Five gifts that come with being a funeral director
Working in Thin Places, or Sacred Space.
I do not only mean churches, chapels or other places of worship, although these are a big part of the picture. It is far deeper than that. Everything about your daily work, your environment, your tasks and your role becomes sacred. Profound in meaning and practice. Spiritual, sacred and precious. I also love cemeteries. There is something about cemeteries that comfort me. Early Christians described them as ‘thin places’. Places where the veil between this world and the next is thinner. I am not sure if this is a physical reality, but it appeals to me as a spiritual reality. Cemeteries are so peaceful, calming and always have the ability to change my mood.
Having a Healthy End-of-Life Perspective.
‘I have seen death too often to believe in death,’ is the first line of a well known poem. When I first read it I became aware of a reality that I had previously been unable to appreciate and understand. When you work with death, when you see death every day of every week of every year, when you see death in all its forms, you lose your fear of it, or some of your fear. You naturally become comfortable being around the dead and you realise that they are just the shell of the person that was. The life, the spirit has moved on. Not extinguished but freed. This gives you confidence to understand that your own death, late or premature, quick or lingering, is part of the natural course of things in this world. You follow where many have gone before, and where all will follow.
Truly Knowing the Value and Sanctity of Life.
One of the hardest tasks I face is assisting with the funeral of a child. Next are the funerals of those who commit suicide. Diseases occur, accidents happen and these are tragic. But they are part of life. They will never be totally eradicated, and they are a consequence of the freedom we have to live our lives in fullness. I am sure however that I will never be able to accept the futility and waste when someone takes their own life, especially when there are those who die prematurely who have so much to live for. I have seen it many times, and it is never the answer. It is the one form of tragic death that leaves relatives most bereft of comfort and eventual acceptance. It is tragic for the person who takes their life and tragic for those left behind. It is at these times that I fully appreciate how valuable and sacred life is, and how important that life is not wasted.
By this I mean intimacy with the bereaved and the deceased. This might sound a little pretentious, and certainly funeral directors do not necessarily develop close relationships with clients. Indeed some clients keep you at a distance and some even use you as an outlet for their anger. But when you share and help in the tasks of this final right of passage with those who loved the deceased so deeply, you cannot fail to share in some very profound and some very precious moments. This is the greatest privilege I have ever experienced. The intimacy with the deceased comes from being responsible for caring for them before the funeral. This is a sacred task. It involves treating the body with care and respect, dignity and humanity, as if it were your own family member. The intimacy also comes from being privileged to learn things about their lives that sometimes, even friends and acquaintances never knew.
Understanding and Respecting Diversity.
By this I mean diversity of belief, practice and understanding of, the meaning of life. There is something about a funeral that remains sacred and spiritual, even if the family have no ‘faith’. There is something of value in many belief systems as surely as there is something of the ‘light’ in all of us. I find that I can be wary or cautious of the beliefs and practices of some groups in everyday life, but not when they are practiced in the undertaking of a funeral. It is at these times that the truth is clearer. Some of the most memorable funerals I ever attended have been the most simple, the least ‘religious’. The best of all are those filled with love.