ROY — They put the home back in funeral home.

Aaron and Elizabeth Duyck operate Duyck & VanDeHey from their large house on Roy Road, a half-mile south of St. Francis Church here and hollering distance from the farm started by the Duyck family in 1907.

They have revived the tradition of a century past, when the funeral director’s house was where grieving people found refuge.

Personal loss shaped the couple’s venture.

In fall 2000, their newborn son, Joseph, died the day after he was born. That tragedy made Aaron and Elizabeth ponder death deeply. They got their own burial plans in order and by 2002 decided to start their own funeral service, with Aaron having worked for other funeral directors for eight years. 

“We wanted a home atmosphere,” says Elizabeth. “We didn’t like losing a son and then needing to go to a commercial building.”

They are neither sales whizzes nor marketing geniuses. They just want to help out and receive a fair price for their work.

Around here, the joke is that Aaron and Elizabeth have a mixed marriage. He grew up in Roy and she in Verboort, rival Dutch Catholic villages. Both were taken as children to many funeral Masses in Roy, Verboort, Hillsboro, Cornelius, North Plains and Forest Grove. “We learned about the circle of life early,” Elizabeth says.

Her great-uncle was the late Father Ervin Vandehey and among her cousins she counts Father Jeff Meeuwsen and the late Father Scott Vandehey. Both are related to many women religious.

Young Aaron worked on his father’s dairy farm. He eventually felt a call to service and so explored the possibilities of police work, the fire department and medical school. As he drove a tractor around fields slowly all day, he pondered. None of those jobs seemed quite right.

One day at the barber — Aaron says farmers get three haircuts a year — the stylist suggested he look into becoming a funeral director like her uncle. That’s a fine way to help people, she surmised. He did more tractor pondering and decided to give funeral work a try, starting classes and working as an apprentice in Forest Grove at the same time.

“The death of a loved one is a time when people need care,” says Aaron, who earned a degree in funeral management from Mount Hood Community College.

“It’s not for everybody, obviously,” says Aaron, who explains that the job has caused him to lean even more deeply on religious convictions.

At 49, he has learned that we have little control over the time of our deaths and the best approach is readiness, acceptance and a desire to serve God’s plans. “I have buried people who are 30 and people who are 100,” he says. “I am ready to go whenever the Lord wants me.”

As a funeral director, he is present when people grapple with the ultimate questions of life. They wonder why someone they loved so much is gone and whether God even exists.

“I meet them in grief,” he says.

In such moments, Aaron recalls what he learned from the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon at St. Francis School. They taught him about God’s great love and the belief that we meet God face to face after death. Aaron does not preach to the grieving, but simply is present with them, nourished by the wells of his own belief. As he gently helps stricken people handle many details, his inherent confidence in God seems to rub off.  

“I see the change between the time they first talk to Aaron and then the service,” Elizabeth says. “It’s not total, but some healing has taken place. They are comforted.”

The three Duyck children help out with the family business and as a result have learned the importance of listening and compassion, Elizabeth says. The youngsters also realize that death is a natural process.

Dutch Catholic roots run deep in this part of western Washington County. Aaron and Elizabeth have handled arrangements for many relatives and friends whose bonds go back more than a century. They also serve many of the Latino families who have made the region home in the past few decades. The Duycks have learned to admire Hispanic customs surrounding death, including round-the-clock vigils and commemorations on the anniversary of death. 

Aaron helps people plan their funerals and burials ahead of time. It’s important to write down wishes to prevent arguments among loved ones, he says. He tells the story of siblings who heard their mother express different preferences at different times; a son listened as she said she’d like cremation; a daughter recalls a liking for burial.

Preplanning also has a financial benefit. People pay the price at the time of commitment, escaping inflation that hits later.  

Aaron and Elizabeth opened a second location in the Tanasbourne district of Hillsboro. The building is not as homey, but the couple works hard to maintain the caring small-town culture. They serve people from parishes all over the area, including Holy Trinity and St. Cecilia in Beaverton and St. Pius X in the Cedar Mill area of Northwest Portland.

Aaron also makes house calls if families would rather make arrangements while sitting in their own living rooms, the homiest of places.