Female funeral director breaks down barriers
Photo: Casey Martin
Perhaps the death industry is not the most common career path for a woman, or anyone really, but that didn’t stop Alison Weaver from being both director and owner of two funeral homes by age 26.
Weaver grew up on a dairy farm in Moravia, New York, and no one in her family had ever been in the funeral business before her. Not only is it uncommon that Weaver is a first-generation funeral home owner, but also a female first-generation owner. She began working in funeral homes when she was 15, and that was when she realized that she wanted to go to school and obtain a degree in mortuary science. Weaver got her bachelor’s degree in the field from Gannon University and Simmons Institute.
After graduating, she began her year-long residency program, which was required in order to get a license in New York State. She spent the second half of her residency working at Ness-Sibley Funeral Home and Covert Funeral Home, the two businesses which she now owns.
Joseph L. Sibley, the previous owner of Ness-Sibley funeral home, worked with Weaver for five years and, before retiring, offered Weaver his business.
“I always wanted to own my own business. That's always, ultimately, what my goal was,” Weaver said. “I just didn’t think it would happen quite as quickly as it actually did.”
Weaver accepted and became not just a funeral director, but an owner too. She spoke with her husband and they were in agreement that she could take on the new business.
“‘Let’s do this,” Weaver said. “Let’s figure it out.’ And at 26 I bought both the funeral homes.”
A funeral director is a career path dominated by men, but that may not be true in the future, according to Weaver.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Weaver said. “And there are more and more women that are starting to become funeral directors. And I definitely think that you’re going to see that trend continue.”
Weaver has been a funeral director for 12 years now, but said during her first several years as director, people would often mistake her for a secretary or the wife of the funeral director.
“That is definitely changing and this is such a male-dominated profession,” Weaver said. “But we are definitely seeing changes for there to be more women in this industry.”
Weaver said she believes women naturally take on a more caregiving role, and being a funeral director fits into that.
“So much of what we do is not with the deceased person,” Weaver said. “Ninety percent of what we do is with their families and the survivors that are left behind. And I think that men are passionate and empathetic, they have all those characteristics too, but I think women are born with a natural ability to be empathetic and passionate and wanting to help and care for family that’s left behind.”
She added that taking on the responsibility of both funeral director and owner has been tough at times.
“It definitely gets crazy,” Weaver said. “I knew the shift from being director to being director and owner would be big. And it definitely has been.”
Weaver has a husband and two young sons and says that balancing her family and her work has also been a learning process, but she is always available for the families she works with.
“It’s definitely much more added responsibility because I take a lot of pride in trying to always be the person that responds to the families that I’m working with so that they know that I’m there for them whenever they need me,” Weaver said. “And it does get challenging at times.”
Despite the challenges, Weaver is very passionate about what she does.
“I never realized how rewarding it is to do what we do,” Weaver said. “I feel so strongly about the families that I work with...We always refer to them as ‘I’m working with our families.’ You’re working with such an intimate, one-time thing that they’re dealing with and so many of the families, I feel, have become life-long friends and family just because I get so much back from being able to walk through such a difficult time with someone.”
There is something unique and different about every family and Weaver loves all the families because of this.
“We really become a part of those peoples’ lives for a long time,” Weaver said. “It’s extremely rewarding and it’s why I wake up everyday and do this. I know, I feel, I am making a difference in their lives and the families I work with make a difference in my family every day. And they just really make me appreciate all the time I have with my family.”