Hi Order readers and kindred spirits. My name is Sarah Wambold, an Order Member and funeral director located in Austin, Texas.
I have to confess something. I feel like a bit of a fraud saying I’m a funeral director, because even though I’m a licensed funeral director in Texas, I am not currently employed as one. I really want this to change; I really, really want to work as a funeral director again. Trouble is, I am pretty idealistic about where I work as a director. I want to work for a funeral home that offers the “alternative” options — green burial, cremation — as regular options, and puts a percentage of its revenue into grants for artists. I want the funeral home I work in to look more like an art gallery or library or concert hall than Grandma’s parlor. I want the memorial items to be original pieces by working artists instead of mass-produced items selected from a catalogue. I also want to be in charge.
This is why I am opening my own funeral home.
I’ve been talking about this for a little over a year and I’m ready to start getting serious about doing it. Obviously, I have spent a good many months trying to avoid this at all costs. It’s pretty scary going unleashed into the world of funeral service — especially after one current funeral home owner told me he wouldn’t even consider opening his own funeral home today. Too risky. Too expensive. Not enough good help. But after going through yet another lackluster interview with a funeral firm that I had no interest in working for, I knew I had to give this my best shot, even if failure is my destiny. I mean, I am a funeral director, I think I know the worst thing that could happen. I’ve never owned my own business before, but I am still as excited today as I was the moment I decided this is what I want to do. I know I am ready for this challenge.
Here’s the basic idea: My funeral home will operate independently; hell, it will even call itself “small” — typically a despised business term for funeral homes (I’m looking at you, SCI ) [Mortician’s Note: SCI is Service Corporation International, the largest death-care conglomerate in the world with the most corporate-y scrubbed-of-death-acceptance name ever -- they probably already own your local mom and pop funeral home. More on this another time...] and it will offer services that are art based, such as handmade memorial items, setting up a loan program in which families can house a work of art for a period of time as a memorial of their loved one, offering the funeral home as a space to hold art education classes, readings, film screenings and performances. If families do not want to participate in any of that, that’s OK, too. But they will know that just by coming to my funeral home they will be helping to fund working artists and supporting creativity on a larger scale.
I’ve never understood why more funeral homes don’t market themselves through their philanthropy, or at least make their philanthropy known. People are always grumbling about how much money the funeral industry makes, how expensive funerals are, etc. The only answer the industry seems to give is that overhead is high. Or they may offer a low-cost option, but then exclude the importance of the ritual. Why not offer options that are affordable and work doubly as a service and community investment? I see a similarity in the way people approach art and death: they know each exists but may feel intimidated to try and understand them. It does not have to be this way. People can be introduced to the idea of art and supporting artists as a way to honor their loved one’s memory, as a way to see the life of that individual continued through original work.
For working artists, time and money are the scarcest of resources. If a funeral home in the community consistently provided these things, think of how much more art could be made and how many more people could be exposed to it, as well as be a part of its long-term investment. My funeral home will support the continuum of memory and creativity to help cope with life after loss. People use art to comfort themselves even when they don’t realize it, by putting a flower by a casket or selecting a song to be played at the memorial. It would serve all families more in terms of understanding their own grief if they knew that these choices were helping support art that may provide comfort or inspiration to someone at a deeply important time.
I am going to be dropping in here over the next few weeks with updates and musings about how things are going. I hope you’ll check back and let me know your thoughts or offer suggestions about this project. I’d like to know if any of you have started your own businesses — funeral homes, maybe? I’m excited!