–by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: 11.15.16
I entered Walker Funeral Home, located at 5155 W. Sylvania Ave., for the first time without a heavy heart. I have entered its doors numerous times before to say my final goodbyes to a loved one or to comfort grieving friends and family. It has been my experience that fear stems from ignorance. Therefore, I was excited, and let’s be honest, curious, of learning more about the local business that has been helping residents honor their deceased loved ones since 1933.
I first spoke with Keith Walker, president of Walker Funeral Home and Crematory, whose grandfather opened Walker Funeral Home’s first location 83 years ago in downtown Toledo close to the Toledo Museum of Art. “My grandfather was a people person,” recalled Walker. “That is what this business is really all about. It’s building relationships with people when they need you the most. Honestly when I started in 1997 as president, I brought in a whole new team of talented, compassionate people. I started when we were assisting 130 families a year. Currently we serve 350 families a year at this location.”
From beginning to end
Walker team members are with families from the time of death to embalming and burial or cremation. “We handle the entire process,” stated Walker. “It’s what sets us apart. We send our own driver to pick up the deceased. We leave a rose on a pillow with a note that we will be taking care of their loved one. We use a handmade quilt, not a body bag, when we transfer their loved ones. Little details are important. We also have constant communication with families. If families call us with questions, we have failed. We want them to be informed through every step of the process and know they will be cared for.”
Ups and downs
I asked Walker and two of his staff members, Ryan Hobbs, director of operations, licensed funeral director and embalmer, and Dave Latta, location manager, licensed funeral director and embalmer, what they felt was the most rewarding aspect of their chosen careers. “We get to care for the people that entrust us with their loved one,” stated Hobbs. “We have the autonomy to experience ourselves as caregivers. We do not provide ‘cookie cutter’ care. We have the freedom to uniquely care for them based on their individual religious, cultural and economic situations.”
Latta enjoys using his personal skills on the job. “I think people appreciate the sacredness of what we do,” he stated. “We have the task of telling their life story. We also help people transition from having a relationship in the physical realm to memory. The relationship has changed, not ended. It is rewarding to be with families in the middle of the night after they lose a loved one, and be the same face to greet them in the morning.”
Walker feels that funerals are an important psychological experience and he is rewarded by helping families acknowledge, commemorate and celebrate a life. “Every life is sacred and needs to be cherished and remembered,” said Walker.
According to Walker, one of the most difficult aspects of the job is the increasing loss of young people to heroin. “We have had two deaths in the last week, and both were in their early 20s,” stated Walker. “Earlier this year, we asked ourselves what we could do and took $50,000 out of our advertising budget to increase awareness. It wasn’t enough. Now we have a website (helpwithheroin.com) that connects people with the help they need whether they are a user or family member in need of help.”
No bad days allowed
The one thing that all men stressed is that they must be at their best at all times. “No matter what is going on in our lives, we show up at our best,” explained Hobbs. “Even if you think you’re having a tough day, theirs is worse and they need our compassion.”
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Every man dies the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” After spending time at Walker Funeral Home, I am comforted that there are people in the service of others that value every life and help families make those distinctions and celebrate and honor the memory of their loved ones.