Living Next To

How renting next to a funeral home gave me a new lease on life

By David Jacobson  | May 6, 2014 - 11:59AM

My wife and I and our two small children live in a three-bedroom rental in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which we moved into last year. I work from home as an event planner, and my office looks directly onto the funeral parlor next to us.

I first noticed the funeral home during our move-in day, when our truck was parked behind a hearse. Later that day I saw them unloading a body. The following day, a specially outfitted U-Haul “casket transporter” arrived—I presume to make some “deliveries.” 

The pros: Quiet neighbors—most of the time

I admit I was more than a bit creeped out at first, but once I got to know the guys who work there and realized that having a funeral parlor next door really didn’t have much impact on our lives as neighbors, I quickly became comfortable with it.

My wife jokes that the benefit of living here is that we always have quiet neighbors, but kidding aside, the main pro of living by this establishment is that the funeral parlor is a family-run business which has been there for decades, and the people who run it are lovely, always greeting our family with huge smiles and hellos. They even gave our car a jumpstart once when it had died (see what I did right there?). 

Also, thankfully, our kids are 1 and 2.5 years, so they aren’t old enough yet to understand what a funeral parlor is, or the concept of death. However, we will eventually have to have this conversation as they grow up.

The cons: Body bags, bagpipes and street closures

Of course, aside from the owners’ and workers’ pleasant demeanors there are some cons. It's not at all uncommon to walk past the "loading bay" and see body bags being moved inside.  I’m okay with seeing this, but not everyone is.

On occasion, if there is a particularly large funeral procession or if it’s for a member of the FDNY or NYPD, there will be a police presence. My workday will suddenly become filled with the sound of bagpipes and bugles as NYPD or FDNY honor guards line up outside. Our surrounding streets sometimes get shut down entirely, without notice. I would call this a minor inconvenience at most, but certainly an understandable one.

All in all, it’s been quite humbling living next door to a funeral parlor. One morning this past winter, during the frigid Polar Vortex, I was working at my desk when the air was suddenly pierced by both a bagpipe and bugle. I knew that it was most likely an NYPD funeral, and despite the freezing temperature and sideways-blowing snow, I put on my boots and went outside to take a look.

What I saw completely blew me away—there were easily 100 uniformed police officers, all standing single file and at attention in front of the funeral parlor’s entrance. All of the side streets and the main avenue were completely shut down for a block in each direction, and there were flags waving. After a while, the family emerged from the funeral parlor and the bagpipes and bugle started up again.

Behind them emerged a coffin draped with the NYPD flag, which was being carried on the shoulders of uniformed officers taking precision steps. They loaded the coffin into the hearse, and then formed an honor guard on each side of the vehicle as the entire funeral procession moved through.

All the while, these 100 police officers were standing rigidly at attention, though shivering and obviously cold in the absolutely freezing weather. Once the motorcade had moved on, they were dismissed. It was a truly moving experience.

All that said, because we have to walk past the funeral home every day, it can sometimes be depressing. It’s a constant reminder of death, after all. There are frequent wakes, with large numbers of bereaved people coming in and out, which can at times be quite sad.

But I'd say that overall, we've pretty much tuned it out; it’s become quite normal to see the hearse, the limos, the guys in dark suits and the flower deliveries. I suppose at the end of the day it’s still just a business. However, unlike a bar or restaurant or other storefront you might live next to, a funeral parlor commands its own distinct presence, which in turn demands a level of respect.

See all Living Next To

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Living Next To explores the good, the bad, and the memorable of living near someplace others would rather not. Have a story to share? Let us know!

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