The Eternal Debate - Mental Health and Funeral Professionals
14th November, 2020

Funeral professionals have their mental health to worry about too

Main Image: Joel Goodman/Metro.co.uk
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Mental health and talking about our feelings has really been encouraged of late, hasn’t it? But are we really doing this as death care and funeral professionals?

My first blog post! So it makes sense to start at the beginning. I’m Rachel, one half of The Eternal Debate duo. I have toyed with the idea of this for a while now, but sometimes it is hard to take the leap and put yourself ‘out there’. Although, we do that already by having a podcast, right? 

Today is Saturday, we are in lockdown and I’ve been feeling pretty miserable and in a bit of a funk. Here’s the thing though, I have always been really good at keeping myself in check and on a level. I have never really had to consider my mental health because it has always been something that has just seemed to take care of itself. I am a busy person, I like to always be doing, whether that be work-related, hobbies or socialising. As it turns out, for the first time in my life when I can’t always “be doing”, that is what seems to be what keeps me sane and happy. 

Internal Conflict

Now I have come across something new. The first thing is the internal battles I seem to keep coming up against. I feel fed up, down or whatever. The automatic reaction I have to myself feeling this way, is to immediately invalidate it. 

Working as a full time embalmer I care for people who have passed away, people of all ages. I know they have heartbroken relatives and people who loved them. They’re going through a far worse time than I, what do I have to feel sad about? I may pass a homeless person as I walk into a store to buy food before returning to my home. I have luxuries. What do I have to feel sad about?

The thing is, although there are people who are in far worse situations than yourself, that doesn’t negate your own feelings. Then I find myself actively trying to be kinder to myself.

The Impact of Social Media

During this time I have spent far too much time on social media. I am in many funeral, embalming and death-care facebook groups. There is a common theme I have come across which I want to reflect on and that is when death care and funeral professionals post about how they are having a hard time with what they do or maybe just how they are feeling.

Sometimes it may be that they have felt particularly close to a bereaved family they have cared for, or maybe it is because of something traumatic they have seen. Whatever the trigger point may have been for them, time and time again I see peers drill them down with how they “need to learn to compartmentalise” or how if they feel this way “they won’t last long in the profession”. 

For me, I know that some families and some deceased I care for run a little deeper or hit me in a different way, for this to happen they don’t need to be my own family or friendship group. Sometimes I may take on a little of someone else’s grief, I may think about a family long after our services have been complete. If you speak with and see a client daily, whilst you support them through an often devastating, life changing experience during which they feel vulnerable and lean on you, you will naturally build a rapport and a bond of some sort. 

I may see something in my mind for a long time after, some things you see will never quite leave you. For me though, this is okay because I am a human and having compassion and empathy are qualities that I believe are very much required to do what I do well. I feel that if someone is experiencing these feelings for the first time and they are trying to reach out and talk about them, it isn’t something to just close down. It doesn’t make them weak. 

Fear of Verbalising

If you work in death-care and have felt this way but never voiced it, or perhaps you have and have been met with some of those kind-of facebook responses before, I want you to know my experience and that is that you are not alone. I have those cases, those families and those feelings and I am nearing my tenth year in the profession.

Although I am completely at one with how I handle these thoughts, feelings and effects, it isn’t the same for everyone and that is okay too. 

There has been a lot of suicide awareness posts this year, especially following on from Caroline Flack taking her own life in February and I have seen the phrase ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind” and #BeKind around a lot. In a profession where we are exposed to the harsh reality of suicide, we still don’t seem to quite have ability to be kind to ourselves, or in some instances our peers. 

Burn Out

The last thing I want to touch upon is the feeling of being burnt out and how talking about what you’re feeling and experiencing with colleagues can help you recognise things in yourself. Compassion fatigue is real. 

I’m really fortunate to have close relationships to some of my fellow funeral professionals and I know that I can tell them honestly how I am feeling, I’m thankful to have that because I don’t feel I could ask social media given some of the responses I’ve read of late! Although I know myself well, sometimes it is easy to miss things in yourself. 

Usually, I absolutely live and breathe my work. But recently I have felt distant and a little unmotivated. Things are different at the minute, which isn’t surprising. We are in the middle of a pandemic after all – let’s save that for another post though! Don’t get me wrong, I am still present and I still want the absolute best for the people entrusted to me in my care but there has just been something not quite there. When I have been at home, I haven’t wanted to watch tv but it’s been on whilst I mindlessly scroll social media.

I think I have let things build up and whether it be something minor or major I have shoved it away into the recesses of my mind. Maybe, I have finally reached capacity where the slightest thing may just become the straw that broke the camel’s back? Or maybe I will go back to coping as I did before when I am able to attend my classes, partake in my hobbies and socialise again?

Once I started voicing how I was feeling, it turned out that other people I am close to, in and out of the profession have been doing the same. It has really helped me knowing I’m not alone in feeling this way, it is what has spurred me on to finally write this first blog post.

Human

As much as we know it is considered healthy to talk, that it is “okay, to not be okay” and for us to all try to afford ourselves and each other a little kindness, it has seemed to me, that for death care and funeral professionals sometimes doing just that can almost be taken as a sign of weakness and see you be penalised for opening up. Should being human ever be taken as not being fit for the profession?

I honestly don’t think so. Although it can get a little too much and genuinely get to a point where it can make people unwell, why not look out for those people, for your colleagues, peers and fellow funeral professionals? Surely it is better to offer to listen and gently guide as opposed to jump all over someone who is already doubting how they are feeling and asking for support?

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