Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
You can’t fix it, you can’t take it away, but you can help
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."
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About Mike Deal
After freelancing for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years, starting in 1997, Mike Deal landed a part-time job as a night photodesk editor.
His first day in the new position was supposed to be September 12, 2001. But when he woke to the news of the two towers on September 11, he automatically headed into the newsroom.
For the next few years, he split his hours at the Winnipeg Free Press between photo editing and photography. In 2008, Mike was hired full-time as a photojournalist.
Mike’s training includes a journalism diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. He also spent time at the University of Manitoba, working at the Manitoban and the U of M photo club and taking fine art courses.
Having also just finished shooting a personal project that involved taking 2,013 portraits using just his iPhone in the year 2013, he looks forward to taking the portrait project concept to another level. He will NOT be shooting 2,014 in 2014! Don't be surprised if he stops you in the street and demands a moment of your time. You have been warned!
Another personal passion of his is street photography, capturing the people of Winnipeg amongst the beautiful architecture of its downtown.
In his off-hours Mike enjoys taking photos with his iPhone, walks in Assiniboine Forest, and spending his free time with his partner Ariel and daughter Anna.
"I go to the street for the education of my eye and for the sustenance that the eye needs - the hungry eye, and my eye is hungry." -Walker Evans
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