An occupation in funeral services may not be a top-of-mind career choice among the larger population, but for employees Kevin Danz and Diane Gordon of St. Mary Cemetery and Funeral Center in Sacramento? Well, they love their work.
As Family Service Advisors, they work for one of four funeral centers and 11 cemeteries operating under Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services (CFCS) of the Diocese of Sacramento. Both are sure God led them to their work.
“Call it God’s direction,” says Kevin with conviction. He remembers how he needed a job as a student at Modesto Junior College. A 3 x 5 card pinned to a bulletin board in the placement center advertised a position with a funeral home. “They needed someone to run errands, wash cars, sweep sidewalks, and take flowers to the cemetery,” he explains, describing how the interview resulted in an on-the-spot hiring. Within months, he realized he liked it and commenced a lifelong career that included training and licensures for work as an embalmer, funeral director and funeral home manager. In 2001, he joined the staff at St. Mary Cemetery.
Kevin admits “never in my wildest ideas” did he imagine this, but “I like the service component of it and I like helping people,” he says. He describes that he feels comfortable and even gifted to work with people at deeply emotional and difficult times.
Diane, too, describes how “I never would have picked this; God put me here.” She accepted the position at St. Mary Cemetery nearly seven years ago after layoffs in her workplace claimed her whole division. Out of work for nine months, she asked, “God, what do you want me to do?” She applied for the position and two weeks later she got the call, quite certain her devout mother had prayed that God would lead Diane back to her faith.
Death and dying had surrounded Diane as a young adult, with too many friends lost to accidents on the snowy roads of Michigan. She moved to California and never looked back.
“I put it out there and this is what happened,” Diane says of submitting her application and overwhelmed that “at 55, I have found my mission in life.” Having never experienced such focused purpose in prior work, she views her position as “the best job I’ve ever had.”
Diane senses a special connection with the families she serves and how often it feels meant to be that she should be helping people “who need to be with you.”
“It’s all about making sure families have all the information they need about the options available to them,” Diane conveys, often viewing her role as more educational while also balancing sensitivities as people endure grief and loss.
Pre-Need and At-Need Services
Kevin and Diane work with families to pre-plan funeral services and cemetery needs, or in the event of a death with no prior arrangements, they assist families “at need” at times of unexpected death.
“Ideally, people have preplanned,” Kevin says, noting that “it’s the highest option we strive for but it’s not always the way it works out.” He estimates that about two-thirds of families served have pre-planned funeral and cemetery needs, making all the choices in advance.
“Sometimes we receive calls from families with an immediate loss and they haven’t pre-planned,” Diane notes, expounding on layers of difficulties for loved ones. Often families know little about what the deceased person may have wanted and, laden with grief, they must navigate a sea of choices in addition to financial, cultural and religious factors.
“It can be emotional and there can be disagreements,” Kevin confirms, indicating that such delicate situations require a lot of talking and a lot of listening.
Kevin and Diane engage in regular outreach to parishes attending weekend Masses throughout the diocese to inform parishioners and encourage them to consider preplanning. They also point out that CFCS serves people of all faith traditions and they strive to be flexible in meeting family needs and honoring the wishes of the deceased.
Family Service Advisors stress that pre-planning can be easy and accomplished in a few appointments, although some may opt to make choices over time. Catholic parishioners also can benefit from discounts and payment plans.
Diane lists several important decisions, from full body casket burial or cremation to the types of preferred services. Will there be a visitation and vigil? A parish funeral Mass? A headstone? Has property been purchased? As a full-service end-of-life provider, CFCS offers funeral home services and six options for committal to a final resting place.
Both Kevin and Diane emphasize the importance of talking about and planning for death.
“Talk about it now,” Kevin insists, recommending that families “embrace it, accept it and honor the passing, and don’t be afraid to talk about it now.” Diane echoes that advice and emphasizes the importance of letting your wishes be known through thoughtful planning. She adds that everything does not have to happen all at once and pre-planning alleviates the burden on grieving children and family members.
“Anything that is pre-planned is a gift,” Kevin maintains, having witnessed the trials of those who simply had to “figure it out” during a time of pain and loss. “It’s a gift to your family because you love them and you care for them.”
About the ministry of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services or speak with a Family Service Advisor by visiting www.cfcssacramento.org or by calling 916-452-4831.
About employment opportunities with Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services at www.scd.org/employment
Listen to Kevin and Diane, together with CFCS co-worker Nicole Zamora, on The Bishop's Hour:
(Photo: Kevin Danz and Diane Gordon are Family Service Advisors at St. Mary Cemetery and Funeral Center in Sacramento.)