Dutch funeral home owner Vivienne Heddes, left, took a tour of Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd. on Wednesday morning. Heddes was in St. Marys visiting her son Joep who has been on Rotary exchange in St. Marys since the winter.
By Dan Rankin
Usually, if you want to talk about your business with someone in the same line of work from a different country it involves travelling to a big convention in Toronto or Las Vegas, and wandering around a huge ballroom packed with people. Andrew Hodges, funeral director and co-owner of Andrew L. Hodges Funeral Home Ltd. located at 47 Wellington Street South in St. Marys, got a chance to compare and contrast the funeral home business in Canada and the Netherlands on Wednesday morning this week, and he didn’t have to travel to Toronto or Vegas to do it. He didn’t even have to leave the comfort of his own home, as Dutch funeral home owner Vivienne Heddes stopped by Hodges’ place to take a tour during her visit to St. Marys.
Heddes’ son Joep has been attending DCVI as a Rotary exchange student since last year and she is currently visiting him as part of a planned two-week visit to Ontario. Her daughter, and Joep’s younger sister, Frederieke joined her on her visit to Hodges’ funeral home. Frederieke will be in town for a week after Vivienne’s departure to intern as a staff member at DCVI.
Vivienne said she has owned her own funeral home in the Dutch municipality of Enkhuizen for the past three years, and worked at another home for five years before that. Both Vivienne and Hodges said they average around 100 funerals per year.
“I hire everything – I hire a car, I hire the people who take care of the person who died,” said Vivienne, whose business card identifies her as “Uitvaartverzorgster,” or, funeral attendant. “I make arrangements and lead the service. I’m the person for the family.”
In their region in the Netherlands, grieving families often choose to stay home, so she goes to them. However, she also offers a key to the funeral home to families. “They can be by their beloved for every hour they want. They can go in and out and make their own coffee. With the visitation, everyone can come and say sorry at set times – but sometimes people want to be there with their man or wife. They want to go every hour, so that’s why we give them the key.”
Hodges told his visitors about the history of the funeral home business in St. Marys, before leading them on a tour of the home including his preparation room and the downstairs casket selection room.
“I want to see everything!” Vivienne said.
Both Hodges and Heddes said they have noticed the number of church services on the decline.
Heddes said that in the vast majority of cases at her home, cremation follows the service. Hodges said he estimates that the cremation rate in St. Marys is only about 60 percent.
As they walked around, they compared local customs and regulations, as to how they meet and confer with the grieving family in the time leading up to the service.
“I just use two mini-vans, and I rent a hearse if I need one,” said Hodges, showing off the vehicles in his driveway. The back seats have been removed to make room for a stretcher, which can be replaced with rollers for a casket. Or, all that can be taken out to put the seats back in. “It’s multi-purpose,” he said.
“I give people the option, we can rent a hearse, or we can use this, or there’s even a guy not too far away who has a Harley motorcycle with a carriage on the back,” he said.
Heddes said they had a few more options in terms of funeral coaches. “We can go by foot, we can go with a motorcycle, with a horse, or we have a funeral bus,” she said. “50 people can go in the bus. Everyone can sit together.”
Hodges said he wasn’t aware of any funeral home in Ontario with such a bus at their disposal. “But I can see the benefit of getting everyone in one vehicle and making sure everybody gets there safely.”
Next, they stepped into the preparation room – which was otherwise empty of any other occupants – to compare embalming methods. In the Netherlands, arrangements must be made for a body to be cremated or buried within six working days, Heddes said. Special permission must be asked from a doctor and the local municipal government in cases where family travel would require more than the six days, she said.
In Canadian funeral homes, wait times can be a little longer without government approval, Hodges said, before leading her through his typical embalming process – including the technical specifics of closing eyes and mouths.
Heddes paused to snap a photo of the room on her phone before Hodges led the group downstairs to take a look at his selection of caskets. Toward the end of the tour, they discussed the importance of serving their customers as best they could.
“I try to explain things as best as I can to people and let them decide,” said Hodges.
“You have to do what you think is right,” Heddes agreed.
“You let them choose so they don’t regret what they do afterwards – because there are no do-overs.”