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May 23, 2016 | Carol E. Barnwell

Trinity Youth Visit Funeral Home

Trying out a coffin isn’t always on the list of things to do with the local youth group, but for Trinity, Galveston, it was indeed an option. Seven members of the church’s Episcopal Youth Community, along with their youth minister, Jennifer Haglund, met at Carnes Funeral Home in Galveston on May 20 to learn just what happens after someone dies.


Rusty Carnes gave the seventh and eighth graders a tour, which included a little history of funeral homes and a visit to the casket room. Most of the youth were anxious to see how they might fit into one of the many models on display to the horror of some of their adult sponsors. Laughing and taking turns, the ultimate selfies taken, youth learned that burials account for about 50 percent of funerals today, as cremation grows in acceptance. In 2000, Carnes said, cremations only accounted for about 10 percent of the deaths he handled, today it is about half.


“Embalming has been done for thousands of years,” Carnes told the group, describing a “city of the dead” in ancient Egypt where much of the population was engaged in the art of embalming. Sitting in the spacious chapel, Carnes explained how embalming is done and that the practice came into common use in the United States during the Civil War when there was a great need to return bodies home over long distances.


He explained that funeral directors meet with family, write obituaries and help plan visitations and services. Keeping up with technology is also part of the job, now that people want to have photo presentations of the deceased. “Now we have to be experts at Photoshop, besides being able to do the makeup,” he said.


Upbeat during the tour, kidding at some points, Carnes admitted he was “being purposefully light” with the youth because he didn’t want them to be afraid. “Death is the most natural thing, not something to be afraid of,” he said.


When asked what was hardest part of his job he said he was always moved when someone loses a spouse 50 or 60 years of marriage. In 1902, 35 percent of deaths were children, Carnes explained. Today, while the numbers are not so drastic, one of the most difficult parts of his job is to comfort a family who has lost a child.


Carnes emphasized that working with families is the most important part of his work. Special skills may be needed to prepare a body, “But that person is not there anymore.” It is the living who require understanding, support and guidance, he said.


“I appreciate you and the ministry you do for families who are floundering in unchartered waters and don’t know what to do,” the Rev. Susan Kennard told Carnes at the conclusion of the evening.


The youth listened attentively, but did not have many questions, the high point of “trying on a coffin” still lingering.

Many funeral homes welcome students of all ages for educational tours and teaching programs through local schools and churches. Others offer a virtual tour online.