“I knew from an early age that my purpose in life was different from most. As a boy, I only crossed paths with death a few times. When I was 5, my grandfather died; then Sanford, our Springer Spaniel, followed by my uncle, when I was 13. Occasionally we would lose a calf on our family farm. I learned that death was often unexpected and inconvenient. I also realized it could be beautiful and life-changing.”
John Christian’s creative and inspiring parents encouraged him to follow his heart and he heard a calling strange to many. For as long as he can remember, John Christian has possessed a sense of empathy for the dead and dying. When he announced to his parents the decision to become a “mortician” over supper one evening, his father gave his blessing by singing a John Prine tune aptly named “Please Don’t Bury Me.”
After a quintessential southern upbringing in rural West Tennessee John Christian received a full scholarship to one of the nation’s top colleges for mortuary science and funeral arts. Since 1946, men and women have studied undertaker craft and trade at John A. Gupton College in Nashville, Tennessee and John Christian quickly followed suit. Upon completion of his course of study, he embarked upon the journey he had anticipated all of his twenty years and John Christian’s life would change forever.
Initially John Christian was employed as a funeral director and embalmer at the local, small-town funeral home where for years his family gathered in somber times. He learned firsthand the traditional methods of care he had previously only read about or seen falsely depicted in films. When listening to the real life experiences of people, John Christian learned how therapeutic memories can be to a grieving spirit. Hearing the story of a husband’s love from the heart of a widow resonated within his soul and prompted his own grief and empathy. He experienced WWII through the stories of veterans and their spouses. He watched as a mother said goodbye to the earthly shell of her newborn child. John Christian learned his true course of study from remembering with the families he met. He counseled the faithful and the non-believers from all walks of life and of all social and economic statuses and was constantly reminded that ALL share the experience of death.
After a short time, his work led him from that small funeral home back to the larger city of Nashville where he spent his college years. From there John Christian carried with him the simple truths and principles learned from watching a community participate in remembering neighbors, family and friends. He was humbled by the outpouring of respect. No one was forgotten and every life received a pause. John Christian’s awareness expanded to include a keen understanding of the fragility of life itself and the preciousness that is human existence. His family and friends became increasingly important as he was changed by death. An acute appreciation for the strength and resilience of the human spirit continues as John Christian continues upon his path.
“I meet new people every day and with the help of their family and friends I plan a commemorative event that is truly as unique as their loved one. Life tells the story, I just listen. Caring for grieving families is one of many privileges my calling affords me. I remain committed to developing a new way for Tennesseans and Americans alike to approach death and dying by encouraging familial participation, environmental conservation and an organic approach to the funeral ritual. By providing home-based funeral guidance, natural burial support and conservation burial education and advocacy, I believe our lives and our deaths can be improved dramatically.”