More than a building

If you want to find the funeral home in a New England or in many rural towns, look for a beautiful old home, well maintained with a handicap accessible ramp and often an awning over the front sidewalk.  That describes our funeral home, Ackley & Ross Funeral Home, in the village of Cambridge (there is a Cambridge in every state since our forefathers brought the name with them) New York, to a tee.Image

Our building has been a funeral home since the mid-1940s when O. K. Spurr converted it from living quarters into a business establishment.  There is little known of the history of the building prior to his ownership, but we have been told that it belonged to two sisters from Troy, NY who had it as a summer home. I have always said that I should learn more about the history but I am not much of a researcher, so I haven’t.

My husband, who goes by Beaver (everyone who grew up in Cambridge has a nickname.  There are actually three men who went by “Beaver”) and I bought the funeral home from Charles A. Ackley who had bought it from O. K. Spurr.  It became Ackley & Ross Funeral Home on July 2, 1996.  We became the death care professionals for our community and the caretakers of a beautiful building built in the mid- 1800’s

Over the past seventeen years we have made a few changes but nothing drastic.  The ramp and awning were added, as well as a new roof and furnace. The inside of the building remains the same, the Doric style woodwork in one room Image

and the Egyptian style woodwork Image

(I learned these names from a professor who taught a class in architecture stopped by for a tour)in the other are in prime condition. There has not been the wear and tear on the building the way it would have been if it was a living space, a home for a family.

For over 65 years our building has been a “sacred place”; a place for the living to spend time with the dead.  It is a safe place for the living to shed tears, to cry with one another and to mourn the passing of their loved one from this world.  It is a place where community comes to give their support to a family, to share their memories and to let a family know that their loved one was important. No one may have lived inside of its walls for those 65 years but an important part of life has happened there. 

Times have changed in so many ways-ways that I will talk about another time- and with those changes our beautiful building is used less and less. 

Last week we had a traditional funeral .  We had the body of the deceased present.  She wasn’t very old, only a few years older than I am. She had been sick for a long time.  For some of the family, it was their first experience with seeing someone they loved in a casket.  When her daughter said to me,  “Mom, would love the way she looks.  Thank you.”, my heart soared. When I looked in later and saw the husband with a chair pulled up next to the casket, quietly talking to the woman he had loved for nearly 50 years, touching her arm in the ritual of letting go, I remembered why I chose to do the work that I do. 

When an hour of private family visitation turned into three hours with “just those invited” sharing stories, and memories and tears, bringing life into the walls of that beautiful old building, I could feel that building being happy.  If she (I have always thought of the building as female) could talk she would say, “Thank you for letting me be part of your life.  Thank you for letting me serve your family.  Thank you for letting me serve my purpose.” 

She is so much more than just a building.  She is part of the community, an important part.


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5 Responses to More than a building

  1. Alice Johnson says:

    Thank you for sharing and please don’t doubt what you are doing or contributing with this blog. There is no pressure when you are sharing and I, for one, appreciate the authenticity and transparency found here. Though I am not in your profession I too find comfort and purpose in end of life rituals and am drawn to the peace that can be found when someone such as yourself has so thoughtfully facilitated a gentle denouement to life for the departed and life as they have known it for those left behind.

    • enicholsross says:

      Alice, thank you so much. End of life rituals are so important. I hope and pray that they are never lost. I am not usually a negative person, but I am fearful of the future of my profession. How we care for and honor our dead has a real impact on our society. I am afraid that future generation will want “internet funerals” just to make it easy!

  2. Penni says:

    Beautiful home! The home where my daughter works was built in 1901 and it became a funeral home in 1936. We got to take a tour of it last May, and it was a beautiful, gracious old mansion. The owners have taken wonderful care to preserve it. It is called John M. Oakey Funeral home in Salem, VA. My daughter’s greatest joy is knowing she has served her families well, made a very hard time just a little bit better.

  3. Jon Katz says:

    Wonderful post, full of honesty and meaning.

  4. Enjoyed your bringing to life the building, and the relationship you have with it in what you do, coming across as two women on a journey together … a journey no less than a devotion to caregiving. The building almost comes across as a metaphor for you. Those quotes of thanks that the building if it could would say, very easily could have slipped from your lips. Wanting it to be recognized as so much more than just a building … is almost you saying don’t take me at face value on just what I do … but also why I do it … there is so much more … and let me tell you. Elizabeth, I am confidant you will let us know.

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