It seems now, after many years of work, that I have spent most of my career writing, speaking, and teaching about most every aspect of funeral and cemetery service. I certainly did not intend that my life should take this course, but for a variety of good reasons this is precisely the route that my life experience took. At this time I am in daily funeral management work, which almost seems now to be coming full circle.
Today, however, I am inspired to write about an experience I had on February 5 with the John A. Gupton College and the Tennessee Funeral Directors Association in Nashville.
Bob Batson and Steve Spann invited me some months back to make a three-hour presentation to the association’s first ever mid-winter retreat. I immediately accepted. Being a Tennessee resident, I felt an obligation to be of service, and also I was hoping to meet some of my old funeral director buddies from the beautiful Volunteer State. Truth is, I have been one blessed funeral director simply because of all the great American funeral directors I have hobnobbed with over the last 40-plus years.
To say that I was impressed with the college and the association on that fateful day would be a terrible understatement. It seemed as if Gupton was just on top of the education game, and the spirit of the Tennessee Funeral Directors was contagious. Both the Gupton College and the licensed funeral directors of the TFDA were so welcoming and supportive that it made my job of holding the attention of the group very easy. So I say thank you to both organizations.
I have, however, saved the best for last.
In my travels, I hear veteran funeral directors grumbling about the state of the typical mortuary science student. Truth is, I suspect other veteran funeral directors (now long dead) were grumbling about TVB when I was 100 pounds lighter and had dark hair and no wrinkles. That is the way it is with all generations.
My readers, I am thinking, already know that I am no Pollyanna. I am not living in a rose-colored world concerning our beloved profession, so what I am about to share is not “pie in the sky” thinking.
Here is the best aspect of my trip: IT WAS THE STUDENTS.
I have operated several mortuary colleges in my career, and I was mighty discouraged at times by the lack of maturity, lack of appearance and lack of enthusiasm that I encountered on a regular basis with the “typical” student—if there are typical anythings these days.
However, at John A. Gupton’s, it was different, and the difference was palpable.
When I walked in, Mr. Spann, the highly competent president of John A. Gupton, told me that his students would be attending. Privately, in my soul, I was not excited.
Then about 8:30 a.m. the students from John A. Gupton began to arrive, and I was just so impressed. I had known for years that Ms. Bernadine Gupton had enforced a non-negotiable dress code, but I thought that this ancient standard had probably been abandoned years ago. I could not have been more wrong.
All of the students were dressed extremely professionally. Their hair was styled and groomed, there were no visible tattoos, no visible piercings, their shoes were polished, their clothing was pressed and neat and the students were polite—all of them.
I tried to introduce myself to as many of them as I could, and not one looked the other way with no eye contact. They all announced their names in an audible tone of voice, and most of them actually smiled—none of that “goth” appearance, with the constant expressionless face and blank stare. None of that, which was a great relief to me as the speaker, for it is a distraction when someone in the group looks like a prop from a Halloween party!
Then on top of all this great stuff, the students seemed interested and engaged, and they even asked questions, which made this old grumpy undertaker feel 30 years younger. It inspired me, and hence I gave them 1, 000 percent of my feeble efforts at public speaking.
I told some of my corny stories and jokes, and the students smiled and laughed. It was a great experience. Here in one room were veterans and novices all sharing their mutual love of our great profession. It was a good day!
I believe that no matter what, this is true: The future of our great and beloved profession rests on every breath that the students in the mortuary colleges in the world are taking right now. I know that I have a lot more years behind me than I have in front of me, so TVB is the past in funeral service.
I was looking at the future during my entire visit to TFDA headquarters and John A. Gupton College, and, my friends, after what I saw and, more importantly, experienced, I now believe that funeral service is in good hands, no matter what the grumblers say.
TFDA and John A. Gupton College, well, my friends, I take my hat off to both your leaders and your organizations. The dynamics been carved out in Nashville involve a synergy that is mighty attractive to the enhancement of our great profession.
Anyway, that’s one old undertaker’s opinion. TVB