McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Working with death can remind you how much you have to live for.
That's John Kreidler's conclusion after nearly 40 years in the funeral business.
"This is my vocation and my life . and I am blessed to be able to do this and be able to serve so many families in this community," said Kreidler, who represents the fourth generation to run the family business in McAllen. "If I can help people deal with their grief in an open, healthy way, then I feel I've done what I'm supposed to do."
The Kreidler family story, as depicted through archived photos and newspapers, is on display through Halloween at the McAllen Heritage Center, 301 S. Main St. The "100 Years of Kreidler Funeral Home in McAllen" exhibit tracks the family back to its first generation in the Rio Grande Valley and to the founding of its "undertaking" business.
Harry W. Kreidler and wife Harriet Kreidler moved to McAllen from Illinois in 1909 after doctors told Harry he needed a warmer climate for health reasons. He brought along Harriet, who was the first licensed female embalmer in Illinois. She even served on the Board of Embalmers — essentially unheard of at that time.
John Kreidler described how the demands of death intervened in his great-grandparents' lives a few years after they relocated.
Harry and Harriet "moved around here in 1909, and in 1912, someone found out that she'd been an embalmer," John Kreidler said. "I think a ranch hand died, and they came to her and said, 'Can you do this?' And that's how they began the Kreidler Undertaking Co., which was over off of Main Street."
Harry built the caskets and Harriet handled the embalming. They made the funeral arrangements as a team, and opened the Kreidler Undertaking Co. in 1912.
John Kreidler has tried to keep the funeral home a family business. John still drives the familiar, baby-blue hearse, and almost daily he and his wife, Kay, work at the funeral home at 314 N. 10th St.
"We're very, very blessed to be here," John Kreidler said, "because I've read somewhere that only 2 to 3 percent of American businesses make it past the second or third generation. So we're really blessed to have the fifth generation working here at the funeral home, which is my oldest son, William."
Appropriately enough, the Day of the Dead has provided the funeral home proprietors with a family tradition: Though surging drug violence has given the Kreidlers pause in recent years, they usually visit Mexico for the celebration.
It "is fascinating for me because I understand (American) culture about death and dying," John Kreidler said.
The "Mexican culture embraces death, and we don't in this country," he said. "We do everything we can to keep it from happening, but most of the people in Mexico, they know it's going to happen — especially the poor, who don't even know where their next meal is coming from.
"So they've learned to embrace death and even laugh at it, and deal with it," he said. "Our culture could probably take a few lessons from that."
Back in the Valley, though, John Kreidler acknowledges the spectrum of sensitivity to death.
He said his grandfather might balk at the thought of even considering a joke or laughing in public as a funeral director, but John Kreidler sees laughter as a potential source of strength for bereaved families.
"I think a sense of humor helps people deal with their grief, helps them remember the life of that person," he said. "Now I let people know, 'You can cry here. We buy Kleenex by the case. Let it out. If you need to scream and yell, scream and yell. You need to deal with your grief in an open, honest way to heal.'"
Indeed, the "best" funerals, he said, "are those where people are laughing and crying . because that means that you're learning so much about that person that you might not have known, or it's reinforcing what you knew of them."
Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com