Sarah Wilkerson Casteel, a funeral home director for Wilkerson Funeral Home in De Queen, Ark., is serving as the past president of the statewide organization for a complex industry helping families to mourn and accept death.
"We try to slow people down and try to do as much for them. They're not only grieving, they can't think clearly. No details are too small. The details mean something to the family. It's a difficult time and we try to do as much as possible to help the family," Casteel said.
Casteel recently finished serving as president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association (AFDA) and now serves as the past president.
She is the fourth generation of the Wilkerson family to be a licensed funeral director.
Casteel works with her father, Trey Wilkerson and her grandfather, B-Bud Wilkerson, at the funeral home in De Queen and Dierks.
She is a certified pre-planning consultant for the funeral home and served as the AFDA organization's 115th president in 2015-16.
The AFDA serves the members through continuing education, advocacy and public relations.
"The association exists to allow Arkansas funeral homes to work together to maintain the industry's highest standards of excellence and service," Casteel said.
The organization also provides continuing education to help funeral home employees with burnout and coping with the trauma of death.
"We work with employees to prevent burnout in the work place and how to take care of yourself especially in this business. Work can be long hours and the mental aspect can impact your life. Not just the job, but home life," Casteel said.
"We teach how to cope and not take the job home with you and try to recognize the signs when you need to step back," she said.
Another continuing education program involves working with hospice teams.
"Hospice is there for the end of life. We work together with them and what they expect from us. We get the call when the patient is at the end of life. We discuss how to make sure everything is handled like the family wanted it to be handled and hospice is a great advocate for the industry" Casteel said.
AFDA also educates and advocates for the industry.
"One of the big ones is government relations. It keeps us up on the new laws and makes sure we know about the regulations and how they impact us," Casteel said.
The state organization adopted the National Funeral Directors Association's Code of Professional Conduct.
A portion of the Code of Ethical Conduct says members "have an ethical obligation to serve each family in a professional manner, respectful to their wishes, while being honest and fair in all dealing and compassionate with consideration of those with lesser means."
The association also stresses the importance of treating the families with care.
"We have the funeral home look professional and we want it to feel like a home," she said. "They're grieving and hurting and we try to make it a tiny bit better for them."
"One thing families tell us is they want to get it over with," Casteel said.
"The greatest compliment I've had is when a family tells me I made it easier for them," she said.