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Q. Why did you choose to become a funeral director?
A. I had just finished my Grade 12, and my grandparents had passed away – both within a very short period of time. I was quite impressed with the way the funeral directors handled themselves and dealt with us as a family.
I did a couple of odd jobs for three years, but the thought of (becoming a funeral director) kept entering the back of my mind. I spoke to my parents about it, and they thought it was an honourable career to pursue. I didn’t know when I went into it that it would last this long.

Q. How did you get into it?
A. I was living in Winnipeg at that point, and I saw an ad in the paper for someone looking for help in a Steinbach funeral home. I phoned, got an interview, and got the job back in September of 1967.
Then, the next May, the owner had wanted to do some things in his personal life, so he had to hire a licenced funeral director, which I was not, so I was out of a job.
I contacted the secretary of the Manitoba Funeral Service Association and asked if there were any other positions somewhere. Paull Funeral Home was looking for a person, so I called them, got a ride up to Swan River with some friends, and spoke with Edwin and Eldon Paull. They said I could live with them for a week, and if we got along good in that week, they would hire me.

Q. Did you start your family here as well?
A. Yes. My wife, Lucile (nee Barnett) is from Bowsman. We met here, started our family here, and have been here ever since. We have two grown sons in Brandon, and six grandchildren.

Q. You’ve worked with three generations of Paulls. Do they feel like a second family to you?
A. I think so. You don’t spend that many hours with somebody and not have a personal interaction with them. I’ve always had a good relationship with all three generations.
We spend a lot of hours together. We used to work 9 to 5, but lots of times, you are there until midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning to go to some of the rural hospitals.
There is no such thing as set hours in the funeral industry, at least not in a rural setting.

Q. Do you think there is more of a personal relationship with the community in a rural setting?
A. For sure. You deal with a wide variety of families from all over the Valley. And, you get to know all these people.
For some families I’ve dealt with, I’ve had funerals for four generations. It’s not uncommon for someone in the street to say hello to you, and then quickly wonder where you know this person.

Q. What do you like about your job?
A. It’s very satisfying to be able to help people in a very tough time in your life. Some people, particularly when it is the first time they have dealt with death in the family, it is very traumatic, but for some people, it is not. It depends on their personal nature.
People are very vulnerable at that time, so funeral directors have to be very careful not to put them into an uncomfortable position. You are there to help relieve their tension. You can’t take away their grief, but you can make their grief easier by how you deal with them.

Q. What are some unique challenges to your job?
A. Probably trying to make people look the way they did before, after they have been involved in an unnatural death. We try to make them look as natural as we can.
Roughly every 10 years or so, we go for continuing education. Even at my age, I still learn new things, such as new techniques of how to do things.

Q. How has your field changed during your time?
A. The biggest change is the chemicals we use. When I started, the chemicals were very harsh, and that was before we had masks. Now, you can hardly smell the fluids, and all the product we use is more environmentally friendly.
We also don’t use nearly as much cosmetics as we used to, as the (preserving) fluids we use now give a very natural appearance, more so than years ago.
Also, when I took my (licencing) course, it was a five-year course. The embalmers course was three years, and the directors course was two years. That was before internet, and everything was handwritten.
Now, it is a two-year, all-in-one course. And, I don’t think any of it is watered down, but just handled differently.

Q. What have you learned about the job or yourself in the last 50 years?
A. I learned that if you do your job well, people are very thankful. We’re not like a restaurant, where they expect a tip. We don’t expect a tip. All we want is a thank you. That happens a lot, and that is what keeps me going.
Over the years, I’ve developed my trade and my skills.

Q. What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
A. When my children were growing up, I coached minor ball for nine or 10 years, and then when my children got older, that went by the wayside.
I’ve also been involved with genealogy for 30 some years. I’ve traced some of my family back to the 1600s, back to Prussia.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a funeral director themselves?
A. It is a very good career, and can be very rewarding. Funeral homes are always looking for someone who wants to start because people like myself are getting older.
Some people go into it for a few years, and it’s not for them. But, there are a lot of funeral directors who have been in it for 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years, like myself.
It’s a very honourable profession. A lot of times, people just see us in a suit and white shirt, but there is a lot more to it than that. Sometimes, we get our hands dirty. We have cemeteries to set up, and cars to wash.
It matters if you’ve got good employers and good staff that make it easier to come to work in the morning.

Jeremy Bergen