By Leader Contributor Jessica Farren, Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD
Funeral directors fulfill an essential duty for humanity that most people are too fearful to even think about. While others run away from horrific events and tragedies, funeral directors bravely face what many cannot.
From those tasked with identifying remains at 9/11 to those who volunteered to come to Sandy Hook and assist with burials, these courageous souls are often haunted by what they face, but that doesn’t stop them from stepping in to help. It is for these reasons that funeral professionals should be recognized in our culture the same way we honor community leaders and first responders.
Yet, a huge gulf still exists between how morticians are represented in the media and the everyday realities of their work. For decades, the funeral professional has been an easy target for journalists. In-depth profiles focusing on the positive work of funeral directors are often sidelined in favor of negative and over-sensationalized stories. A good argument can be made that the media and entertainment industries are largely responsible for the lack of reverence our society has for the work of undertakers due to their tendency to take every opportunity to misrepresent the profession.
Every so often, however, a news cycle occurs that puts funeral directors in the spotlight for the right reasons. Over the past few months, we noticed an increase in thought-provoking and balanced articles that study the important qualities one must possess in order to work in funeral service or examine how death care is evolving.
In an effort to highlight the positive work of funeral directors and help tip the scales in the right direction, here is a roundup of forward-thinking articles that were recently published focusing on the funeral profession.
Both of these interesting profile articles feature morticians in their 20s who share their experiences and explain why they were drawn to the funeral profession. The first article features Matthew Mott of Loudon Funeral Home in Loudon, TN. Mott not only works full-time as a funeral director, but he is also the owner of the business, taking the reins from the previous owner, Malcolm Williams, in 2017. The article included an insightful quote from Mott about the reactions he encounters from others who are somewhat surprised to see such a young man managing a funeral home.
“Most of the time when you walk into a funeral home, you see people that are maybe a little bit older,” Mott shared in the article. “I would say from an experience standpoint, just being around the funeral home makes it a little bit easier. What we do, it’s all about people and knowing how to talk to all types of people. It’s not like other jobs where usually whatever profession you work in, your clientele is kind of the same. With us, it’s exactly the opposite. Most of the people that come in here are older than we are. It’s kind of intimidating at first, and a lot of the people that we didn’t know, they walk in here and they look at us funny and ask questions, but once they see we’re committed to doing things the right way, it’s good for them to see someone that’s relatively young doing this, and once people trust it, it gives us a lot of confidence, too.”
The second article features Funeral Director and apprentice embalmer Tim McAleer, who is employed at Central Queen’s Funeral Home in Prince Edward Island. McAleer’s calling to serve as a funeral director came as a result of losing his own father at a young age. The guidance and support he received from the funeral home shaped his opinions about the profession and led him to want to help others in the same way. The article goes on to describe how working in funeral service has shaped McAleer’s outlook on life and how facing death on a daily basis helps ensure he does not take anything for granted.
He started off refusing to turn down AIDS patients; 25 years later, McKenzie Mortuary is still going strong
This article on Funeral Director Ken McKenzie of McKenzie Mortuary in Long Beach, CA, is so much more than just an anniversary profile. The article tells the story of the funeral home’s origins and how McKenzie’s beliefs about the role of a mortician shaped his firm’s identity. When the funeral home was founded in the early 90s, the AIDS crisis was claiming hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Rather than charging extra fees or refusing to handle these cases, McKenzie made it part of his funeral home’s mission to treat all people with the respect they deserved.
“I went to all the hospices and told them I would take those cases and that there wouldn’t be a biohazard fee,” McKenzie stated in the article. “I wanted to open a place where prices were upfront and consistent, no matter the manner of death.”
This article is an absolute must-read for anyone working in the funeral service profession and really should be studied by any journalist looking for insights on how to cover deathcare-related topics. The article profiles the nearly 100-year-old Barr Funeral Home in Chicago and examines how changing demographics, evolving funeral practices, and generational shifts have impacted family-owned funeral homes throughout the city. It is rare to find an article focused on the funeral profession that is so thoroughly researched, beautifully written and well presented.
One of the most impressive aspects is how the author uses photography to add to the story. The way images are used to break up different chapters in the article is very impressive. Even though the article focuses mainly on the negative impact change has brought to the funeral home, overall it is a positive portrayal of the funeral profession because it demonstrates how dedicated morticians are to their community, even when faced with immense obstacles.
We especially love this quote from Funeral Director Tim Harrington: “I’m going to keep [the funeral home] going mainly because I need to for the neighborhood, for the people that live here that rely on it.”
Funeral homes don’t always need a news organization to profile them in order to get a positive message out to the world. Many funeral homes have used the power of the internet and social media to be their own spokesperson. Take, for example, the incredibly creative and over-the-top awesome music video Macz Funeral Home in Patoka, IL, released on New Year’s Day.
The video was created to raise awareness for the Funeral Service Foundation and to inspire other funeral professionals to get up and shake their booty for a good cause. To date, it has been viewed more than 7,900 times on YouTube and has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook. Set to the tune of Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” and featuring impressive choreography, this video is certainly inspiring a lot of people to “do the 2-step then cowboy boogie.” We’d love to see more funeral professionals follow their lead and “get real loose” for a good cause.
This article does a superb job of examining meaningful cremation funeral services. As we all know, just because a family chooses cremation does not mean they don’t have multiple options for memorializing their loved one. This is a message many funeral homes across the country are trying to convey within their own communities. In many areas of the country, cremation has already overtaken earth burial by a considerable margin, but according to the article, Maryland has lagged behind. The article states that in 2020, cremation will become the most popular option in the state for the first time.
After providing this data, the article includes several interviews with funeral directors from the Baltimore area about how they have responded to the rising cremation rate. Important concerns, such as having an onsite crematory, owning a specialized location, and adding more urns and other memorial merchandise to funeral show rooms are addressed by the directors interviewed. The article does an excellent job of examining how funeral directors are responding to the changing trends and meeting the current needs of today’s families.
Capping off our list is this beautifully written anonymous essay that discusses how being a funeral director changes your perspective and helps you appreciate what really matters. We’re not sure why the writer chose to remain anonymous, as we think every funeral director would thank him or her for putting into words how rewarding working in the funeral profession can be for those that are called to serve.
From the essay: “As special as our role in the community is, deathcare is extremely tiring. And just when you feel you want to tuck away the suit and swap it all for a job in a bakery, death appears with a gift, teaching us another lesson and reminding our exhausted brain why we do what we do.”
Jessica (Fowler) Farren is the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. She has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide for more than 15 years. Jessica manages ASD’s company blog, social media accounts, and digital marketing. She has been published in numerous funeral trade magazines and has written articles on a variety of subjects, including communication, marketing, business planning, technology, and funeral trends. To contact Jessica, call (800) 868-9950 or email jess@myASD.com.