Funeral Home Director In Newtown Looks Back On A Week of Crisis and Support

"That's how you want to remember your children," the director said.

Directors talk with each other and with police escorts about every detail. One remarks to a cop that in this procession, every driver is a licensed director. The start of each procession is solemn, as if fully rehearsed, though each one is different, the directors all say.

A director holds a car door for a grieving mother and offers one last word of comfort, with a hand on her shoulder. There is no sound as pallbearers carry a small casket into an opened hearse.

Two or three directors will remain behind to carry flowers to the grave site, where they will join with cemetery staff and make sure everything is ready. Once the graveside service is done, they will stand as motionless sentries until family and friends have left.

Other than Honan and a couple of organizers who agreed to talk on the record about their roles this past week, directors did not want to be identified because, they say, the attention shouldn't be on them. One worked on his birthday, which he had originally arranged to take as a day off.

"I got into this business because of my faith," another one said. "I needed to be here." His most difficult funeral was for a child who shared his first name, not this past week.

"The state of Connecticut can be proud of the funeral directors they have," Honan said.

Don't call them undertakers, don't call them morticians and don't take them for granted. It's not likely any single funeral home ever had to bury or cremate 11 classmates at once and we all pray it won't be necessary again.

In the end, everything went as well as the funeral directors could have hoped. Honan talked about giving families the time they needed, which wasn't easy with one funeral after another, especially if a family needed to reschedule events. Once, a wake went so long over the scheduled time that the volunteer director had to whisk the family away for a private funeral service. Mourners paid their respects at the coffin, no family present.

"Some of these parents that are younger people, they've never had to deal with death in any way," said Honan, who was elected in 2011 to the town's 12-person legislative council.

Colleen Honan, who doesn't normally work in the business, was going through boxes of letters, including one from North Carolina addressed simply, "Funeral Home, Newtown, Conn."

She tells her husband of 29 years that her sister and two nephews have arrived to decorate the Christmas tree. He knows better than most of us that while his life will return to normal, the ones whose pain he may have eased just a little bit will never fully recover.

He will clean up the back room, then walk across the parking lot to the adjacent house where lives, to be with his family. "I'm going to give them a big hug."

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