Local funeral home is a
source of familiar comfort
For more than 90 years, the Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Homes have been sensitively serving the needs of families during some of the most painful chapters of their lives.
Dalton Funeral Homes have five locations overall; Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Williston Park, Hicksville and Levittown. President and co-owner Beth Dalton-Costello, who resides in Oyster Bay, noted that the family-owned and run business—and its Levittown location in particular—are steeped in a great deal of history.
Thomas F. Dalton, Dalton-Costello’s grandfather, was part of a large immigrant Irish family and founded the business in 1924, operating his initial location out of a storefront in Floral Park. Later, in 1953, Thomas’ son Thomas Jr.—Dalton-Costello’s father—joined the business (his brother George had joined in 1947), and as part of their expansion efforts, they soon opened a location at 2786 Hempstead Tpke., in Levittown.
The Levittown property was purchased while the Wantagh Parkway was still under construction, and contained a Dutch-Colonial farmhouse that was expanded over time, Dalton-Costello said.
“They expanded it more than once, and you can see the Dutch-Colonial style embedded, especially when you look at the building from the side,” she said. “There were no funeral homes in Levittown at the time. Another came along eventually, but it didn’t last very long. So, we are the first and now the only one here.”
Dalton-Costello, along with her cousin Timothy, is the third generation of the family in the business, however, she initially had no intention of entering into it, instead going away to school and earning a degree in psychology, which she noted is quite useful to have in the funeral business.
“In college, I started working at the funeral home as a greeter and after I finished school, I decided that psychology wasn’t the path I wanted to take,” she said. “When I returned home, I decided to go into school for mortuary science instead, because at that point, I was mature enough to decide that this was something I’d like to do.”
After earning her degree and becoming licensed, Dalton-Costello joined the home as a funeral director. Later on, her father began to develop multiple sclerosis, which worsened over time, necessitating her to run more and more of the day-to-day operations. Thomas Jr. steadfastly remained involved with the funeral home up until his death in 1998, at which time his daughter took his place.
“In my father’s mind, he never had multiple sclerosis, so he didn’t respond to it,” she said. “That’s why he kept working and doing things. He was incredible.”
Working in a funeral home comes with a unique set of challenges. Typically, one would think that the stress of constantly encountering families at their lowest emotional points would be too much, but Dalton-Costello said that she doesn’t think of it that way.
“Ironically, we get people at their best. It’s a terrible time in their life, but most people are really quite amazing,” she said. “I love helping people, so for me, this job is a very good fit. It’s a low time in people’s lives, but what an effective funeral director does is they take a chaotic period of someone’s life and they put some order and control back into it.”
The duties of a funeral director are widely varied. Dalton-Costello noted that there’s a great deal of organization involved, as numerous delicate, small details must be juggled without fail, sometimes with hundreds of mourners in the building at a time. Special care is always given to ensure that a family’s wishes—no matter what they may be—are carried out to the letter.
“Pretty much anything goes as long as it’s not illegal or hazardous in some way,” she said. “We’ve had bands play at a service, we’ve had motorcycles in the room, dogs and other pets are allowed and we’re sensitive to all faiths. Personalization is big these days and anything the family wants, we will try to do.”
Another aspect of Dalton-Costello’s job is one that some may find unpleasant, but it’s nonetheless one of the most very important: preparing the deceased for their final viewing.
“A funeral director in many ways is probably the person who’s the most respectful of human remains of anyone. They just take it very seriously,” she said. “The preparation room that we have is similar to a hospital theater and the process of embalming allows organic materials, such as blood, to be taken from the body and replaced with a preserving fluid. Then, there are a lot of small things that come after that. We have a professional lady that handles hair and makeup and there’s a lot of finesse to it. In the majority of the cases, if that isn’t done well, the rest of it doesn’t matter to people.”
Dalton-Costello noted that, for her profession, it’s more about the living than the deceased and having discovered her true calling has helped to help others in a way that is deeply fulfilling to her.
“Yes, we deal with the person who has passed, but what we deal with primarily are families,” she said. “When you run a family-owned funeral home, as opposed to a corporate one, you really get to know the community and for me it’s been very interesting. I’ve enjoyed this job and the ability it gives me to help people.”
For more information visit www.thomasfdaltonfuneralhomes.com.