Old Soul

I have always admired people who can jump into any situation with confidence and an iron gut. There are people who don’t bat an eye when changing a dirty diaper, or who will rush into a burning building with a fire hose, or who will do countless thankless jobs with both a sense of purpose and a smile.

I realized the other day… I won’t tell you the exact moment… because, well, you wouldn’t want to hear it… but I have become one of those people. Or have I always been one of those people? I don’t know. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Anyway, I relish in the fact that people tend to agree with me when I say that I’m an old soul. It at least accounts for my herb garden and my stacks of books and my job as a mortician.

This weekend, I had the chance to attend the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Professional Women’s Conference in Greenville, SC. In a room of around 100 female funeral professionals from all over North America, I was definitely one of the youngest, if not THE youngest. Throughout the course of the events at the conference, I watched the interactions of the ladies and was content to sit and think to myself how neat it was to be in a room with people who know what it means to be a female in this business and who are striving for excellence in the midst of the challenges. This was a room full of wives and mothers and grandmothers who understand what it takes to embalm an infant or to direct a service for a beloved grandparent or pillar of a community. Not that men don’t understand……it’s just….different…. from a woman’s perspective.

These women are some of the best in the field and the collective energy and experience in the room was overwhelming. In an afternoon session, we sat around our tables and discussed issues in funeral service in a type of guided brainstorming activity. Our group had a lively discussion about generating revenue in our respective funeral homes and I rather enjoyed getting to hear some of the stories from around the country.

I’ll have to admit, coming from a small, distinctly Southern funeral home, much of what was discussed sounded like a foreign language to me. People from some of the bigger, corporately owned firms spoke at length about catering packages and events facilities they offer to families and to their communities. It seems the days of a good old fashioned church sponsored luncheon have come and gone in most large cities. Some locations even employ ‘celebrants’ to serve as officiants for humanistic, or secular, funeral services. There was also talk of cremation gardens and niche walls at college campuses and even a type of ark that allows for pallbearers to carry an urn of cremains into a sanctuary (in the hopes of reducing the numbers of ‘direct’ cremations- sans service- and offering a full funeral service, complete with pallbearers.) It was a fast paced activity and my eyes and ears were open the whole time as I tried to take in the wide range of funeral products and services available. We all agreed, however, that no matter how big or small your firm is, it is important to create value and to be able to communicate that value to your clients in a way that is both efficient and honoring to the life they are there to commemorate. Believe it or not, the deathcare business is always changing, and it takes ingenuity and an open mind to be a forerunner in the field.

It came time for each group to present their topics to the rest of the audience and, in a moment of awkward glancing around and pointing of fingers, my group chose me. I only panicked slightly and said I would do it but only if one of them stood up at the front with me for moral support…and to turn the pages on our group’s easel board. After a brief snack break, during which I was still internally freaking out, the groups presented their discussions. My turn was last. I mustered all the courage I could in this old soul of mine and went up to address this group of women. As I talked, there was laughter and agreement and engagement and I couldn’t help but think about how surreal it was for little ole me to be standing in such a position in a room full of seasoned professionals. Somehow, I fit right in. After it was all said and done, I got quite a few pats on the back and plenty of encouraging words. I am beyond grateful for the compliments and for the chance to be a part of something so unique.

Who knows…. I might be up there speaking again one day.

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