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6 Important Life Lessons From a Funeral Director Who’s Seen It All

When people start to think about life in the wide view, what matters and what doesn't becomes very, very clear.

Chris Meyer has three sons and a funerary business. Raising kids of his own in while ushering people through grief that comes with a death of a parent or loved one has been the main focus of his life for the past 14 years and change. Initially a screenwriter in Hollywood, Meyer went into work he knew would never go out of business: caring for the dead and dying. So, for the past 14 years, he has helped families figure out how they want to honor the lives of their loved ones. In doing such important, sensitive, and emotionally taxing work, Meyer has learned a lesson or two about death, dying, and how to live well. In Life in 20 Lessons: What A Funeral Guy Discovered about Life, From Death, he lays out what his work has taught him and how he attempts to live those lessons daily. Fatherly spoke Meyers about a few of those lessons and was quick to admit which ones he knew were hard to follow.  

Become a “Famillionaire”

In the first five to ten years on the job, Meyer says he heard the same stories from grieving loved ones over and over. “Everyone had the same regrets and the same warnings. They said, ‘Chris, your children are small. Be with them. Take the time now. It’s over in a flash.’” He’s taken those words to heart. These days, Chris and his family try to be more intentional about family time: For instance, they power down on Friday night and spend time together. It’s one of the things his work has allowed him to do and, ultimately, he constantly reminds himself that at the end of the day, what his kids want is attention from him. Talking one on one. Lots of eye contact. No fancy gifts. Just family time.

Health is Wealth

Meyer’s customers — some who were still living and knew they were going to pass soon, others, survivors of the deceased — repeatedly warned Meyer about the consequences of not taking care of his health. That’s not anything new: taking care of your body and health is super important. But for Meyer, who was hearing the messages from those who were experiencing death or close to it, the messages hit close to home.

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Worry Less About Money 

Meyer constantly heard from folks that worrying about money at the expense of life’s other joys was caustic. But despite the fact that Meyer understood what his customers were saying — spend time with your family instead, live your life, don’t let life pass by in the rear view — he has still found this one lesson the hardest to live by, and therefore the one he’s the most conscious about practicing. 

“It’s a nice thought, but it’s difficult to apply. I think it’s always about the money. Everyone is trying to make a living, or pay for college.” And Meyer’s doing double time, with a handful of kids who are college-aged and a family to support. That being said, while Meyer can’t up and leave the business to go on a forever vacation with his kids, he tries to keep it all in perspective. Life is, after all, about who you love.

Take Things Less Seriously

With three boys who are extremely athletic, one thing Meyer aims to do is to not take the idea of all of the sports teams, club sports, and far-flung meets too seriously. “We don’t want to get caught up in everything. It’s all so intense. I always say to my friends, ‘I have recreation league talent kids, and I don’t aspire for them to be playing in a division 1 school in any of their sports. I just want them to get out their and have fun with their friends.” 

Meyer, who coaches a few teams at his kid’s high school, recognizes that not getting ‘too into it’ can be tough. But he also really, really doesn’t want to be locking his family into what he refers to as “the culture of winning.” What’s life about, anyway? Will you remember what you’ve won or the time you spent with people doing what you loved, regardless of outcome? 

Judge Less

One thing about being around all that death is that the matters that bother us in life tend to be flattened to an extreme perspective, per Meyer. “I tell a story in the book, I’m in an embalming room. It was one of the first times in the room. I walked in, and I saw these two bodies totally splayed open.” Per Meyer, one of the bodies was of a white person and the other wasn’t. “It was a profound moment. It stopped me in my tracks. I as looking at these two bodies next to each other and the insides are totally the same. The color of their skin was just different. I was like, ‘What the hell is this all about? I wish everyone in the world could see this: what makes one person tick is exactly what makes the other one tick.’” In an embalming room with a massive air conditioning unit trying to pump fresh air into the space, Meyer had a profound moment, thinking about race in America. 

Tell People How You Feel When They Are Still Alive

Perhaps the most profound lesson Meyer takes with him every day is to tell people how he feels about them while they are still living. “You just have to listen to the stories. The eulogies. How appreciative people are. For me, the lesson is that you need to tell people these things when they’re alive. I don’t want to get caught up in having a eulogy for my mom or for my dad that way. I want to tell them now — when they can look me in the eye — and say, hey, I really appreciate how great a mom and dad you were and what great of a childhood you gave me.”