Bonnie Dalberg Ansley

This series is meant to highlight beautiful funeral directors. Too many times we see and hear the media focus on the horrible things that happen in the funeral industry. I am here to prove that there is more good in our industry than bad. Every story in this series is written by the directors themselves.

Bonnie Dalberg Ansley

Bonnie began working in the funeral industry in 2006. Her titles have included funeral director assistant, office manager, embalmer, funeral director, décor specialist and manager. Currently she holds a funeral director and embalmer license in Georgia.

How did you get into the industry?

At the age of 22, I lived in Augusta, Georgia working multiple jobs while majoring in biochemistry.  My father had suffered from chest pains while mowing the yard.  After resting inside a bit, he was taken to the local VA hospital and was told he was in the middle of a heart attack and needed an emergency triple bypass.  The surgery went well, but infection soon set in – his entire body had lost all it’s natural color, the open incision on his chest had turned green and purple and I naturally thought he was going to die.  I’ve encountered death before with classmates, a SIDS baby from my mother’s daycare and even extended family, but up to this point, never that close to heart.  I was devastated and thought “What do I do?  Who do I turn to?  What will happen when he dies?”  Thankfully, he recovered, but the impact of the trauma was so deep.  When he was strong enough, I made the decision that I wanted to be the one to take care of my dad.  I want to be the one to take care of everyone I loved and make sure they are taken care of the right way.  I moved to Atlanta within weeks to attend Gupton Jones and the rest is history.

This industry is hard, why do you do your job every day?

Because I make a difference in this world.  I work with intense passion and give my full talents and drive to each family I serve.  I see it on their faces, I hear it in their voices and I feel it when they embrace me.

What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part are the moments when I can take heartache and refocus it towards something positive.  For example, a family is riddled with anxiety and fear the first time that they enter their visitation room.  In their minds, they are expecting a dimly lit room filled with antique furniture and their loved one without any life in them.  What if, instead, the doors opened to reveal a room filled with that person’s joy?  A vignette against that wall overflowing with Elvis paraphernalia, and over there, a mannequin showcasing a vintage 50’s style dress, her favorite color can be found everywhere from backdrops to artwork to up lighting.  “Love Me Tender” is playing in the background and as they move closer to her, she’s dressed not in her Sunday best, but rather what people were used to seeing – jeans, a sweatshirt and her infamous fire engine red lipstick.  Now this… this is mom and she would’ve loved this.  Every attention to detail has been made for the family.  A framed photo of her family’s business is on display; there are Elvis ornaments to celebrate not only her love of “The King” but also her love of Christmas… this is all done without the family having to haul her personal belongings to the funeral home or any cumbersome work involved.  It was something created from someone who truly listened to the family and was able to capture enough of their loved one’s happiness into aesthetics that affect all their senses – taste (red velvet cupcakes to match her fiery personality and red lipstick), sight (all the visuals tastefully on display), sound (uplifting music), touch (holding the Elvis keepsakes in memory of “her”) and smell (Christmas tree air fresheners were placed inconspicuously around the room to fill the air with that crisp tree smell).

How do you balance work and home life, what do you do for self-care?

Self-care is something that I have struggled with throughout my whole career.  Life is an ever-changing journey and I am currently refocusing on my physical health at the moment.  I am down 32 lbs and counting.

Outside of work what are your hobbies/interests?

General merriment – eating, drinking, dancing or karaoke with good people and an uber driver when the night is over.

Tell us about your family, kids, spouses, pets etc.

My family is not traditional, but then again, whose is anymore?  My immediate family consists of my husband, Kyle, my fat little Chihuahua, Vlad, my german shepherd mix, Greta, and exotic “sea creatures” throughout the house.  I have so many people that are mutually considered family and it continues to grow.  I would trust my life to so many others and for that, I am blessed.

Tell a story about a family you have served, or body prepared that was especially significant to you personally

I remember serving a small family – there was the deceased and his wife.  The gentleman worked for Coca-Cola for decades and lived, breathed and of course, drank, Coca-Cola.  Everything was personalized in that Bonnie fashion where we focused on his love and passions.  I and the staff wore Coca-Cola clothing instead of suits, there was Coca-Cola paraphernalia everywhere that the public was present and at the very end of the service, I passed out cokes and diet cokes so that everyone could toast to this amazing man as I played the original 1971 commercial of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”  The wife was grateful to experience so much love for her husband in an unexpected place, she has since continued to stay in touch with me.

What message would you like to give to the public about our profession?

The public image of a funeral director is terribly misguided.  We do not make six figures, I mean, I do drive a Cadillac…hearse that is and then my Nissan home.  We are not all the vampiric, pale men in a dusty suit hiding in the shadows – hello, I’m a perky, Asian American female in her mid 30’s.  We do not manipulate defenseless widows into overspending for an elaborate service.  I listen to what my family’s wants are.  After all, they are the ones in charge and I am only here to offer solutions.  I don’t care if someone is spending $1,000 or $10,000 – they deserve the same treatment and respect from me and that is what I provide.  Funeral directors wear many hats, but I assure you, con artist is not one of them.

If you know of a beautiful funeral director who would fit in this series please send me an email (mbalmergirl@gmail.com) with who the person is and contact information. This series is planned to run each week in December but I may run another series again in the future.

Don’t forget to claim your copy of “Speaking of the dead”. For a limited time the kindle version in $2.99 paperback is $13.99. What a perfect gift for Christmas for you or someone you know. Click here to get your copy.

Have you ever been so tied up in an emotion you can’t explain that you are close to tears, want to run as fast as you can all while feeling like a nap is a good idea? Well that is me today! The time has come for me to introduce my finished book “Speaking of the dead”. Can you believe it?!

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Thank you to all of my supporters and followers, I am so grateful for your encouragement and excitement. I could not have done it with you!

Before I tell this story, I want to give my thanks to all of you who are supporting this project. I have been working on this for years. I have written stories that have been sitting in a folder on my desktop and hand-written stories in notepads, even stories and poetry written on a word processor from so many years ago. I have truly dreamed of making this project come true for years, not having the confidence that I was a good enough writer. Family, friends, coworkers and all of those in between have quieted the doubts I have had of myself and now I feel that I can finally share what is in my head.

 Two-man cot:

I was given the task of picking up a man at the medical examiner’s office and transporting him to one of our other locations. We were really busy and I only had access to one of our older cots. As I backed the hearse into the garage to load the cot, my coworker was waiting for me.  He opened the back door and loaded the cot for me so I could get on the road quickly. I got to the medical examiner’s office, got out of the car and rang the bell and waited. Soon a worker came out and just being friendly he got the cot out for me and we walked inside. After transferring the man onto my cot, he walked out with me and courteously loaded the cot into my hearse. Once I got to the funeral home, I backed in near the embalming room door and proceeded to pull the cot out. The way I was used to a cot working is, you hold a lever to release the wheels as you pull the cot out of the vehicle and let go of the lever before the other end is completely out of the vehicle to lock them once again, as the second set of wheels unfold, they would automatically lock and then you can roll on. I did just that, pulled the lever while I pulled the cot, locked the wheels and continued pulling until the cot came out on the second set of wheels. Before I knew it, bam! the other half of the cot was on the ground. Shocked, I waited, looked around, thought about it. What just happened? So, I did what anyone would do, I went to the side of the cot on the ground and pulled it up but the wheels stayed folded. I tried again with all my might and the wheels stayed folded. Then I decided to try and get the cot back into the hearse, I pulled the cot up and unsuccessfully tried to get the cot onto the lip of the bumper. To give you a visual, this was in Georgia, in the summer, in the middle of the day. I was wearing a thick Fraternity polo shirt, long khaki pants and a hat (bad hair, casual day). So, already hot and sweaty, I called the funeral home to avoid walking inside and risk families seeing me casual, sweaty and disheveled. I was greeted by the answering service. No one was there. No one could help me.

At this point I am still trying to prove my worth and that I could handle situations just like this, so, I thought this through and decided I would put the entire cot on the ground and drag the whole thing into the embalming room. Just imagine this small girl, red faced and sweaty, dragging a cot on the concrete one inch at a time, literally, one inch at a time. As I got to the threshold of the door and wrenched the first set of wheels over the doorway and onto the tile of the embalming room I felt like I was being watched so I looked up. Hunched, drenched and straining and to my horror, there were my coworkers, two in a hearse and two in a van, just coming back from a funeral service. They had stopped to watch the girl dragging the cot into the embalming room…. laughing hysterically of course. These men were laughing so hard that getting out of their vehicles to assess and figure out what I was doing was entertainment in itself. It was like watching a bunch of drunkards trying to get their footing and falling all over each other. After some discussion through their tears, the men told me that the cot I was using had two levers on the foot end (the end you push with) and another lever on the head end (the end that goes in the vehicle first) and was called a two-man cot. The reasoning here is if you are by yourself you use the two levers at the foot end at the same time and if there are two of you, the other end had its own lever, and I just wrenched this poor man out of the hearse without pulling the second lever! And I didn’t even notice that the second set of wheels never unfolded. So, lesson learned, always know your equipment before using it. With the help of my coworkers, we got the cot up on all four wheels and the man was rolled normally into the embalming room. Hopefully this man wasn’t too mad at me, however, I did apologize to him profusely for my lack of knowledge on the workings of a two-man cot.