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Ask Amy

Funeral director can’t bury job frustration

Q. I work as a funeral director and embalmer in a small, family-run funeral home. I take a lot of pride in my work. I spend countless hours and tons of energy ensuring that every detail of my clients’ funerals goes off without a hitch.

You can imagine the stress that this entails, dealing with clergy, caterers, newspapers, the government, etc.

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I was taught in college that everyone grieves differently, and sometimes aggression will be misplaced. I do my best to be understanding and patient, because these poor people are going through a lot. However, after I’ve worked for hours past quitting time and answered phones far past my bedtime, my patience wears thin.

Every once in a while, one of the family members will find a small detail that I’ve somehow neglected, had no control over or just plain screwed up.

I’ve been verbally abused, criticized, and just plain treated rudely. I take it very personally and am often reduced to tears.

How can I learn to take these things in stride?

A. I assume that for every disgruntled client, there are many families who are very satisfied with your service. If clients have written to you in gratitude, post these cards and notes in a place where you can see them during your workday.

It is not fair to you or your clients to let your frustrations overwhelm you.

The most successful professionals apologize quickly for mistakes and do everything necessary to make things right. They also take criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve. They don’t take things personally. And they learn to move on.

Your profession is extremely emotionally taxing. You are dealing with people at their most vulnerable. You must pace yourself in terms of your own workload. You can’t serve people well if you are exhausted or overwhelmed.

Seek the counsel of someone who is more seasoned in your business. Attend professional development workshops for additional training.

Find outlets that take you far outside your work and feed your mind and body. Yoga, swimming or bike riding, or karaoke with a friend, could help.

Q. Every year a friend generously offers her vacation cottage in a popular beach town for all of her women friends to have a gathering.

We are eight women in our 50s. We provide meals and gifts for the cottage, and when we go out, we all very happily pay our friend’s share.

My only issue is that at the end of our four- or five-day stay, she hands us a broom and vacuum and asks us to clean the cottage. Inevitably, we are on our hands and knees, finding items under beds and dust so thick that this has to be the only cleaning of the summer.

We are seven menopausal women, sweating profusely, and some of us cannot bend very easily. Meanwhile the owner is reading magazines on the couch!

We obviously love the cottage and are happy to change sheets, etc., but I feel that she is taking advantage of us!

A. Beach towns usually host a variety of professional cleaning services where you can hire cleaners for a vacation turnover. Let’s say this fee is $100 to $200. Split between seven of you, this would be a bargain, and you could kick back for one last beachfront brunch during the cleaning session.

Even added to your other expenses, paying for cleaning would still be much cheaper than renting a cottage on your own.

Your friend might be taking advantage of you, but I think you should let her.

Q. “Terrified” was worried because her mother wouldn’t wear a motorcycle helmet when riding. I’ve been riding for eight-plus years. Many more women are taking up motorcycle riding.

Some of these young would-be riders take their cues from experienced riders like mom. If she’s willing to re-evaluate her stance on helmets, which include some really cool design work that pairs nicely with the leather gear, she could be a real style ambassador as well as a safety ambassador to the rising generation of female riders.

A. Great advice. Thank you.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@tribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.
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