SHERIDAN — Not everyone has the disposition to care for grieving families in their time of need. To do it, and do it well, you must see the responsibility as a calling, rather than a job.
That’s the outlook Kim Kozel and Kerrie Kimmel have as they help families celebrate their loved ones’ lives.
Rather than keep families at an arm’s length, they share in their grief and serve as a pillar of support when it’s needed most. They help plan celebrations of life and, oftentimes, help individuals plan for their own end-of-life ceremony.
“We’ve worked with family members who thought their loved ones had everything in order, only to find out some piece was missing,” Kimmel said. “So they’ll come back to us and say, we want to make sure this is all planned so our family doesn’t have to worry.”
And while the tears and the grief would be overwhelming to most, Kimmel and Kozel said they find their strength in God and in knowing they can offer help.
That’s why, after a brief respite following the ownership merger of two other funeral homes in Sheridan, Kozel and Kimmel now operate Sheridan Funeral Home and Cremation Services.
“It’s a calling to serve; it’s a ministry,” Kimmel said. “This is what fills us up.”
Kozel agreed, adding that both she and Kimmel can empathize with their clients.
“We’re going to walk through this together,” she said of helping families. “We’re going to get you through this. This is a safe space where you can be vulnerable and it’s OK to laugh, to cry or to be angry. There is no right way to feel, but we’ll be here for you.”
The operation is only getting started, having just received a business license in December, but Kozel and Kimmel have worked in Sheridan helping families for decades and wanted local families to have a choice in who cares for their loved ones.
After graduating from Sheridan High School in 1983, Kozel attended respiratory therapy school, and made plans to become a physician’s assistant. While working a part-time job at a funeral home in Billings, Montana, she had the opportunity to see the significance of supporting families in some of their most difficult times.
So, she switched gears, attended the University of Minnesota to earn a degree in mortuary science and served in apprenticeships in Billings and Sheridan. She has also worked as deputy coroner in Sheridan County.
After another stint away, Kozel returned to the Sheridan area to work as a funeral director.
Kimmel, also a Sheridan native, began her career in the funeral business in 2009. She now serves as a funeral planner and has also worked as deputy coroner in Sheridan County.
While working in the funeral industry hadn’t necessarily been in either Kozel’s or Kimmel’s plans, their desire to help families called them back to service.
“When we left our prior employment, we both received phone calls from people seeking other options to care for their loved ones,” Kimmel said.
At first, the duo helped make referrals, but eventually they found themselves developing plans to open their own funeral home in Sheridan. They found a partner in the owners of Harness Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Buffalo.
Now, Sheridan Funeral Home operates out of a facility on O'dell Court. The space has been remodeled and has multiple rooms available to meet with families and provide viewing space. Plans are also in the works to add on to the building — providing space for the funeral home’s vehicles and additional storage.
Kimmel and Kozel have also rekindled partnerships with other local entities to provide spaces large enough for funeral services.
Those local partnerships, as well as the relationships Kozel and Kimmel have formed over the years in Sheridan, are what they hope provide comfort — and a choice — to families grieving the loss of a loved one.