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Caring for the living:Smith Lund Mills and the changing face of funeral service

Posted: Tuesday, Oct 9th, 2012

One of Cottage Grove’s oldest businesses has been serving the community for over a century, but that doesn’t stop Smith-Lund-Mills Funeral Chapel and Crematorium from looking toward the future.

“The service we provide today is very different than it was in the past,” said Marc Lund, who purchased the business from his father, Doug, in 2004. “It used to be that, when a person passed, there was a very standardized service. It would be a religious service, and someone would stand up and give a eulogy. These days, the focus is a lot more on the life that has been lived and the person who lived it.”

The younger Lund credits his predecessor with supporting innovations that have kept Smith-Lund-Mills in line with recent developments in the field, including a move away from the traditional setup of a funeral “parlor” — a Victorian home in which the funeral director and his family traditionally lived — toward a structure more suited to host groups of people that features a Pacific Northwest feel. Marc Lund said Smith-Lund-Mills has also adapted to a marked increase in the number of cremations sought by community members, though his father states that, while the mechanics of what happens when a person in Cottage Grove passes away have changed, the basic service provided has not.

“At its most basic, it’s about a family that is hurting because it’s experienced a death,” Doug Lund said. “It can be such a difficult time for a survivor, and it’s our job to serve them at that critical time.”

For Smith-Lund-Mills, it all started in 1906 with the Veach Mortuary at the site of the current SLM chapel on South 7th St. Karl and Elizabeth Mills engineered a buyout of the mortuary in 1912 and were joined in business by Russell and Mary Anne Smith. They operated a chapel at the site of the current Umpqua Bank building.

Doug Lund began working for the Smiths in 1965, then remodeled the old Veach building in 1979 after purchasing the business. In 1995, another remodel added the crematory to the chapel, which allowed Smith-Lund-Mills to cremate individuals instead of sending them to Eugene for that service.

“It was a very forward-thinking thing to do,” Marc Lund said. “It allowed us to control the entirety of that process.”

That same year, Marc Lund returned from Linfield College to help out with the family business. He said change in the field has continued to the present day, perhaps most notably including the growing acceptance of cremation.

“Americans seem much more comfortable with cremation,” he said. “And here on the West Coast, people are coming in from somewhere else that don’t have deep-rooted connections to the land. There are also economic reasons for some people to choose cremation.”

Lund said about 60 percent of the deceased are being cremated currently, though he said the chapel still hosts many traditional services and burials. The latest addition at Fir Grove Cemetery, a “columbarium” that can house cremated remains, has been very well received.

Lund said the chapel has also shifted away from formaldehyde-based embalming solutions to take a more “green” approach. Other changes have turned a funeral from “a somber event to much more a celebration,” he said, adding that the entire tone of a typical service has changed.

“There will typically be a time of sharing, and there’s often a reception now after the service,” he said. “There will be other testimonials and often a slideshow, because a picture is worth 1000 words. It turns everything into a little production.”

Lund said most people don’t necessarily know what being a funeral director is all about.

“People often focus on death and the morbid aspect of things, but the reality is that we spend most of our time helping the living,” he said. Lund said such help includes being technologically savvy, as much of the company’s business now happens on computers, in addition to handling finance issues, the management of land dedicated to burial and inurnment space and, of course, the anatomical and surgical aspects of caring for the dead.

“It’s an extremely rewarding and at times very challenging occupation,” he said. “You’re around death and grieving a lot, but what helps is to see that you really are helping people. It’s too emotionally draining to keep at it if you don’t feel like you’re having an impact. There aren’t many professions where you can become very close with a family in such a short period.”

Doug Lund, who is now enjoying his retirement, said he’s ever-grateful for the support shown to him and his family in Cottage Grove.

“What’s neat for me has been that, as someone sympathetic to the pain of losing a loved one, I’ve developed wonderful, long-lasting relationships with people in this community,” he said. “I still see people that have had a death in the family 40 years ago, and they’re very special relationships that I will always appreciate.”

For the complete article see the 10-10-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-10-2012 paper.

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