Local funeral director spends lifetime helping the grieving
By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – By the time Jim McWilliams was in grade school, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Acquainted with some funeral directors in the community, Jim thought their profession was noble. He researched what the occupation entailed, and decided to secure the proper credentials. As the former owner of Britton Funeral Homes, Jim and his wife, Carol, raised their daughter at the Shrewsbury facility, living upstairs from the parlor. Now residing in a house nearby, Jim remains involved as Senior Funeral Director Emeritus, in the place he's worked for 32 years.
Being an active member of the community where he directs funerals, Jim has helped close friends and contacts with their arrangements, and has become close to others he met through his service. Guiding people in their time of loss has been meaningful to Jim.
“In the few days that you spend with families, anywhere from four days down to two days, you really become a part of their family. It's very satisfying,” he said.
Having been in the business for nearly 50 years, Jim is still deeply committed to his duties, and enormously fulfilled by his career. He said he couldn's imagine doing anything else with his life.
Jim acknowledged that parts of the job can take a toll. He said the hardest is when a child dies, thinking about how he would react if it were his child.
“It's just not a natural thing to lose a child,” he added, “I think any funeral director will tell you that it's the most difficult part.”
Another challenge is needing to be available 24/7; getting up at two in the morning, often several days in a row, and not being able to fall back asleep.
Jim feels it is all worth it.
“We really help people at the most difficult time in most people's lives … just to be able to do that, to walk them through their grief, that's been the most rewarding.”
Wanting to provide post-funeral care, Jim initiated grief support programs at the home. He remains involved in community outreach, recently serving as a greeter for a presentation at a local church about managing grief during the holidays.
Jim has also done outreach to school children, talking with them about his profession and inviting them on tours of the home. He explained what the funeralization process is about, and why wakes are held. Many of the children had never had a death in their family, Jim said, and so it took the mystique away.
As they got older, Jim said, some of the kids would come into the funeral home and tell their parents they remembered coming there. Now they had an understanding of what was happening. They didn's come in apprehensive, Jim added.
Outside of work, Jim sometimes gets raised eyebrows from people he meets for the first time when they find out what he does for a living. He said some think it is very strange. Curiosity abounds, and everybody's got a few jokes about funeral directors, he added.
Having lived at the funeral home, Jim's work became a large part of Carol's life too.
“You saw people come through those doors during the most difficult time in their lives, and they all seem to be able to carry on and survive these tragic events. What you get back from them, the strength I think that you see that people bring to these tragic occasions, is very uplifting,” Carol said.
Reflecting on his work, Jim said, “It's been a good life.”
Carol echoed his sentiments.
“It's been a wonderful life. It really has,” she said.
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