Oak Harbor will no longer be a one funeral home town.
Funeral director Paul Kuzina, who was employed at Burley Funeral Chapel for nine-and-a-half years, plans to open Whidbey Memorial Funeral and Cremation Service by fall on Midway Boulevard.
“We’re going to be the only locally-owned funeral home in Oak Harbor,” the 34-year veteran of funeral directing said.
The decision to open the funeral home was borne out of tragedy. In August of last year, one of his three daughters gave birth to twin girls who died shortly after.
“I had the sad task of laying my granddaughters to rest,” Kuzina said. “It was a tough one. It was the hardest thing I ever went through. It brought everything forward to me as to dealing with families and what they go through.
“Pain gives you clarity sometimes,” he added. “It was like the fog drifted away and I knew what my purpose was. And I knew I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to take care of those details.”
Kuzina and his wife Heidi, marketing director at Regency on Whidbey, attended a seminar called Focus in early 2006, which he said helped them persevere through the tragedy.
“For me personally, it helped me rediscover the person God created me to be and gave me some tools with which to cope with the tragedy,” he said. “My life took on a whole new direction. This is more than a fulfillment of a dream. It’s kind of realizing my point of purpose.”
His emotional journey led him to his calling and to the 2,400-square-foot Midway building. He has already been granted a conditional use permit by the city and the structure will undergo extensive remodeling.
“It’s going to dress up the neighborhood,” Kuzina said. “It’s going to look very classy and very calming. People are going to feel comforted when they come here.”
The modest-sized funeral home will provide an array of services. Kuzina has made arrangements to have cremations done at another facility.
“We do everything a traditional funeral home does,” he said. “We will offer funerals, memorial services, cremations, burials, pre-need plan we’ll be able to take care of all of it. This is a relatively small location for a funeral home. Our chapel will be small, but we will make up for that by renting churches or buildings in which to hold larger services. We can accommodate the needs of every request.”
Through his own pain, Kuzina said he can offer comfort to others who are mourning.
“Funeral directing is a gift I have,” he said. “I have a lot of compassion and yet I’m able to balance that with business-like efficiency, so I’m able to understand that the bottomline is important. I also understand that every single family member, every single person that walks through those doors is important. They all matter. They’re all creations of God.”
After undertaking demographic studies, Kuzina determined that North Whidbey could support a second funeral home.
“Now we know the community has a choice,” he said.
Kuzina, 58, is in a markedly different stage of his life now than he was in 1985 when he was on the verge of purchasing a funeral home in Wenatchee.
“I’m prepared for this now,” he said. “I’m no stranger to hard work. I have no delusions of grandeur. I just know there’s an essence of ministry for the community in this field. Everybody at some point comes into contact with the loss of a loved one.”
After fighting off the overwhelming desire to open a funeral home, Kuzina finally gave in and discovered a cache of energy and determination.