‘Til death do us partPublished 11:25am Wednesday, June 6, 2012
My sister serves as a chaplain at a hospital in Alabama and knows some of the people interviewed in this article. She sent it to me and I am passing it on to my friends here because it really speaks about how and why we do, what we do....
By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer
When a loved one passes away, funeral home directors step up and can become a stabilizing force for grief-stricken families.
For many Shelby County morticians, they see their profession as a ministry to the community.
Cody Caldwell has been a funeral director for 11 years at Rockco Funeral Home in Montevallo.
“You see a lot of different aspects with how the family deals with loss of a loved one,” Caldwell said. “What we’re here for is to serve the family. We help start the grieving process for the family.”
To become a funeral director, the profession requires a two-year associate degree in funeral service education.
Funeral directors come into the profession for different reasons.
Caldwell went to school with grandchildren of Rockco’s former owner, Billy G. Rockco, and so became familiar with the profession.
Bob Beavers, general manager at Southern Heritage Funeral Home in Pelham, worked as a coal miner before joining the funeral home vocation.
“It’s what I decided I wanted to do,” Beavers said. “It’s a job where you actually help people.”
Lauriann Loveless, a funeral director at Charter Funeral Homes in Calera, worked in a cemetery with her parents, and decided to go to school to become a director.
“I think God puts you where you need to be,” Loveless said.
Loveless was one of the first female funeral directors in the county.
Ed Burdett, a funeral home director with Charter for four years, began his career in 1966. He was one of Shelby County’s first emergency medical technicians, and served as coroner for four years.
Burdett’s coworker, Larry Gilliland, started his funeral home career at Charter in 1964.
“I had never been in a funeral home before I started working here,” he said. “I try to help my fellow man.”
Gilliland said his family was raised in the business.
“Mine wasn’t,” Loveless said. “My first dead body was my first autopsy (during a college class). They were laying bets if I’d pass out on my first day of clinical.”
Caldwell said he and the funeral home staff take time together to talk about loss to “cope with sadness,” he said.
“I look at it as a mission,” he said. “To cope with it, you have to go through the good memories the families give you. If you sit and dwell on it, it’d bring us all down.”
Gilliland, Loveless and Burdett said even after years in the profession, they still need time to cope with certain funerals.
“Little children get to all funeral directors,” Gilliland said.
“It breaks my heart every time,” Loveless said. “But with babies and children – whew!
“You’re there to add structure. If you break down, you can’t provide structure,” she added. “With babies, I won’t say I don’t break down after they leave.”
Burdett said sincerity is important.
“As long as you don’t let emotions handle you, as long as you’re sincere, you help someone because they need help and are sincere about it,” he said.
TRENDS OF THE BUSINESS
“People are going to more and more cremations. A lot of local cemeteries are full,” Gilliland said. “Being cremated, the family can do anything with the remains.”
Caldwell said cremation leads to more options, and can be thousands of dollars cheaper than a traditional funeral.
“It’s more financial with cremation,” he said. “You can have the funeral when you want to. You can have the memorial service whenever.”
Gilliland said one of the biggest changes he has seen in the funeral business is the one-day service, where a visitation, service and interment occur on the same day. Caldwell said the same.
“It used to be, you could count on a nice visitation and the service the next day,” Caldwell said. “Now, you see it more on the same day. It’s the expense and you don’t want to prolong it.”
Southern Heritage offers a celebration of life room, in which the family can tailor a memorial service to the loved one.
“Instead of the sad funeral, they have their friends in there and are telling stories about the loved one they’ve lost,” Beavers said. “It’s a big help to people. We do themed events for them, if they’re an Alabama fan or Auburn, ice skating, pretty much everything.”
Another trend in the funeral home profession involves the weather. Both Charter and Rockco funeral directors agreed a rise in funerals follows the weather changing.
“Some (people) hang on until a symbol, like a birth date or a wedding date,” Caldwell said.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Once a person passes away and the family contacts the funeral home, the funeral home director takes the body into a room full of chemicals, tools and hair supplies such as hairspray and a curling iron.
“Behind the scenes is like you’re stepping back in time,” Caldwell said. “All the aesthetics are for the public.
“We keep everything sanitized and clean as we can keep it for our own health,” he added. “It’s like an operating room.”
Funeral directors prepare the body for the funeral, which includes setting the features and adding hair and makeup in some cases.
“We fix their features, the mouth and eyes, bathe them down and make the incision in the right carotid artery (collarbone area),” Gilliland said.
“Back when I started, gloves were non-existent, but with diseases, now we wear gloves and protective gear,” he added.
Caldwell said the chemicals change every three years.
“It’s a more natural appearance,” he said of the current chemicals. “You won’t have to use as much cosmetics. They look like they’ve fallen asleep.”
Gilliland said they measure the body from elbow to elbow to determine the casket size, and 23 inches across is the standard size.
Charter offers the only on-site crematorium in Shelby County.
According to Burdett, the crematorium can reach temperatures of 1,600 degrees or hotter and burns for approximately three hours.
While embalming is an “art within itself,” Caldwell said, the profession’s impact involves community involvement.
“Being in a community and involved with people, you relate back to those actions throughout life, and it makes you a better person,” Caldwell said. “It helps me with closure. I know that person and am glad they chose us because I can facilitate what the family wants and needs.”
Loveless said it’s a tough business, as it runs “Monday to Monday.”
“Wherever we’re needed, we’re there,” Gilliland said, “even if they live here and want to be buried 100 miles away.”
Caldwell said he sees people joining the funeral home business for financial reward.
“A lot of people are getting into too much business and losing the personal touch,” Caldwell said.
“It’s about servitude,” he added. “You have to have that mentality. We’re here to serve, not to dictate. We’re caring for families and making a difference.”