The Life of a Funeral Director

People ask me every day why I became a funeral director.

My answer is always, “I didn’t choose it, it chose me.” I truly believe that this profession requires a calling by God and a compassion for people. I see funeral service as a ministry, one that began for me as a child.

When I was eight years old, I lost two grandparents suddenly within twelve days of each other. I remember vivid fragments from each death experience. From that time on, death intrigued me, and I regularly checked the obituaries as if I were an eighty-year-old woman looking for gossip. I would attend the funerals and visitations for my friend’s grandparents and simply be there to say that I cared, even though I didn’t know them personally. I also loved touring cemeteries. They are filled with so many stories and so much history. My dad taught me how to drive by taking me out to the country to show me all the places of my ancestry. These included several old cemeteries. To this day, this is one of my favorite memories with my dad of growing up.

Over the years, I have had a persistent compulsion to care for those who were hurting or broken. My best friend died in a car accident just after her 22nd birthday. She made life choices that led her down a dark path that I was always trying to pull her away from. In reality, all I could do was walk beside her during it. When she died, my need to help those who were suffering grew even stronger.

In college, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, which I didn’t actually use for almost ten years. After being a stay-at-home mom for a while, life forced me to get a paying job, so I went into Hospice Care. I loved working for Hospice and truly believe in what it can do. A few years after working with two different local hospice agencies, I finally answered the call on my life to further my career in the field of death and dying by becoming a funeral director. I was 36 years old with a new marriage and five kids between us, and here I was going back to school. I couldn’t have made it through without the support of my family and a classmate who drove me to UACC-Hope every day and studied with me. In 2015, I graduated with an associate degree in Funeral Service and became employed full time by Texarkana Funeral Home.

My newfound career was both exciting and scary, but I finally felt I was doing what I was meant to do. The job became my biggest stressor and one of my biggest blessings simultaneously. I jumped in with both feet. In the beginning I did everything from making memorial DVD’s and driving the hearse to dressing and cosmetizing bodies. I started out pursuing an embalmer license as well as a being a funeral director. A few months into that, I realized it was not the area of funeral services I was passionate about, so I chose not to complete the licensure required for embalming. In doing so, I put everything I had into being the best funeral director I could be. My obsession with the minor details of things has paid off in my work and helped me rise to the top, becoming the first female manager of Texarkana Funeral Homes, Inc., specifically Chapelwood Funeral Home.

The funeral profession is like none other. No day is the same and almost once a week, you encounter something that you’ve never seen or dealt with before. Our job is tough, and some days are extremely difficult. We see things that most people could never imagine. We see the best and the worst of humanity. My friends ask me how I do it. I am an emotional person and used to cry over spilled milk, but in preparing me for this job, God toughened me up and I have learned to control my emotions and be strong when others need me to be. There are some situations such as watching a widow mourn the loss of her husband of 70 years, a young grandchild cry for their grandpa or a mother weep for her son, when I can’t help it and “dust gets in my eyes.” The worst situation I’ve ever dealt with was when the sister of that best friend I mentioned committed suicide. She had been like my big sister too. The pain was real, and I didn’t know how I could walk her mother through yet another nightmare. Amazingly, with God’s grace and His steady hand, I was able to be there 100% for their mother and do what had to be done. Another tough situation was the death of the son of former classmates. He was close in age to my own son and that night when I got home, I couldn’t let go of him and finally released the emotion I’d been holding in while being strong for the young man’s family.

Time and time again I ask myself why I’m here doing this job, one that so many think is impossible. Time and time again, God whispers, “I chose you, Heather.” You know, people often say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I disagree. I believe He gives you more than you can handle to show you how much you need Him. I am thankful for that lesson and hope to share it with many grieving families in the future. 



Heather and Neal visiting a cememtery in Vicksburg, Mississippi. They stop at a LOT of cemeteries.
This is Heather’s great grandmother’s grave. She and her husband, Neal, traveled to the “middle of nowhere” in Mississippi looking for this grave.
This is in the cemetery in “Steel Magnolias.”

 

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