A funeral service that celebrates life as well as mourns death

BY KATHY KAHN

Funerals often put loved one and visitors on edge. Whether it is a death of a family member or a friend, or you are going to pay your respects to the family, it can be overwhelming to decide what to do once you arrive.

TJ McGowan Funeral Home in Haverstraw (with a second location in Garnerville) is run by Noe (pronounced “Noah”) Hamer, a funeral director for nearly two decades.

He was studying to become a paralegal but switched gears when a friend who was a funeral director asked him to help out as a greeter and eventually encouraged him to go to mortuary science school, where Hamer received his certification. “It was the best thing I ever did,” said the funeral director, who puts his heart and soul into making the bereaved and their guests feel more at ease.

In both his funeral homes, he and his staff worked on an innovative project to turn services into more of a celebration of the deceased’s life, sharing memories and moments for family and friends. ShareLife ®, a multimedia program provided throughout the service, is used to feature personal photos or scenes that remind mourners of the things the deceased loved best in life–whether it was a commitment to the Armed Services,  hiking, mountain climbing, biking or just an “at home” person who loved baking or tinkering in the tool shop.

“It really is a celebration of the person’s life. Once people pay their respects at the casket and sit, they can watch a wall-sized video of the things that person loved, accompanied by sound, whether its music or the patter of rain on a rooftop,” said Hamer. “We can create the sound to complement the video.”

Many of Haverstraw’s residents are from Latin America, so it’s difficult for family members or friends to travel to pay their respects. “That’s not a problem with this system we installed.  We fully record every part of the service and stream it online for the family,” said McGowan’s funeral director.

“Many things have changed in the way we view death, although for those closest to the deceased, it can be overwhelmingly painful. This is a way to reduce the stress and put people more in touch with celebrating the deceased’s life….we also have Nyack, our  ‘comfort dog,’ who seems to sense when someone needs attention.

“The multi-sensory experience platform is a new way to put some joy into a sad occasion,” added Hamer. “We have a play area for children who often come with parents and don’t really have anything to do. It’s a comfort for both the kids and their parents.

“Most of us believe in the hereafter…here at TJ McGowan, we try to convey that death is not the end, it’s another chapter in a loved one’s life.”

If you feel ill at ease to going to a funeral home for an evening out, Hamer has been approached by the local senior center to have a movie night at the Broadway location. Hamer is hosting a movie night on the big screen on April 14. “If it gives something back to the community when it is not in use by a family, and it certainly gives people an opportunity to get together for an enjoyable, rather than a sad, occasion.”