The Caregiver's Soapbox

Volume 17    www. thedead-beat.com    Issue 2

Dylan’s Directives

The Funeral Family

Dylan Stopher

So I first heard about funeral directing and embalming as a career when I was about 16 years old.  I had never given it thought before, and when my mom married a funeral director, I thought she was crazy.  Who would want to hear about death all the time?  Why would I want to know about the sclerotic arteries of a 90+ year-old person who clearly had never eaten anything but salty food in their entire life?  And what in the world does it matter to me to know that what should have been a one-point injection turned into a six-point marathon?

It was all unnecessary knowledge to me, and a little… no, a lot creepy.  I mean, who talks about death so casually?  It’s a serious thing!  We shouldn’t be so nonchalant about how we discuss things of this magnitude.  Should we?

After almost 20 years in the profession at this point, I’m going to tell you that I absolutely believe we should discuss them as normal and everyday topics.  Would you like to know why?  It’s because they’re unavoidable… and our families will benefit from it.

At this point, you’ve got to be asking if “families” refers to those we serve, because that is the primary group about whom I write.  Thanks for knowing that, but no… this time I’m talking about the nuclear family to which we are each attached.  Your spouse, significant other, parents, siblings, children, etc.  These people are related to a death care professional.  And they will have intimate insight into the goings on of the funeral home you work in.  This is great for a plethora of reasons…

So let’s start with the obvious one: they’re the best sounding board you’ll ever have!  You come home from your work, and the question always comes up, “So, how was your day?”  This is normal, natural, and just because our chosen profession is in death doesn’t mean we should avoid the answer.  Believe it or not, we actually do a lot more than just embalm and conduct final disposition.  So we should talk about our day, let loose some of the stressors, gain wisdom and insight from an outside party for a vantage point we might not have considered initially.  This is so important for so many reasons, because it allows us an extra pair (or more) of eyes into our career and the decisions we may make.  It keeps us grounded.  It keeps us focused.  And it allows our family unit to remain connected, even though we don’t spend every second of the day together.

The second big reason, and it’s my favorite one to talk about, is that… wait for it… keep waiting… here it comes… this one’s gonna shock you… DEATH IS INEVITABLE!!!  It’s a real, actual thing, and NO ONE on earth makes it out alive.  Now, I do tell groups looking into pre-need options that there were two men who never had to experience death in the history of all history, Enoch and Elijah.  If you really believe that you are going to be the third human being to not die, then good for you.  But I have trillions of others who stand on the side of “you will actually die,” and so it needs to be talked about.

As an aside to that particular point, I’ll tell you that my children (14, 10, 9 respectively) don’t fear a conversation about death.  When my father-in-law passed away, only the oldest was aware… but it was a simple thing to explain that Grumpy was gone to Heaven.  Sadness, of course, but no confusion.  When my father passed away, my youngest then asked the question of where he was.  When I shared that he was in Heaven with Grumpy, my young son said, “Oh, okay.”  Sadness, of course, but no confusion.  And there was no dramatic flailing, no wailing and gnashing of teeth, no excess in the acceptance of the fact that a human being who mattered to us was now dead and gone from this world.  My children understand death as a natural part of life, an inevitable end, a reality.  I believe that they love a little harder because of that fact, and that they embrace fun a little more readily.

But here’s the big kicker for why we should go home and talk about our day with our family, and it comes from years of waiting on thousands of families: I want my wife and kids to know what I want, who I am, and how I feel.  I have sat across the table from so many people who have said that they didn’t know what their loved one’s wishes were for final disposition… that they wish they had said something encouraging or loving just one more time… that they didn’t really know how their loved one felt about multiple things, including the people now seated at the table… and I refuse to allow that to happen in my own home.

My family knows how I feel about them, and I will never stop telling them.  They know my wishes when I pass away.  They know how I feel about the standard songs we all play in funeral services (come on, even now you’re humming Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace,” or “Old Rugged Cross,” or “I Can Only Imagine,” or “How Great Thou Art” and you’re giggling, because one or more of those will probably be played the same day you read this article).  They know what kind of service I want to have.  And would you like to know why they know all of that?  Because I’m fully aware that death comes for us all, and I am no exception.  So I take every available opportunity to share with my wife and children how much they mean to me.

It should go without saying, of course, that this isn’t license to be callous and speak openly and loudly about the intimate details of an arrangement conference or an embalming procedure in public.  However, even when we’re guarded ab out details and specifics, we should still share with our family what’s going on in our work lives.  It matters to them, believe it or not, and I promise you… you’ll feel better for sharing.

So please take this as an encouragement to go home tonight, sit down, and share with your family what you did today.  Let them in, let them listen, let them be a part of your chosen profession.  After all, if there’s one family that demands your very best in your entire life… it’s the one you share a home with.

About the author:

Dylin StopherDylan Stopher is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in the states of Texas and Louisiana, and currently serves with Wilbert Vaults of Houston, LLC.  He is an active member of the SETFDA and the TFDA, and a regular contributor to both the Texas Director Magazine and the Millennial Director blog.

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