Grief and the Death Care Industry

A funeral professional’s role is challenging. Those in the death care industry help mourners, who are generally at their most fragile, navigate the funeral process. Tears, laughter, anger and frustration are emotions likely to be in play. A funeral director who understands grief can utilize their knowledge to ease the pressure and ensure a smooth ceremony.   

Recommended course: Grief and the Role of the Funeral Professional  

Understanding the Five Stages of Grief when working in the death care industry 

Grief does not discriminate. It’s the natural human reaction to losing something or someone we care about. Loss can come in many forms, including death or losing a job.   

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the Five Stages of Grief in her seminal book, “Death and Dying.” These stages form a foundation for discussions involving bereavement among funeral professionals. Famously, the five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Understanding this framework helps funeral directors assist the bereaved in their grieving process.  

The impact of grief on parents  

Recognizing the impact of parental grief is a significant benefit to funeral professionals. Successful funeral directors are kind and adept at meeting a parent’s requirements in an emotionally fraught setting. They offer consolation and emotional assistance to parents living with grief.  

No parent anticipates the death of a child. On losing a child, the parents experience an intense sadness as they process the loss, not only of their child, but also of parenthood, hopes, and dreams. In contrast, when a person loses their spouse, a wife or husband takes on an additional identity as a widow or widower. Parents, however, always remain mothers or fathers, a constant reminder of their loss.   

Many parenting situations involve difficult and complex grief reactions, including single parents, unmarried mothers, divorced families, and foster parents. Individual circumstances considerably affect the grieving process after losing a loved one.  

Some families opt for reversed roles, where the father attends to the child’s early requirements while the mother works. Despite this notion, fathers often remain the forgotten grievers, sidelined by the intensity of a mother’s grief deepened by the early bond formed during pregnancy. They can bear the added burden of an expectation to provide stability for the family.  

The death care industry and the impact of complicated grief  

Professionals in the death care industry often hear the question, ‘How long does grief last?’ The Five Stages of Grief addresses this concern. While there is no set time, there is a belief that if grief reignites a year or so later, then an individual could be struggling to overcome loss and may need help with grief. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “this condition is characterized by intense grief that lasts longer than would be normally expected and that impairs daily functioning.” (American Psychiatric Association, May 2022).  

Increasing population and a rise in grief  

An increasing population naturally leads to a higher rate of grief. A rise in life expectancy coincides with a shift in the social dynamics of living. People are grieving alone in their later years as families disperse globally, and close-knit communities rarely exist.  

Acknowledging the challenges associated with grief in later life is essential for a funeral service director to provide the necessary support. Finances and loneliness can lead to a spread of complicated grief as adult children and grandchildren become involved in caring for the surviving spouse.  

Social issues affecting grief in older adulthood  

No one escapes loss and grief, and everyone grieves uniquely. However, a person’s reaction to their suffering may often depend on a few demographic characteristics. Social dynamics and cultural influences impact the patterns in how people express their emotions.  

While most people anticipate losing a loved one as they get older, some remain unprepared. As a team, couples may each take on a role related to financial and legal matters or even the more straightforward driving duty. When a spouse passes away, the partner loses a team member, becoming vulnerable to uncertainty on top of their grief.  

Social groups associated with the older generation include stigmatized individuals, like the LGBTQ+ community. People who have encountered obstacles to inclusion have been marginalized, lived quietly in their neighborhoods and haven’t integrated into today’s wider communities. As a result, they grieve alone without a support network.  

“Gay and lesbian partners also report conflicts with their deceased partner’s family, particularly with respect to the dispersion of personal possessions.” (Bereavement in Later Life, Deborah Carr and Heather Mooney, Boston University, 2021).  

Death care industry: the role of the funeral director  

The funeral director’s primary role is to assist family members in arranging their loved one’s funeral. Their duties extend to offering emotional support. Those who trust funeral service workers may return for legal advice.   

Sometimes, the funeral director is the only contact a person has. While formal services providing grief and support may be available in some areas, minorities and the vulnerable may fall through the gaps. The role of the funeral professional can be beneficial if extended to supporting their community. They can provide resources to support groups to help grieving individuals.  

Funeral service professionals can aid mourners and communities by sharing extensive knowledge and insights from the course, including helping casualties of parental loss, especially young and older children. They may also assist non-family members in grieving over a co-worker or someone they looked after.   

Grieving for the loss of a pet  

The death care industry, like all others, is continually evolving. One growing demand is for pet funerals. Pet owners plan their pet’s funeral, with some spending thousands on lavish services. Such occasions demonstrate a pet’s importance in its owner’s life. For many, it is comparable to losing a family member, and that grief cannot be trivialized.