Who Do You Think You Are?
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
(2020 Volume 1)
Years ago, some of my colleagues, my fellow funeral directors and I were delighting in telling stories of our days in the profession; turning back the clock, so to speak. I remember my friend regarding our banter as "eternity’s first week". Oh, the ghost stories any undertaker could tell…pun intended.
Funeral directing is not for the average person. It is regarded as a profession for a reason because, professionals are what we are. On the surface we are dressed well, shined up, door swinging, directional beacons of care and compassion. “Welcome, come in out of the cold, how can I help you today?”; said with a gentle face, a kind smile, a soft tone in the voice and brilliant posture. Peal away that layer and you may find that same person behind a vacuum cleaner, again. You may find that professional, cleaning the bathrooms, cutting the lawn or washing a fleet of cars. You may never see this professional, working in an operating room, but you should know that, the “welcome committee” at the front door, is also the embalmer, the restorative artist, the beautician and the hair stylist. Beyond all of that, you will see that professional in pursuit of conquering the highest mountain of administration it takes to coordinate the memorial for a loved one. That memorial, as witnessed by the average attendee, somehow and seemingly went off without a hitch. Upon its conclusion, all credit is given to the next of kin for putting together a lovely tribute. We are the ghosts in the background, and oddly, that is how we like it. Never are we in the way, yet mystically, we are always available with the belief that the word "no" should never be uttered to the families we serve. Rather, "Of course, let's find a way to make that work".
Insight and experience is the reward of many years. My journey with the immortal began in 1983 with my first job in a funeral home after 3 years in high school, aspiring to become an architect. Out of no where came the intuition that funeral services needed some investigation. Funeral Services…was it a choice or was it a calling? My professional history started some thirty seven years ago with the help of an amazing guidance counsellor (shout out to Mr. Kwakaboom - WHVS). He introduced me to the co-op program and found me a sponsoring funeral home for the final semester of high school. Since then, I attended and successfully graduated college…an achievement in itself! I failed my first attempt at writing the provincial licencing exams. Second time’s a charm, as they say, I went back and kicked those exams. Since then, I have been hired, acquired, head-hunted and recruited. I have been fired, humiliated, deflated, and humbled. I, for all intent and purpose was homeless, save that of a few good friends who believed in me, supported me, sheltered me and helped me to start over. We are all one bad decision from losing it all…hard lesson learned. I also learned, that your true friends are the ones that remain in the room when you fail. The rest seem to leave the room. Remember, “second time’s a charm”? I, again, was hired, resigned, hired, resigned, and hired. And now as the profession continually evolves and unfolds, I find myself beyond my best before date. I became a funeral director in a time when it paid a professional wage. Today, maybe not so much, and I wonder “Where do I go from here?”. Fortuitously for me, retirement is gradually approaching, but seemingly so far away.
The one thing I do have, aside from the grey hairs on my head, is experience. I have enjoyed successes and even victories. I have wallowed in failure. I have grown, learned, and matured. In my first years as a funeral director, my boss, Mr. Jack Deans, always said “Youth is wasted on the young”. I had to grow old to fully appreciate that statement that I found rather offensive in those days.
All that being said, the grey hairs provide me with the divine rite and historically handed down custom of story telling. Together we will explore the ins and outs as well as the beauty of this time-tested and proven profession of funeral directors. Who we are, what we do, and do we actually; eat and sleep? Welcome to my memoirs of growth. I'm Glen Burkholder and this is “Eternity’s First Week”.
Next: "And From The Sky They Fall"
(Part 1 of a 2 part series)
The tragedy of war hits home. Unity for the greater good - to help and to heal.