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Quick Questions with … Josh Mitchell, funeral director

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 September 2013 at 12:00 am

23-year-old joins the family business in Albion, Holley

Photos by Tom Rivers – Josh Mitchell is a full-time funeral director. He joined Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in December.

ALBION – Josh Mitchell has followed his father David and grandfather Rho as a funeral director at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion and Holley.

Rho started the business in 1957. David joined him in 1984. In December, Josh became the third generation to join the business as a funeral director.

Josh, 23, grew up in Holley and graduated from the school in 2008. He played soccer and tennis at Holley. Like his father and grandfather, he graduated from the Simmons Institute of Funeral Service in Syracuse.

Josh spent 13 months with the Wright-Bread Funeral Home in Canton, completing his state-required residency. He then passed his state exam to become a licensed funeral director, one of four at Christopher Mitchell.

Mitchell also is a certified celebrant. He can officiate services for people who did not have an affiliation with a church.

“I can personalize it,” he said about those funeral services. “I tell their life story and share special memories. We can do it with music and videos. I try to create a special celebration of life.”

The following interview with Josh Mitchell was conducted Aug. 21 at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion.

Question: People may wonder why you wanted to get into the funeral business?

Answer: It really intrigued me and from what my dad told me, helping somebody out really means a lot to them and hopefully you can do the best job that they expect of you.

Question: It seems like it takes special people to work in this business, helping people in their time of grief.

Answer: Some days are easier than others. Everybody grieves in their own way. Whether you knew them or not, whether they had 100 friends or no friends, they are still a person, somebody who had a life.

Question: Has this business changed much over the years?

Answer: More people are being cremated now because of ease and the cost is usually cheaper. And people live everywhere. The time frame for a traditional funeral isn’t always the best. That’s why a lot of people are choosing cremation.

Cremation didn’t come out until the ’60s, but the cremation rate has increased drastically over the last 20 years. It’s about 40 to 50 percent now in the United States.

Question: Do you do cremations here?

Answer: No. In New York State funeral homes cannot have a retort (cremation chamber) unless they were grandfathered in prior to that law. There are few in the state that do that. We use one in Rochester.

Josh Mitchell said there aren’t too many multi-generation, family-owned funeral businesses these days.

Question: I remember Christopher Mitchell doing a big expansion here in Albion maybe 15 years ago. Is that because fewer people are using a chapel or church for funeral services?

Answer: There are a lot of people without a church affiliation. They like to use the funeral home as a neutral location.

Question: Based on your experience at Simmons, how many of your classmates were from families in the funeral business?

Answer: I’d say there were four out of 20. It’s a very small percentage. There aren’t as many family-owned funeral businesses as there used to be. A lot of corporate-owned conglomerates have come in and bought funeral homes. In the smaller towns people seem to like the family-owned business. They can put a face to it. They know my dad because he’s been here a long time.

Question: Did this business appeal to you while growing up and seeing your dad and grandfather doing this?

Answer: I originally wanted to be an engineer. My dad and grandfather didn’t push it on me growing up. I didn’t see my first deceased individual until I went to school at Simmons. That’s when I knew I could do it or not do it.

When I graduated from high school, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Question: It seems like it might be an unpredictable schedule. You need to be there when people need you.

Answer: If somebody does pass away in the middle of the night, we have to go get them. It’s a job that requires you to act when you’re called upon. We try to get there as soon as possible to get somebody’s loved one and bring them back to the funeral home.

Josh Mitchell is pictured with his father David and grandfather Rho. This photo was taken about a year ago by Bruce Landis and hangs on the wall at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion.

Question: What else does a funeral director do?

Answer: We do everything from picking a person up to contacting the family and setting up the arrangements. If they want the service at a church, we’ll contact the clergy. We’ll contact the cemetery. We’ll write an obituary and send it to the papers. Whether it’s dealing with a casket or an urn, we’ll take care of it, and we’ll set up the funeral home if it’s needed for calling hours or a service. If they have life insurance, we can help them get that going.

We see everything from beginning to end.

Question: Do you have any advice for people on how they could make this a little easier.

Answer: You can never really prepare for death, but some people set up pre-need (pre-arrangement) accounts and get their ideas on paper about what they really want. That makes it less of a burden on a family. That gets everyone on the same page and makes it easier on the family.

Question: Is this a difficult job?

Answer: The toughest for me is when someone dies my age or if they are an infant. When it’s somebody my age or somebody I know, it’s eye opening. This job has taught me you never really know when it’s your time. It’s taught me not to take things for granted.

Question: Anything else you want to say?

Answer: It’s good to be back home. I was out of the area for 2 ½ years. It’s nice to see the community supporting me being here. They know me. They can continue to put faith in our business.

David Mitchell says son is off to a good start

(Before I left the interview with Josh Mitchell, I stopped by his father’s office. David Mitchell said his son is doing a great job and has been accepted by the community.)

Question: What makes Josh good at this?

Answer: His heart and his mind are into this. If you get into this thinking you are going to make all kinds of money, you’re going to be out real quick. You have to feel a calling to it.

With Josh, I always asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to do anything else?” He made the decision. It wasn’t made by me or his grandfather.

People like him. I was at a service here last week and Josh was off. People kept asking me, “Where’s Josh?” That was nice to hear.