As the funeral director of Stanetsky-Hymanson Memorial Chapel in Salem’s Vinnin Square, Carl Goldman is in the business of being compassionate. His father, Murray, founded Goldman Funeral Home in Malden. Carl and his wife, Laurie Ann Hymanson, have been married for 25 years. They live in Peabody, where they are members of Temple Beth Shalom, and have three children: Hallie, 23; Gabe, 17; and Jesse, 14.
Carl, could you tell us about your upbringing?
I’m the fourth of five born to native Maldonians. The oldest of us were raised in Suffolk Square. When I was little, my parents bought a house on Elmwood Park near Ferryway Green, and my father’s parents bought the house adjacent. Our neighborhood was a 20-minute walk to Lincoln School … and 20 minutes the other way to Malden Hebrew School on Almont Street, where Miss Azoff would hand a (full-size!) Hershey bar as reward for attending Shabbos services.
I admired all of my older siblings, who back then seemed like grown-ups to me. They guided me and helped in different ways, so here’s my chance to say thanks for teaching me to read, Marjie! My father was always in motion – running his funeral home business and very active in many organizations in the Jewish and civic communities. Next door, on demand, our Bubbe provided to me and my siblings unconditional love, wise, kind advice, and Old World cooking impossible to forget or duplicate.
When did you first get interested in Judaism?
I had a good foundation from attending Malden Hebrew School daily after “regular school.” I was never a cooperative student, but I made friends with other Jewish kids and left with the fundamentals of Hebrew and Judaism. My fondest memory remains our family Passover Seders. I was drawn to the concepts of slavery, freedom, equality and justice. In early years, my zayde would lead and later, my father, in his unique, compelling theatrical style, would preside over the reading of the Haggadah, emphasizing its lessons as they related to contemporary events. This left a lasting mark, and today I’m blessed to conduct my own, with my wife and children, with the very same Haggadah.
How did you meet your wife?
Blind date! Before computers, real humans played matchmaker. My brother ran into Laurie’s mom and it was soon realized that she had a daughter, and he had a brother, who might want to meet. One Chinese food date later, Laurie returned to her roommate, who told her, “You’re gonna marry that guy.” Cut to my apartment: “I think I’m gonna marry that girl.” But it took five years to meet her under the chuppah at Temple Beth El. Years later, I still can’t believe my luck to be married to the most beautiful person I ever met. Laurie is and remains my hero in life.
Your family has been in the funeral home business for a while. Can you tell us about the business and why you chose to go into it?
Actually, both my families are in the business with separate funeral homes. Since 1992, I’ve been a funeral director at Stanetsky-Hymanson in Vinnin Square. My wife Laurie Hymanson’s great-grandfather founded the first Hymanson Funeral Home in Lynn. I’m also a director at Stanetsky’s Brookline and Canton locations. Goldman Funeral Home, founded by dad after World War II, is today run by my brother [Murray] and nephew [Jay]. That makes me and my wife “FDKs” or funeral director’s kids. But not all FDKs become funeral directors. And sometimes you don’t choose the profession, it seems to choose you. When we were growing up, in different towns and unknown to each other, Laurie and I both observed our dads on call 24 hours a day, ready to drop everything to help someone in need at a moment’s notice. To us both, Murray Goldman and Edward Hymanson were wonderful role models. After college and some false starts, I was surprised to find later in life that my abilities actually suited the profession I spent my childhood observing. So with family encouragement, I graduated from funeral school in 1988.
Funerals are a stressful time for families. What’s the most important piece of advice for someone who’s planning to bury a loved one?
Advice will differ depending on the circumstances of the funeral planning, and there are only two times to do it: either before its needed, or after a death occurs. When things are good and all is well, like much in life, preparation for the future is key. With today’s resources, no one has to go a funeral home on their worst day, not prepared, not informed, or overwhelmed. So my unique job as a funeral director is supervising Advance Planning [“pre-need”] at all three Stanetskys.
For those suffering immediate loss, no one bit of advice is helpful for all. But I’ve heard a few wise things over the years: “Accept and welcome support. Let others do for you. Grieve in your own way, without fear or judgment. You will never regret your decisions when your heart is in the right place.”
You deal with death and grieving families on a daily basis. What kind of mindset must one have to remain positive at work?
No matter what our day is like at the funeral home, it’s never as bad as that family sitting across the desk. To truly appreciate life, you only need to help others ease the pain of death. So the key is perspective. The reward comes when we make a positive difference by providing the resources for families to honor their beloved, and in knowing we perpetuate the age-old Jewish traditions of services and burial.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Since I plan funerals before death, most folks come to me with a positive, curious attitude about what we do and why we do it. They aren’t burdened by loss, so much of what I do is education. It might seem strange to some or morbid to others to contemplate final arrangements while everyone’s well, but you can be sure no one’s regretted it.
Everyone is worthy of having their story told. We help the poorest of our community and also our wealthiest and most celebrated, from Orthodox to Reform, from devout to agnostic, complicated situations and simple requests … no day is boring!
You and your wife care for two developmentally disabled children. Can you tell us about your children and their needs?
Hallie and Jesse were both born with a very specific and very rare genetic mutation. It results in what are called global developmental disabilities. They are followed by the amazing people at the Finegold Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. Hallie loves her weekday adult day care program, CLASS in Wilmington, and Jesse is doing wonderfully at the Children’s Center for Communication in Beverly. For certain, our family’s life is a bit different from most. Anything another family does in five minutes, we usually need a half hour. But there are many other caregiving families who face more difficult situations. As Elie Weisel said, in another context: “Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.”
So I take extra pride in my wife and son, who have achieved so much despite all of these challenges. Active at temple for many years, Laurie had the honor to serve as the final president of Temple Beth Shalom, and the first president of Temple Tiferet Shalom of Peabody. Gabe is well known as “the drummer” and has played with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, the klezmer band Sababa, and also has earned many awards for achievements in theater and music. He participated in Y2I and is a great kid who cares deeply for his siblings. And he’s off to college in the fall.
As someone who assists in doing a mitzvah – burying the dead – what motivates you to make a difference in people’s lives?
I often think about the histories of the Stanetsky and Hymanson chapels as a Boston institution, and about all of the funeral directors who preceded me, that generations of Jews have come to rely upon. We don’t exist without the trust and confidence of our community. Each day is new and we have to earn and build on that trust, one client at a time. So while we may provide mitzvot, it’s much of a kavod – an honor – to serve.