Creedy Commentary


The Unspoken Affliction: FD’s and PTSD

A while ago I wrote on the subject of funeral directors and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the belief that there was a lot out there. This is a sensitive subject that will benefit greatly from transparent vulnerable open discussion. But who wants to be first?

Finally, a young man has stepped up. He has given me permission to print here his comment to my article and I reprint it in the hopes it will encourage others to express themselves as well.

I’ll make this short. I agree 100% with you. I’m 25 and I live in Nevada. My oldest sister has said she thinks I have some form of PTSD but I’ve tried to deny that because I feel that can only be for soldier or first responders, heroes. I used to work at a very busy funeral home and I’ve seen just about every type of death out there. Things never bothered me, until I left the business. We would alway say we had a switch we would turn off when we would arrive on a scene to turn off feelings. For a while it felt as if my switch was stuck off but now it has snapped back on and I feel it all. There are things I’ve seen I havnt told anyone. I can’t look at orange extension cord without thinking of the people I’ve picked up hanging from the ceiling with it. My fiancé says I’ve sat up in my sleep on several occasions searching for a deceased baby. Or one time she said I sat up sobbing in my sleep trying to finger print a baby that had been strangled. As an “undertaker” we aren’t supposed to show emotions. I remember recently seeing a jar of red sauce break on the floor and I was instantly brought back to a scene my partner and I went to where a young girl had been shot by her brother and my partner and I were slipping around in blood trying to gently place her in a body bag while the parents are hysterically sobbing. I guess some thing you don’t forget. At times I’ve felt disconnected from others because of the things I’ve seen. I’d look around at people happy and laughing after I had just pulled a charred body out of a house or shell of a car and just think, they have no idea what just happened. I don’t know if you’d say I have PTSD or not but I do believe it’s something that needs to be addressed. Thank you.

Read the original article by clicking here 

11 Responses

  1. Hi Alan,
    Thank you for printing this and writing about PTSD in the funeral profession. I do a fair amount of blogging and writing and have some articles published in ‘The Director”. I approached the editor a couple of years ago about doing an article on PTSD and they did not want to touch it. I also wanted to bring into it, alcohol and other drug abuse in the profession. Not wanting to “cast a bad light” on things, my request was denied. I believe I have suffered from PTSD for a long time. I retired from a 25 year career in the funeral profession last year (44 years old) and now own and operate a pet cemetery and cremation service. I suffer from mild to moderate panic and anxiety disorder that has developed over the course of the last 4-5 years. I believe it has everything to do with my years in the funeral business. I love my work with the pet cremation profession now, but it also brings it’s own form of PTSD to the table. I am an animal lover and I see a lot of tragedy in this line of work as well. I guess I am a glutton for punishment. Thanks for writing about this and I hope more funeral directors can “come out of the closet” with this issue, so they can begin to heal.

    1. David M. Farris

      I, too, thought PTSD applied to the military, police or rescue people. It was confined to these groups but now I’m not sure. I’ve had a long career in funeral service, 50 years, and have seen many traumatic issues in my work. About 10 years ago I started to see feelings change. I didn’t understand why so I accepted them as “stress” with my work. During the last year these feelings have leaped out in front of me. I’ve experienced anxiety attacks which cause my heart and chest to pulsate and spin like a mixer in a bowl of dough. Sometimes my dreams reveal me sliding down a huge cylinder, deeply imbedded in the ground with no bottom. I’m trying to hold on but my fingers keep slipping. Quite frankly I don’t understand enough about all these feelings to discuss them with a professional. Talking brings healing; but, does it really. Am I just crazy?

      1. Alan Creedy

        david, thank you for being open and vulnerable. judging from the comments in my earlier blog and this one I believe more than ever that this topic has to come out of the closet. In my experience I can somehow entertain any number of thoughts, opinions and prejudices UNTIL they are verbalized. That seems to shed the “cold light of day” on them and they often dissipate. So, I think talking openly and, especially, realizing we are not alone in our feelings has power to help.

  2. Scott McKinney

    I’m very glad that this is being discussed. There would be less tragedy in this world if more people talked about the things that have hurt them or are hurting them. Wounds in the mind from the things we’ve seen or experienced are just as real as the wounds on our body. Time is not always enough to heal them. Thankfully there are good people in this world who will listen. It’s not weakness to talk about it.

  3. In reading this gentleman’s comments, it seems strange that he would be present in so many of these situations. Nearly all of his examples as he described them should have been attended to by a Medical Examiner or Coroner — never a funeral director. The fact that he mentioned working for a “very busy funeral home” in “Nevada” to me reinforces that aspect. I’m not doubting the veracity of this man’s comments, but the situations he has described are not those that I’m currently training an intern under.

    Am I just seeing this incorrectly, or do other funeral directors share a similar experience at 25 years old?

    1. Bryan

      Whoah there, I’m not a director, I was a “initial call for care specialist” aka a removalist. Her in Reno the coroners do not transport any bodies, that is out job. I’ve gone to scenes where the coroners hadn’t moved him really at all and were still hanging or still in a car. We would take the bodies to the Me’s office and then pick the body back up another day after autopsies. Also on several occasions they had done autopsies at our funeral home. I havnt made up any of my experiences!

  4. J L Duckworth

    @Corey Gaffney:
    Please be advised that in many towns (mine included) the funeral director is called with the coroner or ME to assist in removal of the remains. Quite often the coroner or ME office does not have the manpower to perform removals…. As a funeral director and volunteer fireman I have seen different forms of trauma. They have affected me on different levels…..

  5. E Heiligenstein

    I, too have experienced removals for a ME’s office. I also worked at a large funeral home in St. Louis that had the livery contract for the City ME’s office. We did all of the removals and saw every kind of trauma imaginable. I was on staff as a removal team member, not a licensed funeral director and dealt with everything from routine deaths of elderly people to suicides, murders, accidents and so on. Some of those images I have forever imprinted in my memory. It was a very valuable learning experience.

  6. Jonny Green

    I would like to chime in here with my experiences, as your article has opened my eyes to what I have been going through in recent years.

    I worked in two stints (one of four years and one of two) for a funeral director here in the UK. I have in the past described the ‘switching on and off’ of emotional awareness during removals to people in exactly the same way as your original poster and I too have had (for want of a better phrase) ‘flash backs’. The dream state situation described mirrors that of my own, also reported to me by my wife, whereby I was apparently regurgitating a traumatic scene my partner and I attended one evening a few years back.

    Reading the original post has opened my eyes somewhat as I too felt that PTSD was something that could only affect first responders, military personnel and the like and my father, who was a firefighter for his entire working career never showed any signs of it, despite attending many extreme death incidents. I guess in a simple way this made me feel almost ‘disentitled’ to such a state.

    What has genuinely surprised me the most though, is reading some of the subsequent posts regarding removal ‘variety’, trauma, and the poster being only 25; I was a mere 22 when I started, received no official training of any kind (I vaguely recall being shown for about 5 minuted how to walk in step when bearing a coffin!), no counselling or formal appraisal as to how I was coping, and attended a huge variety of incidents from the word go – on my first morning for example, shortly after breakfast I was shown an extensive post-mortem involving a lady who was cut from the mastoid process to the groin area. This threw me into a sort of ‘cold’ state where for several days I went into my shell. Despite wanting to quit, I pushed through and very quickly, almost (once again) like the flick of a switch, I became sort of numb to it. Only recently have I started to realise how unhealthy this may be.

    I would also like to point out (again after reading one or two of the subsequent posts), that I wholeheartedly believe everything the original poster has said. Here in the UK, at least where I worked and across the entire patch, the funeral director does everything when it comes to removals. No coroner is present and the first doctor or medical personal have usually finished and left by the time we arrived. If someone was smashed beyond recognition by a truck, we put gloves on and picked up the bits. If someone was hanging, we cut them down with the only real help being (if we were lucky) prior experience from an older, more experienced duty partner.

    On occasions, where the death was thought to be murder, we would attend alongside Scenes of Crime Officers, but we would usually still be the ones bagging and removing the body, usually under police escort.

    The only warning we got prior to attending a harrowing scene was (if the control telephonist had knowledge of the gory nature) a quick “just to warn you it might be a messy one” type of prompt. One could almost say there was a macho element to coping wit things like this, as if we were all supposed to take it in our stride and feel nothing. Car crashes (RTIs / RTAs) and hangings seemed to me to be the most common incidents outside of the more ‘regular’ deaths, but I can of course speak only from experience.

    I’d like to finish by saying that whilst there is obviously varied levels of training, support and regulation on offer, mine being minimal to say the least, a universal recognition of the very strong likelihood of PTSD being prevalent in the funeral trade needs to develop. I’d like to see this happen to protect the mental wellbeing of the people attending these scenes and dealing with the bereaved. I would also like to point out, that I have no grievance, issue or anger whatsoever toward the company I worked for.

    Thanks for letting me share my story, it is the first time I have done so.

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