By Ted Glanzer Republican-American
PROSPECT — Often funeral homes are generational businesses that are handed down from family member to family member.
But a negative experience that Kim Palmerie, a registered nurse of 35 years who worked in hospice care, had when she went through the process of arranging her mother’s funeral 12 years ago led Kim and husband Mike Palmerie to open Prospect Memorial Funeral & Cremation Services.
“When my mom passed away of a terminal illness, I had a funeral home that wasn’t compassionate at all,” Kim Palmerie said. “When she died, I thought, ‘Geez, this is terrible. … There was no empathy, no compassion. It was transactional.”
That didn’t sit well with Kim Palmerie, whose mother was someone who always gave back, including baking up to 40 pies on Thursday evenings while battling cancer. Kim Palmerie would give those pies to patients in hospice on Friday mornings.
“That was the most beautiful bright spot for a lot of people during a very sad time,” Kim Palmerie said. “Her attitude was don’t complain, but go back and make it better.”
So Kim Palmerie told Mike, who owned and operated a vending company, that she wanted to open a funeral home.
“I think he thought I was cracked,” she said. “Here I am in grief and this is a crazy thing I’m thinking of. A few days later he said, ‘If you’re really serious, I think we can make this work.’”
The couple brought the ethos of compassion and care to Prospect Memorial, located at 72 Waterbury Road in Prospect.
“We wanted to give back in a positive way to make better what was needed,” Kim Palmerie said. “We’re different people. We lead with the heart. As a nurse, we say we’d sacrifice our own body parts to save a patient. That’s the mentality we are as people. … I didn’t want anyone to come away feeling like I did.”
The Palmeries’ approach has led the funeral home to outgrow its 6,800-square-foot building, which they lease. So they’re in the process of constructing — just down the road — a new, 10,000-square-foot building that they’ll own. The couple bought the land two years ago, according to Mike Palmerie, and construction began in September. The new building will open sometime in the summer, at a total cost of about $3 million, according to Mike Palmerie.
“With the larger facility and extra parking (95 spots with another 100 spots for overflow compared to the current 45 spots), we can accommodate two very large services at once,” Mike Palmerie, who handles the business side of the operation, said. “This facility will allow us to give people more distance due to the COVID virus. The funeral parlor currently fits 75 people. The new parlor will fit 165 people and, if need be, spread people apart 6 feet and it can still accommodate more people than the original parlor.”
The two are heavily invested in Prospect, and not just monetarily. Kim Palmerie was born and raised in town and still goes to the church where she was baptized. The couple settled in Prospect when they were married 38 years ago and raised four children in town.
Mike Palmerie is currently serving his first term on the Town Council after serving 15 years on the Board of Recreation, including seven years as the board’s chairman.
“We felt strongly in Prospect, with our roots here, that we wanted to invest in the town,” Mike Palmerie said.
The new building will also enable the Palmeries — whose children have gotten involved in the business as well — to do more with funerals and their services, which have evolved over the years.
Ten to 15 years ago, there would be two nights of calling hours, there’d be a church service and then the burial, Kim Palmerie said.
“Cremation has become so much more of an option for people for many reasons, and the services are less cookie cutter,” Kim Palmerie said. (Mike Palmerie noted the business created Connecticut Cremation, which will fully launch with the opening of the new building.) “People will say, this is what was unique and exciting about my father, my mother, my sister. They bring it forward and it’s more of a celebration of the uniqueness of the life that took place. … We know there have to be innovations. We are changing as a society. There needs to be more excitement, more imagination and unique testaments into this care.”
For example, children, who used to be silent during funeral services, are now more involved and incorporated into the process, Kim Palmerie said.
“Now we explain why it’s OK for mommy and daddy to cry and you’ll be OK,” Kim Palmerie said. “These are the tools and this is what you do when someone passes away.”
The Palmeries’ approach goes back to knowing they only have one chance to get their jobs right, and anything that’s said or done – positively or negatively – will be remembered for years.
With that in mind, they want to ensure that members of their community are well cared for, as what they do is for the living, not the deceased.
“We’re putting the heart back in the process,” Kim Palmerie said. “We’re last responders. My hands are the last to touch and to respect the deceased. My hands, and also my heart, my husband’s heart, we are the ones to support a family not just during the time of their grieving, but down the road. We need to be here for each other. … It’s quite an honor to be entrusted with people’s lives. Funeral care is a sacred rite.”