"It's about giving that family a final goodbye ... so they know the (loved one) is resting and at peace."

JACKSON TWP.  Deanna Clingerman's love for life is intertwined with her passion for death.

After a career as a social worker, helping children and families cope with trauma, she's now assisting them in handling death. Clingerman is nearing the end of a path to become a funeral director and embalmer.

"It's like a calling," she explained.

The 52-year-old recently completed an apprenticeship under Steve Libby at Karlo-Libby Funeral Funeral Home. It was the final required step before she takes a test — probably in the next month or so — to become an Ohio-licensed embalmer and funeral director.

After that, she plans to remain on staff at Karlo-Libby, so she can hone her craft and learn from Libby, the location manager at the Dignity Memorial-owned funeral home.

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"He's my master," Clingerman said, feigning a bow in his direction.

"It's not quite as subservient as that," Libby said with a laugh.

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Libby did take courses to become an Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors certified master, so Clingerman could work on her one-year apprenticeship under him. Along the way, she had to complete a series of proscribed tasks in areas that included body removal, body preparation, embalming, preparation room maintenance, policies and procedures, services, cremation and Federal Trade Commission rules.

"It was exciting for me, because I knew I was going to see my profession through fresh eyes," said Libby, who started as an apprentice himself at Karlo & Sons in 1986.

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Clingerman, who grew up in Trumbull County and lives in Tallmadge, holds bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology from Youngstown State University, as well as a master's in social administration from Case Western Reserve University.

That education served her well in her first career, which included a 15-year stint at Summit County Children Services.

"But I always was interested in being a funeral director and embalmer, probably going back to high school," said Clingerman, a mother of two. "It's about giving that family a final goodbye ... so they know the (loved one) is resting and at peace."

She finally decided to chase her passion and enrolled at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. She balanced it with her social work job until she completed her courses in 2015. Clingerman worked part-time at a handful of funeral homes, before learning Libby was in the market for an apprentice.

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Turns out, her background is a unique tool in her new career.

"I was intrigued by that," Libby said.

Clingerman has worked closely with most of the families who've lost babies and children. Her counseling and communication skills, Libby said, have been a great resource.

"She's good in a crisis, calm and cool," he said.

And she's willing to try anything, when it comes to arrangements. Last year, for example, they arranged for an outdoor service at Fieldcrest Estates for a teenage girl.

"There's been a big move to celebration-of-life-types of services," said Clingerman, who described funeral directing as an art, while embalming and restoration is a science.

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Her most recent idea is for the funeral home to host free "Death Cafes," open to the public. The first one was held last month. The next is being planned for Feb. 12.

"These are not to talk about funerals," Libby explained. "They are (forums) where people can talk openly about death ... it's an intellectual discussion, sometimes theological."

The voluntary Death Cafes are a social franchise that began in 2011. To date, nearly 8,000 such events have been held throughout North America, Europe and Australia. Created by Jon Underwood in Hackney, East London, the forums provide an opportunity for people to discuss and share experiences and beliefs about death.

"Sometimes people are afraid to talk about it ... and this can almost be like a therapy," Clingerman said.

Reach Tim at 330-580-8333 or tim.botos@cantonrep.com.
On Twitter: @tbotosREP