‘Many people think this is just a business; to a lot of us, it’s more than that; it’s a ministry.’
“I’ve been a funeral director for more than 35 years. The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most challenging times ever for funeral directors. It felt like a combination of September 11th and the AIDS crisis; this was worse. All of a sudden, there was a multitude of death. It was a short period of time when it all came crashing down upon us. I was scared and didn’t want to go to work, but that wasn’t an option. People were calling and I had to be there for them. I kept thinking, ‘If I touch the remains, will I get it?’ Nobody knew.
“A sense of duty kicked in. Many people think this is just a business; to a lot of us, it’s more than that; it’s a ministry. Funeral homes were inundated. Some firms had to turn people away. I do a smaller business and I was able to accommodate people who called me. I felt if I didn’t go when I was really needed, I don’t deserve to call myself a funeral director.
I look at what happened during the COVID-19 crisis and see how it underscored the importance of funeral rights and rituals. It’s very important to honor the deceased and have some kind of a ceremony where the community and loved ones come to support you.
“The rules varied from cemetery to cemetery. Some cemeteries were more compassionate than others. We were serving families in a way that felt as if we were letting them down. Our hands were tied. Their grief was exacerbated by not having the services they wanted. One of my dear friends died of COVID-19. He had worked in the funeral industry and always wanted a big funeral. When I went to his burial I couldn’t hug his son, and there were only four of us at the grave. Later, his son said to me, ‘I felt like we were all lepers.’ I will never forget that.
“It was the hardest time in my career. To get through this a little better, I was writing about it. I interviewed other funeral directors and asked what they were experiencing. I felt more connected, and I think it helped them to tell their stories as well. There is a grief counselor who wrote, ‘Funerals are what we do when we don’t know what to do. The elements of ritual combine, and it gives us something to work through.’ I look at what happened during the COVID-19 crisis and see how it underscored the importance of funeral rights and rituals. It’s very important to honor the deceased and have some kind of a ceremony where the community and loved ones come to support you. These rituals are tried and true and they’ve worked for us forever.”