My brother Jim. . . . and the power of kindness.



Editor’s Note:  This is a reprint of my article of August 17, 2021.  I think the message to Death Care professionals still resonates so it is reprinted with only the calendar numbers changed.  Thanks for reading.


Today is August 17.  Today should be my younger brother, Jim’s, 62nd birthday.  Instead I’ll spend part of the day where he rests at Kinkead Cemetery talking to him, telling him how much I loved him, and how sad it was that I didn’t get to see him grow old.  You see, Jim, took his own life in May 1993 and never lived past 31 years of age.


It’s one of my greatest regrets in life. . . that I never noticed how deep into depression and despair he was sinking.  Jim and I shared a bunk bed at home and teamed up picking on our older brother.  I have great memories of playing basketball in the driveway, of walking to the skating rink in the dark of night on cold Minnesota winter nights. . . and a lot of other great memories we shared.


Thinking of how his life was cut short has always been painful for me. .  however, years have a way of shedding that pain and helping to see how one can learn from it.


Today, when I think of Jim’s death. . . . . I think of that day and there eventually were positives that came out of it for me.  I really learned about kindness and have prescribed my life to be kind since.  My father’s death when I was a teenager pointed the way to funeral directing for me as someone who was destined to take over the family business.  However, it was when Jim died and people were so kind to me that I realized that being kind, and compassionate, might be one of the keys to life.


The day that Jim died I was on the golf course.  I was on the green of the 12th hole when Chuck, the police chief of my town came rolling up to the green in a golf cart.  He said, “Tom, I need to see you.”  Chuck put his arm around me and told me my brother had died.  Chuck and I attended Bible Study together and I’ve often thought that if I had to have someone tell me that my brother died. . . I’m glad it was Chuck.  For a long time afterward I could not play the 12th hole at our golf club without thinking of that memory.  But, I remember Chuck doing a job he didn’t want to do. . . but, doing it with every bit of kindness he had in him.


Later that day, Mark, the Medical Examiner called me.  Mark and I started work the exact same week in our community in June 1980.  We had been at hundreds of death scenes together professionally over the years.  We had learned to appreciate each other and our work.  He told me that he knew how Jim died and that unless we wanted one, he would not perform a post mortem exam, or autopsy.  I told him I preferred that he not, however, the legal authority and decision was up to him.  Mark didn’t have to call me, or give me that option, but he did so out of kindness.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

Why do I bring up this story in this forum?  It’s interesting as I think back over 30 years to this incident.  Here’s why. . . .even as a funeral professional, I don’t remember much about Jim’s funeral, I certainly don’t remember the sermon.  I don’t remember anything about being at the cemetery.  However, I remember the kindness that was shown to me by Chuck and Mark and so many others.


So, if you are a funeral professional I will tell you that be professional but don’t get so rattled about the details of the visitation, funeral, procession, and burial that you forget about just plain old fashioned kindness that can be extended to the families that you serve.  It’s what they will remember.


I’ve learned that while we say we are in the Death Care business or funeral business, I don’t think that is really true.  Funeral directors are in the compassion and kindness business.  As you move forward with your career, choose to be compassionate and kind. . . . the results will be better than you ever imagined.


Getting positive about any situation:  Over Jim’s death and my mourning and grief, I believe that I actually became a kinder, gentler person.  And there are some positives about learning about mental health issues when I did.


Tom age 9
Jim age 5

Years later when I served on the Board of Regents for the University of Minnesota I was able to convince the Provost and President that more resources should be allocated for student mental health situations.  Partly because of my feelings on that, we were able to add more mental health advisors which was a big plus for our campus – and the students we serve.  I tried, but failed, to get these new mental health counselors to be officed in each dormitory on campus so they would be closer to the students that may need their help.  Maybe someday that will still come.


I’ve also been able to return kindness shown to me. . . almost two decades after Jim’s death, Mark, the Medical Examiner, had a grandchild die after only living a few minutes following birth.  Mark called me on my personal cell phone to ask if I would personally take care of the remains for his daughter and her husband even though they lived in another city.  I was honored. . . . and we were able to satisfy all of their wishes with compassion.


As we go through life events happen. . . they may be tragic. . . .but always try to learn and better yourself from the situation.


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  1. Bill Bickmeier on August 17, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    The only words I know to say are not mine.

    1 Thessalonians 5:23

    23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Hold fast to what is good and reject the rest.

  2. Darrin on August 17, 2023 at 11:59 am

    Very powerful message, Tom. Thank you for sharing this yet again with your readers.

    (And the U of M community thanks you, as well.)

  3. Jeff on August 17, 2023 at 11:15 am

    Compassion and kindness business. I like that. Wonderful article Tom. God bless. Thanks for sharing.

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