What is a day in the life of an undertaker really like?
In this business, no two days are ever the same, and it’s exceptionally rare that a day goes exactly as planned. We always start with Plan A, with Plan B and C on standby. Some days we see every letter of the alphabet. We never know when a death will occur, and death does not come to call strictly Monday – Friday, during business hours. Most funeral directors work an on-call rotation as part of their job. This means they have to be ready at any given moment to drop everything to go on a death call. Sometimes, life also has to be put on pause to handle an urgent phone call regarding obituaries, pallbearers, or flowers. Often, sleep is what must be sacrificed to get the work done. If someone dies in the middle of the night, a funeral director must get out of bed, brush their teeth, comb their hair, and make themselves otherwise presentable, and go immediately to the place of death to call for the deceased. The body is brought back to the funeral home, and if they family is planning for an open-casket visitation, the funeral director must begin the embalming process right away. This can take anywhere from 1 hour to several hours, depending on the cause of death and condition of the body. This all happens before dawn and the official start of the next day. If the funeral director is lucky, they will have gotten a few hours of sleep, but still need to report in at the office by 8:00 AM, coffee or energy drink in hand. The day may be filled with making funeral arrangements, preparing decedents for a viewing, working funerals, catching up on paperwork, or making sure the vehicles and building are clean and ready to go. All of this requires a sharp mind, and endless empathy, patience and energy, regardless of how many hours of sleep were obtained the night before. Then, after having been up all night, and working a full day in the office, there may still be a visitation scheduled for that evening. Some days are like this, and we wonder if it will ever end. However, the unpredictability of death means that other days are spent mowing the grass, mopping the preparation room, sweeping out the garage, and all the other jobs and struggles of operating a small business. Although, most days fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
The follow-up question to all this would be, “how do you handle it?” A funeral home staff must be a committed bunch. Everyone, from the funeral director who owns the business, to the part-time office assistant must share the same vision of providing an invaluable service to grieving families. A good, supportive team who all understand the importance of the role they play is vital. Above all, a good funeral director will never lose sight of their purpose and mission: to help the bereaved as they make their way through the difficult first days of grief and loss. A good funeral director is always acutely aware of the unique gift they have to offer to the families in their community. They calmly help to make sense of an otherwise chaotic and overwhelming situation. Their gift is their knowledge of what needs to be done for each family, and to do so effectively and efficiently (and on just a few hours of sleep).
Sue Nasinec is a licensed mortician, and owns Bruss-Heitner Funeral Home in Wells, with her husband Nathan. Sue has served this community for 24 years. Brandon Nasinec works at Bruss-Heitner, and is working towards being a licensed mortician.