It's not everyday that you stand around chatting about life with a funeral director, but that's exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago when I was sent to take Mike Vogiatzakis' photo for a story about his decision to run for mayor.
After taking his portrait I took a moment to ask him why he decided to become a funeral director.
"I think becoming a funeral director is almost a gift. I wanted to find purpose in my life. That's the bottom line and I guess it's been about fifteen years now where I've changed my life around totally 100% and found a purpose in life and that purpose was to help people through troubled times."
When you started out did you have any particular fears?
"I think when I started out I feared death. I feared the unknown. Coming into the funeral industry was the unknown. Working with deceased bodies, working with families and it was just such a learning experience. Even after going through mortuary school and actually working in a funeral home, it was a real eye opener. It was a great experience. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely become a funeral director and live this experience all over again. It's the most rewarding job you could ever have in your life, because you help families. I look at my job, you have to draw a picture in your mind, but there's a bridge and it's the "Bridge of Life" and in the "Bridge of Life" there's holes and those holes are "Death." I look at myself as a person who helps a family over that hole. You can't fix it, you can't take it away, but you can help a family over to the other side where they have to walk on their own again."
As a funeral director you've had to deal with personal issues as well, did you learn from other people's experiences?
"You don't. As a funeral director, when my dad was about to pass away it was probably the biggest burden that ever came across me. You have to find a spot that's going to bring peace to your heart. Losing a parent and being a funeral director was extremely hard for me. The build up to that, the fear of that happening the fear of knowing that I would have to pick up my dad. I would have to embalm my dad. I would have to dress my dad. So, you have to find something that's going to bring you peace.
So, as hard as it was for me to lose a father, I found peace in something and that was sitting with my dad and saying, "Dad where do you think you're going after you die?" My dad said to me, "Mike, I'm going to be with Jesus and I'm going to wait for you guys at the gates as you come, one by one." He had a lot of tears in his eye, and I had tears in my eyes and that there brought the biggest and the best gift in life I could ever have. Hearing my dad say that, those words brought me comfort and peace."