As sad as it is, there will come a time when each and every one of us will need a funeral director. Perhaps it will be to say goodbye to one of our loved ones, or even when it comes to our own last moments. As such, funeral directors play an important role in our lives and the lives of those we love. They are called upon during the most difficult moments we face, and it is precisely for this reason that choosing a good funeral director is so vital.
Funeral directors take great pride in the work they do and aim to be the best possible custodians of their clients’ loved ones. But what exactly does it mean to be a good funeral director? How do funeral directors ensure that the people who come through their doors are given hope, meaning and support? In our many years operating as local, family-led funeral directors, we have come to understand what makes a good funeral director, and which qualities are most important.
No two days may be the same for a funeral director, but one thing is for certain – no one walks through the doors of a funeral home on the best day of their life. A good director is aware at all times that each and every client is a person whose heart is likely broken, who is in the freshest stages of grief, and who is in need of support. And while empathy is a human trait we should all aim to practice in our everyday lives, it is never more important than for people whose job it is to speak to and help those in mourning.
Being empathetic starts with having good listening skills and really paying attention to what the client wants and needs. Funeral directors have a moral responsibility towards those who seek their services, and listening to clients is key in ensuring they do not place their own opinions or agenda above theirs.
But of course, true empathy does not stop at listening to someone’s problems. Clients come to a funeral director in various emotional states and a good funeral director will be able to put themselves in their shoes. Rather than simply feeling sorry for or pitying them, they will try to approach each new person with a unique perspective on what will help them feel better, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Unfortunately, showing such empathy and support for clients on a daily basis can take its toll emotionally. And the truth is that not everyone will be suited to the role of funeral director, a profession that sits comfortably on the same shelf as other highly emotive careers such as medicine or counselling. Although the client’s struggle is not your own, witnessing such sadness is not easy.
Many funeral directors, as a result, must walk a delicate balance between getting so swept up in their work that it negatively impacts their mental health, or disconnecting to the point where they find it difficult to emotionally connect and empathise with their clients. They must find a middle ground to ensure they can conduct their role with dignity, compassion and care, and not allow their own feelings of sadness to impair their professionalism.
Being able to support and help those who are grieving, while challenging, is in some way its own sort of honour and privilege. Clients put their trust in you to not only deliver a service befitting their loved ones, but also to support them through the process with understanding and expert advice. Remembering that can help during the days when emotions are running high or when a particularly upsetting funeral is taking place.
Ultimately, a good funeral director understands that they are often a pillar for families and loved ones to look to when they need guidance. It takes emotional resilience to succeed as a funeral director, and that doesn’t mean being too soft or too hardened – sometimes the best path is somewhere right down the middle, and staying positive in the face of something truly heartbreaking is the key to that.
While most people can throw together an event of some kind without much experience when the occasion calls for it, funerals are another matter entirely. Planning a successful funeral takes a level of experience and knowledge anyone outside of the industry won’t have.
When someone turns to a funeral director, they are putting their faith and their money in someone who they believe knows the business inside out. A funeral director should, therefore, be able to answer any questions a client may have, whether that is how to register a death, the specifics regarding a burial versus a cremation, and what funeral services may be available to them.
A good local funeral director is always up to date on new developments in the funeral industry, is constantly evaluating their price structure to fit both the market and the needs of their clients, and maintains strong relationships with their local community in order to provide the best possible service.
Of course, local and industry knowledge is not the only skill funeral directors need in order to successfully plan a funeral. Some clients will be organising a funeral for the very first time or be particularly shaken by a loss, having some idea of what they would like to happen, but not the emotional headspace to make important decisions.
Whatever the circumstances, not every family has a step-by-step guide of what they want the funeral to look like and will rely on the advice from their funeral director to guide them to the appropriate choices and what they might be able to afford. As sad as it may seem, giving someone’s loved one the perfect final farewell is a responsibility that does require a certain amount of creativity and imagination.
That creativity might simply come in the form of commenting on a particular choice of flower arrangement, or it could go as far as helping to create a truly unique funeral from scratch. After all, more and more of us are opting for non-traditional farewells for our loved ones with such spectacles as fancy dress funerals, musical funerals and so much more. The best funeral directors will be faithful to their traditions, but are able to be flexible and come up with new ideas which honour the unique personality of the deceased when requested.
The skills a funeral director will need to be good in their job role can be divided into two distinct areas: the emotional, face-to-face interpersonal skills that come from working with grieving families, and the business, event-planning skills that are necessary to provide the perfect service for every client.
But the real key in the funeral industry, and what makes a funeral director truly stand out, is heart. Death, as inevitable and as natural as it may be, is one of the hardest things any of us will ever have to face. Leading with grace, understanding and neverending compassion is what clients will ultimately remember the most when the experience is over.