Delayed grief and funeral director PTSD

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Earlier this week I read a really informative article from Philadelphia Weekly entitled “Delayed Grief”.  You can read the article here.

The article touches on two distinct features about being a funeral director — that the profession is believed to be one of the largest professions with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  and, secondly, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, funeral directors had no time to rest.

However, as you would expect from our “giving and serving” profession, here is what the author realized about Philadelphia area funeral directors interviewed for her article:

“Despite the risks they must take on a daily basis and the strain on their mental health, those who work in funeral homes – many of which are family owned – do not have a union and do not qualify for hazard pay. Yet all the funeral directors interviewed said they remained dedicated to the families they served, despite the pressures of the pandemic.”

The article explains that funeral directors, many of whom may be suffering from undiagnosed stress issues, had no choice but to help the families that had called on them. . . .even to the point of their case numbers doubling or tripling in what some now call the Red Phase of the pandemic.

And, many of the funeral directors interviewed made comments about the delayed grief that families are going through because of the “no large gatherings” rules.  During this time funeral homes all around the country had to limit the numbers who could attend services and visitations and nobody really knows what long term effects that will have on the grieving families.

Philadelphia area funeral director David Peake Jr. was quoted on that issue in the article.  Here are his comments, “Part of the funeral process and part of the grieving process is that we are social beings, and one of the things that helps us with our grieving is seeing those other friends, relatives, and extended family members to share our condolences, to share our stories, to share an embrace.   We can’t do that right now, unfortunately, so what we’re seeing is a lot of family members are experiencing what we’re referring to as delayed grief. . . . The recognition of someone’s life and someone’s death are critical in the grieving process.”

Another Philadelphia area funeral director, Robert Weinstein, had his own father die, of non-COVID causes, during the pandemic.  His comments show his struggles and empathy with the families he has served.  He is quoted,  “I’m going through the same thing that they’re going through, where it’s very difficult, where there’s no real grieving or mourning period.  I used to think that it would be okay not having a huge funeral and shiva, – the latter a mourning period in the Jewish tradition – and to have a simple graveside service allowing only 10 people there. But this has been tough for me to deal with right now. I can imagine what everyone else is going through.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  There is no doubt in my mind that the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on all funeral directors.  Especially tough, where there has been such an enormous loss of life, but even tough on other areas such as the rural areas where there have been no COVID deaths simply because funeral directors and family members are playing by the same rules of non-engagement as everywhere else.

And, I wonder, what kind of long-term effects will our duties of care and service to those who call on us, regardless of our own situations, yield to the death care workers.

It is not only funeral directors but also those in the supplier profession that are getting funeral homes the supplies they need. . .caskets, vaults, paper products, prep room products.  Many of those people, while not dealing with the families, are working extra hard, sometimes in tough conditions, to make sure the death care nation does not drop the ball in the part we are expected to carry out. . . . and from my point of view, the death care nation is, as always, carrying out their command.

I remember my days as a funeral director.  When it was a mass casualty or a death of a young person. . .I now realize that it was adrenaline and the work of a higher power giving me the energy to take on the job that needed to be done. . . .being the “Caretaker” when everybody else needed the care.  I got through the events, but was exhausted following them.

This article has made me thankful for the great men and women who work in the death care world.  But it does make me ponder what kind of mental health will we carry forward when the adrenaline goes away.  All of us in the industry need to be thinking about that and how we can take care of each other post-pandemic.

My dad used to say, “being a funeral director is a noble cause”.  It is!

Here is a video from Foundation Partners Group that fits right in with this message.

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