Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a limousine. In the back seat are the pregnant wife, child, mother and father of a man tragically murdered as he tried to stop a crime. You're driving that family to their loved one's funeral—the tears have all been cried out, and the silence in the cab is deafening.
That, explained Brent Francis, was the toughest thing he's ever had to do at work.
As a third-generation undertaker, Francis, 43, has been around grieving people for his entire life—he grew up in rural Ontario, Canada above a funeral home still operated by his father and grandfather who, at age 100, is still a licensed funeral director—but he doesn't let the tragedy he's seen get in the way of his sunny disposition.
After years working as a funeral director in his native Canada, Florida and Maryland he's started his own venture, Parkview Funeral Home on Harford Road, to try and bring the level of personal service he learned in a small town to grieving families in Parkville.
"That's the way I was raised ... in a small town funeral home you're serving your neighbors, your friends, people you see all the time, people you go to church with," he said. "If you don't do a good job it's going to spread around town, plus you have to face these people … you'd better do your job right and to the best of your ability."
That can mean everything from a little detail—Francis prefers to drop flowers off to families after services rather than have them come back to the funeral home to pick them up—to something pretty big: unlike many funeral homes, Parkview doesn't use an answering service.
If you call in the middle of the night, Francis will answer.
"It's just a lot of personal service. It's about meeting and greeting just like in the olden days. When you went to a funeral home [then,] you never opened the door, it opened for you. My father was always at the door swinging the door ... you only left if something needed to be addressed," he said.
"I don't have an answering service because I don't want one. If I’m going to get called in the middle of the night, I get called by the family. That way I can let them know when I’ll be out at their house and they can get their answers as soon as possible."
Between renovating the funeral home, which Francis has owned since December but opened in July, and being its sole employee the job can entail some long hours.
"I have neighbors who will say 'does your wife ever see you?' Because I was here day and night at one time," he said. "For a lot of [the renovation] I was still working [at a funeral home in Aberdeen. I was always back and forth to Lowes and Home Depot nonstop."
The renovation on the building, located at 7527 Harford Road, was almost total. Francis and his wife, Martha, worked to replace dark wood paneling, ceiling tiles, carpets and paint to give the place a brighter look.
"Everything was just so dated," he said. "I wanted to make it modern and comfortable ... my wife is responsible for all the colors, I can't do that. I pick can pick out wood furniture and that's about it."
"I always thought that the people in this area need another option," he said. "Instead of going down south of Northern [Parkway] or up by the Beltway, this community should have its own funeral home like it had since the 1970s."