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Deciding to Direct

For some people, it’s an easy question: “What do you do?” If you reply “I’m a teacher” or “I’m an engineer” or “I’m a bus-driver”, you won’t usually get any odd reactions. But you might if you reply: “I’m a funeral-director.”

Death is a disturbing thing for many, particularly in a modern world where we can try to keep unpleasant things like illness and old age out of sight and out of mind. In past ages, people were familiar with dead bodies because they often saw them in real life. That’s not true today – unless you’re a funeral director or a doctor.

So strangers may not like to discuss funeral-directing. On the other hand, they may have a ghoulish interest in the darker side of what you do. It’s not a job that gets a neutral reaction, but why do people choose to do it and what does it involve? Sometimes, of course, there’s no real decision involved. Some funeral businesses are family affairs, handed down generation after generation from fathers to sons – or to daughters nowadays, because more and more women are joining the business.

That’s a good thing, because the more diverse funeral directors are, the more different life-experiences they can bring to the job. Sometimes customers will specifically ask for a woman to guide them through the many choices they have to make as they plan a funeral. In the past, people wanted to follow tradition and were content to leave matters in the hands of the funeral director and priest. Today they often want to make the funeral of a departed person unique in some way. We want to live as individuals and we want to be buried or cremated as individuals too.

That places more demands on funeral directors. They have to be able to explain options and give good advice, helping people at one of the most difficult and vulnerable times of their lives. Because psychology and customer-relations are an ever-more important part of the job, it’s not surprising that professional qualifications have become more important over the years too. In the past, training would have been on the job, not in a classroom or over the internet. There wouldn’t have been exams to sit or diplomas and degrees to be earned.

But customers were less demanding in the past, more willing to accept standard service and have funerals in an unvarying and old-fashioned way. There weren’t so many laws and regulations in the past either. Nowadays a funeral director has to be both more flexible and more knowledgeable, keeping abreast of developments not just in funeral technology and business practice, but also in new legislation and changing fashions in popular culture.

The internet is something else that makes the job more complex, because it has become an essential part of business life, whether it’s used for ordering equipment or publicizing a company’s name. The pace of life is quickening, which means that customers expect faster service without any loss in quality or big increase in charges. Being a funeral director isn’t getting any easier, but it remains what it’s always been: a job that can be as rewarding as it is challenging.