Celia Pinzi works in a business where family means everything. As the owner and funeral director of West Haven Funeral Home, Pinzi ensures the deceased have a respectable celebration at the end of their life.
The funeral home was started in 1964 by Pinzi’s father, Nello. By the time she was eight years old she was answering phones for him.
“When I was 14 or 15 I started coming in to do office work,” said Pinzi. “I’ve worked officially, as a licensed funeral director, since 1983. I’ve always worked here.”
While Pinzi said it is more common to find funeral directors that are women nowadays, when she started in 1983 it was a “very unusual.”
“My mom was the founder of Adult Basic Education for the United States – which is now ESL [English as a Second Language],” said Pinzi. “I always had a career mom growing up. That didn’t seem strange to me; so this didn’t seem strange to me.”
Pinzi said her mother was not keen on the idea of her working at the funeral home. She said they made a deal that if she still wanted to work there after going to college she could do so. Therefore, Pinzi went to Georgetown University – where she double majored in international relations and Spanish.
“I came home and apprenticed with my father and off I went,” she said. “So I didn’t think it was unusual but there were two women in embalming school …. out of 85 students.”
According to Pinzi, she had a long discussion with her father about whether or not to join the family business before going to embalming school. She said he told her to try it and, if it was not for her, she would know fast.
The funeral director said she now sees the business as a vocation. She has run the funeral home by herself since her father passed away in 2009. She said her favorite, and the most significant, part of her work is meeting with families.
“I was meant to do this,” said Pinzi. “You can’t just teach what you need to know. You need compassion. You need to be able to read people. You need to try to be objective with things. You can’t take all this home with you or you’d be drooling in a corner.”
She said West Haven is a tight knit community where one family’s pain is everybody’s pain.
“People go all out to help,” she said, “regardless of anything. It’s what I love about West Haven.”
Pinzi said one of her most important memories from her career was helping the Honan Funeral Holm in Newtown in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. She said she assisted there for a week, while gathering other funeral directors to do the same, with the funeral preparations for those killed in shooting.
She said through the gestures people make in West Haven her Faith in humanity is constantly renewed.
“Someone will call and say, ‘I’m paying for this funeral anonymously,’” said Pinzi. “It’s not a relative or anything. It’s, ‘I saw this in the paper’ or, ‘I saw this on Facebook’ and, ‘How do we arrange to do this.”’
She said in a job which sees it’s fair amount of tragedy, the acts of kindness she witnesses towards the families she serves make her feel good.
When her father named West Haven Funeral home Pinzi said he did it with intent. She said the home caters to people of all different backgrounds and that, as the city’s demographics change, so do the customs for funerals. Pinzi said she is always willing to help people who need assistance making funeral arrangements.
“My father said, way back when, that everyone wants their name of the building,” said Pinzi. “He said, ‘This is named West Haven and it’s for West Haven; so that’s why it’s named West Haven Funeral Home.”’