I am still thinking about the conversations I had at Death Salon in Seattle, many that revolved around mental health and the funeral director. There wasn’t anything specific presented on the topic, but outside the doors of the lecture hall it seemed to dominate the space. I met a funeral director from California who was always rushing in and out and away from all of the events due to her tending to the calls of the funeral home she worked at, even while out of state. I was introduced to a director in Seattle who worked for a firm I would love to work at. When I asked how it was going, she hesitated and said she didn’t really know, that she felt exhausted and grateful but wasn’t sure she could continue to do it. Then there was myself, who when talking with my friend about letting my embalming license lapse, said I was burnt out-couldn’t he tell? He could, but he advise me against getting rid of it because of...you never know. I took his advice because I didn’t hear anyone else’s.
I stayed with several death professionals from Austin and elsewhere in the Airbnb. One was a funeral director who suffered from anxiety so badly that they self medicated and retreated to bed for most of time we weren’t at the conference. I have been there, so deeply conflicted about work I love that it feels like it is taking every moment I have away from me. The time I when I wasn’t working, I felt filled with anxiety, without any good solution for alleviating it. Three years ago today I made a big change in the way I dealt with those feelings and have been able to walk away from a lot of the situations that caused them to begin with.
Not everyone has the support I had, though and the industry, both the conventional and the alternative sides, don’t talk as much about death professional mental health as they should. I see more space for it on the alternative side, however as many people in Seattle seemed to have more language for this type of health and there was a lot less drinking happening. The conventional industry events I’ve been to have invariably become huge frat-like drinking parties full of toxic gossip.
Given the feminine driven force behind the alternative death movement, I have hope that this sort of thing will be given more consideration over the next few years. I was very interested to read about and talk to the people from the Ernest Becker Foundation, who have some great writing about death and feminism on their website. Basically, they acknowledge Becker’s genius in death acceptance work but take it further by examining how it is definitely a gendered topic. Many women I talked to in Seattle were exploring their own methods of self-care that also supported their caregiving work, a topic I would have run screaming from but after the last three years that I’ve had, couldn’t be more interested in.