Bradley’s Funeral Home in Marion celebrated their 20th year of operation in February, and owners Tim and Justine Bradley are looking forward to continuing to serve the community in the years to come.

“We were very fortunate to immediately have the support of the community,” Tim said as he reflected on their first year of operation. And now, 20 years and 4,500 funerals later, he praises “our extremely loyal staff who understand our mission and our purpose here. The families we serve come first. We don’t turn anyone away. We try to treat everyone with dignity, fairness and compassion. We treat the families we serve like our own families.”

Justine, Tim’s wife, agreed. “Dignity, fairness and compassion are not just words. Those three words are who we are. We are looking forward to serving the community for many years to come.”

Both Tim and Justine are licensed funeral directors, and their daughter, Rowan, will join them at the local funeral home once she completes mortuary school. She will be the fifth generation of funeral directors in her family, with Justine’s grandmother being among the first licensed female funeral directors.

Tim and Justine actually met while attending mortuary school in Pittsburg, Penn. They later decided to return to Marion, Tim’s hometown, and, in February 1999, they purchased the Jenson property and opened Bradley’s Funeral Home, holding the first funeral on Feb. 22, 1999.

The funeral business was not new to Tim. His father, David Bradley, was good friends with Peyton and Nancy Barnett, owners and operators of Barnett’s Funeral Home for many years, and Tim was around that funeral home as a child. When he returned to the area, he went to work for Peyton. After Peyton died in 1998, Barnett’s Funeral Home was sold to a Canadian-based organization.

Not liking the direction in which the then newly-sold funeral home was going, Tim and Justine decided to open Bradley’s Funeral Home because they “wanted to continue the tradition of a locally-owned, family-operated funeral home that was dedicated to the community and committed to providing dignified and affordable funerals.”

All licensed funeral directors working at Bradley’s are local people who graduated from Smyth County high schools with the exception of Justine, who is originally from Pennsylvania. Although she is not a native of the area, Justine said she “feels very connected to the community” and is proud of the fact that their daughter will soon be back in Marion and working with them.

Several changes have occurred since Bradley’s opened in 1999. In 2000, they expanded the chapel. In 2001, they purchased a funeral home in Chilhowie and opened a second location. In 2015, they added an on-site crematory at the Marion site. In 2018, a grief therapy program was added. Tim said as they mark their first 20 years in business, they are looking at a future expansion of the Marion facility.

Over the last two decades, the Bradleys have seen several changes in the funeral business, most notably the growing use of technology in services, less formal and less traditional services, and a rise in cremation.

Tim explained that the way people view death and chose to memorialize their loved ones has changed. Funeral services have become less traditional and more personalized. The advent of technology has allowed for the use of photographs, videos, live streaming and other special features.

“Personalization is very important to people. We have live streamed funerals and Skyped ministers in who couldn’t actually be at the service in person. We can do anything you want. We are very much aware of the desire to personalize services and want to accommodate those desires,” Justine said.

Special music can also be accommodated. Tim said one funeral featured the deceased person singing on a recording with those in attendance joining in to sing the song as a group. At another funeral, a loved one performed an interpretive dance to honor the deceased.

“People are more comfortable with putting their ideas out there and contributing to the funeral service. We can use technology to project these additions. People are moving toward being able to connect with family and friends as they celebrate the person’s life. Technology is going to continue to affect the funeral industry. There is a desire to connect with people in other places and even other countries,” Justine explained.

As services become more personalized and less formal, Tim said, they are sometimes seen as more of an event, such as a reception that includes the serving of food. Dress is also less formal at services, and former practices such as having all male pallbearers are also changing. More funeral services are now being held in the evening with burials being private or attended by only family members and close friends. Services are also being held all in one day and may be postponed until a weekend day when it is easier for family and friends to attend.

Cremation is also becoming more common. Currently in the area, Tim said, a cremation rate of 35 to 40 percent of all services has been noted. Although a core of people continue to prefer traditional services, others are looking for alternatives to the traditional visitation, funeral and burial services.

Cremation is less expensive than traditional burials, but families are also choosing cremation for other reasons. Justine explained that families may all gather at a much later time to memorialize the loved one. Since families are more mobile and may not continue to live in a specific area, they may not want a traditional burial. Other families may investigate scattering grounds, where a loved one’s ashes can be dispersed.

The Bradleys do not have any special plans for commemorating their 20th year of operation; however, they are taking time out to reflect on the past as they are appreciative of the support of the community, looking forward to continuing to serve families “with the dignity, fairness and compassion they deserve for many years to come.”

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