by Heidi Riley
Many industries are facing a labour shortage, and PEI funeral homes are no exception.
“It is such a rewarding and fulfilling career. I encourage those interested to explore and find out if it is right for you,” says Amy Kilbride, a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer at the East Prince Funeral Home in Summerside, and also the Registrar with the PEI Funeral Services and Professions Board.
“We try our best to give families what they need to process their grief and move forward. It can weigh heavily, but it is so rewarding when you see you are making a difference.”
Amy found her career while researching green and sustainable funerals and burials. She became interested in the profession, and then shadowed a Halifax funeral director to explore the career further. She attended the two-year Funeral Arranging and Directing program at Nova Scotia Community College and graduated in 2011. She received her Funeral Director license in 2012 and Embalmer’s license in 2013.
“I would say half the funeral homes on PEI could use more staff members,” says Amy. “Opportunities include Licensed Funeral Directors, Licensed Embalmers, and Support Staff. Hours could be full-time or to cover visiting hours a few nights a week. Here at East Prince Funeral Home, we are looking for at least one more full-time staff member.
“Traditionally, Funeral Directors are on call 24 hours a day, 365 hours a year,” says Amy. “Currently, many people coming into the industry are looking for set schedules, so we definitely need more staff to share the hours.”
Staff titles and duties
Amy says most smaller PEI funeral homes have three to five staff. “Currently we have four full-time staff, and three or four support staff.”
Licensed Funeral Directors speak with the families, handle a great deal of paperwork, and organize funerals, wakes and burials. They speak to clients who wish to plan and pre-arrange funeral services and help with headstone sales, creating and designing the monuments. They often also do cleaning, car washing, and building maintenance.
Licensed Embalmers do the care of the deceased. Often, those working in smaller funeral homes have both a Funeral Director and an Embalmer license.
Support staff may assist at wakes and funerals, help with grave opening and closing, do vehicle and building maintenance, and office duties.
Looking to fill a new position
Amy says that funeral services are changing. “Traditional funerals with a priest, pastor, or minister are becoming fewer, and we are looking for someone who could conduct a funeral service, possibly without any religious aspects.
“There are Funeral Celebrant Training courses on-line or you could learn as you go. This person would need to be comfortable meeting with grieving families and creating a personalized service for the deceased as well as having an ability and talent for public speaking.”
“Many funeral homes have adopted new technologies to serve their families,” says Amy. “There is now more live streaming of funerals or FaceTime during visiting hours for family members who can’t attend in person. We also do a lot of paperwork online.”
In PEI, there are two ways to become a licensed Funeral Director or Embalmer, and the exams at the end of both processes are the same.
Someone could do a 12-month apprenticeship working with a licensed Funeral Director or Embalmer while logging their activities. They also need to go online to study the provincial laws and acts such as the cemetery act, coroner’s act, prearrangement act, as well as the funeral practices of different religions.
An alternative is to attend one of the five recognized schools in Canada to take a two-year program. The academic work is online. You would need a GED or high school diploma, but you do not need a background in science – everything you need to know, including pathology, anatomy, and physiology, is covered by the program.
Most colleges require students to have an affiliation with a funeral home to work and get experience as you study. There is also a practicum. “The online course is full-time work, and it is tricky to study and work at the same time, but the effort is worth it,” says Amy.
Other qualities required
“It is not just a job – you really have to be suited for it. Staff spend a lot of time together, so you need to be able to work well with colleagues. You also need to show genuine care for people, pride in what you are doing, professionalism, attention to detail, empathy for the families, and confidentiality.
“You also need to be able to think quickly, because the most well laid-out plan can go sideways. No two days are ever the same, and the work is never boring. Dedication and hard work are part of the job. Deadlines must be met, and the work has to get done.
“Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is hard work. You need a well-rounded, balanced life to maintain the work. It is important to making sure you are eating well, exercising, and doing the things outside work that make you happy so that you can continue to serve your families as well as you can. Yesterday you may have worked 16 hours, but today you must get up and do it all again just as well.”
A typical day for Amy
“Many larger funeral homes operate during business hours, or 40 hours a week, but at smaller funeral homes you may have to work longer hours,” says Amy. “Someone has to be available to take after-hours calls, and we rotate that responsibility. Every funeral home operates differently, but here at East Prince we bank our extra hours and take time off when needed.
“We care for about 140 families a year, which works out to one every few days. There is always cleaning, extensive paperwork and filing, making sure tasks are finalized, making phone calls to churches, clergy, or cemeteries, organizing upcoming services, and spending time with the families and with the people in the care of the funeral home.”
How to apply
“All funeral homes on PEI are locally, privately owned or run by a cooperative,” says Amy.
“We contact everyone who shows interest,” says Amy. “It can be hard to gauge someone’s skillset from a resumé, so we are happy to have a chat. It is a profession where you could jump from almost any other type of work. We have had several applicants from the healthcare field and ministry services. Those professions are caring, giving roles.”