Before you read this story I felt this a good opportunity to address that there are many industry professionals whom I admire and also tell their stories on social media platforms. It is important in our current society to address the many questions raised when it comes to death and how we care for the dead. I am working on adding a new page to my website dedicated to sharing links of these funeral directors. So in the next couple of weeks if you have any suggestions of who should be added to this page please message me on instagram @thembalmergirl or email me at mbalmergirl@gmail.com and of course you may always send me a message from the contact page.

Her hands were clutched in front of her. She made small, nervous motions as she walked. She was slightly bent from age like something heavy weighed upon her shoulders and her feet shuffled along the carpet. Her head was down, her eyes focused on the floor and she never looked up as she walked, seeming to be nervous of what was to come and why she was here. She was surrounded by her children who, whether on purpose or not, ringed her protectively as they all entered the funeral home. As I walked towards them, I adjusted my suit and checked that the buttons on my jacket were fastened, always wanting to look professional and capable. I observed the group for signs of defensiveness, fear, sadness, or any of the other “feels” that are typical of people who have just experienced a death. She came across that she was in need of comfort and support, her family around her were shielding and wary.

I greeted her first, extending my sympathies that the death of her husband was the reason we were meeting. I stretched out my hand with the intent of holding hers for just a moment and to hopefully create some sense of ease that is needed in these moments. She quickly recoiled both hands to her chest and sank further into her crowd of defender. Still never looking up but in a mighty voice contradicting her small frame she demanded, “Who are you?!” I took a small respectful step back and answered, “I am your funeral director.” In response she looked up into my eyes and with a glare belying her previously diminutive stature said, “Well, I … don’t … like … you!” Proving that sometimes I am wrong in my assessment of people.

In hindsight, moments such as these can be comical. But the distress experienced while the situation is occurring are real and painful. Some people fear the mortuary and the funeral director. Some believe that we are out to get their money and steal their loved one’s body parts to make the painful experience they are living more painful.  Some choose to be cocooned in a world where death doesn’t exist for them because in our society, we are so far removed from death that it is a mystery to most. I admit, this is the easier way – until someone dies. Then, it becomes a trauma that no one should have to experience. It is hard to watch someone internally wrestling with what they perceived wasn’t even possible to the reality that it has happened and now they are living a nightmare.

In an attempt to take the hostility out of her comment and show her that I did not take her remark personally, I answered with a friendly smile and said “Of course, I understand.” I made my introductions to the rest of the family who were silently mouthing to me “I’m sorry.” I waved them off, assuring them that it was fine and then spoke to them all as a whole as to what they should expect during the time they would be spending with me. I then asked them all to follow me and turned around to lead them to the room where we would be spending the next hour or so together. As I walked away, I heard the widow say “I don’t trust her, let’s get someone else.”

Comments like these usually come from being in pain and in shock and not knowing what to do with these emotions, it can’t be taken personally. I knew at this moment that it wouldn’t matter who her funeral director was, she would feel the same about any of us. So, understanding this, I continued walking away, acting as if I didn’t hear her.

During the arrangements, most of the questions I asked the widow were ignored by her and had to be repeated by a family member. I would ask a question, a family member would echo my question to her, and only then would the widow give an answer. She was determined to show me who was boss, and I was obliged to let her think she was in control. This went on during the entire arrangement. During this time the family would give each other side glances, roll their eyes and sometimes even giggle at the absurdity of how their mother was behaving. At one point the daughter asked her mother “Why don’t you just answer the lady?” and again she said, “I don’t like her.” And so, we continued the ask twice, answer once regime. Which made me also giggle internally at the widow’s resolve to be difficult.

When it was time for them to leave I walked them to the door and said goodbye, addressing the widow by name. I heard her grunt and mumble something I couldn’t make out as she ignored me and walked out the front door. Her daughter stayed behind to apologize for her mother’s behavior which I could only respond with that she was in grief and scared and sad and her behavior was nothing for them to worry about. The daughter was truly embarrassed. I assured her that I was not offended and with a smile I told her that her mother has great personality. She gave me a big smile, thanked me again and left to join her family in the parking lot.

As a funeral director, I am subject to see all kinds of emotions. Sad, angry, numb, these are all things I expect from families during the time I interact with them. I didn’t feel threatened by the widow’s behavior, I felt sad for her pain. And to be honest it does make me giggle a little when sweet little old ladies are rude, as it belies the behavior we expect from our elders.

The next time I saw the widow was when the family came in for a private family viewing. I had her husband dressed and in his casket. I made sure his shirt was pressed and tie was straight. As the family walked into the lobby, I addressed the widow again, making sure that this time I stayed at a distance and didn’t reach for her hand. She looked at me but said nothing. I greeted the rest of the family with hugs and walked them to the door where I had their father’s body ready and waiting for their arrival. I talked them through what they would see once I opened the door, where the casket was located, what flowers had arrived and that they should take as much time as they needed, and that the room was theirs for however long they stayed.

I opened the door and allowed the family to walk in first. I stepped in behind them watching how the widow reacted to seeing her husband for the first time since his death. She walked up to the casket and placed a hand on his chest, her head was bowed forward and she was quickly surrounded by her children with their arms around her shoulders. I walked out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me.

The widow never fully warmed up to me, but she at least stopped being rude. She allowed me to direct her husband’s funeral and burial. Her children were no longer apologetic but grateful that I handled the situation so well and accomplished creating a memorable funeral for their father.

My hope for the widow is that she found a way to calm her inner turmoil and grasp the joy that her children and grandchildren will bring her as she learns to survive without her husband. I will continue to love the families I serve no matter how they act towards me.


I have such a great life. An amazing and supportive husband. A beautiful and gentle autistic step-son. An old dog who has been by my side for so many years. I am fortunate in that every struggle, me and my family faces, I know that we will survive and thrive on a real and epic level.

It is the weekend and I am supposed to be working right now. I am sitting at my desk with piles of paper all around. I should be filing the stacks and entering data into the software. My to do list includes arranging mailing lists, creating advertising material, organizing phone calls for the next week and preparing to interview potential employees. Yet… instead I sit. Still and quiet, loving the sounds around me. My husband and my niece, who are in the adjacent room, are talking through the best strategies to handle the myriad of situations they are facing in a video game. My step-son is in the room next to me traversing through his own maze of imaginative worlds while muttering recollected phrases out loud. Vash (the old dog) is lying on the floor sleeping soundly, and at the moment, seemingly free from the ache of inflamed joints and the trembling internal pain that afflict the aging.

The dishwasher is running, the laundry is in various states of being washed, dried or folded. Between household chores and running a business, nothing is ever finished, there is always something to be done. Yet right now, this moment is more important than anything else I could be doing.

Life events cannot be anticipated and can turn our simple everyday routines upside down. You never know when an accident may occur resulting in a major disruption to a peaceful weekend, month, year. I have lived long enough to know that it takes only a minute for life to turn into chaos and tragedy. So instead of working right now, I am soaking up the little moments of my perfect life that I vow, will never be taken for granted.

The season was changing, it was fall. Orange and yellow leaves scattered the ground. Some leaves still clung to the trees in pure defiance of being replaced by newer, greener leaves in the spring. The air was crisp, the grass was turning brown and crunchy. It was the perfect season for a graveside service. The woman who passed away had pre-arranged all of her services prior to her death. She was to be embalmed and have a night of viewing at the mortuary then the next day be transported to a cemetery in a neighboring town for a graveside and burial.  

During the arrangement meeting with the children we finalized all of the details, set the time for viewing and when we would meet at the cemetery. The children left and I busied myself with ordering the casket and vault and notified the cemetery of our plans so they could dig the grave. I then called the clergy to coordinate when to meet at the cemetery, he let me know that he was not able to make the trip but would be at the viewing to say a few words to the family. This is not unusual with services that are out of town, the clergy sometimes have other obligations and are not able to travel for a service. Often in these cases the funeral director will step in and say a few words in lieu of the clergy. I notified the children and offered to step in which they readily agreed and were grateful for the offer. At no time during any of our interactions did the children indicate what was to happen the day of the graveside.

The viewing went as planned. Family and friends came and visited. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Once the viewing ended I allowed the children some private time with their mother before I closed the casket for the last time. They said their goodbyes and left the building.

The next day, I arrived at the funeral home early. I placed the casket in the hearse along with a register book, tissues and lap quilts. Then I got on the road for the long trip. It was about a three-hour drive through winding country roads lined with trees, the bright fall colors were a welcome backdrop. I arrived at the cemetery early in order to get everything ready and then waited for the children to arrive. During these times I enjoy scoping out surrounding headstones looking for unique sayings or try and find the oldest headstone in the area. As I wandered around I noticed it was getting close to the time for the graveside and had not yet seen or heard from the children. Still I waited, I knew it was a long drive and they would have had to get up pretty early to make it there in time and they had been up late the night before for the viewing, so I waited.

It was ten minutes past time for the graveside and still no sign of the children. I called the son to ask about their ETA. He didn’t answer so I left a message. I then called the daughter, she didn’t answer so I also left her a message. Then sat in a chair under the tent and continued to wait. At twenty minutes past time for the graveside I was still the only person there, aside from the cemetery crew waiting nearby. Finally, the son called me back. He told me that no one in the family would be there, no one had enough money for gas for that long of a trip and they all had to work today. I was shocked! Not once did any of the children give me an indication that they would not be there. After a moment of silence, I was thinking of how to respond to that, I finally asked the son how he would like me to proceed. He told me to just say a few words and then have his mother buried. They would make a trip to the cemetery at a later date. We both hung up.

I stood there in the cemetery looking towards the cemetery crew awaiting my signal. I looked at the tent and the chairs perfectly aligned with folded blankets set on each one for the family to sit in comfort. It was quiet there, aside from a few rustling leaves as light wisps of wind carried them around the headstones. I turned my head and looked back at the hearse with the waiting casket and its passenger awaiting pall bearers to carry it to the grave opening.

It was the perfect kind of day and the perfect set up for a graveside service. I swallowed hard in disappointment and walked to the waiting cemetery crew. I explained the situation, stressing that there would be no one to help carry the casket to the grave. The crew jumped into action and called in additional coworkers, then they stepped out of their truck and followed me over to the hearse. The additional men showed up and we all carried the woman to her final resting place. Then, to my surprise all the crew stood in a line near the casket in a ready and waiting position and one of them gave me a little nod. I understood that they would be the fill in mourners for the little service I had planned. I said my few words and read a poem I had found, then took a picture of the crew standing there behind the casket. I was so touched by the cemetery crews’ actions, they were so willing to step in and stand as mourners, it was truly heartwarming. I thanked them all and let them finish the burial.

Once I got back to the funeral home, I printed the pictures along with the speech and poem I had read and put it all in the mail for the children. If they couldn’t be there in person, at least they would know that their mother was memorialized properly.

In hindsight, maybe I could have been clearer with the children about the expectation that they would meet me at the cemetery, prompting the discussion about their lack of gas money. I would have happily provided a hearse at no charge to assure they could attend the graveside. While they were happy with the pictures and copy of the speech, I still feel the situation could have been avoided had we communicated better. And, although it worked out, I wonder how many times this has happened that the cemetery crew were so prepared to step in and attend the service of woman they never met.

Are you looking for something to do this Saturday? Well, look no more, come see me at Weller Book works in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City for a reading and signing session starting at 7:00pm!

D12193814A9549FA97F64D0D0B827AE2This 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.

Dennis K. Wesley

Dennis is the business owner of Funeral Directors First Call. He has been in the funeral industry for 26 years serving many independent and corporate firms with support services. He began his career in a small-town funeral home doing 150 calls a year. He owned a seasonal business and always had an interest in the funeral industry. He has been married for 31 years to Bobbie and has a 25-year-old daughter Tori. He is really into older cars, photography and enjoying great bands.

From Dennis:

I think that the service we provide is like what a priest does for his congregation. We are called upon to do a scared task of helping the loved ones get through a horrible time. I have a desire to help people and there is no better way than funeral service. Helping families get through the worst few days possibly of their lives.

I think all funeral professionals probably work way too many hours. I honestly have a problem with knowing when to stop and go home. I am very involved in my church and volunteer in many charities around Baltimore. That helps me relax and get up for the next call.

Years ago I was working for the medical examiner’s office and received a suicide call on Christmas morning 2006. I arrived to find a 9-year-old little girl who had hung herself. She had been abused by her stepdad and had begged her mother to make him stop. I can still remember getting her down and I was determined not to put her in a body bag. I had the mother come down and I let her say goodbye. I then proceeded to carry her lifeless body up the stairs and I turned my head and the stepfather was holding her little sister consoling her. That was a moment in my career that I saw the good and the bad of our industry. People don’t realize what we have to deal with on a daily basis. My Christmas will never be the same.

The funeral profession is not full of rich men and women who drive fancy Cadillac and Lincoln automobiles. We are everyday people who devote their life to serving the dead and their families. We are secretaries, lawn mowers, priest, counselors, police officers, painters, make-up artist, surgeons and everything else. We do all types of jobs in our duties as funeral professionals.

If you know of a 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.

I am sitting at a conference table of dark glossy wood, I am straight-backed, I have my hands clasped in front of me and my legs are crossed. I am patiently waiting, watching, listening. Around the table in other chairs and sitting on couches are family members who have just experienced the death of someone they love. At this moment, I am the audience.

I watch as expressions of confusion, understanding and consideration swim around the faces of the family as we broach the subjects relating to the funeral, the burial, picking out caskets, vaults and all of the many things that they must decide on. Sometimes the death is expected, and I empathize as I observe those with down-turned, dark sunken eyes and hunched shoulders showing complete exhaustion because for weeks, sometimes months they sat next to the dying waiting for this one day, and it has taken its toll on their reserve.

Sometimes the death was unexpected and the shock of it all leaves the family silent and unable to make decisions. Then there are times when the heaviness of everything gets the best and someone ends up in hysterics of crying or anger.

There are young mothers who planned for their baby’s birth and are now picking out caskets instead of cradles. Teen brothers and sisters are stuck in shock realizing they have to face their friends at school and explain that a sibling took their own life. And husbands and wives who lost their sweetheart after fifty years together are now faced with learning how to live a life alone.

And I am watching. I am familiar with the facial expressions and the body language and it all tells me a story. It tells me what these people are feeling and who the dead person was to them.

It’s not always dark though. There are families that have accepted the place they are in now and prepared for this meeting, giving me accounts of a life lived that was fun and full. I get to hear about the antics pulled by people I never knew, yet closely resemble someone in my own life. Many times I have laughed with a family about the father who was a trickster or grandfather who told them dirty jokes. I can relate to the Grandmothers who always had candy available and would not let you leave her house without a full belly. A mother who made the rules and stuck by them and only now it is understood that it was all in your best interest and the intent was full of love. Brothers who gave us nicknames and sang silly songs. A sister who after years of fighting over bedroom boundaries, now are willing to share everything together. Life, and death has its place and time. It is in these moments that I revel in my own family dynamics and appreciate the smallest moments.

I get an intimate look at a person that I will never meet. I get to make friends with people that I otherwise would have never known. Family dynamics that I compare to my own family come to life in this room around a conference table of dark glossy wood. It is an honor and it is remembered. So many stories, personal and real and I get to be a part of it. Here, I am the audience.