For some of us in the funeral profession, we speak of our career choice as a sort of calling.
The first half of my career I just kind of muddled through. Let’s face it, mortuary school didn’t really prepare me for the situations and the families that would walk through the door. That kind of experience only comes with time.
There are some families that come to us with a sense of relief and peace, but there are those families that sit across from us that are broken and damaged. As a poised and strong funeral director, I carry them through the hardest days and weeks of their lives.
But as a human, I am broken with them.
There have been many nights after a hard day at work that I’ve gone home with the intention of having a glass of wine to relax and ended up finishing the bottle just to forget the day.
I don’t think it’s a secret that people with high stress jobs sometimes have vices to help them cope with their day to day hardships. An article was recently released about a funeral director’s battle with opioid addiction. For me it was wine but it only numbed the day for me. I needed something more.
I found it in yoga.
The dictionary defines yoga as:
1. A school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
2. Any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquility, etc.
I describe it as a place to leave my ego at the door (wait? funeral directors have egos? …ha!). When I step on to my mat, I close my eyes, I focus on my breathing, and I move my body intentionally with the rhythm of each breath.
In the early days of my practice it took a long time for me to shut out the day successfully. Now I can push the thoughts of the day out of my mind and I push my body to its limit.
When my practice is over I enter “savasana” or corpse pose (no pun intended). I use this time to let my breath take me deeper into myself. It can sometimes be an emotional part of my practice because I used this time to feel everything from the day and let it wash over me; to sit with the good thoughts of the day or to sit with the pain of the day and then:
As funeral directors, we often hear “I don’t know how you do that every day” or “I couldn’t do what you do.” There are days when I wonder the exact same thing.
How on earth do I do this every day? How do I subject myself to the pain and heart ache every day? I do it because it feels good. That moment when a service is done and a family hugs you tightly and says “I couldn’t have gotten through this without you.”
All the feels.
I’ve recently began my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training to become a yoga teacher. My plan is to somehow synch these two professions together. I’d like to invite my families to join me in a place where they can shut out their grief for a moment of time and then allow it to wash over them as they begin to heal.
I am thankful for my yoga journey, thankful for this practice that helps me be a better person, and in turn a better funeral director.
Written by: Jenna Vanloon
Jenna has been in the funeral profession since she was 17 years old and is a licensed funeral director in the State of Texas.