By Lauren Gee, LFSP, CCSP, CCO, Funeral Service graduate
Growing up, my family and I lived above a funeral home that my father owned and operated, yet my contact with death was surprisingly limited. My mother and father purposefully shielded my twin sister and me, who were adopted at age 11, from the business as best they could.
Whenever a service would occur downstairs, we would remain on the couch or walk as lightly as possible to avoid being heard through the floors. But when no one was home, my sister and I would often sneak below barefoot and chase each other through the chapel.
My interest in the funeral service profession did not come naturally. When I was old enough to explore the working world, my mind had never settled in the realm of death care. While dabbling in various other industries, I worked on and off for my father, but my duties were always light. I would drive the hearse and limousine for services, clean the funeral home, and manage clerical work.
It was not until later in my twenties that I felt “the call.”
One evening, my father and I had both come home from a long day in the office. The business had picked up quite a bit, and we sat down, ready to relax.
My father, the first and only Black funeral service director in New London county, is an older gentleman from the south. He is conservative in nature, and personal conversations seldom arise — only business.
But something must have struck him that day because he was in the mood to talk.
A family tradition in funeral service
For the first time in our history, my father began to share his life story with me. He told me about a time when he was nine years old in Virginia. It was around 1948, and back then, Black people couldn’t use White-owned funeral homes; they had to wait for a Black mortician from another town to assist them, and more often than not, the wait was a long one.
My father recalled that once the funeral director finally arrived, people would line the streets and watch the hearse drive through town as though a parade were taking place. It was uncommon for townspeople to see a Black-owned “outfit” of this type, and its presence drew both awareness and curiosity. My father was instantly impressed by this experience, and although he had not fully understood what he was seeing, he knew that he wanted to be a part of it.
During our conversation, my father also shared his experience of being a 12-year-old school dropout after his father died. He detailed how, through hard work, he went from digging ditches to help provide for his family to becoming the founder and funeral director he is today.
The passion and purpose my father conveyed that evening seeped into my soul. At that moment in time, I had been searching for the very same “greater purpose” that he had possessed. And, because of this very exchange, my wheels began to turn.
A sneak peek at the postmortem profession
Shortly after this insight into my father’s life, I was invited to observe an autopsy. My father was extremely hesitant, but the medical investigator, a short-statured, grey-haired man eager to share his expertise, insisted that I attend. “I’ll show you how it’s done,” he assured me with confidence. To this day, this is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever encountered.
The medical investigator talked me through everything he was doing and why. He highlighted his technique and reasoning behind every move he made and explained the anatomy of organs and their function as he worked his way through the autopsy. I was in awe. When he was done, he looked up at me as we went to leave the room and chuckled, “See, you’re still standing!”
At that moment, the two worlds of service and science collided for me, and I decided to pursue my degree that year.
Goodwin: A saving grace for mortuary science
My start as a college student was anything but smooth. I initially attended Lincoln College of New England (LCNE) as a part-time student in Mortuary Science but decided to transfer to Mount Ida in Massachusetts after a couple of years. After Mount Ida’s abrupt closure in 2018, I transferred back to Lincoln College of New England (LCNE), where I was soon met with the news of their impending closure.
My hopes for completing my funeral service degree were dwindling and seemed impossible; I was shattered. Within a year, I was notified of my second school closure and had nowhere to go. I was devastated to have come so far, only to be met with no further options.
Many people were unaware of the struggles I had to overcome during this time in my life. I am a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, and even homelessness. Pushing through was never easy, but I was determined to earn my degree.
After learning about LCNE’s closure, students, myself included, were in a panic. At the time, there was no other college in Connecticut that offered our degree. But then, Goodwin stepped in and agreed to absorb Lincoln’s program. Students were allowed to pick up where they left off without losing credits or having to repeat classes, and it was a blessing.
With the help of Goodwin, we were able to save and secure our place in the profession.
A flexible funeral service program
From the very beginning, Goodwin made the process easy. The financial aid department was amazing and stood out immediately in comparison to other schools. My financial advisor really went in-depth about the financial aid packages, the differences between grants and loans, and what they can do. It was wonderful to walk away with a better understanding of the financial aid process.
Also, a notable difference was Goodwin’s scheduling options. As a working parent and commuter living an hour away, having the flexibility of choosing between class times throughout the day and night, both on-ground or online, removed the stress of figuring out how I would maintain life as a non-traditional student.
A career-focused culture of professors and peers
Before adoption and during foster care, my sister and I weren’t always in the best places. I had learned to rely on a sense of belonging and support. Subsequently, school had become my safe space. It was my family, my escape, and in many instances, my meal; it was everything to me. After trying experiences with Mount Ida and LCNE, that light had begun to dim, and school became a chore.
Once I arrived at Goodwin and became comfortable in the classroom, it was easy to forget the outside world and focus on my future. That feeling of fulfillment and excitement returned. I knew that I would make it across the finish line — that funeral service would be my career; and that I would be able to help my family.
The atmosphere in every capacity at Goodwin was great. Whether it was those working in the registrar’s office or with other instructors, everyone smiled, laughed, and knew each other’s names — there was a true sense of community.
Between the various ethnicities, cultures, ages, and personalities, feeling out of place was almost impossible. As different as our backgrounds were, our common interest and passion for death care brought us closer together. By the end of the program, we were all colleagues, and in many cases, we became a family who still check-in with one another today.
My experiences with the professors at Goodwin were fantastic. Their knowledge and personal experiences allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the profession. Program Director Jesse Gomes’ excitement while teaching was incredibly infectious — you couldn’t help but stay engaged during class. He has a unique ability to break down and explain seemingly complicated subject matters in fun ways to be easily remembered. I don’t recall one class where I felt bored or disengaged.
Overall, the instructors’ ability to connect with students created a safe, welcoming, and judgment-free atmosphere. I was able to ask questions without feeling out of place and received help without feeling as though I was an inconvenience or slowing the class down. They made each of us feel as though we were their equal and ensured that our success was their top priority. Because of that support, the program allowed me to grow into a more confident person personally and professionally.
Graduating Goodwin, from learning to licensure
Before Goodwin, I had never experienced the gratifying moment of walking across the commencement stage. I could not graduate high school because I became pregnant with my son during junior year and gave birth to him in my senior year. Instead, I worked and earned my GED.
During commencement, I was told that my father cried. Hearing this information was a bit surreal because I’ve only known my father to cry two other times. On graduation day, I could proudly say I had done it; no one could take that piece of paper away from me.
After graduating with my degree in Funeral Service, I still had a long way to go. The only way that I would be able to move forward in this profession was to become fully licensed. My next steps were:
- Passing the National Board Exam (both Science and Arts),
- Passing the State Board Exam,
- Completing my apprenticeship, and
- Passing my practical exam
When I finally found out I passed my National Board Exam (NBE), the tears came running. If there was ever a perfect example of “ugly crying,” it was that moment.
As I sat crying in the parking lot, one of the first thoughts that popped into my mind was my gratitude for the Goodwin instructors. After catching my breath and regaining my composure, I made my first phone call to Jesse to tell him the good news. A weight had been lifted, and for the first time in years, I was able to take the most freeing breath. I knew I would soon be fully licensed, and from that point on, nothing was going to stop me.
Today, I am a fully licensed funeral director for a wonderful family-owned funeral home serving the Greater Hartford community. When families come in, I am honored to connect with them and provide comfort and compassion. I work closely with the grieving, and I am welcomed into their lives during one of their most emotionally intimate and personal moments; I value that time and trust.
I am a second-generation funeral director and embalmer, but I am also the first child to make it through college. The first female funeral director in my family has created a legacy. Now, I am setting an example of the power of pursuing your education for my boys.
Advice for those considering a Funeral Service career
Life can be challenging, and at times, the obstacles we face outside the classroom walls can seem quite crippling. But, it doesn’t have to be the end of your journey.
Keep pushing and keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly, never let the tunnel consume you.
If you’re like me and you’ve received “the call,” regardless of when and how it happened, it means that there is something unique inside of you that others may never understand, and that’s okay.
In the funeral service program, you will be surrounded by those who appreciate and will embrace every part of you, pushing you to become the best version of yourself — your classmates, professors, and instructors.
You have a whole support network at Goodwin ready to help you achieve your goals — all you have to do is take that step and never give up.
Are you ready to take the next step toward your future in funeral service? Check out our Funeral Service program today!
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.