Funeral directors are an odd bunch. We all operate differently. Every funeral firm, corporate or family-owned, has their own style and operating procedure. Every manager/owner/boss has their own ideas about how funerals should go and what role the funeral director plays on the day of the service. There are countless roles to play and jobs to do.* (ALL bosses will tell you that there is only one way, THEIR way.) I enjoy watching other funeral directors operate on the day of the service and see how they run things. When I started in this industry, I was told by an elder in the community that “if you see the funeral director at a service then they’re doing it wrong” – implying that we should stick to the background and not be seen or heard. But some of us are a little showy and like the razzle-dazzle of it all, while some hide in the shadows.
For me, I like a little of both but prefer to be behind the scenes like a master puppeteer pulling the strings from off stage. I personally feel that if I did my job right, all the actors and scripts are ready and set in place and I just have to make sure all the parts fall into place on time and in order. I don’t want my families to have to do anything on the day of the service but show up and cope with their own feelings and grief. Depending on the service and the traditional/non-traditional aspect, depending on the family dynamic/character, depending on the officiant/celebrant, will depend on my level of involvement on the day of the service. For a typical service held in our funeral home chapel, my mentor likes the standard opening greeting at the microphone, asking everyone to turn off their cellphones, maybe bit of instruction for the casket bearers, or an invitation to the reception after the service has completed. There is also the typical speech at the end to let everyone know the service has completed. PRO TIP: If you do not specifically tell people that the service is over they will literally just sit there and stare at you with this look of “oh god, what is going to happen next, nothing’s happening!” We’re done sir, nothing is happening next, go home.
I’ve had colleagues who absolutely stress out about this short little ditty and plan how they’re going to say this opening and closing to the letter, I’ve also had colleagues who turn these little speech opportunities into a sermon and become center stage. Like I said, we all operate differently. And most of us are odd.
What has your experience been with funeral directors on the day of the service? Were they distracting? Were they non-existent? Did they say something embarrassing/uncomfortable/odd? Did they somehow have the perfect words for just the right moment? Or did they give you the ‘ol razzle-dazzle and you were, in fact, razzled and dazzled?
*Each state has different licensing requirements and differentiate between the jobs; using titles like funeral director, embalmer, funeral arranger, mortician, and probably more. On the day of the service, most funeral homes utilize other staff to help and assist, we call them ambassadors, some call them funeral assistants. In my state we have funeral directors and morticians, the difference being that morticians also embalm but funeral directors do not. (Or as the more macabre like to put it they “push the fluid.”) It is more common in my state for most morticians and funeral directors to just use the term funeral director as an all encompassing term… I suppose it sounds more gentle?