With nearly 29 years of work in all aspects of funeral services, David Mathes has seen a lot of bad things, but he's seen a lot of good things, too.
knows what the general public thinks about people like himself, who will pick up the recently deceased and carry out the necessary services all the way through the embalming and preparation stages, that he's
either cold or calloused, but he
assures them that couldn't be further from the truth.
In fact, Mathes, who works for the family-owned Johnson City business Appalachian Funeral Home and Cremation Services, said he doesn't think people like that are in the business.
"That's not how it is at all," he
"I've cried with a lot of families."
Long ago, Mathes
made a promise to himself that he
would give these frequently grieving groups of families the best experience they can have under the given circumstances.
"These families trust us and they deserve the best of us," Mathes
And that's what he
sets out to do everyday.
Mathes' job isn't an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday job, by any means.
A reality of the world is that people die and someone needs to immediately take care of the bodies.
is that man, constantly on call, throwing on a suit in the middle of the night to drive to a hospital, residence or nursing home to pick someone.
If there's a crime involved, the body will first go to East Tennessee State University's James H. Quillen College of Medicine
for an autopsy.
Hundreds of times in his
career has Mathes
made the drive to Quillen for that reason.
"You go and you're not knowing what you're going to see," Mathes
interest in this line of work came when he
was playing baseball for ETSU just out of high school.
had a friend who was living above the former location of the Appalachian Funeral Home
- where Wok and Hibachi is today - and answering phones for the business.
Mathes took an interest and eventually found himself working as an apprentice for Appalachian.
From there, he
went on to Jefferson State Community College
in Birmingham, Alabama, studying in the school's funeral services education program.
This required him to travel to Alabama for two days of classes per week and come back to Johnson City
to work full-time, but it was a big stepping stone for what he
7-year-old son knows what kind of work his
father does and even comes into the funeral home on occasion.
Though his schedule is up in the air, Mathes still finds time to coach and umpire his son's baseball games as well as be an active member of First Christian Church.
If it was up to him, Mathes
wouldn't push his
son into the same line of work, citing the schedule and sometimes horrific things he
sees, including exposure to contagious diseases, but he
also wouldn't stop him if that's the direction he
wanted to go.
This occupation has a great deal of burnout, Mathes
said, with a lot of people unable to handle the work required of them as well as cases of post traumatic stress disorder, which is something he
Keeping a level head is a skill Mathes said he's
developed over time.