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Young mortician helps families cope with loss of loved ones

August 11, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Daniel Oliver Pauley Jr. will be the first to admit that a person doesn't just wake up one day and wish to be a mortician.

But the 19-year-old said he couldn't be happier with his choice of work.

"It is a unique career that takes a very special person," Pauley said.

Until he was 14, Pauley had his life all planned - he was going to be a Maryland State Police trooper so he could help people. But that all changed when his Aunt Chris died.

"I watched the funeral director and saw how he comforted my family," Pauley said. "I've always wanted to help people and I decided then that this was what I wanted to do."

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While a junior at Smithsburg High School, Pauley began taking college classes to get a head start.

Graduating in May from Catonsville (Md.) Community College with the required mortuary science associate degree, Pauley passed his national mortuary board exams in June. Having met all the Maryland requirements last fall, he began his six-month apprenticeship with Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.

"I put in 1,000 hours as an apprentice," Pauley said.

Now, Pauley and Fiery are the licensed morticians at the funeral home.

A mortician is the person who is there when a person passes away, either while someone else is present or not, Pauley said.

"We arrange for services, which includes the specialized care of the deceased," Pauley said.

When it comes to the embalming process, Pauley said he deals with that aspect of his job by remembering what the Bible tells him about death.

"My faith tells me that the person is with God ... that person is no longer here," Pauley said.

What he then does is treat everyone with the utmost care, dignity and respect.

"My job then is to bring that person back to how they looked by creating a memory picture for the family," he said.

Sometimes, that isn't possible because of the circumstances of the death. And sometimes when it's a child, the process is particularly difficult both for the families and for the mortician, Pauley said.

"In school, we had classes in death, dying and bereavement," Pauley said. "I have a duty to a family to pay attention to details and I think families appreciate that."

Every funeral is different and every family handles things differently, Pauley said.

"The key is to let the family know you really care," he said.

Another aspect of his job is planning, which Pauley describes as one of the greatest gifts a person can give his or her family by sparing them from having to deal with certain deaths while they are grieving.

When he isn't working, Pauley enjoys water sports and spending time with his family - parents Daniel and Pam Pauley and his 15-year-old brother, Brandon. But he'll be the first to admit that he's working most of the time these days.

"I actually live here at the funeral home and have since I was 17," Pauley said. There is an apartment right upstairs.

Thanks to his father's friendship with Fiery when they were in school, Pauley was able to do odd jobs around the funeral home while he still was in school. That included landscaping and helping out at viewings, he said.

"Doug is a godsend for me," Pauley said. "He's my mentor - the best anyone could have - and he is my employer and my friend."

Recently, while Fiery was on vacation, Pauley was working particularly hard.

"My friends are at that age where they make jokes about me being a mortician, but I don't mind," Pauley said. "I couldn't be happier with my choice of career."

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