James A Rutherford Funeral Home


Many years ago, on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah was highlighting what it means to be “happy.” She interviewed five people in widely varying businesses, one of them being a funeral director (from a funeral home in Toronto of all places) and then had a psychologist analyze each person’s demeanor, type of work and overall outlook on life. There were certain basic criteria from which the applicants were selected to narrow down the folks into shared categories of income and age and perhaps a few other life situations. At the start of the show the audience members voted on which guest they thought lived the most joyful existence based upon the short interviews they saw of each person before the psychologist’s results were revealed. Guess who the audience voted for. Well… not the funeral director. Guess who rated highest on the psychological scale of joy, gratitude and overall happiness – yes indeed – the funeral director!

I happen to know that director, and it didn’t surprise me one bit. His demeanor has always been commented on. His compassionate care. His sincerity. And this is revealing in so many ways and on so many levels. Public perception of funeral directors for many is still, perhaps, a notion of being morose and coolly formal. Some are. That is certainly not me. I’m quite happy and secure in treating people, even grieving people, with the same gentle frankness and shared understanding I would a neighbour I stop to talk with on the street. I’m quite alright with de-stigmatizing death as many of you know, while keeping it professional, because I recognize that I have a skill, as you do in the field in which you work. 

What’s different for me is that I will be taking part in the receiving end of what it is that I do and that brings everything I do into a very personal and yet, very universal, perspective.

And in this lurks a great secret. There are many of us who don’t think about or desperately try to ignore our own mortality. Well, most humbly I say to you, we should be doing the opposite. Not dwelling on it in a morose way but using it as a tool to reflect on our lives and move forward more fully in tune with who we are and what we want from our limited days. Being lovingly honest with ourselves. Therein is the bedrock of where deep happiness and extreme gratitude may grow, making your life richer, dismantling that filter of denial and the illusion of perpetual days given us by the rising and the falling of the sun. And who knows what might pop up. I’ve never heard anyone ever say, “I wish I had worked more” or “I wish I had loved less” or “I’m glad I kept stopping myself from doing this thing I always wanted to do.”

I firmly believe the reason the funeral director was the happiest, is because he was simply under less delusion than the others. He recognized deeply what his life is about. He recognized a time constraint. He was reminded of what binds us as human beings. And please notice that I acknowledged he has “his delusion” because we are all deluded to some degree. That filter is in us all. We think our things matter so much, our opinions hold more truth, ourselves – more important. But truly our lives matter only in so much as how we are, and who we are for ourselves and for others. Otherwise, we are on a blue and green island with no life or direction, waiting for the sun to burn out and the day to end.



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