Where Do We Go to Scream or… What They Didn’t Tell Us in Mortuary School

by Debra Kranz
Kranz Funeral Home

Editor’s Note: I read Debra’s article one day at work in Tennessee. I had been a mortician for just a little over two years. Her words mirrored my thoughts and feelings about the profession. I am very grateful that I tucked her article away so that I could share it with you today. ~Peggy Sweeney

I was 30 years old when I decided to quit my job as a secretary and go to school to be a funeral director. With the classes I’d taken in the past, in nine months I was ready for mortuary school.

Mortuary school was a wonderful experience for me. It was my first opportunity to go “away” to school. In and out of class, I learned a lot about people and about myself.

Mortuary school gave us classes in Chemistry, Anatomy, Law and Accounting. We learned Restorative Art, Embalming and Mortuary Management. We were prepared with the knowledge we needed to pass our state and national boards and a basic knowledge to begin our work in funeral service. But what we hadn’t learned would prove to be as important as anything we had learned.

You see, they didn’t teach us about those things we would feel. Or, for that matter, what to do with those feelings.

For example, they didn’t tell us the fear we would feel when we were seven months pregnant and were called to the hospital for a seven month fetus.

Or that when we’d call for the mangled body of a two-year-old who was hit by a car, we would go home, lift our own two-year-old out of bed, and cradle him tight in our arms. That we wouldn’t let him play outside for months and never without his hand in ours.

That after spending several hours putting a teenager back together who had thought “Don’t Drink and Drive” was only an advertising slogan others needed to worry about and an accident involving alcohol would never happen to them—we would go home, wake our own teenagers, lecture them on drinking and driving, and hold them tight enough to let it sink in.

That we would become the sounding board for family members whose grief was relieved by arguments, accusations and placing guilt on each other. That we would hear intimate details of infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse, child abuse and other family illnesses.

That we would be included in discussions of treatment of terminally ill family members and share the relief and begin to understand the joy that could accompany death.

That people would think we were next to God in that we would have the answers to their “Whys.”

That people would expect us to know the right things to say.

That people would think we could do miracles in putting the pieces back together so they could “see” that this is real and not just a bad dream.

They also didn’t teach us that we would be fighting against the mysteries the old-time funeral directors made of embalming and what we do in the prep room.

They didn’t teach us about the rush we would get when we were together with colleagues, discussing unique cases or when we were speaking to school classes about funeral service, death and grief, and trying to answer questions and dispel fears.

They didn’t give us a clue as to what we would learn from our families. That we would meet people from all walks of life. That we would learn about faith and forgiving. That we would see deep faith shaken, even hatred of God. That we would see parents whose children were killed accept and go on when most of us would have given up and even wanted to die ourselves. That we would see deep and profound acceptance of God.

That we would learn about all kinds of love.

That we would quickly learn our own inadequacies and limits.

They didn’t teach us that when two or more funeral directors get together and discuss specific cases in detail, it’s not because of a feeling of self-importance, or an opportunity to brag about our work. It’s not because we love our job, because some don’t. It’s not to take the opportunity to learn. What it is is a way to vent our emotions. It is our release. It is where we go to scream.

About the Author: Debra Kranz graduated from Wayne State University’s Department of Mortuary Science in 1987. She began her career with Karrer Simpson Funeral Home in Port Huron (MI) before purchasing her own small funeral home in Kingston, Michigan and reopening it in 1991. In 1994, Debra and her husband, Jim bought the Little Funeral Home in Cass City. While building a relationship with area families by providing compassionate, gentle care of each who chose Kranz Funeral Home to serve them, Debra and Jim began the process of building a larger, new facility in Cass City. This facility was opened in 1998 and continues to serve the community in Cass City and surrounding areas. Debra and Jim enjoy visiting their son, Adam who studies Environmental Science at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and spending time with their daughter, Angela and her husband, Stuart and grandchildren six-year-old Grace and twin 18 month olds, Jack and Owen. Debra enjoys scrapbooking, attending theatre and concerts and traveling.

Also by Debra: Traditions and Rituals are Comforting ~ Create Your Own

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