Mountain View Funeral Home and Memorial Park | Lakewood, WA
Mountain View Funeral Home, Memorial Park and Crematory has been a fixture in Pierce County (Washington State) since 1915. It was the second facility in the United States to combine a funeral home and cemetery in 1942. Mountain View has a total of 160 acres available and has developed 110 of those as of 2016; more than 100,000 people rest at Mountain View. The staff assist about 1,400 families each year with services - that's about 27 families each week. Out-of-area mourners can attend services via webcast. In addition to final arrangements, Mountain View compassionately provides grief support to families at no cost for as long as they like. It's an amazing place.
It's also a beautiful, tranquil place. The grounds include 181 varieties of trees, 575 rhododendrons, and a gorgeous rose garden. Mountain View maintains 53 distinct gardens for burial, five veterans' sections, over 5,000 above-ground casket spaces (mausoleum), and more than 10,000 niches for cremated remains.
All of these things establish Mountain View as a leader in the industry. It's the people, though, that make the difference.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Clarke Thomson, General Manager. Two things struck me about our conversation. First, Mr. Thomson values community and remarked about the strength of community at Mountain View. Second, he puts families first and leads the organization with compassion.
During many graveside visits with family I've seen the kindness of neighbors. People who may have never met otherwise become connected when their loved ones rest side by side. Like cities, cemeteries contain small groups of neighborhoods and neighbors come to know each other over time. They leave flowers for their resting neighbors when they bring flowers for their own loved ones. They talk with each other. They walk through the grounds together. They feel seen, heard, and understood in a way they may not feel with family and friends.
As Mr. Thomson showed me the newest mausoleum structure, which also contains niches for cremated remains, he told me the story of two neighbors in the space. Very few residents are in niches just yet, with most being separated by rows of niches. Two soldiers found themselves together - both were young and left behind young families. The mothers of these servicemen have become support for one another. They do not necessarily visit at the same time, yet each understands the other in a way friends and family cannot. How beautiful and relieving it must be to know that someone you've just met gets you. That's community.
He showed me the monument for first responders in Pierce County. The monument was established to honor the Lakewood Four and includes the names of other responders who made the ultimate sacrifice. Mr. Thomson said many responders visit this memorial each week to have a quiet place to pay their respects.
I've met a lot of people in the funeral profession and it saddens me to say that many of them seem disinterested or disconnected from the families they serve. It's a job. For Mr. Thomson, it's a calling, and he demonstrates his care through his actions. When he showed me the Memorial Design Center in the main building, he explained it initially held caskets. The room was full of beautiful monuments and markers. Caskets are a big-ticket item, and because they are on display for an hour, perhaps, it didn't make sense to him to dedicate all that space to something the families would see just once. He wanted to use the space to meet with families to create lasting memorials for generations to enjoy. So he did. Benches, traditional markers, and unique monuments like salmon and tractors are all options. Families can see those up close and decide what interface, for lack of a better term, they want to have with their loved ones during their visits. He wants families to focus on what will be most important to them in the long run and provides the space to do that.
It's not just business and it is important to have a holistic approach to caring for these families. This is why Mountain View provides abundant resources for grief. Staff walk families through the process, explaining the required forms and documents and why they matter. "It's our duty to be a pillar for families," Mr. Thompson explained.
Mountain View recognizes the first 30 days are the hardest and provides complementary benches for that time period. It's a safe place to come and talk, cry, shout, or be silent.
In the Memorial Design Center is also a photo mural with a quote.
I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.
We talked about this fear of being forgotten. It's something most of us don't anticipate and yet it becomes a tremendous concern after death. it is crushing when days or weeks after the service and final arrangements the people in a mourner's life go back to normal. Life for the mourner is forever changed. Forever more complicated and painful. The thought that people forget the person who is gone . . . that people stop sharing stories and pictures, they stop saying the name . . . that's heartbreaking. It is another kind of loss and one for which we are not prepared.
Mr. Thomson shared a story about a service he helped to plan for a former professional baseball player and life-long lover of the sport. He listened to the family's description of this man and realized how big a role baseball played in his life. With the family's support, the service abruptly changed course about two-thirds of the way through as the organist played "charge." I can only imagine the expressions of the mourners and really wish I had been there to photograph that service. The officiant remarked that it was only appropriate to take a seventh inning stretch. They stood, stretched, and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" together. He really listened to understand, and because of that he was able to help deliver an unforgettable celebration of this man's life.
A new area of service for Mountain View is hosting family reunions. Mr. Thomson talked about how reunions frequently involve a trip to the cemetery to visit loved ones and connect with ancestors. Families share stories as they come together, and they have the opportunity to visit resting places that may be far from home. Families with history at Mountain View may choose one of the reception areas to host part or all of their family reunions, simplifying the planning and deeply connecting with the history and shared experiences that bring families together. How many other funeral homes or cemeteries do that?
I have been honored to witness families at Mountain View, at graveside and for receptions. Seeing pieces of their experiences from the other side moves me to appreciate the care they receive so much more.
Keywords: Clarke Thomson, Lakewood, WA, Mountain View, burial, cemetery, community, compassion, death, empathy, final arrangements, funeral home, grief, mausoleum, memorial park, service
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