Savannah, Ga. (WSAV) — Some 12-year-old girls may dream of some day becoming a pop star, professional athlete, teacher or engineer.  Jennifer Torney, a licensed funeral director and embalmer at Baker McCullough Funeral Home and Cremation knew exactly what she wanted to someday become when she was 12 years old.

“At the age of 12, I lost my best friend to a medical condition that she had, quite suddenly. I went to her visitation and to me, she didn’t quite look exactly like herself.  So, at that very moment, I decided, this is what I want to do.  I want to serve families.  I want to give them the best possible final picture of their loved ones, and help them in any way that I can dealing with their losses.  At that point I decided what I wanted to be was a mortician and a funeral director, and here I am.” said Torney.

Jennifer Torney and her grandfather Rev. J. Cohen Arms celebrating their final birthday together December 2010. Photo provided.

When she shared the news with her mom and dad, they were supportive, for the most part, however, one of her brothers told her it was kind of weird.

“Some people feel that way about the job that we do here, and that’s okay, because to each, their own.  You know, I couldn’t be a hospice nurse, I could if I wanted to but I couldn’t in my heart do that.  I couldn’t be just like a nurse, that’s not something that I would want to do.  Being a mortician, it just felt right to me.  I felt that I was led into this profession.  So, that’s what I did.”

With a lot of things going on in her family after high school, Torney did not feel ready, at that point, to enter school to become a mortician.

“I took a little time to soul search and make sure emphatically that that’s what I wanted to do and that I didn’t feel led, or called to be in any other industry.  So, I worked as a waitress for a long time and had my fun. I also worked in home health care for a while and I took care of my grandfather until the day that he passed.  Then, I enrolled immediately into funeral school and the rest is kind of history.” said Torney.

Life in funeral school at  Ogeechee Technical College was not easy for Torney.  She was a single mom of a toddler, caretaker of her widowed grandmother and a full time home health care worker. 

Jennifer Torney’s great grandmother, Lois Collum was the first person she ever embalmed.

“It was quite chaotic for me.  It seemed like every day there was a list of like a million things that needed to get done and I just had to kind of work through it.  I woke up every morning at 6 and sometimes didn’t go to bed until like 1 or 2 in the morning, taking care of everything that I needed to do.” said Torney.  “Of course while in school I had to study 4 to 5 hours a day.  I had literally no social life while I was in school, but that was because I was so focused on what I wanted to do and to make sure that I passed all of my classes the first time and was able to get through school without ever having to repeat everything.”

Torney also thought about all of the people who were close to her who passed away before and while she was in funeral school.

“I would take their obituaries and put them in the front of my notebook.  Inside the front of my binder so that I could look at all of them every time that I was studying and it reminded me what I was doing this for.”

Once Torney got through most of the classes and was coming close to the end of her studies at Ogeechee Technical College, she had to practice embalming, at a funeral home under a licensed funeral director.  She practiced at Riggs Funeral Home in Guyton, Ga. and her first embalming experience was very unexpected.

“It was my great-grandmother.  She had been sick and we knew that she was going to pass.  I had seen her for several days before she passed.  It was the funeral home that I was working at that got the call for her.  My dad had not called me and let me know that it was her.” said Torney.  “So when my funeral director called me and said ‘We have one for you to embalm.’ I went to the funeral home.  I saw my grandmother’s car in the parking lot and my aunt’s car in the parking lot.  I went inside the building and I went straight to the back of the building, in the room where we do embalming’s.  There on the table was my great grandmother.”

Torney graduated from funeral school in 2014, Tourney passed the national test she had to take in order to get a license in the state of Georgia to be an embalmer and funeral director. She spoke with Mr. Jason McCullough, who offered her a job at Baker McCullough.  She is currently going into her 5th year with the company.  

Jennifer Torney and her son Marshall. Photo provided.

She considers the toughest part of her job to be dealing with families who have suffered a loss and feeling their pain.

“When a family looses a loved on, for a few days they’re just kind of, for a lack of a better word, their in a fog.  They need somebody to guide them through what I call and what the Bible calls the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. So I try to be that person here on this earth that can help guide them through that shadow of death and pray every day ‘Lord, give me the strength to help these families and to take care of them to the best of my ability.”

Although Torney has joy in doing the work she strongly desired to do since 12 years of age, she also finds joy spending time with her son Marshall, who she says is the brightest spot in her life and relaxing with her animals.

“He is a wonderful child.  After that, I would say I have a deep love for animals.  So I have a veritable zoo at home.  I get home and even though I had a long hard day, and the grief is weighing on me, that I feel for these families because I sympathize with them.  Then, I walk through my door and I see my dogs wagging their tails. And, my turtle swimming around in his tank because he’s excited because I’m home now. Also, my tortoises running around wanting me to rub him and feed him.  Like that’s kind of how I decompress.”

“Never underestimate the power of playing your music very loud and just dancing like nobody’s watching.”

Jennifer Torney’s son Marshall and her Great Daniff, Thor

She also enjoys playing her music really loudly and dancing to her favorite songs like Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove.

“The horns in that song just give me goose bumps.  I also listen to classic rock stuff, anything Aerosmith or BonJovi. Sometimes I even jam out country songs.  I listen to everything.  Dr. Dre, Ludacris, Carrie Underwood, Like it’s just a matter of what I feel.”

Torney shares what some think about her field of work or about her personally.

“That it’s creepy.  That we are always at the funeral home.  I’m a pale individual that never goes out during the day. I don’t find joy in life and I don’t ever laugh and I don’t ever smile.” She continued, “The one thing about funeral directors that most people don’t realize is we’re just every day ordinary people who are out here living our lives just like everyone else, trying to make it through this thing called life, doing the best that we can every day to try and improve somebody else’s life.  We’re not sullen people.  Funeral directors are actually quite fun people if you get to know them.”

For more information about Baker McCullough visit Baker McCullough Funeral Home and Cremation – Garden City, GA

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