It’s not everyday you see a young woman leading a group of pallbearers as they place a casket on a grave. In the short time I’ve been employed at a small Southern funeral home, I’ve heard a lot–platitudes, playful banter, downright perversion. I get it; I’m an unexpected sight. It sometimes seems that I don’t fit in among the gray-haired men and red-dirt covered gravediggers. I try to look the part, wearing conservative clothing and composing my words and demeanor with maturity and sincerity. Steps and movements have become more measured and reserved. I only hope to appear graceful, which, if you know me, is easier said than done for my tomboy self. There are usually some raised eyebrows, however, when I step out of the driver’s seat of the hearse.
After funerals I sometimes hear, “I’m so glad there are young people like you interested in doing things like this!” or, “So nice to see a pretty face around here!”
Still, there are days when I want to throw in the towel. Issues directly linked to my gender and perceived aptitude are brought up and challenged daily. When I think of the societal implications of my chosen career, I just don’t think women should feel out of place or uncomfortable in the funeral business. After all, historically speaking at least, women have fulfilled care-taking and event planning roles quite well.
It’s frustrating to hear things like: “Those men need to be out there washing those cars!” or, “How do you expect to raise a family with a job like this?”
I usually just smile and change the subject. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. And I’ll wash all the cars along the way.
I do more than answer phones and type obituaries. I do it all, just like my male counterparts. Except, unlike them, I know what it feels like to be looked down upon or ignored, and I certainly know what it feels like to have eyes lingering a little too long on places they shouldn’t.
I also, however, know what it feels like to be welcomed into a home with a, “Come on in, honey! Let me show you the clothes we picked out for mama. Oh, and here’s some of her lipstick. What do you think?,” followed by the soft touch of a hand on mine and a gentle whisper, “…I know you will take good care of her.”
Being a woman in a funeral home is not uncharted territory, and luckily for me, my fierce sense of independence kicks in and I am thankful to have been surrounded by strong women throughout my life–women who have taught me to work hard and to use my voice and to stand up for what is right; they have shown me that women are intelligent and important and influential and that, as a woman and as a child of God, I matter. I believe I have unique gifts that rival many people’s abilities to remain sympathetic and engaged with a mourning family while also planning and organizing the details of a funeral. And I know each day brings new stories and new challenges and new realizations. I hope to be able to look back on this season of growth with a spirit of appreciation. Until then, from me to other women striving for success in traditionally male dominated fields,