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Crosscurrents logo 2021

Meet The Funeral Director Helping Families Grieve While Social Distancing

Madolan Greene
Flickr Creative Commons / cropped
One of 17 cemeteries in Colma, California.

Reuben Houston is the owner and director of one of Colma Cremation and Funeral Services. The Bay Area has seen a relatively low COVID death rate compared to other population centers, but the virus has still affected his work. In this installment of "The Essentials," Reuben says the pandemic may change the way funerals are conducted for good.

Click the play button above to listen to his story.


My name is Reuben Houston, born and raised in San Mateo, California. Been in the death care profession for almost 21 years. I recently took over Colma Cremation and Funeral Services here in Colma, California.
That first contact with the family — that bond you create with them — and they share with you their loved one’s story… and when you're part of the funeral service, you're part of something very special that will live in the lives and the hearts of those who that person has touched and throughout the years of their lives — it’s priceless.
It's not just a job, it's a ministry.
It has changed a lot. It was always the visitations, the rosaries, the wakes, the next day — the services, the masses. It could be 10 people, or it could be 1000 people.
When that changed just like that… people who are traditional — they don't know. They're confused. They don't know what to do, because this is all they have known all their life! It was, “Oh for grandma we had a Rosary, for grandpa we had a Rosary, or a wake.” Now, we're limited to only 10 people. Who do you select to come to the service? Like, you only can have 10 people!
This is the way of the future actually, because people are using technology. They're live streaming. It’s changing.
So I did an ID view, which is when a family will want to view prior to cremation, and we did a Zoom. We had probably over 115 people from all over. Actually, it was the grandmother who had lived in Mexico, and there's people all over — from Florida, New York. And people were saying the Rosary. They were saying the Rosary. It was beautiful. I was just, like, wow! I mean, people don't actually have to be there. They can be anywhere and still be part of the celebration of life.
This technology has been around for almost 20 years. Funeral homes... and let me just be the one to say: they didn't want to offer this because then it takes away from their service. Then it takes away from the revenue.
You know, now they’re adapting to it. Now they're promoting it. But, you know, we should have been promoting this almost 20 years ago!
Pandora's box has been opened now.
It’s the way of the future. It’s the way of life now. We just have to accept it.
Technology is the way. Unfortunately there's good and bads of it. You know, I get it.
It's leaving a really big hole in the hearts of those who need that hug — who need that reassurance that things will get better.
That closure is not there. That kiss on the cheek, reminiscing, sharing memories, all that… it’s no more.
When I talk to families, I share with them that's why it's so important to be around family.
This season that we're in now has hit us. It’s like a reality check now. It's like, “I need to spend more time with my kids, I need to spend more time with my husband, the date nights. I need to spend time with mom and dad, my friends or whoever and let them know that I love them.” This is a wake up call because this is the new norm.
I look at it this way: we all gotta go. Sometimes it’s way before our time. I want to no doubt be cremated. It’s just a shell. Our spirit has been released.
You know, I want to be scattered in Japan. And then the rest off the coast of San Mateo County because that's — born and raised. And if possible, you know, if possible, and it's been done... Some people have sprinkled some loved ones’ remains off the golf course or at a stadium, whatnot. Well, Oakland A's. I remember because my father used to take us all the time when we were little kids and I used to love it. You know, even today I bring my kids to the games.
Having a picture of myself on the wall or something. That's how I want to be remembered. Not someone viewing me in a casket. No, nah, I want that happy smiley face, you know up in front somewhere. Slideshow of my life’s story with my family, friends, and all my accomplishments as a funeral director helping those families through the transition of life. That's how I want to be remembered.

Christopher was a fellow in the KALW’s Audio Academy class of 2020. He previously interned at NPR. Among other topics, he is interested in reporting on issues of chronic illness, disability, and mental health. Christopher’s background is in film production and social impact strategy. He’s worked with major nonprofits and corporations on developing campaigns that advance social issues.