FDK, or Funeral Director’s Kids, as they’re known in the industry, have often followed previous generations and entered the family business – whether they wanted to or not. But third-generation funeral director ¬Jim Delaney of James H. Delaney & Son Funeral Home in Walpole says, “Even as a young kid, I was always interested in where my father was going and why he was out so late. And every time my dad went about town, he knew almost everybody and helped tried to take care of people when something awful like this happens.”
Long-time funeral home operators like the Delaneys have seen a lot of changes in the funeral home profession, especially recently. With about two million people dying last year, funerals can be big business, with the average cost of a traditional funeral ranging at about $7,000. But cremation, a cheaper option, is on the rise, as well as “green funerals,” which use environmentally friendly options such as biodegradable caskets and earth-friendly embalming chemicals. And once a traditional Irish Catholic funeral home, Delaney says that now clientele include protestant, Buddhists, and Hindus.
With just Jim and his father Jay running the longtime community operation, days can be hectic. Some days there are as many as six funerals a day, with all the paperwork that entails, as well as cleaning the home and four cars. “We do all the dusting, vacuuming, and floor scrubbing, and we do all this before every wake.”
With the graying of the baby boomers, and more funeral directors retiring, demand for funeral operators is expected to rise by 12 percent to 2016. But not all funeral directors drive black Cadillacs and make tons of money, says Delaney, who says that a new embalming school graduate can expect to earn between $35,000 to $40,000 to start.
Q: Death and grieving came out of the closet with TV shows like A&E’s “Family Plots,” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” What do you think of these shows?
A: I used to watch “Six Feet Under” and I definitely think there are people like that in the profession ¬– the trouble maker; the funeral director who just wanted to meet with the families; and the one who did the prep work only.
Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in entering this profession?
A: Talk to local funeral directors to get some exposure to the business and make sure it’s something you can handle. Some people go to school and do their apprenticeship, and then decide that it’s not for them.
Q: What’s the typical reaction when people hear what you do for a living?
A: There’s no middle ground. It’s either, “Oh, that’s interesting” or, “Oh, my god, don’t get near me.”
Q: How many black suits do you own?
A: I only have two but I’m adding a third. But that’s a misconception that we’re always wearing black suits. I also have a blue, gray, and brown suit. And some funeral directors even wear khaki pants.
Q: Is there an art to driving the hearse?
A: Not really. I get a strange looks. Lots of people will stop and stare. And drivers will cut you off in traffic, because they don’t want to get stuck behind the funeral procession.
Q: What’s it like to work with dead people?
A: I can say one thing – they never complain.