Heather Axtell
Scholarship Winner, Spring 2009


The area of study I have chosen for my life’s work is Mortuary Science. I have chosen this area of study for several reasons. I have been raised in the funeral home that my parents own. Our funeral home is in a small rural community in the Panhandle of Oklahoma. I started working funerals at the age of twelve. In our home, our whole life revolves around funerals and the helping and supporting of families that have lost a loved one. One of the main reasons that I have decided to go into the funeral business is the fact that the aged portion of our community as convinced me that I have a talent in this area. Many are the times that the surviving spouses of the deceased have strongly encouraged me to make this my life’s work.

There are many transitions that a family must make at the death of a loved one. These can range from emotional, and financial, to who is going to mow the yard? My parents have taught me that our job is not just embalming, visitation and a funeral. As I have said, I live in a small rural community. Therefore, I know almost all of the deceased and their families that we serve on a personal level.

The ways that I can and do help families through this difficult transition are many and varied. First, I will make sure that all mortuary procedures, embalming, arrangements and the funeral are arranged and taken care of in a manner that shows the utmost respect for the deceased and the family. Second, I can always make sure that I am available to any grieving family at anytime, day or night. Many are the times I have seen my parents go to the mortuary at 2:00am to sit with a grieving spouse or child, and I have seen the benefit this has been to that person. I will educate myself in areas of banking procedures, insurance and legal matters concerning estates. Not to be an expert in all of these areas, but to be able to point the surviving family members in the correct direction they should proceed. I do now and will continue after my education to go and visit with the family members of the deceased for weeks after a death. I have found that many times an unexpected visit from someone who will just sit and listen is just what was needed at that time. I do not intend to represent myself as a grief counselor, just as a friend with some experience who is willing to listen.

As for physical needs, yes I have gone and mowed their yard. It has been my experience that there are many small acts that I can do that help make this transition easier for someone. It may be necessary to take someone to their doctor’s appointment, to make sure they have their medication lined out. I can make sure they can get to the grocery store when they need to. I know to someone who lived in a metropolitan area all these things I have mentioned may seem strange, but as I have said I live in and plan on returning to a small rural community. These are not things that I have dreamed up to look good for this essay, but actual deeds that my parents have taught me to do by example.

In closing, I would like to say that it has been my experience that all of the above listed deeds are necessary and helpful to the family of the deceased. But, in the end just having someone who is willing to set and listen, often, appears to be of more value than anything else that can be offered. My parents often cheerfully complain that is hard to get any work done do the number of family members that return to the mortuary for weeks after a death, just to visit. Many times I have detailed to do just this so some work can be done.