One of the things he told me was never to let death take control of my life. When you work daily with death, you need a break from it. Funeral directors suffer from high rates of alcoholism and depression. They also have high rates of abnormal blood pressure and cancer. His suggestion was a yearly get away, two weeks vacation every year without fail, for stress relief. I have had my funeral home now for seven years, I have gone away twice for four days.
In 2013 there were 2,596,993 recorded deaths in America. (Medical News Today) There are 21,089 funeral homes to accommodate those deaths. If you were to divide those deaths evenly between every funeral home, each funeral home would process 123 deaths annually. That works out to approximately one death every third day. A funeral director spends an average of six days working directly with each surviving family and an additional two to three weeks on paperwork, aftercare, and grief work per case, spread out over approximately one year after the occurrence of death. If one funeral director had 123 cases that required three to four weeks of work annually, he/she would need 496 weeks to process his/her cases. Due to those impossible demands, funeral homes employ more than one funeral director.
Funeral directing is also a 24 hour, seven days per week job. A funeral director is on call and must be ready to serve a family whenever a loved one passes. I have experienced months where three hours of rest per night was a gift from heaven - two was more likely. I have worked with families experiencing suicide, multiple murders, familial murder, infant mortality, and many other horrific modes of death. I have seen senseless death, needless death, painful death, emancipating death, and many other types of death. I have seen families suffer through tragedies, liberated from abuse, writhe in guilt, and agonize through grief.
I live in a small town. When I go to the grocery store, I see my clients. I see those whose pain is hidden in their hearts, I see those whose pain is clearly written on their faces, and I see those who, although they try to mask it, experience renewed pain by the sight of me. As I walk down the isles, I see clients who have healed from their experience of loss. I also see those whose wounds are new, and they avert their eyes or duck into another aisle to avoid the pain my presence carries.
This past month was difficult for me. I suffered a virus that made me very ill. My doctor prescribed medication and called it into the local pharmacy. As I was weak and tired, my daughter offered to go to the pharmacy to retrieve my prescription for me. This afternoon as I entered my office, I found my medicine on my desk. The blue tag stapled to the bag, identifying my medication and the doctor's orders, had a message boldly written across it in red felt tip marker. Realizing it must be a vital message to be boldly written across the tag in red felt tip marker, I immediately read it.
“I hope U R having a great day! I love you to the moon and back!”
Below the message was a great big red heart drawn in the same red felt tip marker.
The note was unsigned, but I know who wrote it; a past client, and I love her to the moon and right back again.
My client has no idea of the impact her kindness has offered me. Her sweet note is worth two weeks of vacation any day of the year. It dulls the sharp edges of pain from the averted eyes of grieving clients at the grocery store. It lessens the bite from the expressions of those suffering such severe grief that they hope they never see me again at the conclusion of their services. It keeps death from taking hold of my life and dragging me into the pitfalls that bite at the heels of funeral directors, robbing them of their health and happiness. It gives me hope that one day my clients will recover from their losses and that seeing me will no longer torture their hearts.
My life is probably different than yours. Everyone’s life is different from everyone else's, but mine really is different than most. I am a funeral director. My work is to deal with death every day. It is a demanding job, but it has its perks. Sweet notes from sweet people make my life’s work bearable and worthwhile. I am glad I live in a small town where I see the people I help through the worst day life has to offer the living. I am glad they see me too.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, certified grief counselor, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.