Do you believe there is a reason for everything? Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. Maybe it has to do with the order of magnitude.
My debilitating car accident in 2006 in Alberta put some things in perspective about how fragile our bodies are, and how in the blink of an eye, things can change in a pretty big hurry. So too can life as we know it, change.
My Mother died during my long recovery. She did not take proper care to ensure her affairs were all in order. I am still trying to resolve this, and it’s been expensive. A friend also died, and I was in charge of getting some practical matters taken care of with respect to her body, and her Celebration of Life. It was pretty special.
Soon it became clear that I was moving back home to the soil of where I was born. The reasons I thought I was coming here for, changed almost immediately once I got here. I eventually sat down with a Career Counselor to carve a path to my new future. Funeral Director popped out. It’s not the first time, as it seems those tests always offered this as a possible career, but it was the first time that it felt right inside.
So off I went to apply to college. I had about 5 weeks at most to meet the requirements, one of which was to observe at a corporate run funeral home for a week. Of course for me it was an exploration about my comfort level and whether or not it felt like a fit for me. What surprised me was my level of comfort around dead bodies. I also felt a deep level of desire to be in service to those who are grieving the death of their loved one.
I felt my passion grow because I felt I had found my calling. It was clear to me that truly being in service to someone at a time that they are at their most vulnerable was something I could offer, and from my heart.
Well, as it turns out I did not become a funeral director. My spinal cord injury prevents me from being an asset to the business because I cannot lift. As an apprentice, I would be expected to be on call to pick up bodies or to be lifting them in the prep room to embalm them so they would be presentable for the two hour window the family and friends would have to come to pay their last respects.
On a personal level, I am not a fan of embalming. It is toxic to the person administering the procedure, and it is toxic to the environment. Not only that, it is not necessary or even legally required.
Initially I felt confused about where this would all lead. I had found my calling, but I was not going to get hired at a funeral home because I am not able to do the work they require.
As sometimes happens in life, an opportunity presented for me to learn how to educate families to become their own funeral director. Not only does this save the family money paying for unnecessary procedures or expensive products and options, but it also puts the experience in the family’s control. It also opens up other options for how we can do death differently and authentically celebrate a life.
Nothing confirmed this more for me then reading an article this week about a Canadian Corporation called Arbor Memorial. They are right across Canada, as is an American Corporation called SCI. These two companies have carved out a huge market share for themselves.
Much has been written about SCI over the years, and even captured in the once popular television series Six Feet Under. Similar complaints have been made about SCI as were highlighted in this week’s article about Arbor Memorial.
SCI operates in Canada under the name of Dignity Memorial Canada. They are known for buying out independent mom and pop operations, but retaining the name to give the impression it is still the same family run funeral home that has served generations by taking care of their loved ones, like a friendly “neighbor.”
Sadly there are very few actual independent funeral homes left in the Halifax area.
The truth is the services of a funeral home are needed. Of course how needed depends on how much a family wants to do for themselves, or how comfortable they feel around a dead body. I would say that your imagination in this case is the first obstacle, as it is in most cases not as weird as you may be thinking.
Challenging assumptions and beliefs, and being willing to spend time to find the facts are also important.
There are a lot of savings to be had when the family reclaims their right to take care of their own loved ones. In fact, unless the family wanted a cremation, the rest, generally speaking, they could do all on their own. Of course getting up to speed on what can and cannot be done is best to do well ahead of the death.
It is important to get educated on your rights, spend time getting comfortable with the idea, and making a plan well in advance.
For me personally, unless I know the funeral director, I can’t even imagine handing over the body of my loved one to strangers. Even though I have huge respect for the work that Funeral Directors do, because of that one week observing, there are things done in funeral homes that I would not want done to my body nor want to pay for it to be done. I don’t have to tell you what they are, there is lots on the internet that can fill in these details.
With more transparency coming to light about the funeral industry, things will change. But in the meantime, there are lots of things families can do now to make an informed decision about end of life and death. Step one may include contacting me for a free consultation.