WAYLAND — The funeral business has had to advance over time, but some appreciate the traditional way of doing things.
Stanley Swan, a former funeral director, met with the Wayland Lowell Club on Oct. 2 to talk about the importance of the funeral business.
“After I retired from the funeral business I decided to write a book about what I had seen,” he said. “My first book came out three years ago, and it is a series of true short stories. I do a lot of these kinds of engagements to talk about my book and the business of undertaking.”
Swan’s first book “Undertakings of an Undertaker: The Stories of Being Laid to Rest” is doing really well all over the world. He is now working on his second book “Tales Unleashed” that are 28 short stories. He hopes to have that out by the end of the year, and said his work is like his heroes Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.
Swan said he enjoys talking to people about the funeral business, because often many have questions about what it consists of. Most of the questions boil down to how do you chose a funeral director, and should you go with cremation or burial.
Swan said that before you chose a funeral director you should get to know them, and find out if they are the kind of person you want to bury your loved ones.
After spending 35 years in the funeral business Swan passed the torch to two young ladies he hired for the Corning area. In order to keep up to date with all the rules and regulations in the business funeral directors need to recertify every two years.
Swan’s great uncle had a funeral business in the early 1900s, but other than that he and his wife are the only ones who did it. As the funeral business caught on Swan also did humanitarian work after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
There are less and less traditional funerals in recent years as more people are going for Memorial Services and Celebrations of Life. There is another change forming with more and more females interested in the business.
“A big trend now is more and more females are getting into the business,” Swan said. “They are doing very well too. Families find it easier to talk to a woman about funeral arrangements.”
From the early age of 14 years old Swan knew he wanted to grow up to be a funeral director. He started working with a funeral director in 1978. Once the opportunity came up in 1983 for him to take over the Andover Funeral Home he and his wife did so. He moved on in recent years to a Corning Funeral Home.
“In the 50s and 60s the standards were to spend a week saying goodbye to the dead,” Swan said. “I am old school in the fact that I think it is important to see the body, and be able to say goodbye. I have had people tell me they regretted not seeing the body, and being able to say goodbye.”
Swan added that nowadays everyone is in a big hurry to get it over with, and often many will regret the hasty decision. Another side effect of the rush is that more and more are going with cremation, because the funeral director will keep the ashes of the loved one as long as you want.
Nowadays you can also rent a casket to view the body, and the funeral director will reline the casket to be used again.
Swan mentioned a heartbreaking thing about taking over the Andover Funeral Home was that three cremations had been left on the shelf since the 1960s, and he had to work hard to find who they belonged to. This happens often that the remains will be left for a long period of time and forgotten.
“I think the burial process is very important,” he said. “People need to have a place to visit their loved ones who have passed on. You need a place to sit down, and have a talk with them. I find that people regret not burying their loved ones.”
There was talk about body donations versus organ donations, and what that means for the family. If you donate your entire body to science the university will take it and use it for teaching purposes for a year. Afterwards the ashes are given to the family.
With organ donors the person is officially brain dead, but the body is kept alive to harvest the vitals. These organs are shipped immediately to the ones who get them, and a part of your loved one lives on. People often go with that option, because they are literally giving another person life. The organ harvesting is done in a very respectful manner for the family.
Another reason burial is important is that you get a chance to visit history, mentors, and other people who you may look up to in life. Swan visited one he always admired, Rod Serling, and he broke down crying at how emotional it was to be at his graveside.
Swan has a blog in which he keeps up with his stories. You can visit it at https://myundertakings.blogspot.com