funeral director career stories

A Profound Career Providing Peace

A Profound Career Providing Peace:
How Dakota T. Mullen studied the Funeral Service industry, and mastered the language of loss

Dakota T. Mullen is a people person. A seamless blend of social and sympathetic, an extrovert with empathy, and a student of Goodwin University’s Funeral Service program, Dakota is privileged to learn and practice how to give back to families in their time of need. A career that combines comfort, kindness, and compassion, “It’s a calling,” Dakota described. “And sometimes, you’re called to do things out of your comfort zone to bring peace to grieving families.”

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in Funeral Service,” Dakota stated.

When Dakota was nine-years-old, his boy scout leader was the owner of a funeral home, and would often have Dakota and his cousin tend to small tasks around his place of business. At the funeral home, Dakota began to see himself as a director, delegating duties and showing the utmost respect for the life of the deceased. Even at a young age, he could see the positivity and pride in helping someone, one last time.

Grateful for Goodwin 

When Lincoln College of New England closed its doors in 2018, Dakota found himself absorbed in Goodwin University’s Funeral Service program.

“Goodwin is innovative, on the rise and accepting of all students,” Dakota shared. “And I like that they are looking to grow the funeral service industry.”

President of Goodwin’s Funeral Service Club, Dakota also enjoys his Funeral Service professors, listening to their first-hand stories and experiences in the field. Dakota described  Jesse Gomes, Funeral Service program Director, and  Amanda ortelance, Assistant Professor of Funeral Service, as a pair that complement one another. “They’re both approachable,” Dakota noted. “They have an enormous amount knowledge they offer students, and as a student body, they make it easy to understand the profession and what’s expected of us.”

When asked about his favorite class, Dakota disclosed that among all others, his favorite is Restorative Arts. “It allows us to understand that we are returning the family’s loved one to an acceptable form,” Dakota explained.

“There is a bit of pressure associated with it,” Dakota admitted. “We are here for the family to have closure. I want it to be perfect and to make the family happy. I want to make sure my work is exceptional and that I put in each effort as if it were for my own family.”

Appreciation for an All-Encompassing Apprenticeship

A full-time student, Dakota lives in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, close to the Connecticut border, an advantage that allows him to be a Funeral Service apprentice sooner than most students.

Dakota is currently an apprentice at New England Funeral & Cremation Center, LLC, in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he’s learning every part of funeral directing and embalming.

The Significance of Sensitivity and Sympathy

One of the most extraordinary moments in Dakota’s apprenticeship was during a Veteran’s cemetery service. Upon initial arrival to the funeral home, a grief-stricken widow had little knowledge of her options for funeral arrangements of former servicemen like her late husband.

“We brought her loved one over to the Veteran’s cemetery,” Dakota began.

“And while the service was going on, the wife of the deceased was bawling, just bawling, and once we got outside, I noticed she was standing by herself. I asked her if she was ok, and she turned to me and said, ‘thank you so much. I never knew that this is what was going to happen. I thought you were just going to bring him over here and place him in the ground.’”

“But they did a loving service,” Dakota reassured. “They folded the flag and shot off the three-volley salute. They presented her with the flag, and the shell casings, and she was really moved by it.”

The Skills and Services that Support the Grief-Stricken

“While the world around us is going in every direction, in the funeral profession, we have to slow time down, allow the family to grieve, and allow them to have their moments,” Dakota detailed.

“You can’t learn empathy,” He continued. “It’s something that’s in you, and you have to be sensitive to the deceased and the grieving family, but you also have to be sensitive to the profession, too.”

As far as the soft skills that help to succeed in the funeral service profession, Dakota attributed active listening to families as essential. Also, significant, he noted keeping an open-mind and not necessarily needing to relate to someone’s pain continually.

“People tend to say, ‘I know how you feel’ to comfort others, when really, you don’t know how they feel, because everybody grieves differently,” Dakota detailed. “If someone just lost their grandfather, for instance, and you say ‘oh I know how you feel-’ that doesn’t work, because for some people, maybe their grandfather did more for them, or perhaps their grandfather was all they had. Everyone’s experience is different.”

Time for Self-Care in the Funeral Service Field 

When asked if he has to disassociate regularly dealing with the deceased and grieving families, Dakota answered, “You have to draw the line, and you have to take a step back. I think having a loving family and close friends to be able to talk to or sit back and watch a movie with, helps.”

In his free time, Dakota does just that. He likes to spend time with family, watching movies with his sister and brother-in-law, taking care of his grandmother, and volunteering for his church. Dakota listens to uplifting gospel and contemporary music and enjoys light, family-oriented movies, and comedies to relax.

A Future in Funeral Service  

As for advice to prospective Goodwin students, “Go for it,” Dakota encouraged. “Give it your all. The more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.”

One day, Dakota hopes to own his own funeral home, be a well-rounded funeral director, start a trade service, and teach other students the industry’s ways.

Dakota disclosed that through his education, efforts, and every meticulous detail, “It’s an honor to help the families and give them closure through a loving, long-lasting, memorable experience.”

Dakota Mullen Student Success Story

Update 06/08/2020: 

A Goodwin University student and essential worker on the frontlines, Dakota T. Mullen provides insight on how COVID-19 has impacted his career in the Funeral Service industry.

Hospitals and funeral homes are becoming more crowded do the overwhelming amount of who are affected by the Coronavirus,” Dakota shared.

Due to COVID-19, gatherings have been reduced to small groups no greater 10 to minimize the risk and the spread of the virus. It pains my heart to see that people who have contracted the virus, fight alone, die alone, and, in some cases, are buried alone.”

The industry is responsible for treating each decedent with the dignity they deserve no matter what the cause of death,” He reassured.

It is our honor to be able to assist each family during their time of need.”

Are you interested in joining the field of Funeral Service? Check out our Funeral Service program!