“Helluva a Way to Make a Living”

Loving the Cubs... and other problems I have Mark Grissom beaverdamusa.com“This is a helluva way to make a living…”

I have been honored for almost 32 years to be in a very rewarding and honorable profession. If I had my life to do over again, I would not change a thing. Okay… well maybe there is that one thing.

I have been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 30 years. I started out in Chicago, Illinois at Lawn Funeral Home under the leadership of Donald B. Jarka, Sr. Mr. Jarka was one of the greatest men on the planet. He was a funeral director’s…funeral director! He was very kind to me and gave me my first job in the funeral profession and told me to become a really good embalmer.

I will never forget him (Mr. Jarka) telling me “You can teach a monkey to be a funeral director… but it takes someone very special to be a good embalmer”.

He was exactly right. There are not many, what I call, good embalmers in the funeral business these days. I am honored to personally know two here in Cleveland that I have a lot of respect for and the quality of their work. They both know and understand how important it is to prepare the remains to the best of their ability and take their time and do the very best job on each individual.

Those individuals are Jeremy Randolph and Ryan Qualls — two great friends of mine and two professional and caring licensed embalmers.

Embalming is an art. I learned that art at Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago, Illinois. I graduated from Mortuary College in 1984, and went to work at Beverly Ridge Funeral Home at 10415 South Kedzie Avenue in Chicago. (Heck… I can still remember that address.)

I learned the basics of embalming in Mortuary College. I learned how to embalm from a gentleman named Bob Collar. Mr. Collar was what we call in our business… a “Trade Embalmer”. He worked for several different funeral homes in the Chicago area as their embalmer. He would go into the funeral home… walk straight to the morgue… embalm the body… and leave. That was his job. That was his only job.

Bob Collar took me in under his wing for about two years. I was an embalmer apprentice under him. I was able to see just about every type of embalming case there was. (I will not go into details about the different cases in this blog.)  He was on call 7 days a week/ 24 hours a day. There were many days where he did not sleep for two days in a row.

Bob Collar, in my opinion, was the very best embalmer I have ever met.

Several years ago, after living in Cleveland for almost 20 years, I tried to find Bob Collar. I knew he had retired and moved to Kissimmee, Florida. That was all I knew. I called a funeral home in Kissimmee,  (which just happens to be called Grissom Funeral Home as well), and to my deep sadness… they told me Bob had passed away. Rest In Peace, Bob. Thank you for all you did to help me learn the “Art of Embalming”

I have been embalming human remains since I was 20 years old. I am 50 years old now. You do the math.

I have embalmed thousands of bodies throughout those years. I have served thousands of families at Grissom Funeral Home in Cleveland. I have embalmed and served “one body and one family” at a time. I love what I do. I care very much for the families that I serve.  I want them to be pleased when they arrive at the funeral home for the first viewing and see their loved one for the first time.

There are no more rewarding words to an embalmer, from a family member, than when they look at you and say…”They look so good. Thank you for all you did.”  We, as embalmers, have a very calming and appreciative spirit when we hear those words. We know the time we have spent preparing their loved one has paid off with hearing such a compliment. It means more than any amount of money you could imagine.

Most embalmers I know are not in the funeral business for the money. Most embalmers I know do what they do because they have a passion and a deep love for helping others. They have a “servant’s heart” and want to take good care of the families they are serving. They sacrifice nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays, and ballgames, church or whatever it takes, to serve the families.

Bob Collar use to have a saying. When he would come in the morgue at 2 a,m, or 3 a,m, or on a holiday or a weekend, Bob would look at me and say… “Helluva way to make a living. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

I said it then… and I will say it 32 years later. “Yes, Bob, this is EXACTLY what I want to do!”

Until next time.

Go Cubs!

About Mark Grissom

Mark was born on the north side of Chicago in 1964. Raised a Cubs fan by his dad, he never had a chance in life. He moved to Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1988. While he lives closer to Atlanta now, he will never be able to leave the religion of "Cubbie Nation." Baptized as a Cubs fan at the age of five, he has no choice but to live the remainder of his life here on earth in mediocrity at its best!


  1. Gayle Taylor says:

    That was awesome Mark !

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