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Meg Ann Scarff and her dad, Harold Peterseim  
"If it's done well, I hope (this career) contributes to the honoring of loved ones in a meaningful and respectful way. If you can't face death, you can't really face life."

Funeral home director: 'A very high-stress job'

October 10, 2000
Web posted at: 5:56 p.m. EDT (2156 GMT)

Name

Meg Ann Scarff

Position

Licensed funeral director and embalmer

Years in position

Seven and a half

Age

31, Pisces

Education

University of Iowa, two years
Worsham College of Mortuary Science, Wheeling, Illinois

How did you get your current job?

My parents own and operate the funeral home. So nepotism, I guess.

What was your first job?

My first job was helping dress the bodies with my older brother, we were about 7 and 10 years old and my dad would say "Mind over matter. Let's get this done and go eat supper." Sometimes I didn't really feel like eating much.

What are your hours?

Basically on call 24-7, never know when we go. The sooner we start the process of embalming the easier it is, so we go out any time of the day or night and take the body to the funeral home and embalm it.

  THREE GENERATIONS
Peterseim Funeral Home was established in 1917 by Rollin Peterseim -- Meg Ann Scarff's grandfather. In those days, embalming was done in the home of the deceased, Scarff says. Around 1948, the funeral home became the site of embalming and funeral services. Scarff's father bought the business in 1963 after fighting in World War II and going to mortuary school in St. Louis. In 1999, Peterseim did about 40 "calls," a relatively slow year. So far this year, says Scarff, business is up a bit.
  TELL US ABOUT YOUR DAY
The ups and downs, the lunch hours and overtime, the drive in and dash home -- let us know if you'd like your day profiled. Click here.
What's the first thing you do when you get to work?

Usually read the obituaries in the paper to see what everybody else is doing.

What time do you have lunch? What do you usually eat?

I eat at the funeral home. My parents still live in the funeral home, so I eat their leftovers.

What time of day do things get tense in your job?

Basically anytime. The most tense time is when I'm here by myself and I have a call and it's close to deadline time for the obituaries to make it to the papers and I have to embalm, meet with the family and get the info sent off to papers.

If you're having a good day at work, what is it that makes it good?

When people are pleased with the way their loved one looks in the casket. If they can have a good picture of the person in their mind it helps to bring the reality of the death home to them, so I try to make the person look as much like they did in life as I can.

Do you ever have to take work home?

I tend to leave the dead lie, I usually don't take them home with me. I'm fortunate to have my dad helping so that when I go on vacation I can leave work behind and not have to worry about coming home like we did quite often when I was a kid.

What does your job contribute to society?

Well, if it's done well, I hope it contributes to the honoring of loved ones in a meaningful and respectful way. If you can't face death, you can't really face life.

  QUICK VOTE
How would you feel about a career in the funeral business?

I'd like to give it a try. It means so much to families.
I admire those who do it -- but not sure I could deal.
You know, it's just not for me. Couldn't consider it.
View Results

Do you expect to finish your working life in this career?

I would say probably in some capacity. It can be a very high-stress job, and I can see myself becoming even more stressed when my father is gone. He's 75 years old, and both he and my mother (who manages things around the funeral home) have had open-heart surgery. I don't think that's coincidence, I think when you spend you whole life caring for others and working closely with people in intense pain, it can wear on you.

If you could have two more careers, what would they be?

I'd like to be a child psychologist and/or professional vocalist -- you know, sing like Celine or Barbra.

What's an unforgivable trait in a colleague?

When they don't care about the family, when all they care about is the bottom line and are careless or callous about the deceased.

Who's your workplace hero?

Definitely my father. He's an old ex-Marine with high standards and excellent character. He makes me proud to be a funeral director. And although he has his faults, working with him has been the greatest learning experience I could have.

"I tend to leave the dead lie, I usually don't take them home with me. I'm fortunate to have my dad helping so that when I go on vacation I can leave work behind and not have to worry about coming home like we did quite often when I was a kid."
What do you do to relieve stress?

I do aerobics six days a week, and I try to think positively about things. And there's my favorite quote from my dad: "Don't run if you don't have the ball."

What are you reading these days?

Right now I'm reading "The Pilot's Wife" (Anita Shreve), an Oprah's Book Club book. And most recently I finished "River, Cross My Heart" (Breena Clarke), another Oprah book.

When you have one of those days when you think you can't face the job again, what gets you out the door and off to work?

The outside chance that I may be able to help someone get through a difficult time.

Interview by Shayla Thiel


 

RELATED STORIES:
Company sees coffins as drop-dead decor
October 9, 2000
Senate committee investigates funeral industry
April 11, 2000
New consumer protection sought for funeral expenses
August 17, 1999
Retail casket sellers feel boxed in
October 19, 1998

RELATED SITES:
National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)
International Cemetery and Funeral Association (ICFA)
AARP


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