Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Is the Hardest Part of Your Job? Part IV

(continued from previous post)

Comments like his have fueled my motivation to stay in the business.

A few years ago our office administrator's father died at home. It was about 3 a.m., and I was on call. Her father had been ill off and on for many years. His body finally gave in.

It was a rare and cold February day in Fort Worth. I put on my suit, made myself presentable, and we were at the house in less than an hour. I rang the doorbell, and she (my co-worker) ran to hug me. She said, "I'm so glad to see you. Daddy is over here."

Yes, we still make house calls.

It's not easy. Ask my wife. My parents. My siblings. My daughters.

I have been pulled away from special family events, concerts, and many, many activities that most people can't imagine giving up -- especially -- for a job. I dedicate 26 of the 52 weekends to my profession. All kinds of big family events, i.e., weddings, have been planned around my free weekends.

We don't have holidays. Our place of business is open every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month -- all year long. With rare exception, a live person will always answer the phone at a funeral home.

What people never think about is how much a good funeral director will completely change the dynamics of a death. You will never know how a death will affect you until your there, and the last thing you want to be doing is trying to figure out how or who will help you.

Different organizations around the country have tried to make funeral directors thieves, abusers of mourning people, and outright cold-blooded members of society.

Added to that are the reality shows, which paint a very distorted image of what we really do. That's the case for any reality show, not just those specific to our business.

The title itself -- funeral director -- implies many things. It's a fairly new title. In the old days, funeral directors were termed, undertakers. Political righteousness, bureaucracy and idealistic forward progress slowly brought about the title change.

It's an amalgamation, to be honest. We are a profession evolved from taking the science of embalming from physicians; the casket manufacturing from furniture makers; and the exclusive response to take charge of a death from ambulance service. The trade is rooted in the days of the Civil War, where servicemen were sent back home to family. Abraham Lincoln's embalming and funeral may be one of the most famous early attempts of our trade. It really gave notice to the general public.

The title, mortician, is not as popular. It carries connotations of one who only works with the preparation of bodies and does not arrange and/or direct funerals.

Since the days of the Civil War, states have formed boards to oversee all funeral director/mortician activities. The federal government also governs certain activities, in conjunction with state and local law.

There are a number of mortuary schools in the country, some tied in with medical schools. Some states are more strict than others about education and internships. Texas is about midway compared to others.

The State of Texas conferred the license of funeral director and embalmer to me on January 14, 1999. I am in the 11,000 range, as far as how many have been given such a license in Texas. Though the numbers are growing, I am a rare breed due to my ethnicity. There are not many Mexican Americans in my business, certainly not when I started out.

Through hard work, determination, early research, and some key moves, I became a member of one of the most recognized and prestigious firms in Texas, perhaps in the country. I have participated in funerals for the artistically famous, politicians, oil barons, and world-renowned clergy. I have seen humanity's darkest side with violent deaths, atrocious accidents, and mind- boggling events.

In spite of all spite of all the emotion that must be spent on any of the preceding examples of our work, I get up every day hopeful I can be of service in some way. I could write a book about many, many more experiences I've lived. Maybe I will.

There is nothing I can say to a family that will make them feel better. I can only simplify what has to be done, and execute it to my best abilities. All extreme emotions show their face at the death of a loved one. Nevertheless, I go to bed every day knowing I did my best to care for the dead. I know I was there from the beginning, and I am there when the vault is sealed and lowered to the earth, forever.

The practice has been around since the beginning of humanity. We must and should care for our dead. It is my wish, should you be put in that position with one of your most beloved or someone of your acquaintance, you have a respectable and trusted funeral director that will guide you through.

In the meantime, live today for tomorrow we die.

The Commish

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