Cliff Hosick, general manager of Perl Funeral Home and Siskiyou Memorial Park, walks beside the mausoleum. The cremation oven is located inside the building. Jim Craven 3/12/2008

Ashes to ashes

Cliff Hosick and Tim Simonsen took different paths toward the same destination.

Hosick was born into the funeral business. Simonsen found it later in life and could not let it go. Both are in charge of many aspects of running a funeral business, including the cremation process.

"It's different," Hosick says of his profession. "I was raised in the business, and when you're around something all the time you just learn to deal with it."

Hosick, 52, is the general manager at Siskiyou Memorial Park in Medford. Simonsen performs the same duties at Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland.

Most funeral homes in the Rogue Valley have crematories on site to aid in what has become a popular form of body preparation in recent years.

"It's gone from about 35 percent of the people coming here choosing cremation to 85 percent in the time I've been here," says Simonsen, 54, who's worked at the funeral home since 1983. "A number of people are choosing it for a number of different reasons."

These include more flexibility, cleanliness, religious beliefs and nonreligious philosophies, Hosick and Simonsen say.

"We're a real mobile society," says Hosick. "People move and it's easier to take pieces of loved ones with you that way."

Expense may be another reason more people are choosing cremation. The price tag for the cremation process, running anywhere from $700 to $1,200, is typically lower than an in-ground service.

"It's different but it's all done with the respect you would give to anyone in the industry as far as handling remains and meeting with the families," Hosick says. "Someone lost a loved one and they're going through all sorts of emotions."

Simonsen got his start in the funeral business in high school when he took a job as a custodian in Idaho.

"I really never had an aversion to where I would say it was creepy," Simonsen says. "I was always just OK with it.

"My senior year I really grew to appreciate what funeral directors do."

Soon after graduating from high school, Simonsen earned his funeral director certificate.

"It's a full program you have to take," Simonsen says. "There are two years of academics, there's an apprenticeship and you have to pass the state board exams."

Simonsen's parents, who are retired from unrelated fields, currently assist at the Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home.

Hosick's parents owned the Siskiyou Memorial Park several years ago. It has since been bought and sold several times.

Both Hosick and Simonsen are fully involved in the cremation process.

When a body arrives at the funeral home, a waiting period — sometimes 24 hours, sometimes one week — occurs while the next of kin is properly notified, the official death certificate is made up and a doctor's signature is obtained. The body, meanwhile, is typically refrigerated on site.

When the proper paperwork is filled out, the body is placed in a casket and rolled into a preheated cremation oven, where it sits in temperatures ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 degrees for a time frame ranging from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.

The remains are given a cooling-off period, then placed in an urn.

The ashes are then turned over to the family.

Working with the deceased has never been an issue for Simonsen or Hosick.

"I think it's a very natural part of life," Simonsen says. "I definitely think doing what I do helps us be more prepared for death, although I think in today's day and age, more and more families are involved in the death process than before because of hospice."

And could they picture themselves doing anything else?

"It's what I've grown up doing," says Hosick. "I never really thought about anything else."

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