Comforting the living

Longtime Brusie employee helps the bereft with funeral planning

Jerry Metzger knows Chico Cemetery like the back of his hand. He helps families choose plots to lay their loved ones, among other arrangements.

Jerry Metzger knows Chico Cemetery like the back of his hand. He helps families choose plots to lay their loved ones, among other arrangements.


Jerry Metzger spends his days at the Chico Cemetery, walking the grounds with families of the departed, helping them find a plot to lay their loved one to rest and make the other arrangements necessary when somebody passes.

His job as a family service counselor for Brusie Funeral Homes and Cemeteries isn’t an easy gig. It requires him to help people through a difficult time, choosing what he says is one of the three largest purchases someone will make in their lifetime, with the other two being a home and automobile.

“It’s like going down and shopping on one of the worst days of your life,” Metzger said.

The walls of Chico Cemetery’s office are filled with various gravestone options and binders with photos of mausoleums. It’s a showroom of sorts, but Metzger isn’t a salesman. He politely presents clients options and consoles them as they grieve. It takes a certain sensitivity—and it’s clear Metzger’s personality is what makes him so good at it. He tears up when talking about how difficult it can be for families to discuss cemetery arrangements.

“I’m a pretty emotional guy,” Metzger told the CN&R. “I get families in here, they start crying, I start crying right along with them.”

During a recent interview, Metzger, who has worked at Brusie for 17 years, described helping clients through the process. After offering his condolences, he typically asks if there are any family or friends buried in the cemetery, which may lead to picking a nearby plot. Choosing a location is also dependent on the choice of burial or cremation.

“Some folks just say, ‘I don’t want to be in the ground,’” Metzger said with a shrug.

There are several options to house remains—graves or above-ground structures (mausoleums). Cremains (cremated remains) can be interred in a grave or held in a cremation niche in a mausoleum. There’s also an ossuary, in which cremains are placed into a general vault, along with those of others. Some family members choose to keep the ashes.

Then there are the details, including what type of services will be performed and the date and time. Those who choose a graveside service must decide whether to include lowering the casket. Metzger said it’s one of the hardest things to face when dealing with death, so some families opt for that to take place after they’ve left the cemetery.

For those who choose burial, the next step is choosing a vault. Metzger said a casket must go into a vault, which prevents it from sinking and disrupting the ground above. Usually a casket is purchased at a funeral home and the vault is purchased at the cemetery. Then, a grave marker—typically granite or bronze—must be chosen.

Funeral planning costs vary greatly. The simplest of burials involves an ossuary. This typically costs about $500. However, Metzger said costs can run much higher when families choose options such as a private mausoleum. Family mausoleums able to hold the remains of six to eight family members could cost up to $300,000, he noted.

A traditional funeral, including burial, could cost anywhere between $10,000 to $12,000, Metzger said.

People generally don’t like to think about their own mortality, but Metzger urges the public to make arrangements long before death comes knocking.

“The people who’ve done it ahead of time, they’re coming in and signing a few forms and everything is done,” he said. “People who don’t do it ahead of time, they come in looking like a deer in headlights.”

The 65-year-old Metzger tries to make the process as easy as possible and he was recently honored with an award for customer service from his employer, who owns and operates the cemetery on Mangrove Avenue as well as the Glen Oaks Memorial Park on the south side of town.

Marc Brusie, manager of the third-generation family business, told the CN&R it was the result of Metzger having received the most thank you notes from customers of any of the business’ 25 employees. “He’s genuinely a nice person,” Brusie said. “If you weren’t naturally that way, it would come through.”

Metzger acknowledged that his line of work isn’t for everyone.

“In order to stay in this business for any length of time, you have to have empathy,” he said.