Douglas Familia was in North Babylon, New York. He grew up there and in and in Livingston Manor, NY. When Douglas started college, he was studying Criminal Justice. But he was a bit surprised when he noticed courses being offered in Mortuary Science. Continuing to study criminal justice, Douglas became friends with a man whose father owned a funeral home in New York. Visiting his friend over a weekend he had the opportunity to see firsthand the work that is handled by the funeral home. He was present for a funeral service, saw embalming, and assisted in transferring a deceased person from their home to the funeral home. He found it amazing and interesting. It is rewarding to work in the sense of helping people through what is one of the worst times in their life. Soon thereafter, he transferred over to studying Mortuary Science.
It has been 30 years since Douglas Familia got his license and began working in the funeral industry. He is currently the funeral home Manager and director of three funeral homes in the Queens, New York area: Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapels, Parkside Memorial Chapels, and Forest Park Funeral Home. The three funeral homes service many families each year.
The funeral homes are nonsectarian, so they handle all kinds of funeral services, but they can meet the religious requirements and customs specific for Jewish, Christian, Chinese, and Muslim families.
Why did you decide to go into the funeral industry?
It is rewarding to work. It is something that I not only found interesting, but it makes me feel better about myself when I can help people get through what may be the most difficult time of their life. It helps me to understand death better myself. Funeral Directors are just like everyone else. We suffer deaths and have to deal with our situations with family and loved ones, and I think it certainly helps with that as well.
What trends in your industry excite you?
Funeral directing for years has been very old-fashioned, very traditional, and very reluctant to change, but recently Webcasting and other live electronic methods of streaming funeral services have been incorporated and have been very helpful when you have families spread out all over the country who cannot attend funeral services. Now we can Webcast a service and put it up on a site on the internet where family members can log in and view the actual services going on from wherever they are. I think it has been an exciting development.
We have also incorporated a lot of electronic systems. Our websites are more advanced, user friendly, and more interactive than they used to be. We always encourage people to bring us a lot of photos and information about the deceased so we can customize the funeral services in a way that is much more meaningful. We also will create videos and music selections for the services. Now Funeral services are much more individualized than they used to be.
How has your industry changed over the last decade?
Families are much more spread out across the country than they used to be. It is not always easy for them to come together. The industry has really started embracing technology, which it was very hesitant to do for years and years. I think people are abbreviating their services and funeral services are changes to accommodate our changing society. It is not something we like to see, but it is happening, and funeral directors do have to adapt and remain relevant. We still strive to provide families with the services they need at this difficult time, but people seem to have less time and they feel the need to get things done quicker. I think they are not always allowing themselves the experience of going through an actual funeral which is an intricate first part of recovery in dealing with a death. The funeral starts the closure process. A lot of people in this day and age don’t believe that the customs that their parents had are relevant to them, but they really are. Allowing yourself to grieve and go through the grieving process is very important in being able to deal with death in a healthy way.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
My older brother, Bill, has always been a role model for me in his work ethic. I have always looked up to him. He has always been driven and a successful entrepreneur with a good work/life balance. At work, I’ve had too many role models to even list. The Funeral profession is truly full of great people.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
This is hugely important in this industry to take some time off. I enjoy riding motorcycles and being outdoors. It is important to do things that allow you to decompress from the stress. Work can be fast-paced and quite a bit of pressure, and you have to take some time for yourself and do things that will allow you to relax.
Explain the proudest day of your professional life.
My proudest day is when they made me the manager of one of the largest funeral homes in the tri-state area. It is a big responsibility and the fact that I’ve been entrusted to steer this ship is very rewarding for me. It really validates my work.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Every situation in your life either resolves, evolves, or dissolves. As bad as things may seem, it’s always going to change for you. You have to just hang in there and work through things. If I am down or not happy about things, I do what I have to do to make a change. Even on its own, it is going to change, and I think it is an encouragement to keep that in mind.
What does success look like for you?
To me, success is being able to enjoy my life and do the things that I truly enjoy doing. I enjoy getting up and going to work. I have a great family that I love and that loves me. That is how I measure success, by the quality of the things that I do in my life.
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