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Jessica Ballou, Published December 18 2011

It's My Job: Funeral director aims to educate community about death

MOORHEAD - When Nick Tunheim was a junior in high school, he became interested in the mortuary sciences.

His step-cousin had gotten into the field, so naturally Tunheim asked him questions about it.

Tunheim knew he wanted to help people, and he fell in love with the field of work and thought to himself, “What better way to help people?”

He is now one of four licensed funeral directors at Wright Funeral Home in Moorhead, owned by Steve Wright.

Q: How did you get into this field of work in this community?

A: I went to (the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks) for my undergrad, then the (University of Minnesota) in the Twin Cities for my mortuary science degree. I graduated in December of 2003, and I had some job offers in the cities where I had done some clinical rotations.

Neither of those felt right.

I talked to Todd Carlson, from the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association, and I asked him: “I have these two options. What do you think?” and he said, “I don’t think either of those is right for you, but I think there may be a position for you in Moorhead.”

Wright’s brother had died of a heart attack in July of 2003, and they weren’t looking for a replacement, just another funeral director to fill the spot.

What do you like most about your line of work?

Working with families.

It’s so privileging to be brought into the inner circle of every family. It gives me gratification.

It’s a good community. Just the connections with people that you make.

Have you had to overcome any stereotypes about working in this field?

I think (people) have a vision of older directors.

It’s just about the mysteriousness of death. We enjoy teaching the community fact from fiction so that they know what funeral services are all about … separating the myths.

Do people ever have misconceptions about funeral directors and homes?

People just have misconceptions about death itself. That’s why we like educating people about what it’s all about. Sometimes people see things on TV, like “Six Feet Under.” A lot of it is just on the show, not reality.

Younger people will ask questions more with cremation, embalming, something they’ve seen on TV, and they can be a little bit twisted. But that’s why we have the role of educating people. We educate them on the reality. We often have tours.

Anytime we have the time to walk someone all the way through the process … it’s just about communicating to them what it’s all about.

What’s your day to day like?

Totally depends on the day. This morning I had to get someone ready for a viewing.

There are prearrangements and then the arrangements, and there’s a visitation tonight.

At any given time a death may occur, and we need to be there in 30-45 minutes. We’re really good at making it work.

Some days we have three funerals; some we have none. It’s something different every day. We don’t spend a lot of time at our desks.

All funeral directors do everything from picking up the loved one … embalming … meeting with families … setting up the funeral … dressing, casketing.

Anything you’d like to add?

People that have been through having to arrange funerals, they really appreciate what we do. The appreciation is really there.

Steve always says if someone goes to visit a doctor or dentist who is a professional at our same level, rarely if ever do they hug them. In funeral services, that’s very frequent.

It becomes more of a friendship than a business relationship.

It’s very rewarding.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jessica Ballou at (701) 237-7311

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com.