I had the chance to speak with high school students from Westerville North High School this week. I have been the guest of Scott Gray for the past five years and my job is to talk about death and dying to his psychology class during their Sigmund Freud unit. It is one of my favorite speaking engagements that I do every year. I credit this class for helping me become comfortable as a public speaker. If you can keep teenage kids interested in what you are talking about at 7:25 am, right after lunch, or at the end of a school day, then you can probably speak to just about any group.
The classes are about 45 minutes and I basically prepare an engaging first 10-15 minutes of material and throw around prizes to get the kids involved. After that, it turns into a question and answer session where kids ask whatever comes to their mind. I never have enough time to answer all of their questions and I usually have several kids that come up to me after class that didn’t get their questions answered. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from teenagers, and my answers:
Is it creepy being around dead people?
No. Dead people aren’t going anywhere. There are lots of myths about people moving, having an eyelid twitch, or some small movement after they die. This doesn’t happen. Also, if you are willing to hold someone’s hand in life, I see no reason why you would not be willing to do so in death.
I do not view funeral service as working with the dead every day. I consider funeral service as working with the living every day.
Is your job really sad?
We are event planners that help guide people through grief. Watching the transformation that happens in a family as they go through the entire process of planning and having a funeral is often a very positive experience. There are very few professions in life where at the end of doing your job you get a hug from the person you are helping. I can’t remember the last time I hugged my banker or insurance salesman, but I get a lot of hugs as a funeral director.
What is your least favorite part of your job?
I have two answers for this. First, anytime we have a funeral for a child, it is devastating. Children’s funerals are really hard on our staff. People think that we would be desensitized to death, but I think the opposite is true for most of our funeral directors. People that choose to be funeral directors generally do so because they are extremely empathetic people who want to help others.
Second, being a funeral director means working a lot of long hours, nights, weekends, and holidays. Death does not operate on banker’s hours. If somebody dies at 2 am on Christmas Eve, there will be a funeral director available to take that call and go and help that family. Often, it is hard to “turn work off” because you never know when somebody is going to need your help.
What is your favorite part of the job? (Not all of their questions are focused on the negative)
Do you ever get any crazy requests from families?
There is not much in this profession that I would consider “weird” or “crazy”. Families who request to place something special with the person who died, whether that be their cremated pet, a can of beer, a million dollar check that will never get cashed, a pair of loaded dice, a golf club, or a lawn flamingo are expressing their grief, and are practicing a ritual that has been happening for thousands of years, the placing of a sacred object as a final gift to the deceased. There is nothing unusual about that.
I have yet to have somebody make the Bobby Knight request, which was to be buried face down so that his critics could “kiss his ___.” I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.
Do you have any ghost stories?
For the answer to that question, I will refer you back to our Halloween post.
There are a lot of other questions that they ask, so we may revisit this topic in the future. Teenagers actually have many of the same questions as the rest of us. They just use words like creepy and crazy when asking. What are some questions that you want to ask a funeral director? Make sure you use teenage words in your post.
Kevin is a sixth generation funeral director. He lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio with his wife, Jennifer, sons, Foster and Ferris, and two dogs, Louie and Brutus.