Changing role of life as a funeral director

The Changing Role of Today’s Funeral Director

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In the not-so-distant past, the need to speak with a funeral director would sometimes evoke a sense of apprehension in the typical family. How times have changed. After all, there’s no such thing as the “typical” family anymore -- and planning a funeral with a licensed professional has become an enlightening and highly personalized experience that benefits the living and honours a loved one in more ways than ever before.

Nobody knows this better than Adam McBrain, who began his career as a funeral director and now holds a managerial position in training and business development at Arbor Memorial’s corporate offices in Toronto. He describes the duties of today’s funeral director as a “spectrum.” An average day may include designing a unique “send-off event” with a family, greeting guests, balancing the flow between ceremonies, choosing a special wine or changing decor for a reception, coordinating church, cemetery, caterers and procession drivers, providing grief resources and more.

Handling these kinds of details takes know-how and a host of must-have personality traits which McBrain cultivates in his trainees. “It’s essential to have a comprehensive knowledge of services, products, religious rituals and technical skills.” he says. “Articulate value. Be personable, but maintain a level of proper deportment and make excellence happen every day. We have a very specific code... and it’s in everything we do.”

For many funeral directors the true magic lies in continuity, establishing a one-on-one relationship with a family from start to finish and beyond, overseeing every facet. “The family and everyone involved should never need to wonder what happens next.” McBrain asserts. Depending on the size and resources of the funeral home, a single director may personally take care of all duties for one family, or serve as a member of a larger team, sometimes specializing in a certain aspect of the trade, from pre-arrangement, to embalming and restorative arts, through to AfterCare.

For Julie Evans at Sands Funeral Chapel (Colwood) in Victoria, those duties also include chief painter, furniture mover and public program developer. Like all Arbor funeral specialists, Julie contributes much to community life. At Sands she has offered Walk and Talk groups, pet blessings, free meeting space, a Fingerprint Registration Clinic for children’s safety, and more. She’s also an active member of the Seroptimists, an international association that helps women and girls locally and abroad.

Evans points out that an increasing number of women are becoming funeral directors in a traditionally male vocation, and believes it’s her maternal side that has sharpened her focus on care-giving. She says she strives for that moment when she “sees their shoulders soften.”

But, she says,  “we can’t get to that stage without caring and open conversation to create relationships of trust, to acknowledge what they’re saying and help create something meaningful to them, not a cookie cutter ceremony.”

Evans admits that on occasion she has cried with the family she is serving and that personal life often takes a back seat - but it’s worth it. “Many years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life.” she recalls. “Then I walked into a funeral home and asked ‘how do I become a funeral director?and I felt a sense of calmness about me. I knew this is where I was supposed to be.”

Evans and McBrain agree: Helping people get through one of life’s most difficult challenges is no nine-to-five occupation, it’s a calling. Every family is different. Every funeral must be made special - and that takes continued training, devotion, creativity, exacting expertise and the flexibility to change. All across Canada, the funeral directors of Arbor Memorial Inc. have not only evolved to meet the latest needs of today’s family, they’ve become a driving force behind a shift of public perception, shedding a new light on funerals and the professionals who create them.

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