Funeral home with a difference
By Leiselle Maraj Thursday, July 5 2012
BLACK, to most people, symbolises grief, especially when seen in association with a funeral or death. For Bevan De Souza and his brother and sister, Nikolay and Jauharah, black symbolises strength, compassion and respect.
The three siblings are at the helm of RM De Souza Memorial Chapel Limited, a funeral home named after their father, former national cricketer, Richard De Souza, who passed away in 2007. Located in Diego Martin, the home caters to mourners of all religions looking for peace of mind while dealing with the difficult task of burying a loved one.
“We did a lot of research into the business and one of the things we noticed was how funeral directors dress to go to a funeral. Our brother was strict and made sure we do not wear shirt jacks. We had to wear a suit, a tie and a shirt. It just happened that we all wore black and it is something we just adopted,” said Nikolay in a recent interview with Newsday.
The “men in black” was one of the nicknames that stuck with the trio who have been opened for business since March 1 of this year, which is coincidentally the day they would have celebrated their father’s birthday.
While funeral homes are not hard to come by locally, RM De Souza provides a more personalised service than the rest. “This home is nothing like what Trinidad has. We are extremely personal when it comes to families. It is not about the money. Families ask us all the time about payment and we say that is not the main concern. Let us get your relative here and give them the funeral they need. Even after the funeral, we will stress to families that we are always here. My sister is in contact with families everyday, checking up. We do a lot of grief counselling. We do a lot of bereavement and provide families with after care services,” Bevan, the eldest De Souza said.
Out of the three, Bevan has the most experience in the industry having been a part of it for 22 years. He studied, was qualified and worked in the funeral industry outside of Trinidad and Tobago but it was always a goal of their father’s that his children work for themselves.
“I remember one day we were talking with dad and the goal was to own our own funeral home. He passed away in 2007 and coming up to that point, he did the business plan for the funeral home with a little bit of my insight into the industry. Niko (Nikolay) then perfected it. He (his father) laid the foundation of what our home should be. After he passed, it took us about a year to start thinking about what we needed to do. We all had different plans but we sat down and decided this was what dad wanted and it is what we should do,” Bevan said.
After purchasing the property where the business is located at present, the siblings spent the next three years planning, meeting, researching and making several trips to funeral homes in other countries to ensure their home was perfect when it was finally opened.
RM De Souza offers embalming services, construction, repairs and maintenance of cemetery and vault plots, bereavement counselling and visitation rooms.
Jauharah said the home even goes beyond these services. “Certain things the family needs to do like the registration of death, we will do it. We offer a personal dressing room. The family does not have to see mortuary. We have a visitation room set up if they want to see their loved one or assist in dressing of their loved one. They can come in and spend as much time as they want with the departed before the funeral,” she explained.
Their chapel holds 120 people and caters to all religions. “People hear ‘chapel’ and automatically think of the Christian religion. We use it in the American sense. We do cater to all religions. If they do not want to come in the chapel, there is the visitation room. People can bring their eats and drinks and hold their after funeral get together here. Usually people visit the family’s home after the funeral and they are left to clean up at home after. We are saying come, eat, drink, remember your loved ones and we will do everything after,” Nikolay said.For persons opting for cremations over burial, the De Souza’s offer to plant a tree on their compound in memory of the deceased. “Our compound has trees all over. We will put the ashes into the plant and design a wooden stake in memory of the person. This is another way of keeping in touch with the family. They come to see their loved one and sit and talk with us.”
“We also have preplanning. Death is inevitable so people can come in even before they are in that raw state of emotion and they could sit and speak with us,” Jauharah said.
As part of their promise to be there for the grieving family, the funeral home is technically open 24-7. “Even if we are not here at the office physically, we are always on call. That is something we decided as a family and company to push for. When someone passes away, it would not be a stranger going to the funeral home or wherever. It will always be two directors. And we are always there to talk. Not that we are bombarding the families saying this is how you have to grieve. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. We just want them to talk and have a relationship with us. Families come in to us very upset and after they deal with us, they say that is what they needed,” Jauharah explained.
It has only been a few months since the official opening of the home but Bevan said the business has been a complete blessing. “Yes we are doing well but we have gotten joy from it because we have been able to help other families go through what we have gone through when we lost our father. Daddy was diagnosed and within a month he was gone. We were a family of five and when he passed, the four of us had to find a way to catch ourselves and find a way to live again. So we understand completely what it is to go through losing a loved one. It is also helping us. At the end of the day your father is your father. Ours was a fantastic man, husband and father. All we are trying to do is help other families go through what we had to go through and it works,” he said.
The business is a total family effort as their mother provided the motivation for them to continue pursuing the dream of their own business after their father passed away. The various rooms of the chapel is even furnished and decorated with pieces from their mother’s home. “We want people to walk in and feel like they are walking into their home and not walking into an office. We have no receptionist because most of funerals homes away are people’s homes which were converted. It is all about comfort because we want you to know that we know what you are going through and we will carry you through,” Nikolay said.
Even though the business is new, the siblings are already considering ways to branch out and give back to their community. One area they are considering are pet funeral services.
“Pets are part of people’s family. It is something we have researched recently and we are picking it up. We are also working on a crematorium and other plans we cannot reveal just yet,” Bevan said.
Jauharah added that while they do repair and maintenance on grave sites, they are also willing to help create memorial gardens for interested families.
“Our cemeteries are not taken care of properly. What we have done with families who come to us is that we have maintained the family plots and make them into memorial gardens. One family told us they wanted no grass and we tiled it. Some want poems on the headstones. We want to start to maintain these plots throughout the year,” she said.
Bevan also spoke of making contributions to the public. “I am into sports like my dad so we were considering sponsoring football teams for the kids in La Puerta. Sometimes I pass and see them playing football without boots so we want to give back to kids, whether it be cricket or football. It was always a dream of Daddy’s to have a cricket or football camp . We could get some of the national players who he has played with to come and coach or speak to the kids. We are considering donating to the churches and giving to children’s homes at Christmas time to drop toys or food. Without the public, funeral homes would not survive so it is all about giving back,” he said.