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Ask the Expert – Glenn Burlamachi, Funeral Director

Liz here, and today I invited one of my oldest pals to join us for “Ask the Expert.” Glenn BGlenn Burlamachi owns and operates the Concord Funeral Home in Concord, Massachusetts, and has worked in the business for many years prior. (Confession: I had a stint working at Glenn’s funeral home! For research, of course.) I’ve always been fascinated by the business, a little because of my love for Six Feet Under but mostly because Glenn used to tell me stories all the time about what it’s like. I thought it would be an interesting topic for the blog, so here were my questions to Glenn:

1. How are violent deaths handled?

Violent deaths are not as common, however each case is different. There are accidents, homicides and suicides, all three can create it’s own violent story.  It is my experience to bring the survivors into the funeral home and process the funeral services as quickly as we can.  The survivors do not want to be there any more than you do.  We are as empathetic as we can be and keep conversation to a minimum.  Usually we do not deal directly with the immediate family but with another family member or close friend who acts as a liaison between the funeral director and family.

2. What’s the craziest funeral you’ve been part of?

Well, fortunately we have not had any “crazy” funerals.  I am mindful however that each family may have their own beliefs, customs and religious beliefs, this can add a “twist” to some funeral services.  Example…Jewish are buried within 48 hours of death with the exception of Saturday, they are quick and well handled with all parties cooperating and working together.  Unitarians are independent and need minimal assistance by a funeral home.  Greeks are traditionalists regardless of age.  We did have a horse and buggy funeral at the request of the deceased (prior to dying of course)…I could go on and on.

3. Talk about what it’s like behind the scenes of the funeral home?

A funeral home is a business just like any other, we function as efficiently as the leadership and staff allows.  It can be chaotic at  as death has no set schedule.  I have witnessed the funeral home remain quiet for week(s) and have as many as 7 deaths in 2 days.  We need to be prepared and at the ready 24/7, this adds to the stress as the funeral home (neat and organized) and staff (also neat and organized) must be available.  In my history we have had 3 deaths in one day on numerous occasions.  It is also imperative both the exterior and interior of the funeral home are updated and tastefully appointed. 

4. What’s it like living in the funeral home?

As mentioned previously we are a 24/7 profession, therefore residing at the funeral home is most often convenient.  However, there are more times than none I find myself unable to shut down and stop.  There is ALWAYS something to do so the disconnect can be most challenging at times.  Also, most funeral homes are located on a main street, this creates a “fish-bowl” atmosphere for the occupied funeral directors.  Some residents will observe (and comment) on your daily routine.

5. What is the worse cliché you have to deal with as a funeral director?

The daily clichés are common, “I’ll be the last one to let you down”, “I bet everyone is dying to get in there?” “how’s business?”  I have learned over the years to politely ignore and remain professional when the clichés are mentioned.

6. Favorite and least favorite part of job?

Favorite: the ability to assist a family in their lowest point in their life. This is both a privilege and honor.
Least favorite: 24/7  this profession is always on your mind.

7. Typical day?

Depending on death calls, it can be very busy or very quiet.  When busy there are families to meet, obituaries to compose, scheduling to administer (church, cemetery, military and staffing).  When there are no death calls we find ourselves, cleaning, organizing, community service etc.

8. What happens when you receive a death call?

Most deaths are reported to the funeral home via telephone “call” hence the term “death-call”.  These phone calls occur 24/7, death can occur at home, a hospital, nursing home or public area. In most cases we must respond immediately.  We drive to the designated location and transfer the person with dignity and respect.  We dress and always act professionally, it is our duty and obligation regardless of the surrounding location or community we serve.

9. Writers try to capture feelings in words.  If you could describe the feeling  of your funeral home, how would you do that?

A funeral home is a reflection of its proprietors. The décor should be neutral, “home-like” and have a sense of the community.  The Concord Funeral Home is located in historic Concord, Massachusetts, therefore we have a slight revolutionary theme throughout.  The colors are warm and comforting, the art work is appropriate and the furniture period to the home yet functional. The exterior should have good curb-appeal such as freshly painted, seasonal flowers, manicured lawns etc.  This is the first impression for the general public therefore it must be favorable.

10. What kind of schooling do funeral directors require?

Funeral directors are required to attend and graduate from a two-year associates program.  Upon completion you are required to pass the National Board Exam consisting of 2 sections, Arts and Sciences.  Once this is successfully accomplished a funeral director must pass the state requirements.  Each state has its own guidelines. This consists of an apprenticeship program and both written and practical (embalming) exams.

11. Do funeral directors attend conferences?

Yes, there are many conferences offered throughout the calendar year. Most funeral directors will attend several.  Funeral Directors are required to earn 8 CEU hours each  year and are obtained at these mentioned conferences or online classes.  This profession like all professions change and it is important to keep up with the changes.

Readers: Ask Glenn a question! He’s going to stop in throughout the day as he can, in between funeral tasks.

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