The Better Place Forests team is full of amazing people and stories. Our Regional Manager and former funeral director, Madison Kuebler, has dedicated her career to helping people move through the complexities of end of life. With her help, we’ll explain one of those complexities — funeral directors. Everyone knows what a funeral is, but what is a funeral director? And how can they help with the process?
Madison became a funeral director to help people experiencing loss — something she could empathize with, having experienced a sudden loss of her own. Her personal experience has made her the ideal person to help others make important decisions while in the early stages of grief or when planning ahead. She saw her role as a funeral director as a way to give back and find meaning in her own tragic loss.
Learn more about funeral directors and Madison’s own story below.
What is a funeral director?
A funeral director is someone who organizes every aspect of a funeral, which can include arranging the officiant, speakers, music, obituary notices, preparing the funeral sites, and the handling and transportation of the body. The funeral director follows the wishes of the deceased and their family to ensure the services honor their memory.
Why did Madison become a funeral director?
It may be an understatement to say that being a funeral director is a challenging job. Guiding people through one of the worst times in their life requires much empathy and care.
“I would say that the majority of the people who choose to be funeral directors do it because they care about people,” said Madison. “We don’t do it for money, and we don't do it for praise — we do it because we want to help.”
For many funeral directors, choosing to help grieving people is not so much a job as it is a calling. Madison lost her father unexpectedly at a young age, which piqued her interest in the profession.
“It's not something that you do just because you think it's a good idea. It’s hard, and it's something you do because you love it and you care about people.”
One thing Madison enjoyed about her time as a funeral director was helping tell people’s stories. She encouraged people to make the services personal to show the deceased’s personality. Madison shared an example of one of her favorite funeral services.
“This man ate at the same restaurant every single night for the last five years of his life,” she said. “We consulted with the restaurant and learned how he liked his table set up. At his service, we set a table for him. Everything was very purposeful and thought out just for him. When the family showed up to the service and saw the table set, it elicited an emotional reaction. For somebody to see that you care enough to go to those lengths to learn about their loved one, it means a lot to the family. And it's more than just a traditional funeral service — it's way more meaningful.”
What is a day in the life of a funeral director like?
At the funeral home where Madison worked, she performed a dual role as both a funeral director, who organizes and arranges the funeral plans, and a service director, who is there during the funeral to make sure it goes smoothly. A dual role like this is common in many funeral homes.
As a funeral director, Madison would begin her day by checking on any calls that came in overnight, as people often pass away after business hours. These calls are the first priority, and staff will return the calls to collect vital information for the death certificate (such as name, age, and place of birth). Madison would then make arrangements to pick up the deceased and bring them into the funeral home’s care.
“When someone came into our care, my job was to keep them safe until their final disposition, whether that be a burial or cremation,” said Madison. “It’s a lot of moving parts to implement a plan and service that helps the family get the closure they need.”
Madison would also meet with family or friends to plan funeral arrangements. During these meetings, the funeral director will find out if any pre-arrangements had been made, such as arrangements for a burial plot or cremation. Madison typically would only do two arrangement appointments per day, as they take several hours each to work out the details and answer any questions the family may have.
According to Madison, it’s common to have one arrangement and one service each day. Depending on the type of service, tasks may involve anything from getting the deceased ready for viewing or displaying an urn, preparing and setting up the funeral site, setting out printed materials, and making sure everything looks and runs as expected.
What should you look for in a funeral director?
If you want to hire a funeral director, there are many qualities to look for, such as:
- Experience and knowledge
- Good listening and communication skills
- Transparency and trust
Out of all of these qualities, transparency is the most important. You want a funeral director who is open about the process and can answer any questions you may have.
“Transparency puts people at ease,” said Madison. “So when you're looking for a funeral director, make sure they’ll explain everything in as much detail as you or your family needs. Families don’t want to feel blindsided or like things are being hidden from them.”
What brought Madison to Better Place Forests?
After 5 years, Madison was ready to change the type of end-of-life care she was providing. She first began her career in pre-need funeral sales, so the pivot to the Better Place Forests team made perfect sense. We’re so lucky to have Madison and her years of experience.
“A lot of people are looking for alternatives to the ‘traditional’ options of death care and helping people find those was one of my main objectives in my career,” said Madison. “Better Place Forests offers those alternatives. We provide a meaningful and sustainable option for those who chose cremation and I truly believe this is the way the death industry is headed. I was so excited when I found this opportunity — I honestly couldn’t believe it existed. It’s a game-changer in the way we commemorate those we’ve lost.”
Madison summarized it best when she said, “Death is such an unpredictable time in people's lives and something that's so out of our control. If we're able to make a little bit of meaning out of it — that’s impactful.”