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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
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