Cathleen Blanchard has been a licensed funeral director for 22 years, but she says she understands why people may not be enthusiastic to seek her services.
“When people come to our door it is probably the last one they ever want to walk though, so we want them to feel comfortable and not be scared or apprehensive,” Blanchard says of her job, which includes almost every aspect of the service once Moore Funeral Home of Brevard has been contacted. “We want to take away some of the uncertainty of what comes next and for them to have as much knowledge about what they will experience. Our primary goal is to offer the family a sense of solace in a time of need.”
Blanchard was working in a Hendersonville flower shop helping families select casket pieces and other floral arrangements for funerals when she became interested in the career, which she has practiced now for more than two decades.
“I wanted to find out what else there was to helping families with the decisions they have to make, and I quickly learned how rewarding it is to help people through what can be a very rough time,” she says. “I’m very passionate about my job and I can’t dream of anything else I would rather do.”
After 12 months of intense study at Atlanta’s Gupton-Jones School of Funeral Service and a year-long apprenticeship with a funeral home, Blanchard was certified for the work that includes much more than just the funeral service itself.
“From the moment we are contacted, we take care of everything,” she explains. “We pick up the body, take care of preparations for a private viewing, organize the funeral, write the obituary and gather all the statistical information that is required for the death certificate.”
Even though North Carolina law does not require a body to be embalmed prior to burial, it is necessary if the family wants to view their loved one at the funeral home, and thereby it becomes another part of Blanchard’s responsibility.
“Embalming is essentially replacing the blood with a chemical to help preservation so the family can come in and see their loved one at peace one last time,” she says. “We close their eyes, their mouth and bathe them. Everything is respectfully done because we want to honor that this is someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.”
Working in a small community such as Brevard, Blanchard said she oversees about 125 funeral services each year and sometimes that work has involved people she knows well.
“It can get difficult when the person who passes away is someone that you have known or is the family member of someone with whom you are close,” she admits. “When you’re dealing with a friend that has lost a child or a parent, it adds another dimension because you really want to help them start the grieving process. But even with a stranger it can be difficult to help lead them to the right way to deal with things.”
While the office hours posted outside the funeral home say 9am to 5pm, Blanchard says she really is never off the clock.
“I remember one Christmas morning when we were sitting around breakfast preparing to open gifts, and I got a call to go into work,” she says. “Our Christmas was put on hold because death has no holiday. Whenever the call comes we go to work.”
While the hours are long and keeping the appropriate decorum is necessary, sometimes the work does offer some surprises.
“Once I had a service in Bat Cave that was for a Native American family, and that was different because of their traditions,” she remembers. “Just as the family gathered around the grave, an eagle flew over and for them that was an incredible sign that the spirit had been released.”
One of Blanchard’s specialties in this field is helping families make their funeral decisions in advance so that when the time comes the arrangements aren’t made in haste, and that is something she has already taken care of with her own family.
“For my own funeral, I want a very traditional service and an earth burial,” she explains. “I have left a lot of the decisions up to my daughter because I want her to have an opportunity to visit with me one last time and say goodbye if that’s what her wishes are.”