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The Odd One Out: How Isolation Hurts Death Care Professionals

My wife did not want to talk about it. I had come home and waited patiently through dinner. Our young daughters had run off to play and now I was ready to share.


I had spent my day at a local funeral home (the funeral home I now work for). I had decided early in my career that if I was going to write articles and provide seminars to funeral and cemetery professionals, then I would need to spend more time “in the trenches.” As a grief psychologist, I had a lot of knowledge about the bereaved, but I would need to see the challenges and rewards of funeral service first-hand. The funeral home owners had allowed me to sit in on some arrangement conferences that day. After asking permission from the first family, I was ready to witness the process of planning a funeral.


The first arrangement conference of the day was to plan the funeral for a two-month-old. I will spare you the details, but death was tragic and accidental. As a former therapist, I’m no stranger to tough, emotional conversations – but I was not fully prepared for this. Thankfully, the funeral director I was shadowing was ready. He handled the entire meeting with empathy and professionalism. I marveled at his ability to know when to shift from allowing the parents to share their pain to offering personalized options that would allow them to begin to heal from this tragic loss.

When I arrived home, I wanted to share the experience with my wife. As a former child therapist, she has experience with difficult conversations and has dealt with painful, emotional topics. But she did not want to hear about the funeral arrangements for a baby. And yet I wanted to talk about it. That’s when it struck me. This is exactly what funeral and cemetery professionals deal with every day. You regularly see and hear things that other people never want to think about. You are the “odd one” in your community – and in some cases, even to your own families.

 I could imagine the funeral director I had shadowed that day going to a barbecue with a group of friends later that night. While the accountant could complain about the stress of tax season and the teacher could share stories about unruly children and disgruntled parents, he already knew that no one wanted to hear about his day at the funeral home. Even his spouse would not want to hear the details of his day. And so, he would have to keep it inside – like the thousands of other funeral and cemetery professionals who perform the same duties each day.


I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had witnessed. In hindsight, the events of that day were the seed that grew to become my presentation on preventing burnout in funeral and cemetery professionals. Given the challenging years we have all had recently, I want to share three tips for dealing with the challenges of funeral and cemetery service.


1) Find Your People

It may be impossible to shake the “odd one” status within your community. That makes it critical that you seek out fellow funeral professionals who really understand the pressures of your field. This is why professional organizations are so important — you must “find your people.” When you are with them, take time to share stories and support, learn new strategies and tools, and ask your colleagues how they deal with various challenges of the profession. This opportunity to connect personally and professionally is invaluable.


2) Get Physical & Psychological Distance

There is no substitute for taking time away from work. Owners and managers must have reasonable expectations and workloads for their staff members. Given the nature of funeral and cemetery service, there will always be busy days and busy weeks. But too often I hear about professionals that never have slower weeks nor do they provide adequate vacation time. Achieving “psychological distance” is difficult because cell phones can keep you tied to the business even when you are away, but look for creative solutions and schedules so you can find times when you can turn off your phone.


3) Treat Employees as Well as You Treat Customers

While serving the needs of bereaved families is critical, I have seen too many situations where employees were treated like they were expendable. While poor service for a family may result in losing a few future calls, burned out employees will negatively affect every family with whom they work. Owners and managers should also remember that employees are critical for marketing and are very expensive to replace. Support your employees by providing them with stress reduction resources, educational opportunities, and reasonable work conditions.


Funeral and cemetery professionals deal with extraordinary stressors and work conditions. Not everyone is able to survive to these unique demands. But I hope that death care professionals can go beyond simply “getting by” in this challenging field. It is time to take some of the attention and concern that you show every family that walks through your front door and begin practicing better care for yourself and your colleagues.


Author Bio:

Dr. Jason Troyer earned his doctorate in counseling psychology and is grief educator and former therapist and college professor. He helps hundreds of funeral homes with social media, grief resources, Google Reviews, and community presentations. You can learn more and contact Dr. Troyer at

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Apr 20
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Excellent article. My father was a funeral director from 1934-84 when he passed away. Your article provides further insight into him and the death care peofession. Kevin O'Connor, author of "Two Floors Above Grief."

Jason Troyer
Jason Troyer
6 days ago
Replying to

Kevin - thanks for your kind words!

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