Discussing the topic of loss is never easy, and it becomes even more challenging when we find ourselves in the presence of someone actively experiencing grief. The weight of their pain can make us feel at a loss for words, not knowing how to comfort or offer support. However, there are individuals who are uniquely qualified to navigate these difficult conversations— funeral directors.
Funeral directors work closely with loss and grieving individuals every day, providing solace and guidance during one of life's most challenging moments. In this blog post, we have the opportunity to interview our very own Breanna (Bre) Williams. Prior to joining Cadence, Bre amassed 11 years of experience as a funeral director. As such, Bre offers valuable insights into loss and supporting those in active grief.
Kayleigh Feschuk (KF) : Deathcare is a field requiring immense compassion and care for others, making it equally rewarding as it is challenging. With over 10 years of experience as a funeral professional, funeral director and grief coach, what originally excited you about these roles?
Bre Williams (BW): One of the most rewarding aspects of providing services to families is the profound sense of gratitude and satisfaction it brings me. Whether it involves actively engaging with the community to offer educational or pre-need services, or simply being there to support individuals through the most trying moments of their lives, that's what I strive for. When families would express their appreciation to me and my team for guiding them through these challenging times, it serves as a testament to the impact we have made.
Before entering the funeral profession at the age of 22, two deaths profoundly impacted my decision to move forward in pursuing this career. These extraordinary individuals were my beloved late relatives, my grandmother Lenora and my Uncle Stan.
Uncle Stan, a licensed funeral director and embalmer, ignited a passion within me for serving people through this line of work. While I recognized that I had a calling to help others, I felt that the traditional realm of ministry was not aligned with my purpose. It became clear to me that guiding individuals and families through the end-of-life transition was where I belonged. By providing support during their most vulnerable times, I could create a space that allowed them to navigate their unique journey, whatever that may entail.
KF: Due to the stigma surrounding death, loss is often a subject avoided in conversation. Since becoming a funeral professional, how has your view on open discussion of loss changed over time?
BW: The topic of death has never been a concern for me. Growing up in the south, my parents instilled in me a strong faith-based upbringing. As the children of ministers, we were always by their side, attending church services, funerals, and weddings. From an early age, I grasped the concept of death as an integral part of the circle of life. I have come to believe that it is my duty to inform and educate those around me that death can take different forms for each person and situation.
My work within this profession has taught me an important lesson: if I am not comfortable with something, those around me won't be either. By creating a safe and non-judgmental space for others to explore their own feelings and comfort levels regarding death, I have developed a deeper appreciation for open discussions on this topic.
KF: Breaking the stigma around death is vital to creating a safe and supportive environment for those grieving. As a funeral director, what are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about grief and loss that you have encountered, and how do you address them?
BW: It’s often misunderstood that children should not attend services. Contrary to this belief, I firmly believe that it is crucial not to make assumptions about the families' understanding or knowledge of grief. Instead, we should provide them with the space and support to express their needs and desires.
Misconceptions can also greatly influence how people approach arrangement conferences. For instance, some families may express concerns about allowing children to attend the funeral. As a result, they may opt for a closed casket, choose a cremation service, or exclude children altogether from the proceedings, assuming that their presence might further distress them. However, it is important to recognize that children grieve and process loss differently. While they may exhibit emotions and act out, their participation in their relative’s funeral can actually help them grasp the concept of death and its implications.
KF: With the holiday season approaching, what advice do you have for individuals who are missing their loved ones and finding it difficult to talk openly about their grief?
BW: Joining a grief support group or seeking guidance from a grief coach are two great ways to navigate the confusion of not necessarily feeling joy during a joyful time of year. Remember that it's perfectly acceptable to honor and share the legacy of your loved one, regardless of how they passed away. People who have lost someone to suicide, homicide, or addiction often face unique challenges in their grieving process. Society may inadvertently place pressure on them to suppress their emotions, unlike those who have lost a loved one due to accidents or illnesses. However, it's essential to challenge this misconception and recognize that grieving is just as valid and necessary for each family, no matter the circumstance.
KF: In your experience, what are some effective ways to promote a safe and supportive space for individuals to share their feelings of grief and loss?
BW: First, human touch has a profound impact. Offering a comforting hand to hold or a warm hug can be incredibly meaningful, of course after ensuring that the person is comfortable with physical contact before initiating it. Second, when engaging in conversation, don't shy away from mentioning the name of their loved one who has passed away. Acknowledging and using the name of the person demonstrates that their presence is still cherished and they are not forgotten, which can be very comforting for the grieving individual.
I’d also add: If you find yourself uncomfortable talking about someone else’s loss, I’d encourage you to ask yourself why. Is it the fear of the unknown causing the discomfort? Grief is a natural part of life, as guaranteed as life itself. Being able to discuss grief and loss removes the ambiguity surrounding the topic, and can allow people to feel more secure in their own grief journey when their time comes to be in the front row at the funeral.
KF: Balancing executor duties and grief can feel like an overwhelming and isolating task. How can executors and their families benefit from using Cadence and the support services offered?
BW: Cadence not only helps you understand your loved one's possessions and necessary tasks, but also provides a roadmap for the executor to work on these matters at their own convenience, regardless of the time of day. Studies indicate that people who are grieving or looking for resources often find themselves awake during the late hours of the night. With Cadence, individuals can extend their working hours beyond the typical 9-5 window, allowing them to work when they are able or want to.
I believe that providing Cadence is a practical and memorable way for funeral directors to support their families and promote more space for them to grieve. Supporting families with the practical challenges they face after a loss can be a service differentiator, because that valuable mourning time is returned back to the family.
In this interview, Bre provided us with valuable insights that shed light on the importance of open communication, empathy, and understanding when engaging in conversations about loss. Bre’s shared experiences and challenges serve as a means of providing strategies and ideas that can help us navigate difficult discussions with grace and compassion.
Challenging the misconceptions associated with grief, and creating a safe and non-judgemental place for someone to discuss their loss, is pivotal in being able to provide the support needed.
If you are a funeral director interested in exploring what Cadence can do for you and your families, book a meeting with our partnerships team to tell you more.