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Antonia Cummings finds faith at the heart of her ministry as a funeral director

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Late night calls to crime scenes; homes where hospice patients have completed their journey; a job that goes beyond the regular 9 to 5 routine that requires compassion for both the living and the dead.

While some might consider her career as a funeral director macabre, Antonia Cummings sees it as a calling.

She’s done cremations, encouraging the families to bury them and explained the dignity of that choice. She helps families plan and leads funerals.

“I’ve always been drawn to pray for the dead,” she said. “I feel so few people are prayed for after they die because Catholics don’t know how important it is or other Christians and atheists don’t believe they should pray for the dead. I feel like an ambassador, so to speak, or the only person who prays for that person after they died.”

Cummings acknowledges there are misconceptions about her chosen career as a funeral director — it’s cold or creepy, or it’s a huge moneymaking business. Not true.

“If I wasn’t religious, I would have a hard time looking at the bodies in a dignified way without objectification,” she said.

A parishioner of St. Bridget of Ireland Church in Berryville, Cummings graduated from Christendom College in Front Royal. It was while attending funerals of two friends she’d known since she was 16 that she found her calling. The week after graduating from Christendom, she began a degree in funeral services from John Tyler Community College in Chester and graduated in August 2017. She became a licensed director in November 2018. Now she works at Enders and Shirley in Berryville and Stephens City.

Prayer enters into much of her work.

“The way I see it is I’m the last person who’s going to care for that human body in its imperfect state before God touches it again and makes it perfect at its end times,” she said. “It is cool I’m the last step the body has before its final resurrection. It is an honor and an incredible way to walk with this person in the last step.”

Cummings noted that her role as a funeral director ties into both corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

“At my job I can do a corporal work of mercy every day,” she said. “It is overwhelming in the sense that people seem to give me more responsibilities to actually think about it every day, and it would be a waste not to think about it every day.”

Though she didn’t realize it until college, Cummings has been leaning toward this career for a long time. When she was little, she had funeral processions for a dead frog in the driveway. And November was her favorite month.

“I wanted to go to cemeteries to pray for the dead for the whole month of November. I loved being there and thought they were beautiful places,” she said. “I should have seen that was what I loved most. But I didn’t see that doing the spiritual works of mercy and praying for the dead were preparing me for the corporal work of mercy later in life.”

Her work has impacted her life in many ways.

“I don’t ever want to go to bed without apologizing, or end anything on a bad note because you never know when you will see someone for the last time and I don’t ever want to regret that last encounter,” she said. “If anything, it’s made me value every good moment you have and realize life is a gift and treasure for what you have in it.”

Working in a sad environment can be emotionally draining for Cummings, but she said she never gets depressed. “This work has made me a happier person because I appreciate life and it made me really rethink my relationships with people, my interactions with them and what’s really worth worrying about in life.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019