Sometimes Tyler comes upstairs and gazes out the window at the park. It’s where his father played catch with him between services, still clad in his funeral best.
“Our kids used to say, â€˜Where’s daddy?'” says Lori Pray, Tyler’s mom. “I’d say, â€˜Well someone’s family needs daddy more right now,'”
Tyler insists he had a normal childhood. He attended funerals once in a while, but his life wasn’t about death. His father, on the other hand, used to sneak downstairs with cousins and look at the casket displays. The boys shut off the lights and the girls screamed. Grandpa always waited upstairs with a paddle in hand.
Joe sometimes tries to lighten the mood by telling families that story while they shop for a casket. “Now I promise I’ll leave all the lights on,” he says before leaving the room. The Prays use a lot of subtle humor around here, but not everyone gets it. Some people are so “dead serious – no pun intended,” Joe quips.
One year, a new hearse was delivered on the same day as Tyler’s first birthday party. Rather than hiding it in the garage, the Prays took the children and their families on rides around the block. They don’t believe in covering up what they do; rather, they speak openly about it. Joe purposely bought a hearse with a clear back window to remind passers-by that a procession isn’t just a stream of cars with special road privileges – it honors someone who died.
“Sometimes I feel weird about what we do. Like, are we really necessary? I question that all the time,” Tyler says. “Do we really need to do all this stuff? And I feel like yes, something needs to be done. But it can’t be the same thing for every person.”
The sister at today’s funeral shows little emotion before the service. The women hadn’t been close for years. But after the pastor finishes speaking and the woman sees her sibling one last time, she walks out frail and confused, blotting her eyes with a crumpled tissue.
“Yes, we should have contact with our dead, meaning we should see them, touch them, if we want to,” Tyler continues. “And also we should have the right to choose to do whatever we want to do that’s going to help us understand, help us feel better, and help us grieve. And of course we’re not going to know exactly what we want to do but we might have ideas. A funeral director should be able to help people put that together.”
These days, it’s all about “personalization,” which Tyler calls a bullshit catchphrase. He enjoys providing more options, but he hates being a salesman. “Funeral directors are crappy, crappy business people,” he says.
High costs and the peddling of unnecessary knickknacks have pigeonholed funeral directors as wealthy individuals profiting on others’ grief, which those in the business say is the biggest misconception. The small showroom hidden in the Pray basement has an extensive selection of grieving gadgets and death furniture. In fact, it looks like a furniture store’s mattress section with rows of fluffy pillows and warm, cotton-stuffed comforters — different sizes, shapes, colors and prices. A company even introduced a larger casket line called “Dimensions” for its sizable clients.