Will rural funeral directors be able to replenish themselves



Funeral director Collin Bourgeois made this comment in this article from CBC, “I certainly tried to retire.  It lasted three weeks.


Bourgeois is a funeral director and owner of and operator of a funeral business with three locations in northeastern Ontario.  After 45 years in the business he’s staying on the job because there’s no one trained to take over.   Bourgeois went on to make this comment, “There’s just nobody interested in doing the work. . . . professional associations are trying to recruit as many people as they can. There just doesn’t seem to be any interest at this time.”


While Bourgeois’ comments are specific to his situation and maybe the Canadian situation, I’ve read and heard enough through my research with Funeral Director Daily, that this is more than a specific location concern.  I’ve read about firms having a hard time finding professional employees in Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.


I loved my work being a rural funeral director.  A job I did full-time for 33 years which included management and ownership of a funeral home.  While I can tell you that I “loved” my job, there certainly were things I liked better than others.  I didn’t like getting up at 3 a.m. to make removals, I didn’t like going to accident scenes, and I didn’t like being on call.  Over 33 years I eventually improved my schedule from every-other-night and every-other-weekend on call to a schedule of no week nights on call and every third weekend on call.


I think the type of working schedule that I had earlier in my career certainly is a detriment to finding good, quality people.  Canadian funeral director Bourgeois says this about that and some other situations that are difficult:


“The conditions are not always the best.  There’s night work, there’s evening work. There are situations that we are exposed to that are just difficult to live with and to see every day.  It takes the right person to do this.  We sometimes call it a vocation.  You’re called to this.  You are asked to do this.  It comes from within you.  You can’t fake it.”


I don’t disagree with most of Bourgeois’ assessment.  However, I think the “calling” and the “coming from within” is not always there from the beginning.  I think it is a feeling one develops after seeing how they can help people move from grief to remembrance.  As such, it is not, in my opinion, a reason that causes potential funeral directors to gravitate to the profession.


There is a lot that has changed in the last 50 years in our profession.  One of those things is the geographic demographics of society.  And, this is not specific to only United States demographics but it also pertains to Canada, Great Britain, and Australia.  That demographic being that citizens are more and more moving to metropolitan areas and leaving rural areas in a condition where there is generally less population.


That simple fact makes it more difficult to earn a great living when running a death care operation in a small community.  There are just less death calls.  Then couple that with the change to the consumer choice of lower cost cremation services and you have a situation where a funeral home cannot afford extra staff. . . .which turns that limited staff to have more “on call time”, something most of us don’t really like, into handcuffs on the rest of life’s interests.


One solution can be that rural funeral homes can be acquired by neighboring funeral homes and the on-call times  can be rotated more favorably among the higher number of funeral home employees that grouping of funeral homes may have employed.  However, when you consider another trend that has happened over the past 50 years — that of both spouses in a family working full-time, that situation is not always easy.  You see, in many of these rural communities there is not a compatible employment position for what we would call the funeral director’s “trailing spouse”.  It just makes sense that there is much more opportunity for each spouse finding their employment of choice in a larger urban area. . . and that is where they are gravitating.


So, there are some unique problems to rural funeral homes as Mr. Bourgeois has now learned.  How we figure those issues out will play a big part in how Death Care is provided to smaller, rural communities going forward.


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