As published in The Dead Beat, Spring, 2017
I often find myself thinking on the past. I guess being a historian can produce that side effect. I often find myself wondering if I have made the right choices in life, taken the right opportunities, made every effort I can to treat others fairly and compassionately. I hope I have at least made a positive difference in the life of my family and friends.
A recent significant life changing move to pursue professional endeavors has brought many feelings and realizations to surface. Taking a new job, moving to a new city, making changes and taking chances in my own life… Even with the downsides those things often make me feel the need to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.
I remember as a young man wanting to be a funeral director, with daily encouraging phone conversations with my patient mentor Rene Ferrer, and being inspired by the urn wielding manager of the Undertaker, Paul Bearer, I tried with all my might to pursue the dream of a career in funeral service. It was because of Paul Bearer that I first started to have an interest in cremation urns. The particular urn he carried was unique, and I wanted to find one just like it. So I began the search – one that would elude me for more than a decade – but a search that would instill in my memory the importance of cremation memorialization, the make and model of countless urn styles, the drive to learn all I could about cremation and its history.
Years later, I would learn more about the history of cremation. I found it fascinating that this was such a largely ignored topic of the history of deathcare practice. It would be even later that I would be named the historian for the country’s original professional cremation organization, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). Most recently, I was offered to be the cremation historian for the National Museum of Funeral History where we are working on the world’s first History of Cremation exhibit.
Just a few weeks ago, I was walking through the Funeral History museum with one of my longest-time friends, Keith Kobayashi. Giving him the tour I showed him where the upcoming History of Cremation Exhibit will be located, and where I remember the various exhibits being set up when I was about 14 and my parents took me for a visit. He asked me something I had not considered. “How does it feel, to know that as a 14 year old you had no idea that you would one day be a part of this museum?” It had not dawned on me until then, but he was right. Some 23 years prior, I walked through that very space, though the exhibits have changed and the space has grown considerably, and longed to have a place in funeral service.
To say that I am humbled at the opportunities that have been presented to me, with the encouragement of Barbara Kemmis of CANA, Scott MacKenzie, Nikki Nordeen, Genevieve Keeney, and the legendary Robert Boetticher, Sr., is the understatement of the century.
I have spoken at national events, designed cremation urns, guided up and coming funeral professionals in their endeavors, written articles, published a book, received distinguished service awards, served on boards. I have been featured in the pages of TIME magazine. I have the opportunity to influence the future of cremation memorialization. And it all started with a desire, and an urn.
Now before anyone calls me out for bragging or for seeking adulation, I want to affirm that is not the intent of my writing. A couple of years ago, I was honored to be invited by the New England Cemetery Association to speak at their annual meeting in Rhode Island. As I sat on the long flight to Boston, my large frame having been blessed with upgraded seating, I found myself sitting next to a young man with whom I struck up a conversation. He told me of his recent graduation and his pursuance of his Master’s degree in some scientific field that I don’t understand. I told him as I have told my own son and the apprentices I have had the opportunity to help serve families: follow your dreams, strive to be the very best at whatever you set out to do. Learn all you can and become the expert. Then someday, when you are being flown to share that dream and passion and knowledge with others, you too can have the chance to inspire a person who is facing the great wide world of possibility that they can do great things.
I hope to instill and inspire in all who read my words that, even with rough patches in the road, even when it seems overwhelming, even with blood, sweat, tears, heartache; in the midst of all of these things, success and fulfillment are yours for the taking! You can do great things. You can be somebody. You can make a difference. You too can live your dreams.
That’s my perspective…