New York State Funeral Directors Association

I just jumped off a fast-moving career as a newspaper reporter and landed in the communications office of the New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA). Fitting, I suppose, for someone who spent the past 15 years asking questions that people didn’t want to answer.

I’m no funeral director – but that doesn’t mean I’m unfamiliar with the topic, just ignorant. My senses take over when I ponder what I know about funerals.

That thick aroma of funerary incense comes back to me, harkening up memories of “funeral duty” while serving as an altar boy at my grade school’s church.Edward Munger Jr.

Fast-forwarding to more than a decade as a newspaper reporter I realize I may fit in here at the NYSFDA because death and dying have been part of my life for quite some time.

I’ve been too close to what’s left over after an airplane plummets to the ground and to the aftermath of a train smashing into a car, leaving children and a husband without mother and wife.

And I’ve been painfully close to people who just lost someone to brutal murder and to the wrath of Mother Nature.

The look on people’s faces as they process losing their life’s work to flooding is etched on my mind, as is the wild gaze of those on the brink of losing their composure because they just can’t take the pain of losing a loved one and certainly don’t want to talk about it.

Each time I got too close to death I’d simply hope my empathy for those facing loss would carry me through enough to get “what I needed” for my story. Sometimes I’d fail.

Other times people would open up and describe their feelings. Then I’d hurry to the solitude of my car and cry, sometimes sobbing out loud, on my way back to the office to write my story.

Gone for me are the days of finding a secluded spot near a church so I could snag a photo of grieving relatives or a casket – seemingly to make sure newspaper readers knew what a grieving person or a casket looked like.

Now I have to ask myself what happens when you set a former newspaper reporter loose inside an association of funeral directors.

Some thoughts come to mind immediately – I wonder how many different words and phrases we use for the dead – and who decides which is most-appropriate.

It only took a couple of days to learn there’s a lot to know about the funeral profession and these men and women who spend their careers interacting, on a daily basis, with others facing a terrible time in their lives.

I was almost ashamed that I didn’t know the reason why we never have a beer or some cheese and crackers at a funeral – it’s because the law says you can’t. Will that be changing in the future?

Also under discussion is the Eulogy – kind words about the person for whom a funeral was established which Roman Catholic leaders say isn’t supposed to be part of a funeral service.

Funerals are events for people to pray for the dead, they say, not for making the living feel better.

I’m not too sure about that perspective, and it makes me wonder how far we’ve come in devising ways to help people cope with the realization they’ll never get to hear somebody’s voice again.

I’ve been told we don't deal with death very well in this country – it’s something people just don’t want to talk about. That makes me wonder if we’re just spending so much time enjoying life that we forget to think about death or if we’re just so afraid of dying ourselves.

It makes me wonder if we are doing enough to embrace the friends and family we have now – before we lose them.

It makes me wonder if elements of American culture point to our aversion to death. What’s with this fascination with the “undead” like zombies and vampires?

My curiosity extends to other cultures – why is it Latin Americans celebrate the “Day of the Dead” with trips to the cemetery while Americans celebrate Halloween by handing out candy and hanging happy-looking skeletons around.

Now we’re discussing how appropriate it is to take a “selfie” while at a funeral service.

And I want to learn how much money the government is making off of people dying – what’s this discussion over “Estate Tax?”

I know we take care to respectfully bury and remember our fallen – but I’ve also seen dozens of headstones kicked over in grand cemeteries, and forgotten graves deep in the woods.

I wonder if they’re still kicking the remains of funeral pyres into the Ganges River while folks in California suffer drought.

I’m curious to learn what is really killing the most people and what is the most common month, and the most common hour that people die.

There’s a lot of dynamic change underway as it relates to the dead and dying – some people are pushing for home-based funerals, others are looking to be as environmentally friendly as possible during burial.

And as the weather turns more-fierce every year, I wonder if we’re adequately prepared for mass-casualty incidents. Is there enough room in existing cemeteries?

And is there some way I can prove this season’s Upstate New York winter took two years off my life?

Death and dying, and what happens before and after are intense, deep subjects which consume the thoughts of everyone at one point or another.

And they’re topics that will consume the thoughts of this former newspaper reporter into the foreseeable future.

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association