Each February we honor and celebrate February as American Heart Month. As a country, we first began to recognize this day 53 years ago. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Presidential Proclamation on Dec. 1963 after a joint resolution from both houses of Congress. He urged the American people to pay more attention to this growing nationwide problem of heart and blood vessel diseases and to support the programs that helped with solutions.
Since then, the medical community began to focus on cardiovascular disease and educate the American public. At that time, the surgeon general began linking smoking as well to negative effects on the heart in addition to the lungs. Even though awareness has been raised over 53 years, there has been much progress in curing heart disease through diet, healthy living, and advances in medicine. Yet, it is still the #1 leading cause of death in men and women in the United States today.
I would venture to say that if we could do a research study of those in our profession and their primary cause of death, it would be heart disease, stroke, or something related. It was the cause of death for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents and 1 of my parents. Unfortunately, my grandfather was only 75 and my dad even more tragically, was 53 years old when he had his heart attack while at a funeral conference in 1987. Is it ironic or a coincidence that this is the 53rd anniversary of American Heart Month as I write this blog this month?
I do believe that our Funeral Service, Death Care, Cemetery, and Cremation business has been affecting our hearts in many “not-so-good” ways over the years. Thus, this blog is about continuing to raise awareness concerning why taking care of our hearts and our health, both physically and mentally, is so vitally important to our long-term well-being as we continue to serve others.
When I first began as a young funeral director, almost everyone in our business smoked. They smoked in the prep room, the offices, with families in arrangements, and our lounges were designed for smoking as well. I was constantly cleaning ashtrays. In the late 90’s I “de-smoked” Baue and there were many who thought that we were going to go out of business when we moved the smoking lounge to the outside of our buildings.
This change was a major one for our culture and way of doing business, as many of our staff and customers were big smokers. Some of our staff had problems adapting, so we found designated smoking areas away from our buildings and the eyes of the public. We brought in a healthcare trainer who helped us run “stop smoking” clinics and we began to discount health insurance costs to those who took the classes and quit. Still, there were the “holdouts” that just could not quit easily. It was a long-time (over 40 years) secretary that smoked unfiltered camels. During the winter she would try to sneak them in our upstairs bathroom, and I was constantly having talks with her until we had the final talk just before she retired.
I knew it was the right thing to do as I was determined to end smoking at Baue’s. I knew from medical research data that secondhand smoke could be as dangerous as smoking itself. Plus, my mom had just been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998 and I quit smoking in the early 90s.
Habits are hard to break especially when you grow up in a family of smokers. My grandfather Arthur, our founder, smoked cigars, my dad smoked a pipe, and my mom, her mom, and my uncle, the “doctor”, smoked cigarettes. It was the era of acceptability. I began in college. I hated smoking and was the worst of smokers. I never smoked while pregnant, nor around my children. I only smoked at work and when out socially. I thought I could quit any time. It was hard, but in my mid-30’s I stopped and began to work on my health. Losing my dad when he was only 53 in 1987 got my attention. I never turned back to this unhealthy habit, but I know others of my generation who still cannot seem to quit.
Most of you reading this blog today, probably know of family members or co-workers with similar stories and a poor health history. So why is heart disease still the leading cause of death?
Is it the stress in our lives that has led us to these unhealthy habits in our profession? Very possibly. I am not an expert by any means when it comes to stress. What I do know is this—we give our all 24/7. We give our time, and our full mental and physical energy, and we use our hearts to serve those who need us every day. At the same time, many of us are giving up way too much of our sleep hours, our time to rest, our time for mindfulness, our time for yoga, our time for exercise, and overall, our time for ourselves.
Being in our profession can be stressful IF we allow it to be. We can and must take better charge of caring for our hearts and of those in our lives that we care for each and every day.
Recently, I released an episode on Your Funeral Coach Talks with Kristen Ernst MA, LPC, one of our Collaborative Network Partners on the topic of “rest”. Finding times to use mindful moments of rest during our workday, as we journey home from work, as we start our day, and even during a busy day. Listen in to her advice in the episode The Importance of Rest with Kristen Ernst. Resting properly and frequently can also help our hearts. We all need to find more time to include periods of rest into our daily and weekly routines.
Let’s make February a month to make positive changes to work on resting hearts!
Making changes in our daily practices in the death care service space is never easy. Yet change is necessary, especially when it comes to the health of our team members, our own health, and those we serve. If I, or any of our Collaborative Network Partners, can assist you with changes you need to make either personally or professionally, please do not hesitate to reach out and connect with us.
My best always,