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.
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
(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.