What Working in Funeral Care has Taught Me About Life

This is a profession that changes how we look at life. Each time we are with a family that is experiencing the loss of a loved one, it reminds us to examine how we are living our own life. Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He has a point. So I will access my inner philosopher and expound on the virtues of what I have learned about life from working in death care.

Enjoy a summer day.
When the sun is shining and there is a warm breeze blowing, nature beckons us to come outside.  This is not a time to sit at a desk or on the phone, instead go out and play.  Soon enough winter will arrive with blowing snow and bitter winds (or for my readers in the South – soon, summer will arrive with blistering hot days and sticky, humid nights, so enjoy a winter’s day!)  I realize that there are days when we must actually work inside, but still take a little time each day to take a walk, putter in the garden or sit on the back patio with a nice, cool drink.  There will always be rainy days for us to catch up on our laundry.

Dust will come and go, but laundry is forever.
Chores are necessities of life, but usually there is something we would rather be doing.  So we dust and tidy up the house and off we go to have some fun.  Laundry, however, is another story.  Rare is the day when the clothes are washed, folded, pressed and put away.  It seems as soon as we finish one load, another batch of dirty clothes show up in the hamper.  I threatened to put in my will a codicil to remind my family to check the washer for a load of mildewed clothes that they had yet to discover (since they never do the laundry.) Yes, laundry is my life and I have accepted that it is one of those things that will never be entirely finished.

Always say “I love you”
Don’t put off telling the people around you what they mean to you. Write a note to your spouse or children reminding them what a gift they are to you.  Thank your employees or co-workers for being a part of your work day.  Never assume that those who you love know it. Say it, say it again and say it one more time.  We wake up believing that we are guaranteed today and we make plans for the future.  If we know one thing from this business, it is this – that is an illusion. There is no guarantee of anything, except this moment.

Savor each moment.
Slow down enough to bask in the beauty of a day or listen carefully to the sound of children laughing.  Notice what is going on around you and truly take it all in.  Be grateful for those small moments that enrich our lives and realize that they will not last.

There is no storm that lasts forever.
Just as good times do not last, neither will the challenging ones. When I am faced with a difficult situation this becomes my mantra for just as a storm arrives, it most certainly will also leave.  That is not to say that it will not change things profoundly.  Hurricanes and tornadoes come in quickly and leave in their wake destruction that may take years to repair. Landscapes are changed forever and so are lives, yet the storm is long gone.  However, just as people rebuild their lives from storms, so too can we rebuild our lives and learn from almost any situation.

Balance the tears with the laughter.
Nature always strives for balance.  When tough times strike, we may cry to help us cope. These tears are cathartic and help rid our bodies of toxins and stress. The tears help us to heal.  However, we also need to laugh for the exact same reasons.  Laughter relieves our stress and helps us stay healthy. Laughter helps us to feel connected to one another and it just feels good. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. puts it another way, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” 

Stop worrying
We waste so many moments fretting over things that never actually occur.  Our sleep is disturbed, our attitude is soured and our stomachs churn all because we allow our thoughts to travel into unwanted territory. Stop it. Stop it now. Stop it forever.  If you cannot do anything about a situation, then let it go with a prayer. If there is something you can do, then do it instead of worrying about the outcome.  Worry is wasted time and energy and never produces a valuable result, but it does rob us of our present moment.

The question is not “are we going to die?”, but “did we truly live?”
We will all die. It took my grandmother 109 years, but even she eventually passed away.  I have learned that what is important is living every moment fully.  Learn new things, take vacations, walk in the woods, go on an adventure, make a new friend, volunteer your time – there are endless ways to enrich your life. However, there are some people who never embrace all that life can offer. They grow old and die years before their physical body leaves.  To see an example of people truly living, watch the documentary Young@Heart. It is about a choir of people whose are between 73- 89 years young and sing heavy metal songs.

The meaning of life…
People spend their entire lives chasing dreams and trying to find their purpose.  They want to leave a legacy and know that they have mattered.  They want to know what “this” is all about – what is the meaning of life. Working in this industry, we can tell them that we know what truly matters because we hear it from the families we serve. They do not sit in our office and tell us of their loved one’s bank account (or lack thereof) or about what gifts they received from them or the hours they spent at their jobs. No, they tell us about the time they spent with their loved one sharing moments- both special and mundane.  Playing cards, watching TV, taking a drive, eating ice cream – time invested in one another. This is what they miss and can never have again.  Learn from them for they know what is important and that is simply spending time with those you love.

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