Death is way of life for funeral director

By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
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Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series profiling someone with an interesting job in the community. For suggestions, contact Laura Newell at Andrey Semenyuk deals with death nearly everyday while on the job — and has done so for the last few years. But, Semenyuk isn’t a doctor, a police officer or a paramedic. He’s a funeral director. “It’s important work,” he said. “I like working with families and and helping them out during their time of loss. I do my best to be there whenever possible.” The 25-year-old has been working at Folsom’s Miller Funeral Home for nearly seven years ago. While in his teens, Semenyuk’s father owned a landscaping service. The younger Semenyuk, along with his brother Igor, worked for their father. Among their clients was Miller Funeral Home and the expansive Lakeside Memorial Lawn cemetery. “We handled all of the mowing and other landscaping,” Semenyuk said. “At some point, we were asked to dig the graves. We got to be good friends with the staff and I was amazed with the work they did, especially helping the families. “It wasn’t long before I was working on the staff and found myself helping families plan funeral services for the loved ones.” Semenyuk said that dealing with the loss of a loved one can be very stressful for families and it’s his job to guide them through that period. “There are so many choices to make. A standard burial or cremation. Open or closed casket,” he said. “Then, there’s the selecting the casket and setting up the service itself. Arranging music and contacting the pallbearers. These decisions can be very overwhelming and it’s my job to help them select this or that and make those certain arrangements.” There is also paperwork that needs to filled out and sometimes the family needs help with that. Semenyuk said he does his best to guide the family through all that. “It always depends on the families,” he said. “When it’s a young child, those are the hardest. Parents feel that they shouldn’t outlive their children. That kind of loss is very, very hard to deal with.” Semenyuk said that the funeral home has a list of contacts for families who might need grief counseling. “I do the best I can, all of us do,” he said. “But, for some families, they might need more counseling as time goes on. We can direct them to those resources.” He said that there are services during which the family has a sense of relief. “There are times when people die from a lingering illness,” he said. “Maybe they spent a lot of their final years in pain or discomfort. When they do pass on, the families feel a sense of relief — that person they love is no longer suffering and is in a better place. The family finds comfort in believing that.” Semenyuk said that the style of funeral services have changed over the years. “There was once a time when many funeral services were the same,” he said. “Very dour and solemn. But, in the last 20 years, there’s been a shift in that tone. A number of services are like a celebration of the loved one’s life, a time when family and friends are encouraged to remember all the good times.” During those services, he said, it’s not uncommon for family and friends to exchange remembrances . . . and even laugh and smile. “Yes, there are still tears and a sense of sadness,” he said. “But people tend to focus on the good times — and that helps hem a lot.” Semenyuk said that it was necessary to be very respectful of the families cultural and/or religious traditions. “For example, with some Eastern European traditions, the funeral service is held at night and the burial is conducted the next day,” he said. “With some cultures like the Hmong, the service last for three days. Tradition also calls for the family to even dress the loved one in his or her favorite clothes.” Sometimes, the family will make a request or the deceased will have one and the family wants it carried out. “We had a service for a gentleman who was farmer in Orangevale,” Semenyuk said. “He loved working in his orchard. So, he wanted the viewing to be held in his house — it was the house he’d been born in, lived in all his life and eventually died in.” So, Semenyuk made arrangements for the viewing to be held at the house. Since it was impossible to fit the casket through the doorway, he and others had to open a living room window and slide the casket through. As per the man’s request, he was dressed in his favorite work clothes. “For the funeral service the next day, he was wearing his best suit,” Semenyuk said. Jim “Digger” Williams said that it takes a special kind of person to work as a funeral director. Williams himself worked at the Miller Funeral Home and knows what it’s like. “You need to be constantly aware of the family’s emotional reactions,” he said. “Aware and respectful. And, prepared for many kinds of emotional responses. Members of the same family might react differently to the loss of a loved one — and there you are, dealing with it. But it’s all part of the job.” Williams said that a unique brand of patience and understanding is needed when dealing with grieving families. “It’s a very special field to be in,” he said. “You have to be so many things to the same family at the same time. Not many people can do it. I did and it wasn’t easy at times — but I had to because a number of people were depending on me. In the end, I felt good because I knew I helped those folks out and made a difference.” Not all funeral services are the same. Semenyuk said that he encounters a wide variety of emotions from one service to another. Technology has changed some aspects of the funeral business. Semenyuk said that if the family wishes to do, online memorials with photo galleries or video montages can be produced. People using the Internet can sign the virtual guest book and leave messages for the families. “In a way, it helps those family and friends who live too far away or couldn’t attend the service,” he said. “I think it’s a very good thing.” Typically, Semenyuk said that the funeral home can arrange and conduct a service within 48 hours of notification. There have been some occasions when a funeral service was held the same day, he said. “Or, depending on the family, it might be a week or even longer,” he said. Aside from his work at Miller’s, Semenyuk spends time with his wife Viktoriya and their children, Isabella and Phillip. “I really enjoy my family,” he said. “They help me a lot in so many ways. The love and support I get from them keeps me strong.” That strength, he said, enables him to help others through their own times of loss and tragedy. “I feel that I was put here to serve people and help them out,” he said. “Through my work here at the funeral home, I do just that.”