Story by Sara Paul
To earn extra cash, young adults sometimes work odd jobs – whether tending to gardens and lawns, working at fast food joints, or just finding anything to make a buck.
For Emmett Pellegrino-Buckley, the choice of odd job was perhaps odd, but it was in no way just any job. At 16 years of age, Emmett is one of the youngest and most dedicated funeral home employees in the area.
Some may question this career choice, but it’s not morbid curiosity that attracts this cool kid to the profession. To sit with Emmett is to visit with a truly mature and caring young gentleman. A normal guy who has luckily found his life’s calling, Emmett is a perfect fit in a business that is largely built on customer service.
“When a family calls upon you, you have an obligation to serve them. It’s an honor and privilege to guide people through the most stressful and difficult time of their lives,” comments Emmett, a Funeral Director Assistant (FDA) at Lazear-Smith and Vander Plaat Memorial Home in Warwick.
FDAs can be called upon day or night, holidays, and weekends, and are responsible for hosting visitation and funeral services, as well as office and administrative duties. From greeting visitors and guiding them to viewing rooms, directing drivers to cemetery sites, moving flowers, and making sure all guests feel as comfortable as possible, Emmett excels in his hospitable role.
“When families come in, they are often devastated by loss. I like that I’m able to help memorialize their loved one, to in-turn help them move forward through their grief,” said Emmett.
Lazear-Smith and Vander Plaat Memorial Home Funeral Director Roger Vander Plaat was impressed by Emmett’s maturity and communication skills from their very first meeting.
“He is exceptional in the way he communicates and really makes a good impression. Emmett is truly accommodating, attentive, and helpful,” praises Vander Plaat, a fourth generation funeral director at the memorial home, which was established in 1876.
“We are a team, and to do this successfully takes all parts. Emmett is in front of that. He is a go-to person and he connects with people. He cares about what goes on here, and his gift is his presence,” commends Vander Plaat, noting that there is an urgency about the business that employees must be ready for.
Emmett and the other FDAs are available at a moment’s notice to offer assistance.
Emmett’s presence in the world of funeral homes started on the morning of Aug. 21, 2016 when his grandfather passed away.
“The first few days were very difficult for my family. Dealing with death and grief was a first for me as I’d never lost someone that I was close to,” recalls Emmett, noting that after the services he realized that this might be a job he could see himself pursuing.
Emmett was just 15 when he started at a local funeral home. Wanting to devote more time to the job, he interviewed with his current employer. While Vander Plaat “would not ordinarily consider hiring someone as young as Emmett as it’s a little early for this type of work,” he feels that, “it’s important to give these explorative opportunities to young people who are considering the field.”
Emmett was a quick learner, and after completing his first year on the job he finds that, “Compassion and patience are critical. The needs of the families we serve on a daily basis are paramount, above all else. Each family is unique, with very different needs.”
Indeed, he pays careful attention to specific requests from families. There are many options and customizations available from different color caskets, metal and wood, to different types of burial vaults, biodegradable urns, cookie jar urns, marble urns, necklaces made with cremated remains, and diamonds made out of cremated remains, Emmett explains.
Emmett looks forward to a career as a funeral director, explaining the arduous process he will go through to reach his goal. After obtaining a college degree and taking field related courses, one must sit for multiple exams and also work in an apprenticeship, or internship as it is also referred to.
For now, the graduating sophomore excels in science and math and enjoys hanging out with friends and also traveling with family.
Some of his most memorable excursions are frequent trips to Ireland, where he was born.
Back in Warwick, this young hero finds, “It’s amazing to see what a job can teach you. From the experiences you have with families to the encounters with coworkers, it really teaches one how to love life and to value each and every day, and to truly live each day as if it were your last.”
If anyone has questions or comments for Emmett, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature young people of Warwick who are doing meaningful things. Whether in school, athletics, in the community or at home, we know there are many moving stories that need to be told. These “hero” stories can be from the incredible to the mundane, from the kid who saved his dog from drowning to the teen who takes care of a sibling with special needs. We ask that if you know of any young individuals who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces, that you contact Sara Paul at email@example.com.