Douglas Familia is currently the funeral home Manager and director of three funeral homes in the Queens, New York area: Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapels, Parkside Memorial Chapels and Forest Park Funeral Home. The three funeral homes service many families a year through these locations. Douglas has been a licensed Funeral Director for the past 30 years and has worked in the industry for well over 30 years.
The funeral homes that Douglas manages are nonsectarian, so they handle all kinds of funeral services, but they can meet the religious requirements and customs specific for Jewish, Christian, Asian and Muslim families and many other faiths as well.
Douglas Familia was born in North Babylon, New York. He started college and was studying criminal justice, but he became friends with a fellow whose father owned a funeral home in New York. During a visit to see his friend over a weekend Doug had the opportunity to see firsthand the work that is handled by the funeral home. He found it extremely interesting. It is rewarding work in the sense of helping people through what is one of, if not the worst times in their life. Soon thereafter, he transferred over to studying Mortuary Science.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
What surprised me the most is how personally rewarding it can be. Helping people in this way is very personally fulfilling and that it is really what made this a career for me. That’s what made me want to stick with this through the ups and the downs.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
Spend as much time as you can at a funeral home. Whether it is volunteering or working, Funeral homes love to have help. They are always looking to encourage people to get into the industry. Work there if you can, and if not, volunteer. The important thing is to make sure that it is for you. It is a big commitment of your time and it is not a nine to five type of job where you just go home and don’t deal with anything and come back and work the next morning. A lot of times funeral directors are on call at night. You really have to make sure that it is a career that works for you.
Some people may think it would be difficult dealing with death day in and day out. I think it is just a matter of being exposed to it. Of course, you feel for the families that have lost a loved one. You empathize with them and know exactly what they are going through.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
I would like to see more funeral directors showing people that we are real people with families and lives and problems just like everyone else. A lot of funeral directors do a great job at that and are very involved in their communities. I think it is important. Our industry has a mystique about it but it would be nice to lift that veil and show we are good people that are here to help when they lose a loved one.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think they would describe me as being extremely fair and very supportive. I am a team player. I really look for input from all the members of my team when we are making decisions and when we are deciding on paths we are going to take and different ideas that we all come up. We really try to work together to all work together. I am more of a team leader than a traditional manager. I want to create a supportive environment for my colleagues. I want them to be happy and looking forward to coming to work each day.
What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?
That would be my phone. Without the phone, forget it. We have a very large facility. Anywhere that I am, I’m in contact with everybody through texting, email, and phone calls. The phone really has become a hub of coordination between everybody.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
The hardest obstacle is getting people to face their own mortality and think about making funeral plans that will ease the burdens on their family. Whenever a person has made prearrangements, the family is so thankful that the person did that. They know that what the person wanted is what is being done and they do not have the burden of deciding those things. Many times, it is completely taken care of financially as well and that is a huge relief to the survivors.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Be true to yourself in the decisions that you make in life. Do not worry about what other people are thinking. Always be true to yourself and it will bring you peace in the long run.
What is one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?
Death is the one topic that the vast majority of us refuse to even discuss, yet it’s the one thing we are all going to have to deal with at one point or another in our lives. That is why it is so important to give a little thought to what the final wishes are of people in your family. We have so many people that never knew really what this person wanted. It is important to let others know. A funeral is not for the deceased. It is for the living. It is for the people who are there and to help them work through losing that person. It is important to think about these things and plan ahead of time because it takes a tremendous burden off of everyone else that is left behind.