Compilation of the Hows and Whys of Being in the Funeral Industry

funeral with flowers

Working in the funeral industry, I hear all sorts of comments and questions. There are three questions that I have been asked more often than any other. The first is: “How did you get involved with this career?” The second is: “Why would you choose to do this?” And the third is: “What is wrong with you?” I asked the first two questions to several employees at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. I believe the third question was more directed towards me specifically and we don’t have enough time to read all about that one. Here is a compilation of what some of the wonderful staff members said regarding those questions:

“My decision to enter funeral service as a career centers around my family, of course. My full name is Thomas F. McAfee, IV, one of the fourth-generation McAfee family members to join the firm. Funeral service and the family business was often discussed around the dinner table when I was a child. I worked for our firm part-time in high school and college, earning a degree in Funeral Service. My decision was strongly influenced by watching my grandfather and father serve families with a determination to provide a caring and compassionate service. Many of these families called on them because the Thomas McAfee family had served them in the past, with excellent service. This tradition of excellent and compassionate service was handed down to me and my brothers, which makes us want to continue to earn the trust people have in our firm.”

-Tommy McAfee, Funeral Director and President

“I chose funeral service as a career, not only because my family has owned a funeral home for over 100 years, but to make a difference in the lives of those who have experienced the death of a loved one. To be able to care for the dead and walk alongside their families in helping them plan and carry out meaningful remembrances of their loved ones is truly an honor. It is important to take these first steps and allow ourselves to be surrounded by the support of family, friends, and colleagues, which contributes to a healthy start to the grief journey.”

-John McAfee, Funeral Director and Vice-President

“The path that brought me to funeral service was providential. Never did I ever think of a funeral home as a place to fulfill my call to ministry. It came to be by a school teacher from high school who knew my best friend from school, telling her about the position of Continuing Care Coordinator. She called me. Then a phone call to John McAfee to inquire about the position followed by a resume being emailed, phone interview with the McAfees and consultant, Bill Hoy, followed by a face to face interview…the rest is history. My prior ministry positions prepared me for my work at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. What a privilege to work with this firm who believes everything we do here is a ministry! And, I get to minister in my home town.”

-Brenda Atkinson, Continuing Care Coordinator

“I got started in 1993 when my grandfather passed away by talking with the man that drove the family car. I was looking for a part time job at that time. I thought it would be a great job where I could meet more people. So I started working part time in 1993. After I retired from Michelin, I thought it would be great to come on full time at the funeral home and do the kind of job that I enjoy doing. I now have been with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes for 25 years and enjoy coming to work everyday. I enjoy taking care of families that I come in contact with. That’s why I do what I do.

-Rick Owings, Funeral Associate

“I did a career assessment online because after leaving the Army, I was working in a bunch of jobs that were giving me no personal satisfaction. The career website listed 900 possible jobs that I would be interested in based on my likes, personality, my work experience, and education. Funeral Directing was number 6 out of 900. I knew nothing of the funeral business and I knew no one that was in the field. I called Dallas Institute of Funeral Service the following day to ask some questions. The school president invited me to come down to talk to him and to get a tour of the school. I did and within a couple of days, I was enrolled and I never looked back. After all those years of working and not feeling like I was making a difference in people’s lives, I have finally found a career that I can feel good about myself in and hopefully bring a smile to someone’s face when they desperately need something to smile about or peace to someone’s heart when they desperately need some closure to the life of a loved one.”

-Jason Clouse, Funeral Director

“My ‘how’ was due to seeking an administrative position. I registered with an employment agency. When I was told they had a position at a funeral home, I was immediately interested due to my commitment to wanting to ‘make a difference.’ I knew that my position would allow me an opportunity to provide admirable customer service and additional assistance to families during their time of despair. Hearing a sense of relief in our families’ voices makes my position at the funeral home worthwhile. Knowing that I am part of an organization that prides themselves on exceptional customer service makes me proud.”

-Tammy Watkins, Preneed Administrative Coordinator

“My entire family has been in public service all of our lives. Ambulance, fire and funeral service have made up my life. I have always enjoyed helping people through hard times to which I have experienced myself. My friendship with the McAfee family goes back to my high school days and after my dad died in 1989, I was asked if I wanted to join the funeral service and be a part of the best family owned funeral home in this area. Since then, I have been able to serve families of this area and build friendships that will last a lifetime. I truly enjoy helping people and I don’t think I would change a thing.”

-Barry Norris, Funeral Associate

“A few years ago I came to Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes and applied for a job. After talking with my daughter, I changed my mind and decided not to take the job. In the meantime, my sister-in-law had a relative pass away. She had to come to the funeral home to identify the body. I came with her. I had a friend working for the company at that time and she told me that I needed to come to work here. I told her I didn’t think I would be comfortable working in a funeral home. She said these magic words: ‘Don’t think of it as working in a funeral home, think of it as you will be helping people.’ Those words got me hired. My compassion and love for all people is greater than my concern over where I work. My desire to help people has been with me my entire life. Working at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes gives me the opportunity to help and try to comfort people when they need it most. I have enjoyed working here more than any place I have every worked.”

-Janet Wilson, Receptionist Media Coordinator

“Growing up in the home of a country Baptist pastor, my family often attended Receiving of Friends and Funerals. It was as an eight year old child that I first thought I wanted to be a ‘mortician’ which was the colloquial term for the local funeral service professional. Since the local funeral home was a sideline business for the community general store, a death was an event that affected the entire community. The store would close so the owner and his wife could conduct the funeral. Truth be told, they didn’t really have a funeral home. Instead, they had an embalming room in the basement of the store where caskets were stored and if the body wasn’t taken home for viewing, the Washburns opened up their home for the viewing. They only had an old Oldsmobile hearse and Ford van, but they got the job done.

Everyone in the community knew one another and would always attend the visitation or funeral. The men of the community would often dig the grave or attend to various projects around the home of the deceased. The women would cook feasts making sure no one went hungry. When the body was taken home for viewing, neighbors would take turns ‘sitting up’ with the dead so the family could sleep at night. Everyone cleaned up, wore their best clothes to the funeral, and helped carry the many flower arrangements from the church to grave.

Looking back, it was that sense of community, with neighbor helping neighbor during a difficult time, that drew me to funeral service. I thought Edward and Katherine Washburn were the kindest people in the world as they took care of the bereaved families of the rural Rutherford County. After 30 years in funeral service, it is still helping a ‘neighbor’ during a difficult time that is my greatest joy. It is indeed a privilege to serve others.”

-Tim Gossett, Funeral Director and Southeast Location Manager

“I worked for the Greenville Hospital System for 25 years in the business office and during that time I always felt as if something was missing, that I wasn’t serving people to the best of my ability. I’ve always been interested in funeral services but never dreamed that one day I would be working here. When the opportunity presented itself for me to come aboard Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes, I jumped on it! It has been challenging (in a good way) and I don’t consider this a ‘job,’ it’s a calling in my heart. It’s an honor to serve our families and to help them in their darkest hour. After 25 years, I have finally found a home.”

-Tammy Franklin, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

“It was the ‘80s. I had returned from time spent as an exchange student during and after high school in Berlin, Germany and lived some in Alexandria, VA. I worked in the retail music business, back when you went to a store to purchase LPs or cassettes. Digital media had yet to arrive. Then I wound up working on the distribution side in a warehouse in Albany, NY. My father in law at the time had a family owned funeral home in Oneonta, NY. Funeral homes were a foreign thing to me. My only experience had been going to a visitation as a boy scout when the scout master’s child died of cancer at a young age.

It turned out that in nearby Troy, NY a program in Mortuary Science was offered at Hudson Valley Community College. At my father in law’s suggestion, I looked into it. He stated if it was something I might be interested in, at least I would have an Associate’s Degree under my belt. On the other hand, if it happened that I was not interested, no harm would be done and I could use that to build onto some other path. So it was at this light prodding I decided to give it a try. The curriculum was quite varied, which was to my liking. Sociology, psychology, business management, anatomy and microbiology were some of the courses. There were specialized labs too for embalming and restorative art (cosmetics and reconstruction). I continued working in the music warehouse while I attended college. Completion of that two year program led to a job at a local funeral home. In New York, that first year is called a residency and it is required by state law before one can take a test to obtain a license to practice funeral service.

The work morphed into something I enjoyed. No two days were ever really the same. Some days were spent inside learning under the license of more experienced directors and embalmers. A lot of time was spent outdoors at funerals, cutting grass and performing building maintenance. Time was also spent in the middle of the night driving to a call: to meet another staff member to ride in the hearse to transfer someone’s loved one into our care. I also got to experience how grieving families were cared for and the demeanor necessary when serving members of the public during the most difficult times in their lives. By the time that year was over I discovered that a position for a licensed person was available at a funeral home in North Carolina. In 1993, I made the move and have been in the South, my ‘new home’ ever since. It was in 1998, I began working in Greenville, SC.

Education and learning never really ends. One has to have open ears to listen and to be willing to change. I have continued with my chosen field certainly for the variety of occupation it offers and the attention to detail it requires. Above all is the overriding theme of caring for people who are hurting regardless of background. No matter what options a family chooses for their loved one, there is only one chance to get it right. Over the years I feel I have been fortunate to have learned from the best. Hopefully, that translates to the families I am able to serve here at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes.”

-Grant Berdan, Funeral Director

“I was looking for a part time job that would give me a new opportunity in life rather than just a job and extra income. Out of the blue, it was recommended for me to apply with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. Honestly, I had never even considered this type of work or if I could handle the emotional demands of the position. I have attended lots of funerals, but, as I have found out, there is more to a funeral than the actual service itself. I have been with the company for a little over six months and I can say that it has been a challenge, but also a great and emotional learning experience. I never knew how much was involved in planning a funeral or the emotion that went into that planning. The job has opened my eyes to whole new side of human nature that I never was in tune with before.

I have learned the value of pre-planning your own funeral and the reassurance it gives you and your loved ones that the funeral and details are taken care of. I have seen the value of insurance for paying for a funeral. I have learned it is truly important to have a reliable person be in charge of your funeral to carry out your wishes and how important it is to have your personal papers easily accessible for that individual. I have learned that the funeral directors at our company take great care with not only the families we serve, but with the deceased as well from the moment we receive the initial call to well after the funeral itself. I have seen human nature at its best and with some at its worst. I have learned to handle sensitive matters with respect and dignity. This job has truly made me a more sensitive person and has made me a better person to handle these delicate situations. I never realized how naïve I truly was. I look forward to serving more families and learning more about the business and myself.”

-Jill Luckenbaugh, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

“I got started in funeral service as a part time job to make some extra money. At least that was my intent going to the interview. Upon leaving the interview, however, I can honestly say that I really wanted (no just needed) that job. That’s the only interview I have ever left feeling that way! The longer I served, the more my heart was pulled in that direction. After nine years of working part time on the weekends, God opened the door for me to go full time. I feel that it is a ministry that God has called me to do and I am fulfilled by helping families in their darkest hours.”

-Amy Moseley, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

This has only been a few stories shared by the fantastic Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes employees regarding how and why they got involved in the funeral industry. Everybody’s story is different, but their goals are all the same: being there to help families in need.