PEI

Why a 24-year-old chose a career in the funeral industry

When Tim McAleer tells people what he does for a living, he knows the reaction can go one of two ways. McAleer is a funeral director and apprentice embalmer at Central Queen's Funeral Home in New Glasgow, P.E.I.

'A lot of people have a hard time dealing with or thinking about death'

Tim McAleer is a funeral director at Central Queen's Funeral Home. He started working there when he was 21. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

When Tim McAleer tells people what he does for a living, he knows the reaction can go one of two ways.

Many people react positively, he says, but he's also no stranger to people "kind of pushing away from me, kind of wanting to end the conversation."

McAleer is a funeral director and apprentice embalmer at Central Queen's Funeral Home in New Glasgow, P.E.I. He's not surprised by the mixed reactions he receives. 

"A lot of people have a hard time dealing with or thinking about death," McAleer said.

Not so for McAleer, who at age 24 has already been in the industry for more than three years. He sees funeral directing as a needed profession, and a role he's happy to take on. 

McAleer got into the job after making connections within the P.E.I. funeral industry when he was working security at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and was responsible for releasing bodies to funeral homes. But even before then, he already had an interest in the field.

Personal experience with loss

McAleer's interest in the funeral industry stems from his own experiences confronting death. When he was 16 years old, his father died in a car crash. 

"It definitely changed my view on death," McAleer said. 

"Just the fact that it can happen so suddenly and so quickly without anybody knowing that it's coming. It really changed my whole, really aspect on life even too." 

McAleer uses this makeup kit when preparing embalmed bodies for viewing. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Completely unprepared to deal with his father's sudden death, McAleer said his family was grateful to the funeral home staff who helped guide them through as they dealt with their grief. And, for letting him see his father one last time.

"They did all the preparation work, they made him look like who he was and how we remembered him, and how we wanted to remember him. So they helped us out more than I could ever imagine," McAleer said. 

"It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do that job, and help people as they helped me."

Central Queen's Funeral Home manager Chris Gallant says it's common for people who apply for jobs to be motivated by their own experiences dealing with loss. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

McAleer's manager, Chris Gallant, said while McAleer is certainly young compared with many in the industry on the Island, it's not uncommon for him to get inquiries from students exploring various career options. Often those who express interest, like McAleer, have experienced significant losses of their own.

"So having gone through that themselves, they feel that they might be able to help others in their time of loss," Gallant said. 

'Talk about it'

While his friends and family have been supportive of his career choice, McAleer said there were a few surprised reactions from some of his friends and acquaintances at first.

"It's a shock for anybody I'd say. It's just not something that a lot of young people aspire to do."

Since starting at the funeral home, McAleer said he'll now sometimes have friends ask him questions about his job, and the funeral industry in general. He's glad it's getting people talking.

Nobody's immune from death.— Tim McAleer, Central Queen's Funeral Home

"It's never going to reach the point where death is just, you know, an everyday topic of conversation.… Everybody is always going to kind of have that hushed way of thinking about it." 

But he said he thinks getting used to talking about death can help people cope when they do lose someone. 

"Don't be scared of it, don't become obsessed with it, it's just, yeah, talk about it." 

Outlook on life

Most of the time, McAleer said he's able to separate himself from other people's sorrow, and be compassionate without taking on the grief himself. Especially when the deceased had lived a long life.

There are cases though, with children or younger adults, where it can take a toll, "because we're all human right? We all have emotions."

"It makes you think that this can happen to anybody, you know. Nobody's immune from death." 

McAleer says his work at the funeral home has given him a different perspective on life. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

He said he's learned to take care of himself, and step away from the job when needed. 

And at the end of the day, he said facing death on a daily basis has affected how he lives his own life. 

"I just try to enjoy every little bit of it that I can because you just never know when it's going to be your last. And, don't take anything for granted." 

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About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

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