Brigette LaFauice: Putting the Fun in Funeral
More heavily avoided than a trip to the DMV, the dentist, or court, a visit to a mortuary is certainly not a task done by choice. Due to the tragedy that drives their existence, mortuaries are often judged as both literally and figuratively lifeless sites, filled with apathetic employees and a dismal ambiance. Until recently, I conformed to this common judgment of mortuaries.
The weather was bleak, a fitting setting for my trip to Keaton’s Mortuary in San Rafael, or so I thought. Still within shouting distance of Marin Academy’s campus, I nervously walked up the steps to Keaton’s, mentally devising an escape plan in case things took a turn for the worst. While clutching the handle to the big mahogany door, my heart rate elevated as if I was about to open Pandora’s box. I lightly pushed open the door, peering my head in, expecting to be met with a scene from the Addams Family.
I quickly scanned the room and to my surprise, there were no signs of cobwebs or vampires; in fact, there were no signs of anyone. The bottom floor of this two story building was silent and decorated with simple, agreeable furniture. I entered and closed the door behind me- just loud enough to trigger any signs of life. Within a few seconds, the sound of light footsteps came down the stairs and my eyes were soon met with a welcoming receptionist, Patty.
Following a brief conversation in which I skittishly explained my reasoning for visiting Keaton’s, Patty willingly gave me a tour of the building. A serene and solemn atmosphere, Keaton’s more closely fulfilled my expectations of a library rather than a mortuary. But, this terse interaction (in which I met no undertakers) with Patty was not yet enough to sway my fixed perception of morticians and ultimately left me with more questions than I started with.
The following day I called Keaton’s general manager and head funeral director, Brigette LaFauci. Envisioning LaFauci as a modern day Morticia Addams, I prepared myself for a dark and dull interview. But, I soon realized that LaFauci, along with the rest of the Keaton’s staff, “puts the fun in funeral”. Combining comedy, maturity, and cordiality, LaFauci is an outgoing and ordinary adult, which completely defied my preconceived notions of morticians.
“Behind the scenes, we tend to be jokesters and have a lot of fun… We play jokes on each other and laugh a lot -we have to balance the stoic nature of the day-to-day with playfulness.”
But, the mortuary business is clearly not all fun and jokes. There is a high level of psychological training one must acquire to brace themselves for the emotional requirements of such a field. Unlike with most jobs, the heavy personalized emotional demand in the mortuary business can be very taxing on one’s personal life.
“It’s sometimes difficult to find a good work-life balance. With grief, there’s often sadness, tears, anger and guilt and you have to put that away at the end of the day so you can deal with your own life. There’s a definite line you have to draw.”
But, having been in this line of work for over a decade now, LaFauci has managed to find a healthy balance between work and home. Yet, there are still adversities she faces in the workplace that are unique to her practice.
“We have to deal with all kinds of things. A lot of times there is misplaced grief. After a tragedy, [clients] latch on or act out towards a person close to them and sometimes we are on the receiving end of that.”
As a solution, she emphasizes the importance of remaining emotionally resilient and “stoic” when dealing with clients who are in such a fragile state. For LaFauci, the primary concern is the well-being of the client: “I’m there to do a job for these people, and I try to do it the best that I can because they need someone like me in those moments.”
Yet, what is often labeled as a disturbing and borderline deranged job, can actually “be very rewarding.” Despite the challenges her job poses, being able to be there for others ‘in those moments’ is why LaFauci loves her line of work. For LaFauci, helping others provides her with an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment, making the funeral business her “calling.”
“At the end of the funeral, when everything has gone perfectly without a hitch, this wonderful feeling comes over you that you did a great job and then the family gives you a big hug. That’s easily my favorite part.”
LaFauci considers herself “one of the lucky ones to have found a career that I am [she is] passionate about.” Content in her position at Keaton’s, Brigette LaFauci has found her niche: “I’m a lifetime mortician.”