This article was originally published in the April issue of The Director.
By Erin Brodbeck, LCSW and Lindsey Murphy, fourth generation members of the Darby family
As fourth generation members of the Darby family, we have witnessed the evolution of women in the funeral industry. Our gender’s role throughout this industry has truly evolved throughout the years, which has empowered us as the next generation.
For thousands of years, women prepared the bodies of the deceased. It was a job considered to be similar to midwives and nurses. But when the Civil War began, President Lincoln requested the first casualty be embalmed by male soldiers on the battlefield and sent north for burial. This event began a trend. By the mid-19th century, the embalming and preparing of bodies was viewed as inappropriate for women.
In more recent decades, women have had to work to be viewed as equal professionals in the funeral industry. Some saw women as a burden instead of an asset, and many qualified women found it difficult to find jobs, especially as funeral directors. “What if she got pregnant?” “Can she pick up the heavier bodies?” “Can she handle the gory details of embalming?” But now thanks to the efforts of many, firms are embracing women as a vital part of their success.
While some funeral directors are focused on the things that make up a funeral, like an oak casket, a bagpiper or a limousine, women focus on listening to the story. Women are natural nurturers and healers. We can handle emotion.
As women, we can easily empathize with the families we serve. It feels like there is something in our DNA that allows us to connect with individuals quickly. It just comes naturally. This compassion is being embraced, and we are helping to serve families even better. Women own funeral homes, embalm bodies and direct funerals. The opportunities are growing rapidly, and more and more women are jumping aboard.
Did you realize, about sixty percent of mortuary science students in the United States are women? Many women are discovering they have the skills and traits needed as a funeral director, including communication, compassion, organization and event planning, just to name a few.
We are seeing women make their marks in other parts of the funeral profession as well, including family services and creative positions. Like us, more women in the next generation have a desire to be a part of our industry. It is inspiring to see so many educated, fully capable women making huge strides in the funeral profession.
We both feel it is important for women of our generation to become involved. We have a big responsibility to continue the legacy of the women before us. We have to continue to let our communities know that things are changing in our industry. We have to remind ourselves to keep making the emotions and feelings of our families important; because that is what they will remember.
Funeral service is no longer a “men’s club.” We have signed our membership cards and paid our dues. Both men and women care about the families we serve. We all care about the future of this industry; and we all care about bringing the heart back into funeral service. And, as an industry, we all can work together to focus on what matters, the families we serve.
Erin Brodbeck is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and grief counselor for Sunset Funeral Homes. Email her at ErinB@sunsetfuneralhome.com. Lindsey Murphy is a marketing professional at Sunset Funeral Homes. Email her at email@example.com. They are sisters and fourth generation members of the Darby family. The family owns and operates Trigard, Trigard Memorials and seven funeral homes and a memorial park in Illinois, Indiana and Arizona.