I just kind of hung around on the weekends, and the owner of the funeral home took me under his wing and would answer any questions I had. I would just dress up, open doors, and carry flowers. That's all a 9- or 10-year-old could do. It just really intrigued me. I don't know if I was intrigued because I saw how the funeral director cared for my dad, who lost his parents. I didn't know this until later, but when I was 9 years old my mother went to a child psychologist and said, “I got this 9-year-old boy, and all he wants to do is hang around a funeral home.” That guy said, “Well, he’ll outgrow that. Just pacify him.” We ended up moving to Jackson, Tennessee when I was 15 years old, and I went to work for a local funeral home there.
And then, once the economic growth had gone north in the ’90s, Jackson needed a funeral home where the people lived. I found some land and put a group of guys together. In June of 1995, we opened this business from scratch; we didn't have a paperclip. That was 21 years ago, and I now own 80 percent of business and I still have three partners.
Green: Death is not something that a lot of people want to expose their children to at a young age. What intrigued you about helping people grieve, when the process can scare other kids?
Arrington: I was so comfortable with the person that owned the funeral home, because I grew up with him and his kids were two doors down. I never ever remember being scared. I don't know if it made me feel grown up, being 7 years old and wearing a tie and being around a professional group of people.
Green: What is it like to be around people who are part of the grieving process as a professional?
Arrington: I see it as a ministry. I am helping guide people down a path that they don't want to go, nor do they know how to go down it. I finished working a funeral service today, and actually the guy that I buried was a partner of mine. I'd known him for 40 years, and suddenly his heart quit last Thursday. By working with his two daughters and close friends, and guiding people through one of their darkest times, I can really lay my head on the pillow at night and say, “You know I have done good work today.” The Lord puts you in certain places to do certain things.
Green: Do you think your job is emotional?
Arrington: Yes, this [funeral] was very emotional [for me]. If we had a service with another family, one that I don't know, I’m not as emotionally connected as burying a friend of mine I’ve known for over 40 years. We’ve both been down bumpy roads; we've laughed and cried together. It is totally different. The ministry part is the same, but when it’s a close friend or a family member, it's emotional.
But [in general], if you don’t get a little emotional then it’s time to go home. You can’t do this job and be cold and callous. It’s never just another funeral. We are not casket salesmen; we are funeral professionals. I don’t work with the dead; I work with the living to honor the dead. That’s what we do.