Compassion, Patience Required In Funeral Director?s Day

August 11, 2009
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It was a cool and rainy Friday morning, typical funeral weather as many would attest, and Daniel Ford was busy making sure everything would go smoothly. It was July 31 and Ford was preparing for a 10 a.m. funeral at Alderson Funeral Home in Waterbury, but he already had a full morning before the service was even set to begin. Early in the morning he received a phone call from one of the Alderson staff members, stating that a client had died during the night. He had to talk with Ford to discuss the personal arrangements that would be occurring rather quickly. ?I?m on call every other night and every other weekend,? Ford said. ?So, the times when I?m not on call, I never know what to expect. It?s sort of tough to plan for.?

This all took place before 9 a.m. but, around the time when most people are heading into work, Ford already was in his black suit with white shirt and red and white striped tie. He called it the ?alder-tie,? because the staff at Alderson?s wears the same tie, rather than wearing identification badges. Ford set up prayer cards and a registry book outside the room where a brief service would be held in a little less than an hour. The body had been cremated, and the urn sat in front of the room next to an arrangement of pink flowers. As friends began to arrive, Ford directed them to the service room. After a brief 20-minute service, Ford announced to the visitors that a procession would be leaving the Holmes Avenue funeral home in Waterbury for the Calvary Cemetery a few miles away and that everyone was welcome to follow, ?just keep your lights and blinkers on.?

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After the guests entered their cars and got into a line, Ford hopped into a silver SUV that carried the cremated remains and floral arrangements and led the group to the cemetery. Traveling at no more than 20 miles per hour, the drive took around 15 minutes and, at times, disrespectful motorists had to be honked at as they tried to break up the procession. After 10 minutes at the cemetery, everyone departed and Ford was heading back to the funeral home to prepare for the next part of his day.

Ford, the executive vice president of Alderson Funeral Homes, has been in the business for more than 20 years, although he is only 35 years old. He said he grew up in the business with his father and, since he was 13, he has helped distribute prayer cards, hold open doors, and provide other assistance during a service. He graduated from a mortuary college in 1994 and now is the president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association, which he said is an important job that takes up a lot of his time. Ford retired from the Naugatuck Fire Department last fall after 11 years on the job because working two different 40-hour-a-week jobs wore him down and didn?t allow him to spend time with his wife and two young children.

?I left the business behind, but above all else, I had to leave my family behind,? Ford explained.

After arriving back at the Waterbury funeral home, Ford informed his staff that he had a pre-arrangement meeting at 1 p.m. in Cheshire and would most likely not be back in the Waterbury office. However, Ford always carries a cell phone so he is never out of reach in a time of need.

?I have to be available at any beck and call,? Ford said.

After arriving at Alderson Funeral Home in Cheshire around 11:30 a.m., Ford had some work to do before his 1 p.m. appointment. There were two services scheduled for the weekend and Ford began to set up registry books and prayer cards for the Saturday morning service. The room is very large at Alderson?s of Cheshire, but can be divided to give a more intimate feel if a family prefers. Ford explained that, at the request of a family, he can partition off the room, which he did for the next day?s service. He opened up four partition panels and locked them in place, and then began to arrange dozens of chairs in a semi-circle pattern.

?This is the tedious part of the job,? Ford said.

After finishing up some preparation for the weekend services, some of Ford?s staff arrived in Cheshire with two caskets that needed to be stored at the funeral home. Ford assisted and wheeled the caskets into the building where they will wait until the weekend burial.

Ford had to prepare for the pre-arrangement meeting, which he described was a ?blueprint? for a person after death. He said a lot of people ?face their mortality? and decide to plan ahead as to not burden their families after they die. Ford shows the person a list of services, burial containers and caskets, and has it all priced out. He takes down special wishes or requests and keeps the file on hand for the family after the person dies, so they won?t have to worry about preparing a service while in mourning.

?People usually plan ahead and get an idea (of a service) and have a open discussion,? Ford said. ?It helps them make an informed decision.?

Ford said he is often asked, ?How do you do it everyday?? and he confessed that it would be tough, if he didn?t have such a ?tremendous support system? in place. He said he tries to be supportive and understanding to whomever walks through the door, but understands the different stages of grief and the forms it can take. He said, if nothing else, a funeral director has to be compassionate and put his ?heart and soul? into the job. He said his belief is to treat a deceased person for whom he is providing a service for as ?a member of my own family.?

?I sympathize with people. I know what it?s like to mourn the loss of a friend or a loved one,? Ford said. ?I can appreciate what people are going through, so I take a lot of pride in providing this service.?

After his pre-arrangement meeting, Ford was done for the day, but he still had his cell phone. There were no other scheduled meetings or services, so he could spend some time catching up on paperwork and thinking about the five funeral homes under his direction and how he could improve them. He was scheduled to be on call the next day, so Ford would have a better grasp of what the weekend and beginning of the week would hold, but still, he had ?no idea? what he would be dealing with when the sun rose in 14 hours.

?You never know what you?ll be facing in the morning,? Ford said. ?But, you have to be able to adapt to what?s going on around you. It could be a busy day or a not so hectic day, you never know.?

Source: The Cheshire Hearld

Article By: Josh Morgan

Photo: Alderson Funeral Director Daniel Ford Arranges Chairs Before A Service

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