An elegantly written story about Diane Bruno’s decision to become a Funeral Director, so she could help more people and become fulfilled. She recounts how her new “calling” not only allowed her to help others, but also proved to be a turning point in her life to come full circle. Perhaps some of you can relate to this reflection, where you’ve made a big change and your life has come full circle also. After all, it’s true. Life is a journey with many, many detours along the way.
“How My Life Has Come Full Circle”
By Diane Bruno
After more than 20 years as a public relations executive in New York City, I made the decision to make a career change. I wanted more meaning, not only in my life as a whole, but in the job I did. Sounds cliché, but I spent so many years catering to egos and deadlines, that I found myself drained both emotionally and physically.
Professionally, I was surrounded with energy vampires. Personally, I was happy, but not fulfilled. I had so much to offer, so much to give.
An overwhelming desire to connect with people and aid them when they needed it most, was no longer an intimate ground swell I could ignore. So, I decided to become a Funeral Director. Mind you, this was not a decision that came to me overnight, but rather one that had been percolating for many years, actually since my mother’s own funeral.
Consumed with anger over my mother’s sudden passing, the officiating funeral director (at first the object of my distain) became an inspiration.
I remember asking him how he could justify making a living off someone’s misery. He explained that he did not see it that way. Rather, he was easing suffering, a pain we will all experience, and an agony that is unavoidable.
His words followed me like an invisible companion that would never lose sight of me. It was a calling to a new way of life—a vocation this empath could not ignore. After our encounter, I realized that death is indeed the great “equalator.”
No matter where you come from, no matter how much you achieve in this life, no matter what your belief system—we all have a finite time on this planet. One of my favorite memes says, “He who dies with the most toys…is just as dead.” Admittedly, a bit stark, but very true.
My journey began when I applied to a premier mortuary science institution.
I was accepted, but an online curriculum was my only option. As sole support, I continued working full-time as a Director of Communications—while studying in my off time. I had to tackle a hefty curriculum of anatomy, psychology, chemistry, and microbiology to name just a few.
The two-year curriculum to an associate degree in mortuary science took me four years to complete. Followed by National Boards, a year apprenticeship, state licensure examinations, and an embalming practical vetting. I soon learned the road to caring for the deceased and their loved ones was not a swift or easy journey.
The responsibility is heavy, but the rewards are life altering.
When life comes full circle
My career as a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer commenced in 2016. I was happy. The families I met were so thankful for the help I provided them—and the empathy and compassion I expressed comforted more people than I could have imagined. I was in very many ways complete. The needy I once served were replaced with those in true need; and the egos that once plagued me were now replaced with selfless exchanges.
One late night, I received a call from a colleague who needed assistance on a death call. A loved one had passed at home. When someone passes at home it is required that two funeral professionals assist with taking the loved one into our care. It was a difficult situation—confined logistics with many stairways and a darkened front lawn.
While I was there, I suddenly heard and felt my back “pop” followed by intense pain. Over the next few days the pain worsened and I had to take a medical leave. Several torn discs had rendered me unable to lift at least 100 lbs.
My huge heart, my ability to walk in another’s shoes, and my sense of compassion were all healthy and intact, but my physical body was no longer strong and uncompromised. My companion on that house call that evening was female and I am as well.
Women are amazing—we can do it all with an unparalleled sense of purpose and tolerance.
We are strong in ways that cannot be measured, we can figuratively move mountains. According to the NFDA, sixty-five percent of those graduating from mortuary schools are women and that number is on the rise. This is indeed a welcome shift. Before the industrial revolution, women were the caregivers of the deceased. But with the advent of the “modern” funeral, and the evolution of the business model—men took over. There was money to be made. The cabinet makers, who once made coffins on the side, eventually undertook the craft as their business, hence coining the term “undertaker.”
There is unwritten mantra in the funeral industry that it is a profession that men should continue to dominate. One of the reasons used to justify this mindset is the issue of heavy lifting. After months of physical and chiropractic therapy and acupuncture, I was not cleared to return to my funeral director role. I could no longer lift 100 pounds on my own.
I have since returned to my original career; and I hesitate to say I was forced to return because life is a journey with many detours. As I used to tell the families I served, “We may not know why now, but one day it will all be revealed to us.” Why my journey came full circle, I have no way of knowing, but I am sure one day it will be revealed to me.
Recently, I had an unplanned occasion to counsel a colleague. We ran into each other in a common workplace area, and she began to tell me how she was laid off from her position (a role that she loved). We spoke for almost thirty minutes and she expressed how much better she felt after our exchange. I felt good too!
Helping those who need it most, is what I do best.
I will continue to offer comfort, wisdom, and solace where I can, whenever I can. I miss working as a funeral director, but I am grateful and humbled by the opportunities it provided me during my tenure.
Why will always be a daunting question, one I ask myself and the question grieving families asked of me.
My heart is heavy, a weight I will continue to lift on my finite journey.
About the Author: Diane Bruno is a licensed Funeral Director/Embalmer in the states of CT and MA; as well as a Corporate Communications professional specializing in Internal Communications. Diane is also an empath who loves to write on topics that touch the soul. You can reach her on Linkedin.
Editor’s note: If you liked this article, you might enjoy some insights from our work and relationships section.