Aeriel Cardillo and Kelley Molloy joined the Phaneuf family of funeral directors this winter. Both Aeriel and Kelley knew early on that they wanted careers in the end-of-life field – and both encourage loved ones to think about funeral pre-planning.
“I don’t tell them to plan ahead just because I work at Phaneuf,” Kelley said.
“I’ve talked about that since day one. Sometimes people get offended, because they think that if they’re not old, that it’s not relevant, but I think it’s always relevant,” Aeriel added.
Aeriel went to high school with the son of a funeral director, and her father died when she was 19.
“I really liked the funeral director we worked with. He’s really well known in the town that my dad was from,” she said. “I felt called to the profession. I just felt really at home in a funeral home. [Becoming a funeral director became] really important to me. I felt like it would be nice if I could make other people feel comforted.”
Both Aeriel and Kelley trek daily about an hour from Massachusetts to Manchester, NH to work with Phaneuf families. While working with people through their hardest time is rewarding professionally, they both agreed it’s important to put work out of their heads at the end of the day.
“No one but funeral directors really understand how hard it actually is to be a funeral director,” said Aeriel.
“It does take up a lot of space in your mindset,” Kelley added.
Exercise and enjoying the occasional spirit are good ways to get the heaviness of the job off the mind, they said. It helps to not dwell on the stress and sadness that comes with the job when they’re not working, as they can then dedicate their full selves to families when it’s needed most.
“Treating the situation like you’re a part of their family, and putting yourself in their shoes, understanding what it feels like for them,” is a good approach, said Aeriel. “Show them empathy.”
“If I can take anything off your plate, just let me do that,” is something Kelley tells families.
Both Aeriel and Kelley said the funeral services that stand out in their minds are the ones when loved ones are able to incorporate a little bit of humor. That helps break up the heavy emotions in the room.
They also appreciate how progressive Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium president Buddy Phaneuf is toward changes in the industry – and the stigma of women as funeral directors.
“A lot of funeral directors are very old school. A lot of them don’t want to work with women,” said Aeriel. “Buddy doesn’t think about gender; he just wants us to do a good job with families.”