“How Do You Handle Working at a Mortuary?” | A Labor Day Special

I often wondered what Labor Day was as a kid, what did I care, I got time off from school was my thinking. As I got older I began to understand the reasoning behind the three-day weekend. Other then the unofficial end-of-summer, this day was a chance to stop and celebrate the everyday heroes of this country. This country was not built by the Rockefellers or the Carnegies, it was built on the backs of the everyday laborer. These are the people that sacrifice for their families and their country to work as a team, to build or do something great. So as I take pause today to recognize this it makes me think of where I got my work ethic.

Photo Source: tantjohanna.elleinterior.se

Photo Source: tantjohanna.elleinterior.se

Unequivocally it was from my dad. My dad was not necessarily a laborer; he was a well-educated man graduating as an aeronautical engineer from Penn State. But he worked hard to be where he was and he always instilled in me the virtue of hard work as well as smart work. He did this not so much by telling me, although he did that as well, but by showing me. Getting up early everyday and working to achieve a worthy goal with a worthy team showed this to me. He almost never called in sick and ended up loyally working with one company almost his entire career. As a culture we worship our sports and movie stars, heck even some of us worship our politicians, but it’s the common man, men like my father who command our respect. It is these tireless men and women that labor & sacrifice daily to achieve a quality of life for their own family who we admire and celebrate today.

Photo Source: ellefried.tumblr.com

Photo Source: ellefried.tumblr.com

Because of what I witnessed my work ethic was strong from a very young age. My first job was as a paperboy at 12 years old. I had arguably one of the hardest paper routs in San Diego due to the volume and hilly terrain. I threw the San Diego Union newspaper to 120 homes every single morning starting at 5am. I never took a day off, not even for Christmas.

To get my second job I lied about my age and was paid under the table at an Italian restaurant washing dishes at the age of 14. You talk about hard work. I kept in the restaurant business for many years laboring hard and working many long hours. I then moved into sales within the industry and got a taste of how life is working on 100% commission.

Finally, I landed here at O’Connor (I married the [then] bosses daughter) and the hard work did not stop. I wasn’t given any special treatment, believe me. I was on-call to assist with transfers of the deceased at night. Some nights getting 2-3 calls in the middle of the night and then having to wake up (if I went to sleep at all) to work a double shift from 8am to 9pm the next day.

But, through all of this I was equipped and trained to handle the privilege of helping families that were experiencing a death. A year I became a licensed funeral director and  my life changed forever.

Photo Courtesy of lillyunique.tumblr

Photo Courtesy of lillyunique.tumblr

This isn’t an easy job, as you can imagine, working with grieving people is sad and difficult. In the beginning I sometimes wondered if this really  was my final destination. But as I began to experience the fulfillment that came from serving and creating a meaningful and healing event that helped people with their grief – I realized that this was it. As weird as it sounds, this is the most rewarding of all my jobs. To be able to come along side people and help them through what is the most difficult journey of their life is an honor and to this day it’s not something I take lightly.

22 years later I still think back and appreciate all I have learned from my co-laborers, we have become family, and I’m so blessed to be with them on a daily basis. Thank you Dad and thank you to all of the great American laborers that have made this country great, past, present and future. Happy Labor Day!

Where did you get your work ethic?

What was your first job?

What is rewarding about your work?

 

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  • Lori

    Chuck,
    I have not had the opportunity to hear many stories about your Dad. I was not aware he was an aeronautical engineer. What an interesting profession!
    Whatever our past work lives have looked like, I am glad that we have landed at O’Connor at the same time. It’s been years since I have been on a service with you, but remember the care and concern you would show each family. You went out of your way to be certain each and every one of their needs was met. Your foundation of a strong work ethic definitely shines through in what you do today. I think serving families is more of a calling than a career. Not everyone has the gift, as you do, to connect with families. (I think it’s that great smile!) I have learned so much from you and look forward to learning much more over the coming years.
    Love ya!
    Lori

  • Anne

    HI Chuck
    I also was born into a family of honest, ethical people and raised with a strong work ethic. I grew up with: “Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart.” It was the honorable thing to do your job well, with all you have at your disposal. Act as if it were your own company, your own money, your own reputation you were guarding.
    My first job beyond babysitting was assistant to the assistant school principal of the high school I attended. I worked long and hard, directly after school and worked in the personal files of all the students, so learned discretion at a young age. I left there, ate a quick dinner and babysat for 4 children, including a newborn from 530-930 every night. I had to feed them, clean up, help with homework, get them to bed and do my own homework. I walked to and home from the job in the dark, even in the winter, in Michigan, lugging my schoolbooks.
    Lou always said I had trouble relaxing, always feeling like there was something more I should be doing. I am trying to get better at that part, but it doesn’t come as easy as just getting things done.
    I love working at the mortuary with you and all the rest. It has been a blessing in more ways than one over the years. Thanks for a great post. Annie

    • Chuck

      Annie,
      I have seen you demonstrate that incredible work ethic for well over 15 years now. Once that is instilled in you at an early age it sticks doesn’t it. We are fortunate to be born into families that can demonstrate this virtue to us. Being on the financial side of the O’Connor operation you have put the discretion you learned at an early age to great use. You have been a long time member of an incredible team and a big reason for all our success. Thank you for all you do for us and thank you for your incredible work ethic, demonstrated daily.
      Love you.

      Chuck

  • Neil O’Connor

    Hi Chuck
    What a great tribute to your Dad! I have so much respect for your Dad in how he raised you and what he has done personally for me, I will always be grateful to Tony! I am also grateful to you for the support and friendship you have given me, God knows family business can be tricky, and I am thankful for you, Jeff & Fitz. My work ethic has come from my parents as well, both my Mom & Dad, taught me many great life lessons. Mainly enjoy what you do with passion and it will never feel like ‘work”. My first job was bussing tables at a local restaurant, from there I moved up in many different positions, dishwasher, waiter, bartender, assistant manger. Like you I enjoy serving our families and our team, helping our community with meaningful ceremonies that lead to healing.

    • Chuck

      Neil,
      Yes, I owe a lot to my Dad and as you acknowledged to my partners, you, Jeff and Fitz. You three have also demonstrated to me a high work ethic and high ethics for many years. Family and business have been described as oil and water, the two do not mix well. But with your help we have managed to work, play and build a great business while maintaining what is most important in life, our relationships. I would be remiss if I did not include your Dad, Joe O’Connor on the list of big influencers in my life. He demonstrated an incredible work ethic to all of us over the years. His compassion for serving grieving families without regard to time or place has influenced me to this day. Thank you Neil for your friendship and compassion, I truly feel like you are a brother of mine.
      Love you.

      Chuck

  • Joe Lavoie

    Thank You for sharing a side of you I did not know about Chuck , I as you did get my work ethics from my father and was able to get my first job because of him. I also have to add my father at the time was my boss and I did not get any special treatment at all even if I tried to slack off at times it never continued very long. Because of this specialized training and guidance from my father I am able to see what is rewarding about my current position at O’Connor it is to serve others and we all do this with our very best care. I am proud to be able to work side by side with a quality team as we have and appreciate your guidance in the many times that I have asked for your help. Sincerely Joe

    • Chuck

      Joe,

      It also makes me proud to work along side you and the rest of our awe inspiring team. I admit I put a little emphasis on “O’Connors” when asked where I work, especially if the person asking is from our industry. We have built up an incredible reputation of being honest and ethical when serving the wonderful families of our community. This was accomplished not through fancy cars and buildings or slick marketing campaigns but by the incredible and compassionate team we have. As we have been preaching lately our advantage over our competitors is our organizational health of caring and serving each other. We have been through a lot over the years my friend, we have seen our company and each other grow, morph and change for the better. Thank you for being in the boat with us, I appreciate you and your great work ethic and talent.

      Chuck

  • Chuck,
    I like you had an amazing father who was an excellent model for me of what it looks like to work for and sacrifice for your family. I’ve always been amazed at my dad’s selflessness as he gives over unplanned hours to families and people in need. I am so grateful for the example he was for me all growing up and that he still is for me today. Now, working with him in the same office I see even more clearly that his devotion is not just to his “work” but to the relationships and connectedness that he has with those around him. He’s always free to stop & listen, to share a story or give some of his wisdom.

    I want to be just like that. Thanks for sharing this great blog!

    • Chuck

      Molly,
      You learn well… I agree with you, your Dad is a great man with lots to offer. I also agree that strong work ethic does not just mean long hours and putting your nose to the grind stone. It absolutely encompasses relationships and the importance of building and nurturing them. This is the most important in my book, to be able to put others before self and sacrifice for the betterment of the whole. Love… you either care for it or lose it. Thank you for being a great student and I have a feeling that the master is learning from the student now! I appreciate you very much and all the hard work you put in to moving our company forward into the 21st century, keep it up.

      Chuck

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thank you, Chuck. I too, feel I developed my work ethic from my parents – both working for the same companies until they retired. It has been interesting to hear people ask me the same question: “You work for a mortuary?” It certainly makes for interesting dinner conversation! Having just lost my brother, I now have a whole new appreciation and understanding of our profession and the excellent care and commitment our entire staff gives to each and every family we serve. I do not be believe that it is coincidence that you married a funeral director’s daughter. You are meant to be here and I am proud and honored to work for you.

    • Chuck

      Becky,
      We sometimes lose focus on the impact we have on people’s lives working here at O’Connor. Nothing reminds us quicker then when a death hits home. I’m so sorry you now are traveling on this journey of grief. I sometimes wonder how we all landed her together. Is it destiny, divine will, blind coincidence, we may truly never know. However, I feel there is a deeper reason and that all of us have been put in these roles to help our fellow men and women on their own journey. Thank you for all you do for us and our families and I will continue to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

      Chuck

  • Jeff Turner

    Chuck, Thank you for this somewhat forgotten side of life in valuing the everyday masses that toil expending their time and energy not just to make a living. I saw it in my father who was a public school teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Superintendent over his career. I still remember him pushing me to get my fist job by driving me to restaurant row in Dana Point harbor the summer of 1975 to fill out applications for any startup position I could. Like you, I learned the value of the hard work bus boys, servers and cooks do day in and day out. I am always more than polite to those who serve me at any restaurant just because I remember what it was to be on your feet all day and moving non-stop.

    My father was committed to excellence always mindful that his customers were the students. He filtered everything he did in his career focused on “what is best for the students”. That simple goal drove him do his very best everyday. I would be proud to resemble my dad in his work in any small way.

    Chuck, thanks for what you do to bring all you have to bear on our daily problem solving, service and care for each other and our families.

    I love you big guy!

    Jeff

  • Chuck

    Tom,
    We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. Thank you Tom for your work ethic and all the hard work serving our families over the years.

    Chuck

  • Greg Forster

    Hi Chuck,

    What a nice read! What a nice tribute to your dad and his years of devoted service to his company. We have one thing in common as my dad was an aeronautical engineer working for Lockheed in Burbank. I remember him pulling my foot in the early morning to get up before he left for work at an hour that seemed earlier than when other dads left home.
    Work ethic? We had a fairly rigid Saturday morning routine, when I was younger I remember going around the house in a fixed pattern dusting everything while my parents did the wash, vacuumed, etc. Same routine every Saturday. When I was older, I moved to cutting the grass. We had a fairly large lot front and back with orange trees, so I remember priming the gas engine, the smell of its smoke, in the early days almost losing control of it, and maneuvering around our orange trees without the mower pulling me into the water troughs dug around them.
    The regular responsibility of family shared work was a normal thing. That is just what folks we knew did…and that assumed day to day sense of responsibility for one’s actions I have taken along with me in life ever since.

    Thank you for helping me bring back these memories. I am glad that yours are also good ones of those times.

    Greg

  • Erin Fodor

    Thanks for sharing about your father. My father is one of my biggest drivers to succeed in life. He was successful at such a young age, and then taken too soon. So with that I strive everyday to live to a standard he would hold for himself. I only got to experience my father’s work ethic for a short 12 years. But in that time I understood how much time and effort he put into life to make sure the needs of his family were met. He was a hard
    worker, go-getter, great listener, and all around caring man. I always try my best to walk in his footsteps. Although I may fall short sometimes, I will still always try.

    My first job was a cashier at Mervyns when I was 16 years old. I worked there for a couple years part time while I went to school. This taught me responsibility, accountability, organizational skills, how to interact with customers, etc.

    Working here at O’Connor Mortuary has been incredibly rewarding in the short time I have been here. I can see the relief in the family’s eyes, when an arrangement or service is done and has been exactly how the family pictured honoring there loved ones. I take great pride in being able to experience the amazing work the O’Connor team puts forth to make sure a families needs are met. This is the career path I have chosen and couldn’t be more excited to see how many families I can help in the process. Helping grieving families gives me a sense of worth. Because I have been in the same situation
    I know first hand how impactful it can be having someone there to help with all the details in such a stressful point in time.

  • Shasta Thompson

    I love hearing your stories, Chuck! I think I got my work ethic from my Grandmother, she lived with us until she died in 2005, and I always always saw her working, even when she wasn’t working. She always did what needed to be done and was very selfless, which i admired. My first job was a “courtesy clerk” at Ralph’s where i mainly bagged groceries and collected carts from the parking lot. My work now is rewarding because I know how important it is that people’s deceased loved ones are handled with care, when they cannot do so themselves. The fact that I can be a part of it is very meaningful to me.

  • Jenn

    Great way to celebrate Labor day, I got my work ethic from my mom, she worked three jobs after her and my dad divorced, working as a teacher during the day, a department store at night and even putting newspapers in to the coin machines in front of stores until 4am. I started my first job with a special work permit at 15 at Hot Dog on a Stick. Even thought my mom was educated having her Master’s degree and had a reputable job as a teacher, she still went the extra mile to make sure my sisters and I were able to play all the sports we wanted and be in whatever clubs we wanted as well. I respect her work ethic and try to emulate that in my life. God bless the hard workers that make this country great, Happy Labor Day!

  • Sharon Watkins

    Thank you for remembering what this holiday is all about….I know I got my work ethic from both my Dad and my Mother. My Dad was a very hard worker and set the example for me. His day started very early going off to work at 6:00am to Lockheed Aircraft Co in Burbank. My Mother always had a full breakfast ready for him when he left in the morning and dinner ready when he got home between 4 and 4:30pm. After that my Dad went out and worked on cars for extra money in our garage. His day would end around 10pm. He would do anything for us kids! They both would! My Mother went back to get her hairdressers license when I was in the 7th grade and ran a salon in our home!

    My first job was babysitting at age 10. I also helped deliver newspapers with my older brother. I guess I was in high demand because I was always babysitting! My first REAL job was in sales at Webb’s Department Store in downtown Glendale CA in the women’s clothing department. I was also on their “Teen Board as a Web-Deb”…

    The hardest work I every did and continue to do is in my “career” as a wife and mother to my 6 children! It is a never ending job!

    I believe that I am happiest when I able to work. It makes me feel like I am a contributor and helping others is always the best work I do…..it is the most rewarding. That is particularly why I love what I am now doing at the Mortuary – helping people make advance funeral plans.

  • Fitz

    Chuck,
    Great Blog. This made me think about my work career as well and those who influenced or had an impact on my view of work. It was my father as well and his friends. Growing up in a small, midwest city that was mostly populated with blue collar workers, I could see first hand the value of hard work. My dad was an attorney in town but his clients and friends were the construction workers and laborers who built the homes and infrastructure in our area. These were tough, hard working men who appreciated God, Country and Family. I always had an appreciation for them. I only hope that my kids understand the value of hard work. The world we live in today is much different; for better or for worse. Thanks for sharing. I remember those early days, fondly, at the mortuary when we were on call as the transfer team. Great memories. Fitz

  • Joanna Ramirez

    What a great blog Chuck! Coming from a blue collar, factory working father and house keeper mother, I learned my work ethic from them. they worked hard to give us half of what other more privileged children had. And not once did I feel as if I had less. I have a strong work ethic and appreciate seeing your hustle and bustle everyday as well.

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Great blog Chuck!! Your daddy sounds a lot like mine, the difference being education. He was a high school graduate, but quickly discovered college was not for him. My dad was a blue collar worker his whole life. He was loyal, hard working, punctual, and dependable, no matter what the job. Thank you for allowing me to recall such a wonderful memory of my dad.

    kari