Jobs: After grieving lost family, my mom found her calling—as a funeral service worker
Adult Pathways

Jobs: After grieving lost family, my mom found her calling—as a funeral service worker

Empty chairs at the dining-room table this time of year remind us of loved ones no longer here. Like yours, perhaps, my family has had some experience with that loss. But in my mother’s case, the grieving also led to a new career, and I sometimes think about what that might mean for others considering their job choices for the new year.

After enduring the loss of her husband in 2013, her daughter in 2018, and other dearly loved relatives, my mom moved to Tallahassee, Fla. Soon after, her ailing mother moved in with her, only to pass a few weeks later.

In a new town and needing a fresh start, my mom leveraged her knowledge from helping my father run their insurance-industry business. She had been a good student who passed up college—as many women of her generation did—to get married and raise a family. Now she applied her family business background and passed the Florida insurance licensing exam, which allowed her to work at a funeral home. Within a year, she was working at the same one that served her mom’s passing so well.

Now she sits, each day, consoling the inconsolable. Bringing light on the darkest of days with a gentle warmth buttressed by a familiarity with the grief they feel. She just plain loves it.

This began through my family’s appreciation for the attentive expertise of funeral home workers.  The profession requires that people work in service of the deceased by consoling the living during all hours and weekends. Beyond the training and state certification exams and application, funeral home workers require an ability to manage grief of others, and themselves, daily. For reasons such as these, it is not a job often highlighted to students entering college.

Maybe it should be. People with certifications or other credentials beyond high school typically enjoy greater incomes and job choices than those without that learning. In 2018 Lumina Foundation began including estimates of Americans with a license or certification in our Stronger Nation report to recognize the value of these workers. And now, every time I sit with that data visualization tool, and I see 3.8 percent of the population has a certification as their highest level of attainment, I think of my mom and countless others stepping up when others can’t help but fall down.

It’s not for everybody. Most states have educational and licensing requirements, and funeral service workers are often on call and work irregular hours. Job growth in the sector is not exceptional, but about 4,000 openings are expected each year. Median pay was $54,100 in 2020; for funeral home managers it was $74,200.

While the pain associated with a loved one’s passing never leaves, it’s comforting to know that certified workers step in as part of a continuum of care. In the darkest moments for families, they provide compassion and support.

And like you this holiday, they will pause to think of the year past, the lives they were fortunate to touch—and in many cases, the strangers who became like an extended family.

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