Faces of Death: Jeff Jorgenson

We’re back with another installment of our Faces of Death series, and that means it’s time to meet another notable death revolutionary here at The Order; green funeral home owner, Jeff Jorgenson.

Tell us about your work, Jeff. 

I am a funeral director, funeral home owner and advocate-at-large for families looking to simplify and engage in the death process. I have been in the industry for a little over 11 years now, and in the evolution of my career, have come to invest my time and money in changing how society connects with each other and professionals at the time of funeral arrangements. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, this is a lifelong journey to help change attitudes and understanding of the process.

The changes that I want to see are ones that put the power of care, selection and planning into the hands of the family and reduce reliance on us. Our industry has taken decades of engineering weird products and services into arrangements under the auspices of “healing” when really the only thing that comes out of it is profit. While some of the things we have come up with have some real merit, much of what we “require” or expect in death care is nonsense in place to fleece the client.

I know that this comes off with a great deal of hubris, especially to the industry insider. I suppose I’m alright with that though. I’ve worked in many a traditional funeral home where I would step back and ask myself “Is any of this doing anyone any good?” The best I could do to justify selling crap to people was “Well, they are the ones that want to buy it.”  When I heard that coming out of my mouth, I knew that I had to do better than that.

For those of you that are looking sideways at me thinking “but isn’t your funeral home ‘for profit’?”  The answer is yes, but just because I selected a tax status for my company and have to earn a living to eat, doesn’t mean that I have to do it at the expense of the families we serve. For me, that means creating company policies that make sense to families, uphold the laws, and minimize risk to our company. When those things are in balance, our jobs make sense and we are able to help people.

I came to the funeral industry with a background in business, aviation and logistics and a keen interest in environmental stewardship. Throw into the mix of two decades in fine dining, I have a strange mix of experience that lends itself to operating a funeral home in an efficient, lean, and high touch service manner. It’s weird, but it seems to be working for us. Ultimately, it is our goal as a team to strip away as much of the traditional model as we possibly can so we can serve our clients in the most honest, refreshing and healing way that we can. My colleagues at Elemental, Jessica, Stacey and Brad, knock it out of the park every day that they come in. How they do it is a laser focus on actively listening to the clients and implementing what they want. I’ve got the best teammates a guy could ask for.

What are you working on his year? 
There are quite a few things on the table right now, too early in the rumblings to bother going into. I will say though, every last thing that is in the works right now is something that is driving hard at changing our industry for the better and giving knowledge, power and help to those in the community that have wanted a voice in death care. I know that is super vague, but to be honest, there’s a few of us in The Order toiling over what next steps we are going to take to bring sensible death care to communities across our country. Stay tuned. Good things are going to be coming out of their hard work.
What does death positivity mean to you?

In recent history, as readers of The Order’s collaborators already know, the industry has taken an “expert role” in the handling of the dead. They have dictated what is best for the family and what is best for the dead. Society has willingly, dare I say gleefully, dropped in lockstep with this notion that a professional can whisk away their death problem when it comes to pass. In early days, I suppose it was less defined as us/them and probably still is that way in small town funeral care. What has happened as an outgrowth of that revenue is that the industry has gotten greedy and sucked at their own Kool Aide for too long. I’ve worked alongside traditional funeral directors that genuinely and passionately believe that not embalming and doing a visitation is a recipe for long lasting grief and stunted healing. Caitlin, myself and many others have pointed out that there is a “death denial” in these practices and have suggested that making mom look like she’s “just sleeping” might not be the healthiest way to go about this.

If we as professionals are going to meet the public on their own terms, it is going to take the industry re-evaluating what our role is in the death process. For years I’ve said that, in the future, we will be hired to do what we are licensed to do. That means that we will be in charge of transportation, and disposition permitting (burial and cremation) and for those that want it, preparation of the body. I believe that being a key part in the conversations that families have and removing obstacles in the planning of a good death mean that we can be key players of death posititivity.

What other death-related job that you don’t have, would you want? 

There are death related jobs that I don’t currently do? When you own the funeral home, there really aren’t many areas that you don’t touch or haven’t done. In all seriousness, I can’t imagine one of the death related jobs that I would want more than my own. For me, I’ve got the catbird seat.

When you die, what do you want done with your corpse? 

While I’m sure readers would like something a little less pedestrian, my whole family has been cremated and I will be as well, but if we actually get alkaline hydrolysis on the books here in Washington that will be the disposition. If I change my mind to “ground into taco meat for people in the flyover states” you will certainly be the first media channel to know.

Many of our readers may remember Jeff from this video he did with Caitlin, covering one of our most FAQ here at The Order – are Viking funerals legal? Watch it to find out!

A frequent contributor to The Order, including Hey Funeral Directors, Get the Hell Out of the Way!and Alkaline Hydrolysis: Seattle Style  , Jeff also has an outstanding blog on his funeral home website, Elemental Cremation and Burial . He was recently featured in this CNN piece on cremation in the U.S. and in this great piece on The Stranger, about why Seattle is at the forefront of alternative death care.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter and Facebook.

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Yes, I Write About Death: On the Ways People Respond to a "Death Job" and How I Handle It
  • robertm2000

    For starters: does the word “ethics” reside in your vocabulary or psyche? Frankly, I suspect it does.

    Second – I looked up alkaline hydrolysis for the first time, and was surprised! If I can arrange to have that done at my demise, I think I will. I’ll just add, thank you for the information.