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If I Had Asked You...

Recently I found myself scrolling through industry groups on social media. At times, an unsure student or other pondering person asks what others think about being a Funeral Director and/or Embalmer, and the responses surprise me. It made me reflect on my own origin story. This took place before social media groups and the bounty of opinions was not yet a swipe away.


I am a first and last generation Funeral Director & Embalmer. I did not have family or friends with connections to this industry, or any funeral attendance that sparked my interest. When I was 16 yrs. old  and a junior in high school, I felt the pressure of deciding what my life was going to look like upon graduating. I had little money but knew I was bound for college. After discovering that becoming Wonder Woman was not an option, I decided around 9 yrs. old that I’d be a veterinarian. Over time that thought fell to the back of my mind, replaced by the reality of a tuition beyond my reach. Later, as I was flipping through the handy career book in our Guidance Counselor’s office, I stumbled upon “Mortician”.  There was a black and white photo of a man wearing glasses, short sleeves, and an apron. I read over the

description of tasks performed and was immediately curious. Anatomy and the sciences were my favorite subjects, and this seemed like a job where that could be useful. I would also have the option of working with families and different religious groups, etc. so no 2 days would ever be the same. Before mailing my application package (for what would be Gupton-Jones), I reached out to the owner of the only funeral home in our tiny town. I requested a tour and an interview, and he kindly obliged.


Mr. Lane Purcell met me at the door, and I followed him across the burgundy carpet to a large office. I sat across from his desk, notebook and pen ready, and proceeded to shower him with questions. They ranged from the typical, “Tell me what you do” to those pertaining to care of the body. Afterwards, we went on a tour. He showed me the selection room, where the full-sized caskets were displayed, and the chapel with its long burgundy pews and unique lighting features. Finally, he showed me the embalming room. It was empty, a table in its center awaiting use. The smell of massage cream was in the air, and I was intrigued. Afterwards, he bid me farewell and with my mind swimming, I went home. After some consideration, I knew I was interested in funeral service work, and I decided I needed to get a job there to see if I could manage it. I called Mr. Purcell and asked if there were any part-time opportunities available there. He was kind even though he responded that at that time there were not. In our small town he and his counterpart could oversee the case volume with the support staff they already had in place. I was disappointed and decided I just needed to wait. And I did – I waited for a week before calling again. This would continue for a little while until finally one week I called, and he said I could come work for him. (I believe my weekly calls slowly won him over or wore him down-whichever you choose to think).



My tasks consisted initially of cleaning- the chapel, the cars, the caskets. I happily scrubbed the whitewalls on the tires of the funeral coaches. I dusted baseboards and caskets ever so carefully. Over time he and Mr. Don (Steele) started to introduce me to more of what their jobs were. Soon I was holding the door open and handing out service folders at visitations. I watched the way in which people were comforted, and the manner that I would hope to someday emulate. I observed as the family entered the chapel to see their loved one for the first time, and the gentle presence the funeral director provided. I loaded flowers into the van and contributed to something beautiful staged at the gravesite.  I accepted personal items delivered from young parents and witnessed the careful placement of them into the tiny, closed casket. Then I saw the most astounding thing- the change that took place between the initial receipt of a decedent and their placement in the chapel following embalming and preparation. The restoration of color, peace and comfort was something truly remarkable. I was a reverential pupil, appreciative of every extra moment they spent explaining things to me. I borrowed their textbooks and Dodge magazines, trying to understand and learn what I could. I knew who Jack Adams was before I knew what he was talking about. I learned the names of each instrument and “organized” them. Mr. Purcell and Mr. Don showed me how two people can approach a case in varied ways and still obtain the desired end result. When I was made fun of or met with looks of revulsion at school, they understood. They supported my growth and were my first mentors. By the time I graduated and went off to Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, I knew that this was the career I intended to pursue.
















It would be years before I would have a female mentor, and while those 2 gentlemen have since died, I have always felt immense gratitude for the time we shared. They were kind, patient and authentic. I went into funeral service with open eyes. I knew I would never be materially wealthy, but I would have a fulfilled heart. In my 30+ years of practice, that has been true.


The point of all of this is that while this field demands so much of us, and can seem very dark at times, it needs the right people. The care of the dead has been a sacred responsibility since the beginning of time. Those tasked were (and still are) trusted to care for someone else’s treasure. While it lacks glamour, it compensates with the certainty that what we do matters. Whether adjusting a tie or pausing to listen. Our communities need us, and there seems to be a shortage of the right people available right now. When and if someone asks you about the work that you do, what do you say? What does it mean to you? Please consider this. You may be the one that a future right person asks, and your answer can have more power than you know.


Originally posted on April 22, 2024. To view original post or more information on Jennifer Lares visit her website, The Mulling Mortician.


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Convidado:
09 de mai.
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What you do matters............your piece illustrates your dedication to helping those in need in a sensitive way. That type of service is priceless........

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Convidado:
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Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it and appreciate your kind words. - Jennifer

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