A family tradition that started with Hector Verhoeve, an active licensed funeral director for 57 years at Verhoeve Funeral Homes Limited (Tillsonburg and Langton), is being carried on by his son Maurice Verhoeve and grandson Robert Verhoeve.
The three generations worked together for a time.
Robert, representing the third generation, had plans to become a lawyer, completing two Bachelor of Arts degrees at the University of Guelph for criminal justice and public policy (sociology) over five years.
He had worked in the family business, respected the business, and had great respect for the people they served, but he was focused on law.
"I had complete intention of becoming a lawyer until about three years into university, then I started thinking about it.
Hector died Dec. 3, 2015 at the age of 76, and it triggered a change in Robert's career plans.
"What changed things for me is when my grandfather (Hector) passed away and I really saw how important this job was, and how positive it can be, being good at this job. You can leave a very positive impression, you can make it a lot easier for people... This is the reason that pushed me to become a funeral director."
Robert was accepted into a two-and-half-year funeral directors college program this fall, but decided to postpone entry, allowing more time with his now seven-month old son.
"Next September I plan on going to Humber College to become a full licensed funeral director... I'd like to think that he (Hector) would be very happy."
In the meantime, Robert continues to work at the renamed Maurice J. Verhoeve Funeral Homes - Burial and Cremation Services Inc., located at 262 Broadway in Tillsonburg, and 40 Queen Street, Langton.
"My father and I do work very well together and I'm told we are a very good team," Robert added. "I knew my father needed my help right now, especially with this transition period between his ownership of the business and my grandfather's. For the last while, he's more or less run the business on the day-to-day basis, and he's been a director for many years now, but being owner has added more responsibility on to his plate.
"There's been some changes in that sense, but we're trying to continue to serve the families that we've served, as well as create a new identity for ourselves. Onward and upward. I feel like I've injected a lot of new ideas into improving technology - our website's about to be completely reformatted to reflect the needs of our families. Simple things."
Robert's father, Maurice, remembers wanting to follow in his father's footsteps from a young age.
"I always wanted to be a funeral director, even when I was little," said Maurice, "because I worked along side my father since I was about 10 or 11 years old in lesser capacities, and in ever-growing capacities as time went on. I started off simple, answering phones, making out donations, answering the front door, learning people's names, and learning how to talk with people. I'd watch my father and learn the important soft skills - how he talked with people and how he listened and how he partnered with people throughout the whole process.
"Those were all important learning concepts," Maurice added.
"When I went to high school, the late Arnold Stover had an impact. He taught me very strongly how important it was to remember people's names, and to be able to talk to people effectively."
Maurice said his father was always his mentor, and his example had a great impact.
"This profession is a very unique one," said Maurice. "It has many, many wide ranging dynamics. It's a case where you are always learning... always learning better ways of doing things. You're always open to that possibility. Sometimes, if you gain their trust and they feel comfortable with you, they can describe things that they've seen or heard that were very helpful to them and others, that they saw at other funerals or other celebration of life events."
Three generations working together, said Maurice, was very unique.
"But in another way, it's a compliment to each generation, that another generation would in fact find value in what they do. In this case, all three found value in what we do, and see the positive impact it has on the people we serve."
Recently celebrating his 24th birthday, Robert is comfortable dealing with any generation.
"It's more about an individual's life story. I have great respect for learning what the family members, the individual that we're celebrating the life of, what they've been through and their life experiences. You meet all kinds of people from all walks of life."
"It's a privilege and honour, considering what they've all been through," Maurice nodded.
"At first, I was more of an observer," said Robert. "I stood back, did what I was told. I didn't engage with people very much because I wanted to learn before I started to make my own impact. Now, I've been doing this since August 2010, so I've got over six years under my belt. Not as much as my father and grandfather obviously, but I'm experienced dealing with people now.
"I get great satisfaction knowing that we've done the very best that we can, that we're a positive influence in a very difficult time for them."
Celebration of Life
Robert reflected on the importance of the celebration of life; the importance of taking the time to grieve.
"When a loved one passes on, it is important to take the time needed to reflect on this loss and grieve," said Robert. "It is also important to remember that although they are gone from this life, their spirit lives on: through our memories, by the stories they've told, and through each person in which they've positively influenced with their presence, friendship and wisdom.
"A funeral helps to reflect on these impacts, both the good times and the bad, and think about how our lives have been formed by lived experiences with this person, and to help us feel surrounded by their presence at least once more time before saying goodbye. Furthermore, a funeral may allow friends and family an avenue to appreciate the persistence of personality, strength of character, endurance of spirit and the importance of faith and hope.
"In today's day and age, life is fast-paced, career-centred and all too often involves less consideration for oneself, one's mental wellness and the devotion of enough time (if that is even possible) to our families and friends. It is important for everyone to allocate himself or herself time to grieve, process and reflect because the process of grieving is different for everyone.
"We all experience tragedy and loss at some point in our lives and for our own wellbeing it should be acknowledged rather than evaded. It is beneficial that this reflection takes place in an environment that is amicable with reflection, such as at a funeral home.
"Denying yourself the ability to grieve is... it's not healthy, it's not the way it was meant to be.
Variety of services
"Based on individual preference and in respect to the expressed wishes of the deceased, a funeral home can provide customized services that fit your wishes, such as... a simple (but positive and memorable) private graveside burial with a group of close peers and/or family; or the funeral home can coordinate a public funeral service, where all that wish to pay their respects are welcomed to do so; or the funeral home could arrange for a simple cremation, in which the remains are sealed into an urn and buried; or the cremated remains could be placed into a scattering urn, taken to a place of significance and spread (where lawful to do so)."
What they want people to know, he Robert, is that they are also willing and able to provide customized services that are not simply traditional funerals.
"We are very happy to assist with customized services - basically as long as it's ethical and legal. That's really the guidelines we follow.
"There are certainly many more possible customizations and options," he added. "The point is that the key to a successful, positive funeral experience lies within our own willingness to slow down our lives, to acknowledge and reflect on our loss, to celebrate a life well lived in an environment that is comfortable, while remaining steadfast that the services provided by funeral homes are a valuable avenue to do so.
"When I was younger, my father astutely told me that funeral services are for the loved ones of the deceased and that it is important to celebrate a life well lived. This is something that has continually resonated with me and it is what I believe sowed the seed of my interest in the bereavement industry.
"Much of this reflection has encompassed my experiences with the recent loss of my special grandfather. I can truly attest to the advantages, after suffering a tragic loss, of decelerating the pace of my life to reflect, grieve and be mindful of the many friends and family that care enough to be there for you."