Choosing death to make a living

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2008

The appropriately named Steven Graves, director of Juneau's Alaskan Memorial Park & Mortuary, has been interested in the funeral business since he was a teen.

But Graves, 54, is more jolly than a funereal. He jokes about his own name. He wears a suit for a service, but not when he doesn't have to. He doesn't use the usual euphemisms to describe death or disease that many in the business do. And he has dug his share of graves.

Graves grew up in Kansas City, Mo. Across the street from his house was the funeral home. From the teenage Graves' bedroom window, he could see people arriving there at all hours of the day. He was a curious teen.

The funeral director used to come over and play cards with his parents. And everybody around town, at church or the drugstore, would say hello to the undertaker.

"Everybody liked him," said Graves. "I thought, 'I'd kind of like to be like that.'"

That was in high school. A few people thought the choice was strange. But then again, it wasn't if you knew the town undertaker, Graves said.

At this point he has worked in about 35 different funeral homes. He has been in Juneau for the last three years. Over three decades, he has seen all the strange ways people can die and the even stranger ways their loved ones can react.

"There's nothing I feel I can't handle," he said.

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