What Can we Learn from the Undertaker?


For the past few days I have been moved by Peter Stefan. He is the undertaker in Cambridge, Mass who has been holding the body of the Boston Marathon Bomber’s body. Here is a few things people have said about him: (quotes taken from this article)

“He’s bent over backwards to serve the least in the community for decades,” said Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

“He was the only one who would bury gay men dead of AIDS back in the 80s. He did funerals for slain prostitutes that everyone else treated like some sort of subhuman trash,” Slocum said in an email, calling him “a good man of rare character.”

A 2002 profile in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette highlighted Stefan’s soft heart and the free funerals he had given to the downtrodden – from new immigrants to homeless veterans.

“God must have loved the poor, ‘cause he made so many of them. That’s one of my favorite sayings,’” he told the paper. “Nobody seems to give a crap. That’s why I’m involved, to take care of poor people.”

Two years later, Stefan organized a memorial for three prostitutes killed by a suspected serial killer because he was upset that no one else seemed to care about their lives or deaths. He also launched a fund for the victims’ children, the Boston Globe reported at the time.

The head of the National Funeral Directors Association had nothing but praise for Stefan, saying the trade’s ethical code requires members to serve families “in a professional manner” even in difficult situations.

“I can commend him for what he’s doing,” said Bob Rosson, stressing that his heart goes out to the bombing victims.

“I would hope my colleagues in the cemetery business would look at this way the funeral directors do,” he added.

This man who has given his life to take care of other people’s loved ones is being so mistreated. Protestors are at his business, and the city isn’t helping him solve the problem. He’s totally in the middle of this controversy. No one wants to bury this guy because of his sins. I understand that, but he didn’t create this issue. He shouldn’t be the one to settle this.

So I was thinking, what I can learn from this man? What can my students learn from this man? I came up with a few aspects I want to share.

1. Stand up for others in need: Peter is known for a man who helped those in need. He stands by what he believes is right. I hope that my students can take away from him that in life you have to do this. Make a decision and stand by it, especially when it involves people who don’t have a voice.

2. Make a commitment to the community: Peter for years has made a point to help others in his community. As a business owner helping people out doesn’t always pay the bills. He often gives free funerals to prostitutes, and homeless vets. In my book, that makes great business. He doesn’t do it for fame or recognition. He does it because he cares about people, and about his community. I try hard to impress upon my students that they live in a community that needs young people to stand up and make an impact. They need to get off their electronics and get their hands dirty in helping out our community. They have to do it for recognition. They should want to do it for the benefit of all.

3. Be a person with integrity: You can tell from the people who are quoted in the article, that they have respect for Peter. They have respect for him because he has integrity. He does what he says he does.  He has continually done the right thing for the right reasons. It may not be popular, but he knows it is right. That’s exactly what I try to model for my students. Following through something, and working hard at whatever you do is important. Reputations are hard to change if you work hard and follow through. I often tell my students you have to do what is right. It may not be popular, but life isn’t a popularity contest.

You know, there are those special people who work in careers where you must have certain personality. Teaching is one of them. Being an undertaker is another. You have to trust your deceased family member with some one who is to make their passing bearable, respectable, and memorable for you and your family. There is a lot we can learn from an undertaker.


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