life as a funeral director

What Working With Death Can Teach You About Living

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Shannon Burberry

Shannon Burberry

   Even as a young teenager, I knew I wanted to become a funeral director when I grew up. Perhaps an odd dream for a child, but I knew in my heart that I could help people by assisting them in saying their goodbyes.

On "Career Day" in Grade 10, I met a local funeral director who introduced me to the industry and really sparked my interest. Now looking back on my career of over 25 years in the funeral industry, my views on the particulars of life have definitely changed for the better.

There's so much to learn about life while working with death.

Our goodbyes are just as important as our hellos

We spend much of our time welcoming people into the world, our families and communities. Think about it for a second. We plan - often large - celebratory parties for rites of passage, such as births, weddings and other religious celebrations. Between showers, rehearsals, parties and honeymoons, we spend a lot of time planning and celebrating these milestones.

So why do we spend less than half the amount of time planning our exit from this world?

For me, I knew I was made to be a planner of goodbyes. I am the go-to party planner in our family and always loved figuring out the best way to bring family and friends together. Whether you are saying goodbye to a friend who's moving to another part of the world, or saying goodbye to a loved one forever, these are meaningful transitions in life that should be treated with such reverence and should be cherished.

There's no need to rush the end, is there? We only get one chance at a final farewell, so we owe it to ourselves to start having conversations about the numerous decisions we have to make when it comes to end-of-life planning.

Make sure your goodbye is just as celebratory as your hello.

One size doesn't fit all

Just like in life, one size doesn't fit all for death.

You've likely been to funerals and end-of-life celebrations that feel cookie-cutter; the ceremony is the same; the same things are said; it almost feels like you could be at anyone's funeral.

But the uniqueness of your life should shine through at your farewell party. Every person chooses his/her own path and in turn, ends at a different point on the path too.

I'm sure you can agree with me when I say life is the most personalized experience of them all. And death should be just as personalized too. I've learned that customization is important and what makes a celebration special. A recent survey found that 45 percent of Canadians crave a high level of customization when it comes to their funeral.

When pre-planning a funeral, there is a lot to consider for a customized celebration - the stories to share, personal symbols and rituals (such as sports equipment and memorabilia), music preferences, shared experiences and what kind of legacy to leave behind.

Technology connects the disconnected

Over the years, technology has undoubtedly changed every aspect of our lives, including the way we grieve -- starting at the very moment we hear about a life lost.

Today, it's incredibly common to read a post about someone's death on social media before you read an obituary in the paper.

Technology enables us to connect with each other in times of grief in ways that would be very difficult even two decades ago. If you live far away from home or are unable to attend a visitation, technology can help connect to family and friends during times of loss. You're able to video chat, send a voice or written message and comfort others in real-time.

But on the flip side, technology isn't a substitute for a warm smile, handshake or hug.

Taking the time to go visit your family and friends is well worth it. Even if you find yourself at a loss for words and don't know what to say, your presence alone is invaluable.

The most important thing I learned: Time is a gift

Working with death has taught me that the most important thing in life is time. It is a gift that cannot be squandered. It is so important to take the time to celebrate the life of your loved ones.

I often hear people say when someone is in their 90s that they don't have many friends and no one will come to celebrate their life. My answer to that is that they have 90 years of life to celebrate, more stories than most and they deserve a proper goodbye - one that recognizes their uniqueness as an individual.

Shannon blogs regularly for HuffPost Canada. Click here to read more of her articles.

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