One of the first clues was the slideshow.
It was about halfway into yesterday's grand opening ceremony at the Highline Circle of Life Center in Thornton -- a facility that's half-funeral home, half-wedding chapel -- when owner Larry Tabler told someone to cue the slideshow. For nearly ten minutes, about twenty-five people, myself included, watched as photos of building plans, pastors in hard hats and smiling staff members giving the thumbs-up sign scrolled through on a big, flat-screen TV in the center's small chapel while "What a Wonderful World" played on the booming sound system.
The slideshow was followed by a short speech by the Rev. Frank Beard, a hospital chaplain in Denver. He praised the center and used words like "integrity," "honesty" and "character" to describe its owners. Larry Tabler, he said, doesn't use an answering service. And, Beard added, he's just as professional and caring when he answers the phone at 2 a.m. as he is at 2 p.m.
Wow, I thought, these people are earnest.
After the ceremony, I met Andrea (pronounced On-dree-uh), Larry's wife of twenty years. Andrea's Wedding Chapel, which shares space in the brand-new building with DeWitt & Tabler Funeral Directors and AAA Crematory, is her namesake. She struck me as a warm, exuberant woman with curly red hair and purple-ish lipstick who seemed to know everybody's name and welcome them with a hug and a compliment. When I asked her about the day's events, she teared up. "It makes me feel so good that people would come," she said.
I don't know what I was expecting -- but it wasn't the Tablers.
When I heard about the Highline Circle of Life Center, I wondered about the type of people who would open a facility that would bury a person on a Friday and marry another on a Saturday. I wondered about the type of building that would alternately host black-clad widows and blushing brides. The idea seemed unconventional at best -- and downright weird at worst.
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The Tablers explained their motivations in a piece in yesterday's Denver Post. They said that in today's funeral home business, you have to be flexible and their idea for a mixed-use facility is exactly that. At yesterday's ceremony, Larry Tabler defended his funeral-and-wedding business (in an incredibly sweet and cordial way) to a TV news reporter like this: "Churches have been doing it since they began."
Still, the juxtaposition has the potential to be a bit jarring. For example, the locked crematorium, where cremations are performed in a state-of-the-art chamber, is right next to the tiny room that houses the electric organ -- an instrument that can be used to play music for either weddings or funerals in the 125-seat non-denominational chapel. Several spots in the parking lot are taken up by big black cars with leather interior and custom license plates, the sort that might lead a funeral procession.
But while they acknowledge that their idea may initially strike people as odd, the Tablers don't see anything weird about their center, named for the song from Disney's The Lion King. "We had this idea and we thought, 'Let's go for it,'" says Andrea Tabler, a professional musician, who met her husband, a professional mortician, through singing at funerals. Plus, Andrea adds, the center, which already has three weddings booked, pledges to never, ever schedule a wedding and a funeral for the same day. That, she says, would just be awkward.
As I left Thornton, I found myself hoping that people give Highline a chance.