. I yelled at my husband when he tried to talk to me all the while getting back into bed. I pulled the blankets over my head and cried.

There are days when this job is difficult because I do not have an ounce more of energy or compassion to pass along. Days when I don’t feel whole as a human and ponder how in the world I’m going to be able to serve another. Days when I just can’t do it anymore.

Somehow, I am still shown more grace that I could ever deserve. Somehow, I crawl into bed only to wake up the next day and keep moving forward. When I feel like I can’t do it anymore, that’s when I’m able to lean on the support from my husband (even when I yell) and coworkers (even when I yell more) and I keep moving forward. Because what I do matters.

Sorry for being absent. I’ve been taking time for me.

You know how it goes.