When someone asks me what I do for a living, I always must pause. How exactly do I respond to that? I have about seven jobs that I juggle and so it’s difficult to know what to say, or how long that person wants to wait so I can explain all the meanderings my life has taken. So, I usually just say “I’m a funeral director”, because that stops any other questions. No one wants to talk to a funeral director.
What do I do for a living?
In 1995, Doug Manning, my father (see my first post, Write A Blog, for a complete explanation of the history of Doug’s journey) moved his company, InSight Books, to Oklahoma City. He and Barbara had run the company in Hereford TX (yes, it is EXACTLY as it sounds) for almost 14 years and decided it was time for “the girls” to be involved in the company. At the time, I worked for the Oklahoma Education Association as a union organizer, sister Kathy lived in Joplin MO where she did graphic design work, sister Cindy was a stay at home mom. Somehow our dear parents decided that we had the skill sets to run a publishing company. Silly parents.
They moved everything over that fateful weekend in 1996, set up the books and the postage meter, turned on the phones and then hit the road for a speaking engagement tour. When the phones rang at 9:00 on Monday morning, we just stared at them. Now what? In twenty-one years, we have learned about publishing, printing, advertising, eBooks, DVDs, convention strategies, international rules of commerce, networking and good old fashioned shipping room skills. I can tape up a box in 2 seconds flat.
I am the Vice President of Marketing and Development, which means very little, except that I attend all the national conventions and stay in a lot of hotel rooms. When I’m in the office, I take orders and ship books. Very glamorous life.
Within that category are three subsets (I flunked Algebra in high school but knew sometime in my life that that word would come in handy).
Public speaker—when Doug established the company, he knew the way to achieve notice and exposure for his books was to hit the speaking trail. For thirty years, he circled the globe speaking for any group he could—hospice, nursing homes, funeral homes, churches. The speaking circuit is brutal but he managed to survive the endless airports and brain numbing small talk with sponsors.
Seven years ago, he decided it was time to ‘get off the road’ and that responsibility fell to yours truly.
My public speaking career is limited mainly to the funeral profession since that is my training (more on that later). I speak for state and national funeral organizations and conduct trainings in several aspects of funeral service, as well as serving on the boards of two funeral entities.
This year my schedule includes Newark NJ, Nashville TN, Lexington KY, Woodstock VT, Atlanta GA, Vancouver BC, Dallas TX, Sao Paulo Brazil, Cincinnati OH.
Celebrant Trainer—Doug and I created Celebrant Training in 1999 and have traveled North America for 17 years providing training for professionals who are interested in gaining the tools and expertise to be able to conduct well-done personalized, unique funeral services for people. At this writing, we have trained over 3200 individuals who want to offer better funerals for people who do not wish to have the traditional, religious, denominational service. We fill the niche for the growing number of people who identify as “none affiliated” or “spiritual but not religious”. This year we will conduct seventeen 3-day trainings around the country. My frequent flier miles are out the roof.
Writer--I am asked to write eight articles a year for various national funeral journals. Sometimes that is fun, sometimes it feels like I keep saying the same things and NOTHING changes. But if they will give me some space to fill, I’m more than happy to oblige.
As Doug and I traveled the country, training funeral directors and funeral staff to be Funeral Celebrants, it occurred to me that I needed some “street cred”. So, in 2003, at the age of 50 I went back to college to get a second BS degree in Funeral Service. So, yes, I am a licensed funeral director and embalmer. That usually stops all further inquiries.
Funeral Professor - The funeral service program that I graduated from, the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond OK, (go Bronchos) then invited me to teach in the program. So, after achieving the required Master’s Degree from OU, I’ve been teaching in the mortuary program since 2007. I started as an adjunct professor, teaching one 3-hour class. Now I am a full-time non-tenure-track temporary Practitioner-in-Residence. It doesn’t fit very well on a business card, and it’s a clever way to stack my schedule with 12 hours a semester without paying me like a professor. But I love it and truly enjoy teaching the baby funeral directors as they find their ways in a very challenging profession.
My mother, Barbara, was a talented music major before she met this guy named Doug. They got married after her freshman year and she became a wife and mother before she turned 21. She never got to finish her degree, but music was always part of her soul. She was my first piano teacher.
It is written somewhere in Exodus that the first born Baptist preacher’s kid will play the piano for church. That would be me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been sitting on a piano bench somewhere. I taught piano, played for a big band, played in a piano bar and accompanied choirs at several churches.
Now, I’m a church pianist at the UCC church that I attend. So, it’s cool that they pay me to show up for a church that I would go to anyway.
And this, this is my true love and joy. As mentioned above, Funeral Celebrants are specifically trained to serve those families who want something different, more personalized, less religious, more healing than a traditional funeral service. (You can read articles about Celebrants on our website)
I've been working with funeral homes in Oklahoma City for seventeen years conducting tributes, life celebrations, funerals—whatever you wish to call them—for families. I’ve had the honor and privilege of conducting services for a 95-year-old patriarch who was beloved by his community and a seven-year-old little boy who drowned. Suicide, substance abuse, alcoholism, murder, heart attack, cancer, accident, Alzheimer’s, I’ve been gifted with the privilege to be the voice for so many families who understand that their grief journey begins with that sacred moment of gathering. Celebrants sit with the family to engage the stories and custom design the service to fit that person and that family. It is truly the coolest thing on earth! If I have a silly grin on my face, that means that I’ve got a funeral to do. I know, weird.
I'm a wife to a very understanding husband who is always surprised when I’m home for more than three days. I’m a mother to two amazing grown daughters who have found their own paths and callings and have little need for words of wisdom from the mom. I am GiGi to two adorable grandsons, an uncountable number of grand dogs and grand cats.
If I had known 41 years ago when I was a new college graduate with a degree in Special Education where my life would go, I would have laughed in your face. But it’s not a bad gig. I just keep juggling.