Tim Yoder held out his hand. He wiggled his fingers, imagining his hand inside of a glove. “Do you see how my hand moves?” Yoder said.
Then, sliding his right hand over his left, as if pulling off the glove, he pretended to set the glove down on the table. Notice how the glove does not move anymore?
What makes the glove move is the hand inside the glove. “What makes us alive as people is not what we see but what’s inside of us,” Yoder said.
Yoder used this analogy during an arrangement with a family that recently lost a loved one. Years earlier Yoder’s Uncle Milo turned to this analogy to help children understand death. “Children at a young age could appreciate that,” Tim Yoder said, “but you’re also speaking to the adults that are there.”
As a funeral director, Yoder needs to help others accept death as a reality. “Intellectually you might say, ‘Yes, that person died,’ but emotionally you might be saying I don’t really believe that – your mind can play games,” Yoder said.
Yoder co-owns Yoder-Culp Funeral Home alongside his brother Robin. The brothers are carrying on the family business, currently working in the same building that was built by their father and uncle in 1954.
In high school, Tim Yoder thought he’d be a pilot. One year for Christmas Yoder’s wife, Marisa, arranged for him to take flying lessons. “It was the most challenging thing, besides trying to understand women, that I’ve ever done,” Yoder said, smiling.
“Not until I was finishing college did I feel that this was where I should be,” Yoder said. “My dad never pushed me in that regard, or my uncle — they let me make that decision by myself.”
The Indiana licensing requirement for funeral directors involves two years of college, a yearlong internship with a funeral home and a passing grade on the state board exam. After Yoder became a licensed funeral director he also became a licensed minister, which is unusual compared with other funeral directors, he noted.
“Many people don’t have a church connection,” he said. “I’ve taken more training so that I can do funeral services.”
Yoder gives sermons for 10 to 15 funerals per year. He begins the process by sitting down with the family and gathering information about their loved one. “I try to get a sense from them of what that person liked to do, what their interests were, the things that gave them joy, some of their life experiences, so I can incorporate their stories into a message,” he said.
One challenging part of this is when he is asked to do a service for a family that is not Christian. “They’ll say they don’t what to hear anything about Jesus in the service,” he said. “So then you have to try and be faithful while at the same time respecting the wishes of the family.”
Another difficult situation for Yoder is preparing plans when the death was a tragedy or the death of a child. In the case of an unexpected death, Yoder said, “The family has had no opportunity to prepare themselves and so they’re operating under a lot of stress and shock and disbelief.”
The death of a child may be expected or unexpected, he said, but in either case these occasions bring a lot of sadness. “I find myself trying to slow down so that I can get a sense of where the family is at, at that particular point,” he said.
Planning is especially difficult when there are dynamics within the family that bring disharmony. Yoder said it doesn’t take long to get a sense of whether the family is getting along or not: “You can tell by how they sit and their body language. Also, by who dominates the conversation – who’s listened to and who’s being ignored.”
“The unexpected deaths and the deaths of the young are much more difficult than someone who’s lived a good, long life,” Yoder said. When an elderly person dies, chances are they participated in some form of pre-planning.
Recently, Yoder welcomed the seven members of a grieving family into the funeral home. He placed a hand on the shoulder of one of the family members and led them into a conference room. The man who has passed away participated in pre-planning the details of his funeral, therefore, all Yoder had to do in this case was go over details to make sure facts were correct.
Peering over his glasses, he asked about where the flowers will come from and who the pallbearers will be. Ultimately, any final decisions are up to the closest next of kin.
Removing his glasses, he bit the end of the temple arm and carefully asked family members questions to learn to know the man who has died.
“When it concerns death, so many people feel uncomfortable listening to someone talk about the death experience that someone had so they’re not good listeners,” Yoder said. “So in that regard, we try to be good listeners for people, and I think we bring some kind of therapy or counseling to the situation.”
Yoder has a way of setting the atmosphere to allow for laughter and reflection. When asked about what sort of odd comments he receives in his field, Yoder responded by saying that people will share experiences and stereotypes they’ve heard like “their hair grew after they died” or “the person sat up in the viewing.” Yoder was quick to note that those things don’t happen but are legends that tend to get passed along.
In these moments, Yoder responds with honesty. “There’s a lot of mystery behind a funeral service so people who don’t work in a funeral home wonder about (these things) — you do hear some of the same jokes over and over again,” he said.
Sometimes those jokes can get tiring, but that’s not the only tiresome aspect of the job. Yoder is always on call, on weekends and in the middle of the night. “It is amazing, and I don’t know how I do this, but I can hear the phone ring before it rings,” he said. “There’s something in the phone that I hear and I roll over and usually grab it and it never rings more than one time.”
Getting a call in the middle of the night is something Yoder’s gotten used to. “I’ve adapted to missing sleep and really in the dead of night, 2 in the morning, driving to South Bend,” he said. “It’s kind of neat to be out and around when nobody else is really doing anything. The world’s pretty quiet at that time.”
Even with working long hours, Yoder never stops for a nap. He grabs an apple for lunch and is back to work. “There are times when I’m exhausted – emotionally and physically, you’re just drained,” Yoder said. “We give a lot of ourselves to the families we meet and when you do that it takes an emotional toll, which can be experienced physically.”
To keep that stress in check, Yoder finds joy in flying, golfing, reading, spending time with his children and grandchildren, and traveling to Brazil to visit his wife’s family. Yoder and his wife have led multiple cruises for Menno Travel as well.
“It’s been a lot of fun for us,” Yoder said. “They’ve got us on the agenda to do another one — so this will be our third.”