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Sunday, Mar 01, 2015

Celebrating a life

Hernando Today Correspondent


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When Tiffany Smith lost her father to a heart attack, she had a pretty good idea what steps to follow to prepare for his funeral. After all, she had lost her mother a few years earlier to breast cancer.

"It's never easy," she said, remembering back to a time that was perhaps her darkest. Having lost both parents so close to each other, Smith's grieving was deep. Yet the process was a bit easier the second time around because she had some idea what to do.

She contacted Turner Funeral Home in Spring Hill and began the process of making those unpleasant final arrangements to have her father shipped to New Hampshire where he would be buried next to his wife.

Few think about being in Smith's shoes, although most of us know we will, at some point, need the services of a caring funeral home.

George Marvella, a funeral director for more than 30 years and now the general manager of Turner Funeral Homes, wishes more people would spend some time thinking and talking about those final wishes before they become decisions made by someone else.

"It's going to happen," he said. "You know the saying about death and taxes. Why not do your loved ones a big favor by taking away a huge burden of your passing?"

He described heart-wrenching scenarios where the grieving family members are forced to make tedious decisions while deep in their grief process. He also described his own experience, on the other side of the desk, when he had to make those final decisions for his father.

Luckily, Marvella had approached the topic before his father's death. "He used to tell me, 'Just bury me in a wooden box,'" Marvella remembered. But when given the opportunity to really think about what he wanted, Marvella's father chose a realistic option and Marvella was able to give his father what he wanted, with a little enhanced twist.

"It's like a gift to your loved ones," Marvella said.

Marvella has been on the professional side of the desk for most of his adult life, getting his start in funerals when he was just a teen. He has a dignified respect for his profession and immediately shuns any stereotypes that suggest the funeral business is dark and depressing.

Of course the process of finalizing a loved one's passing is one of life's most stressful moments. Hours of tedious paperwork and final decisions are unavoidable. But his objective is to get them through the decisions as quickly as possible so they can begin to celebrate the life rather than the passing of the person they've lost.

"That is really what this is all about," Marvella said. "It should be a celebration. I actually encourage the families to bring in things that showcase their loved one's life, rather than focus on their death."

Marvella has helped clients choose some of the most elaborate celebrations to the most inexpensive cremations without even a ceremony, and every imaginable scenario in between. It often comes down to money, he said, and how much the survivors can afford to spend on the service.

Everyone deserves a proper service, he added. And he works very hard to make that happen, despite restraints on a budget. "We don't turn anyone away because of lack of money," he said.

Turner Funeral Home has been a comforting force in Hernando County for more than 50 years. John Turner purchased the house in historic downtown Brooksville in 1959. It was originally a residence, which Turner renovated into a funeral home.

"He lived upstairs and ran the funerals through the downstairs," Marvella said. "He worked like that for many years and then added the chapel we use now."

In 1978, Turner branched into Spring Hill and opened the funeral home on Spring Hill Drive. He also developed the Florida Hills Memorial Gardens, located near the Spring Hill Drive location. After John died, his son, Shack Turner, took over the outfit for a few years before selling to the current owners, Steward Industries.

Although the ownership changed, much of what grounded Turner in the community was preserved. The business is run like a family, with a staff that blends beautifully together, providing a tight-knit team that takes intimidation out of the equation.

Like Denise Cronin, the office manager of eight years, who has the unique ability to put the clients at ease.

"I try and make them feel comfortable," she said.

Cronin is engaging and genuine in her concern for their well-being. "I love this job," she said.

Anne is new to Turner but is already blending in with her natural ability to care. Her background is in customer service. While Turners is her first experience working in the funeral industry, she is excited about the challenge. "If you don't challenge yourself, you can't grow," she said.

There is a real comforting presence felt inside the facility, from the embracing front porch of the downtown Brooksville location to the cozy lobby area where Marvella and the other funeral directors meet with clients.

Turner no longer has a casket room, replacing that often intimidating feature with the technical advances of Internet shopping. Clients now browse options on a computer monitor. A tasteful display of an assortment of urns, keepsake boxes and other elegant additions are available for the ceremony.

The message Marvella hopes to convey to his community is simple. "Death is inevitable," he said. "Why not take some of the burden of your passing out of the equation so your family and friends can focus on celebrating your life."

Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at

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