Don Byles is a funeral director in New London, CT, where he runs the funeral home that’s been in his family for more than a century.
With retirement on the horizon, Don is getting ready to hand over the family business to his 25-year-old daughter Mackenzie.
They recently sat down for a conversation at StoryCorps.
Click here for the transcript.
Mackenzie Byles (MB): [Laughs] Yeah, you're not too handy, Dad. [Laughs]
DB: I could have been a rock star, but I couldn't play anything real good. But, you know, I didn't think too much about doing anything else.
MB: Are you nervous for me to take it over?
DB: No, I'm not nervous about that. You'll be the fourth generation of the family line. Now I know I've had some reactions when I was growing up, hitting the dating pool. And when they asked you what you did, some people would walk away. [Laughs] But how about yourself, have you had problems?
MB: I mean, I'm single now so maybe I just don't know that it's affecting my dating life. [Laughs] But, did I tell you about the time at school when this girl came up to me and asked me what my major was? I told her and she literally turned around and walked away, and didn't say anything to me. And I got scared that my whole college experience was going to be people not wanting to be my friend because I work at a funeral home. It's very odd.
DB: So what do you think the hardest part of your job is?
MB: People don't realize that it's a 24/7 thing. Especially kids my age, you know when I'm out at a bar or something and we get a death call and I have to go into work. They're like, wait, work right now? It's 11:30 at night.
And, in the funeral home I find myself getting teary eyed sometimes. I don't want people to, like, see me. I'm supposed to be there to help them and it's like…
DB: Yeah, well it's a tough thing sometimes.
MB: Someone my age or when they are younger than me is hard. But it's rewarding when a family ... they're very pleased with how everything turned out.
DB: Having somebody come up and say thank you, we weren't sure what was going to happen, but you made everything easy. It makes it all worthwhile. Doing it so everybody's happy. Or as happy as they can be having a funeral.
MB: You have to teach me a lot of stuff before you can retire. I'm a little nervous about being on my own here. I've got big shoes to fill with you.
MB: People that come in the office and talk about you and say how great you are, and stuff.
DB: They'll be talking about you before too much longer. You're going to do fine.