- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PONTOTOC, Miss. (AP) - When Kim Bedford began working part time at Baldwyn Funeral Home her senior year in high school, all she wanted to do there was be a secretary.

“I didn’t want any part of the back,” said Bedford, 44. “I’d do everything but go in the prep room. We had this little lady then that did hair and we paid her $20. I’d fold it up and slip it under the door to her. I did not want to go in that room.”

Five years later, Bedford would change her mind. After attending Itawamba Community College, she went back to work at the funeral home, helping with funerals and families.

“And one day, we had this lady who was real jaundiced and I wanted to see how they did the embalming for her, so I watched,” she said. “After that, I knew that I had a calling. I knew this was something I could do.”

So at age 23, Bedford headed to mortuary school at Northwest Community College in Southaven.

“I was the only girl in the class and the instructor was real old school - he didn’t think women belonged in the business,” she said. “He would call all the guys and tell them when we weren’t having class, but he wouldn’t call me, so I’d drive all that way for nothing. He was as determined that I wasn’t going to finish as I was determined that I was.”

Bedford prevailed and has been a licensed funeral director/embalmer for 20 years. In 2001, she left Baldwyn Funeral Home and moved to Browning Funeral Home, where she is the location manager.

“I think the funeral business is more open to women now, but I don’t necessarily see more women going into it,” she said. “It’s kind of like a ministry. You’ve got to love what you do. Sometimes, when you figure out the hours you work, you don’t even make minimum wage, but that’s not why you do it.”

Bedford, who has a daughter in nursing school, said she’s seen just about everything in the quarter-century that she’s been working in funeral homes.

“We’ve put everything in caskets that you can imagine - lipstick, cellphones, cigarettes, booze, boots, blankets,” she said. “We have buried a golf club with someone. I’ve seen people taken to the cemetery in wagons, fire trucks and pickup trucks. But no two funerals should be the same because no two people’s lives are lived the same.”

Bedford said she dressed and helped with casket preparations for her grandmother when she died because she wanted to. But in cases where she has an emotional tie to the deceased, she can always rely on others in the corporate network to help out.

“Children - that’s the hardest,” she said. “This is my 26th year to work around a funeral home and I still have trouble with babies.”

And not all arrangements and services go smoothly, she said. There’s often squabbling between siblings or divorced families, where someone doesn’t want someone else to attend the funeral.

“Family dynamics have changed over the years,” she said. “Death just brings out the worst in people.”

When asked if she had ever buried anyone famous, Bedford laughed.

“Everyone dies famous in a small town,” she said. “They can be the worst person in the world, but when they die, they suddenly have the most friends.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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