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The Shepherd 

Surrounded by death, Bill Rossey sees life at its best

click to enlarge After 15 years in the business, Bill Rossey isn’t shocked by the dead.| - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • After 15 years in the business, Bill Rossey isn’t shocked by the dead.|

Bill Rossey keeps a candy dish filled with Lifesavers in his office.

There are spare neckties, too. A suit coat and a crisp, white shirt. A painting of an empty bed.

Most days, Rossey’s work mimics everyone else’s. Paperwork. Emails. Signatures on dotted lines. It’s the other part of his job — the messy business of caring for the dead — that makes his life different.

It’s why he buys Kleenex by the case at Costco.

Hair parted on the side, Rossey’s face is both stony and impartial. He is monotone when he says that he loves this work: cremation, embalming, funeral planning. It’s a good job. Secure. Constant.

Some days, he brings his 5-year-old son to work. The boy doesn’t entirely understand, telling his preschool teacher that “I rearrange dead people,” Rossey says. This makes him smile.

In the “death care industry,” Rossey is the person who makes hard times easier, asking husbands, mothers, children: “What can I do for you? How can I help you?”

Just make Mom look good, some say. Make her look restful.

In this, Rossey takes pride. On the embalming table, he brings color to the cheeks of the dead.

Now, after 15 years, there’s little shock when he pulls back the plastic on a body or arrives at a home to collect the dead. Feeding bodies into a crematory, draining fluids from others: This is not shocking.

What does touch him, though, are the moments that swirl around those who have died. The way people try to celebrate life as they bury the dead.

Or how a funeral can bring together estranged families, at least for that passing moment.

“I’m more shocked in a good way,” he says.

Life still surprises Bill Rossey far more than death ever could.

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