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Death is the Great Undertaking

Posted On 3/6/2017 By Admin

A number of weeks ago, I was interviewed for a podcast about men, success and work-life balance. The interviewer, a friendly young man based in London, England knew I was a funeral director.

What I do for a living – and for the living – was off limits on-air. The host didn’t want the interview to be “weird” or “depressing.”

Instead I was coached to talk about my six kids, my wife and my hobbies.  (Yes, he said “hobbies.”) I was to chat about all the “good stuff” that makes life happy, successful and worth living.

For me, my great undertaking and meaning in life is rooted in funeral service. It is impossible for me to talk about the joy and celebration in life – universal themes like love, kindness, peace, belonging – without acknowledging that life eventually stops, no matter how much success or work-life balance you possess.

Every day I walk into a world where someone’s story has ended. I see the people left behind and watch as they’re encouraged to be brave, strong and celebratory. I have had heartbroken people, including young parents, apologize for crying as they look at their beloved and realize life will never be the same. 

This mantra to "be strong" saddens me.

Although we live in an extremely grief-avoidant culture (we''re anti-aging!), Canada is more open to acknowledging death than our UK friends. Canadians are not cursed by a stiff upper lip or 30-minute assembly line services common in Britain, but we are still impatient and overly logical when it comes to grief, especially around cruel myths like “closure,” “getting over it” and “staying busy.”

What I attempted to explain to my English host was that although it’s nice to have the mainstream trappings of success like a house, a car, a business, a family, in the end, what really makes our lives meaningful is to love and to receive love.

For me, a funeral is love in action.We come together, we grieve, we mourn, we celebrate.  And we savour life and death. Together.