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Carlisle-Branson Staff Biographies: Meet Kay Cunningham and Harper

 

September 1, 2019

 

The first face many people see when entering Carlisle-Branson Funeral Service & Crematory is often Kay Cunningham, office administrator. And never far behind her is her faithful Golden Retriever, Harper.

 

Kay began working at the funeral home in 2013, after spending more than 20 years as a stay-at-home parent raising her son, Gabe, and daughter, Jordan, in nearby Plainfield. After her children had graduated high school, Kay knew she wanted to enter the workforce again, and the job opening at Carlisle-Branson was perfect timing.

 

Kay’s responsibilities at the funeral home include the majority of the office administration, as well as creating memorial folders, videos, guest books and preparing other custom elements for each family’s unique service.

 

“Even though I am not involved with the families as much as the funeral directors, I love helping them,” Kay said. “If something I do helps ease what they are going through, my day has been a good one.”

 

Kay began bringing Harper to the funeral home when the pup was just seven weeks old. Seeing a dog at Carlisle-Branson wasn’t a new concept, because Chris and Mary Beth Branson’s first Golden Retriever, Franklin, often frequented the funeral home. Now 12 years old, Kay says Franklin has been a “mentor” to Harper, as well as Harper’s brother Peanut, who was adopted by the Bransons.

 

Golden Retrievers are one of the most common breeds chosen for medical service assistance and therapy dogs due to their intelligence, strength and gentle temperament. 

 

While some may find the presence of a pet at a funeral home unusual, it is becoming more commonplace in funeral homes across the country for grief dogs to be part of the staff. According to Frontiers in Psychology medical journal, countless studies have shown that the presence of pets can help individuals lower their heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduce stress and anxiety.

 

Kay sees the benefits of Harper’s presence on a daily basis. “She has a way of cheering someone up without doing a thing,” she said. “We get quite a few compliments from the families we serve, who seem to love the fact she is here.”

 

Harper spends much of her time in the office, but is allowed to wander through visitations at the family’s request. She might lie at the feet of a grieving family member or sit near someone who finds comfort in petting her soft fur. One of Kay’s favorite stories about her was when Harper didn’t come back for her usual treat after a few moments of making her way through the chapel.

 

“I waited quite a while, and decided to stick my head in and check on her,” Kay said. “There was a group of six or seven girls on their knees gathered around in a circle with their grandmother, who was sitting in a wingback chair. Right in the middle of the circle was Harper, focusing her attention on whoever was speaking. The family told me they were crazy about her and the way she took the focus off their broken hearts.”  

 

While Kay is quick to compliment Harper’s demeanor and ability to soothe families, Kay’s colleagues are equally quick to compliment Kay.

 

“Kay has a wonderful presence at the funeral home,” Chris said. “She has a servant’s heart, so she is always helping others in whatever way she can.”

 

In free time, Kay and her husband, Ed, enjoy spending time with their family, bicycling and gardening. Harper even gets to join them for family bike rides in a special buggy Ed pulls behind his bike.

 

To learn more about the staff of Carlisle-Branson Funeral Service & Crematory, visit https://www.carlislebranson.com/about-us/our-staff.  

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