I wouldn’t want to be a funeral director right now

Take it from a mortician.

Caitlin Doughty is becoming an anti-capitalist, I think, and wants to see more government.

That dramatic bit at the end, where she is shocked and horrified that California rescinded the stay-at-home order? Minnesota did that too. Idiots, every one.


  1. weylguy says

    Great video. The phrase “Bring out your dead!” from 1348 England comes to mind, but today there are no carts or people to take them away.
    Thank you, President Trump. May you rot in hell.

  2. says

    It’s democracy, in its way. These elected officials are responding to aggressive personal lobbying from the citizenry. Huge amounts of death-wishing granola nazis and bourgie restauranteurs are howling at their doors 24-7. The media is presenting this with maximum both-sides-ism, making it seem like, maybe it was wrong for a politician to pepper spray a covid fan who got in their face? The politicians are fucked no matter what happens. I think there was a DK album called “Give me convenience or give me death.” It’s all-American.

  3. raven says

    This pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst of our societies.

    It’s sort of surprising how many plague rats there are.
    Then, there are the Friends of Covid-19 Virus fan clubs.
    The weirdest are the Covid-19 virus deniers, some of whom get the virus and die of it.
    They find out that even imaginary viruses can be fatal.

  4. robro says

    Well that was bracing (as Doughty is). Not sure I would say that stay-at-home was “rescinded” per se. My county health service says they “lifted the regional stay-home order”. The region is the 11 Bay Area counties. Some parts of California may still be under more restrictions, some were already less. My partner and I think it’s nuts, but she has scheduled a haircut because it’s been since October for her and she has difficult hair. (I have virtually no hair.)

    Here’s the message I received from our county health services:

    Among the businesses allowed to serve customers indoors now are: Hair salons and barbershops; personal services (nail salons, estheticians, massage studios, tattoo parlors, piercing shops); limited services (carwashes, dry cleaners, electricians, handypersons/general contractors, heating and air conditioning services, landscapers, laundromats, pet groomers, plumbing services, janitorial/cleaning services); hotels, motels and short-term lodging; retail stores and malls, at 25% capacity; and libraries, at 25% capacity.

    Among the operations allowed to serve customers outdoors: Restaurants (outdoor dining); places of worship; gyms and fitness/dance/yoga studios; family entertainment centers; day camps; wineries; card rooms; campgrounds and playgrounds; youth and adult recreational athletics programs.*

    This because available ICU beds are above 15%. Whoopee! If you want to spend a week or two in an ICU bed and score an intubation, get together with a bunch of friends and have a ball. Personally I’m pretending we’re still in a pandemic until later in the year, and post-vax.

    Note *: At the moment, doing any of these things in the middle of the “atmospheric” river (aka flooding) is impossible unless you’re a duck. And if the river was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.

  5. whheydt says

    Following up on robro at #5… So far as I know, all Bay Area Counties are in “purple tier” status, so there are still a lot of restrictions in place. Just not quite so many as under “regional lockdown” requirements.

    As a practical matter (for me, at least) there is no real difference. Comes to that, the biggest change I’ve seen in the last 11 months is that I don’t take my wife to Berkeley once a week, so I’m going though–perhaps–4 gallons of gas a month on needed shopping. That and the convention we would normally run in mid-February (DunDraCon) has been postponed for this year. That alone has meant that more free time for this time of year. (Normally, I would be 4 days from the end of pre-reg for the con, and–therefore–buried in last minute membership submissions.)

  6. JustaTech says

    Something tells me the composting from yesterday isn’t going to help right now.

    The thing that is so frustrating is that FEMA has plans and material for this. Literally, they have the trucks and mortuary workers. Or at least they did when I studied Disaster Management in grad school 5 years ago. So, where are they? I know they have to be called in, but if they are called, do those supplies still exist? Or were they throw out with so much of the useful parts of government by our last administration?

    In LA one of my friends is busting his tail to get all the eligible people in his church signed up for their vaccines because many of them are both not great with technology and are ESL.
    My MIL in SoCal is on her 4th surgery date for a needed surgery. I hope like anything she gets in before the next wave.
    And another friend in LA took a picture of a restaurant that was overflowing with well-heeled customers, unmasked and uncaring. If the restaurant got fined by the city or county health department, their rich customers paid the fine, and the staff pays the COVID price.

    I’ve watched a lot of Caitlin’s videos and I think this is the first one where I’ve heard the tears in her voice.

  7. evolutionaryautistic says

    I love Caitlin Doughty. She’s amazing at what she does. It’s horrifying what’s happening right now. The thing is, many people don’t see this virus’s full effects. They aren’t in the line of fire. But people like healthcare workers, funeral directors, sanitation workers, etc. do. And the families of those people see the toll it takes on them.

  8. evolutionaryautistic says

    JustaTech@7 I don’t know why they don’t. Probably because there’s a freakout against refrigerated trucks even though that’s a perfectly legitimate way to deal with a lot of dead bodies.

  9. dean56 says

    Here in Michigan our republicans in the house and senate have been uniformly opposed to every action Whitmer took and every statement made by our HHS director. They passed a resolution saying Whitmer could not order restrictions (gatherings, limits on business, etc.) but the health department still could, then were upset when the health department did.
    Despite their best efforts we’re currently in reasonable shape — not as good as rational people would like, but better than states where I have relatives: WI, FL, AL, GA.

    Now our republicans are complaining that:
    Whitmer doesn’t want to work with them (meaning give them all they want)
    Is pushing this message: “Our numbers are good. Why have we had to wear masks and put limits on business when that’s the case?”

    Rarely will you see a greater concentration of outright dishonesty interbred with monumental stupidity.

    Final note: several of these republican legislators supported, and still defend, the malitia/terrorists who were plotting to take our Capitol building and kidnap Whitmer and others.

  10. lucifersbike says

    #2 Great American Satan. I don’t think it’s a specifically American problem. We have had similar incompetence, callousness, and a great deal of corruption in the UK. It seems to me that the countries which have failed to cope with the pandemic have at least one thing in common – populist governments with authoritarian leanings led by alleged strong men like Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi or Johnson.

  11. raven says

    As Paul Krugman points out, the USA failed the Marshmallow test.
    This is…

    Stanford marshmallow experiment
    The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification in 1972 led by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University. In this study, a child was offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows if they waited for a period of time. Wikipedia

    We have the choice between staying healthy and safe now, to have a reward later, the reward being a long, healthy life.
    Or we can be careless and reckless, get sick with Covid-19, and die or become permanently disabled.

    Death is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In 2-4 months most of us will be able to get the vaccine. This is not the time to get sick.

  12. John Morales says

    “I wouldn’t want to be a funeral director right now”

    Why not? Business is booming, got all the work they can handle.

  13. PaulBC says

    I can’t say I ever wanted to be a funeral director. The work I have now is more to my liking and pays well enough.

    Seriously, though, someone with a sincere interest in doing that may not just want booming business, but takes professional pride in doing a good job, comforting families and providing a dignified memorial, so it may not be the happiest times for them.

    I’m sure there are crematory operators who are more than happy to take on as much business as they can handle. It just depends on your motivations. (You also read news stories now and then about funeral homes with bodies left in the freezer or decomposing, so not everyone does a great job under the best of times.)

  14. John Morales says


    Seriously, though, someone with a sincere interest in doing that may not just want booming business, but takes professional pride in doing a good job, comforting families and providing a dignified memorial, so it may not be the happiest times for them.

    Your implied dichotomy is less than persuasive.

  15. PaulBC says

    John Morales@15 I’m not sure I follow. There’s a real tradeoff between money and job satisfaction. I am sure there are many funeral directors who would prefer to go back to normal times.

  16. PaulBC says

    @15 Never mind. So my “implied dichotomy” is that it may be hard to do the best job for any individual bereaved customer if there are so many that you’re either turning them down, rushing them through, explaining that you’re out of stock on some kind of casket they might want (because in normal times, upselling is part of the job, and some people are into it). It is not the job you signed up for even if it happens to be more lucrative (and I have no idea if it really is, because there are so many factors; you may already have been working at capacity).

    You may not find this persuasive, but I can analogize reasonably well. People don’t always just want to make money. They want to feel like their skills are being put to their best use. I can only guess what that means for a funeral director, but I don’t think it means handling a sudden excess of untimely death.

  17. John Morales says

    Paul, you don’t follow?
    You insinuated that someone who takes pride in doing a good job can not do that when there is more demand than supply, but surely one can take on as much work as is compatible with (in this case) “professional pride in doing a good job, comforting families and providing a dignified memorial” and no more, thus still doing a proper job.

    In short, having to say “Sorry, I have all the business I can properly handle and therefore can’t take your money right now” is not what I think of as “not a good time” to be in that particular business. Rather, the opposite.

    I am sure there are many funeral directors who would prefer to go back to normal times.

    Maybe; but not because they have all the work they can handle, surely.

  18. PaulBC says

    John Morales@18 Hypothetically (since I don’t even know if there is a real problem here) a funeral director could feel obligated to take on more work for the good of their community. I understand how you could look at this in terms of rational economic actors, and your analysis would work, but only sociopaths behave like rational economic actors.

    Plus, even if it’s not altruistically motivated, it can cause work stress. Suppose I’m satisficing with a certain salary and I’m offered a 20% raise to take on some other work that I don’t like as much. I may rationalize that my kids could use it for college, or I need it for retirement, or I might just feel guilty about showing a lack of ambition. So I take it and my life is now worse. I was doing fine, and instead I’m just stressed out and miserable all the time. I would have been better off without that “opportunity.” Yet it’s true I could just turn it down. Psychology doesn’t always work that way (and I have walked away from more money but only when things got unbearable, not out of principle).

  19. John Morales says

    Paul, you should have left it at “It just depends on your motivations.”

    Anyway, I’ll spare you my potential retorts to your laboured rationalisations.

  20. PaulBC says

    John Morales@20 Fine. Just a question if you feel like offering a simple opinion. Do you personally believe that most funeral directors are neutral-to-pleased about “more demand than supply”?

  21. John Morales says

    No worries, Paul. I’ve never given it any thought hitherto, but a brief contemplation reveals I think most funeral (not funereal!) directors would be pleased. Pretty sure that, as with forensic pathologists, those who practice for any length of time become inured to the emotional effects of their profession, else they would be in some other line of work.

  22. says

    I think it was Ms. Doughty I listened to once talk about how one funeral director who ended up in the papers got in trouble because he took in what were essentially pauper cases from local governments and couldn’t bring himself to say no when he got overwhelmed

  23. PaulBC says

    John Morales@22 I can’t speak for funeral directors and you may be right. I am thinking less about emotional effects than what happens to your job when the things you were counting on aren’t there. It’s not completely obvious, because I feel like I’ve been both more productive and more satisfied as a software engineer since the pandemic kept me out of the office. But something like a forced switch to a programming language I don’t like as much or some other change that moves me out of my comfort zone can add to stress, and having “more work” (and more compensation) is not really the point.

    In many cases, disruption is unwelcome. In an extremely common situation in tech, you might be working hard on a project for a long time that never sees the light of day. Then you just start doing something else. Well, so what? You were paid a salary for it, or a bonus, or even promoted. It still sucks that you worked hard on something and the only reason you didn’t twiddle your thumbs and make paper airplanes instead (or work on more interesting software) is to get cookies from management. But actually I am inured to that situation very specifically like most software engineers at a certain point. It still doesn’t mean I would not be happier to be paid less for something that really gets some use. The most exciting thing I’ve ever been told is that people are still using stuff I wrote at a company I quit 15 years ago. So what if I’m not getting a dime for it. They like me! They really like me!

    Anyway, to get back to your original question:

    Why not? Business is booming, got all the work they can handle.

    Without denying that some may see it that way, I can think of plenty of “why nots” and that was my point.

  24. John Morales says

    Well, Paul, I tried to spare you.

    Without denying that some may see it that way,

    Who does not see 400,000+ (at minimum) excess deaths as anything but a boom for the mortuary business?

    (Here’s a hint: don’t put rhetoric above substance)

    I can think of plenty of “why nots” and that was my point.

    Yes, but so far all your adduced speculations (all conditional and contingent) depend on people angsting because it’s a time of plenty. I mean, sure, there may be funeral directors who cry “O, woe is me! People are dying and my services are in demand!”, but as I’ve noted, I doubt that’s the general case.

    (You left out angsting about not being able to take a holiday, what with the booming business. Or having to take on extra staff, or suchlike.
    Those make at least as much sense as your other reasons)

  25. John Morales says

    Relax, Paul. I know PZ’s title was, um, not literal. I think he could’ve done better.

    I know the issue at hand is being illustrated by Caitlin (who, by profession, is in a position to well know) speaking about the voluminous needless mortality due to the Government’s lack of efficacy at either preventing or even ameliorating it.

    Related — In Australian news media, I read this earlier:

    Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, California, may be the biggest cemetery in North America but the 566-hectare park is struggling to cope with the number of bodies awaiting funeral services due to an increase in COVID-19-related deaths.
    Despite the numerous facilities at Rose Hills, there is about a month’s delay before families can receive funeral services for their loved ones.

    Patrick Monroe, chief executive and president of Rose Hills, told Reuters via Zoom that there had been a sharp increase for services since the Thanksgiving holiday in November, with demand nearly doubling.

  26. Ichthyic says

    you DO know that people think you’re a detached asshole, right John?

    just checking.

    carry on.

  27. KG says

    It seems to me that the countries which have failed to cope with the pandemic have at least one thing in common – populist governments with authoritarian leanings led by alleged strong men like Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi or Johnson. – lucifersbike@11

    Unfortunately many countries that don’t fit that description have also failed to cope anything like adequately: Spain, Portugal (which did reasonably well until foolishly relaxing controls between Christmas and New Year), Italy, Ireland… indeed, arguably, all of Europe except Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Quite a few have higher per capita death rates than the USA (admittedly, from older and more densely packed populations). Also just about the whole of the Americas, North and South, whatever their governing elite – Cuba has probably done best. It’s easier to count those that have done reasonably well: Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, the few I mentioned from Europe, and possibly much of Africa – but that may be partly an illusion due to limited information. While you can argue that some of the vey worst fit your description, there’s no clear correlation between performance and either a left/right or a democracy/dictatorship axis. What has mattered is the ruling elite’s recognition of the seriousness of the pandemic, and willingness to resist pressures to delay introducing adequate controls, or relax them too soon.

  28. PaulBC says

    John Morales@26

    Relax, Paul. I know PZ’s title was, um, not literal. I think he could’ve done better.

    How is it not literal? I’m pretty sure PZ would not want to be a funeral director right now. I too would not want to be a funeral director right now. It’s safe to say I would not want to be a funeral director ever (as I noted above), and the same probably goes for PZ.

    Would you want to be a funeral director right now? Ever? I doubt it, but maybe. Who knows?

    I would add that if I ever wanted to be a funeral director, I believe that this would not be my favorite time. None of my reasons are even mild stretches and get at very straightforward questions of job satisfaction.

    I’ll give a concrete example from the restaurant business. Anthony Bourdain once explained how much he hated brunch.

    You know, I was a desperate man, often working under a pseudonym when I was cooking brunch. So I really hated it. And I also hated the whole concept of brunch.

    It’s lucrative because restaurants can get a lot of business at a substantial markup on cheap ingredients, but it just doesn’t bring out the best skills. An ambitious restauranteur who’s reduced to serving scrambled eggs in giant chafing dishes may feel both unsatisfied with their work and yet also reluctant to switch back to a less profitable menu if it’s working out for them.

    If you think the above is a stretch, then I feel you are missing some ability to grasp an entire part of the spectrum of human motivation for work.

    And by the way, I’m perfectly “relaxed” here. I just don’t understand why you are quibbling (I would add as usual) about what started as an obvious objection to your glib retort.

  29. JustaTech says

    John @22: Uh, did you watch the video? Where a funeral director clearly expresses her dismay at having “so much business” that she can’t do what she sees to be essential parts of her job, like providing comfort and closure to the family?
    Granted, Ms Doughty has expressed that she has a non-standard take on the death industry, and that a lot of the things she strives for in her business ( green burials) are not how one makes money in the death industry, so she is not representative of all funeral directors.
    But many people who take pride in the individual nature of their work do not like the idea of being so overwhelmed with volume that they can’t do the work to their personal standard.

    Also, can we talk about the whole “Pretty sure that, as with forensic pathologists, those who practice for any length of time become inured to the emotional effects of their profession” is a really weird and unkind take? People who work with the dead get inured to working with dead bodies, but a lot of them do the job because they care about people. Forensic pathology is all about people. If you didn’t care about people, and the emotional impacts of the dead on the living, then they’d all go be hedge fund managers or something.
    (There’s a difference between being sociable and caring about people.)

  30. KG says

    John Morales,

    You just don’t get people, do you? If everyone was like you, neoclassical economics would work.