I Want to Watch

An essential component of our role as funeral directors is to maintain the sanctity of our work and protect the privacy of those in our care. Something that continues to trouble me is the prurient interest some have in the most private part of funeral service. “I want to watch? Can I?” It is an embalming they want to watch. In mortuary school we were told that the only non–official who could legally watch was the next of kin. “But why would they want to?” asked out instructor.

Some years back, I was interviewed by a young freelancer for a piece about Green-Wood Cemetery (my book about the cemetery had recently been published). At the conclusion of our interview she asked if she could come to the funeral home to watch an embalming. It was not the first time I had been asked, and, as always, I was taken aback by the question. After telling her that she could not, she spitefully cut me out of her article. Not very professional!

At one time or another many funeral directors have been asked that question by the morbidly curious. Some feign an interest in funeral service as a way to gain entrée.  At other times a funeral director is careless in his/her thinking and allows a person into the embalming room. That is always a mistake.

A colleague shared the story of a funeral home owner who allowed a friend to keep him company in the prep room. When the friend’s mother died, he went elsewhere for her funeral. When his funeral director friend asked why, he responded by saying, “I feared you would let someone else in to keep you company, and I didn’t want anyone to watch my mother being embalmed.” The funeral director’s indiscretion  cost him a funeral –and the trust of a friend.

Recently, I overheard a “videographer” working on a potential documentary ask a funeral director if he could watch an embalming. I hope the funeral director will have the good sense to turn him down

It is both morally reprehensible, and illegal, to watch an embalming without being qualified to do so.  Please don’t ask us to break the law. And if those factors don’t deter you, ask yourself this question: Would it be okay for strangers to watch the embalming procedure of someone you love?

Five Things

Five Things I’ve learned in my long career as a funeral director

I was pleased to share my view of funeral service with Life. Death. Whatever., gleaned from the work I’ve done, the experiences of my colleagues, and the perspective of the thousands of families I’ve served over the years. Despite what you may read in slanted press articles (with the fringe and/or inexperienced being used as sources to further a false narrative), funerals are as important as they ever were.

Not New and Not a Novelty

There was a time when women were seldom seen working in funeral service. It’s not that there weren’t any licensed females –there were. But their numbers were not appreciable, and as in many male-dominated industries, they were often relegated to the background and more feminine duties such as cosmetizing of the deceased. By the time I began my  career women were emerging from the shadows. My first boss was a woman and a very formidable one at that. I learned much from her. And when I would see a female funeral director, I hoped that they would speak to me, so that I might learn from them. They were all in their own way role models. Some, like my boss, taught me what to do and others (like another female boss years later) what not to do.  Then things changed and women began to enter the industry in rising numbers. Before long, they outnumbered men in mortuary school classes (although not all go on to be licensed). Today, women in funeral service are, happily, commonplace. Articles such as this Why Your Funeral Director Will Likely Be Female reflect that. Yet, I chuckle when perusing social media sites and coming across comments by newly licensed females about how “shocked” people are to learn they are funeral director. There was a time that gleaned such a reaction, but no more. And that’s a good thing.