KENILWORTH – Al Opacity is proud that he not only followed in his father’s footsteps to become a funeral director and business owner, but also that he carries out the tradition of families helping families.
Opacity has seen his share of adversity in life, as his father did when he worked the midnight shift in a machine shop in order to realize his dream.
It was because of his father, who finally was able to open his own funeral home in 1953, that he not only learned how to be a caring and sensitive business owner serving the bereaved, but also that giving back to those in the community is also important.
Perhaps that is why Opacity decided to do something that would really pay tribute to his father by offering a free casket to any honorably discharged veteran in need.
This is the first time a funeral home in New Jersey has offered a free casket to a veteran but this funeral director makes his intention from the start very clear.
“I just wanted to give the dignity and respect to veterans who otherwise may not be able to have a funeral,” said Opacity, explaining that many veterans’ families opt for cremation because they cannot afford the expense of a casket.
The funeral director explained the casket he is providing to veterans is a good one – 20 gauge steel – and a retail cost of $1,200.
While many would think there might be strings attached, Opacity made it clear this is an honest offer from the heart.
The only stipulation the funeral director has is that the veteran or their family must take the casket offered and the funeral must be held at his business. The offer is also good for pre-arranged, prepaid funerals for veterans, Opacity said, explaining that many veterans have no families who will take care of their final arrangements once they have passed.
Opacity said that while New Jersey is fortunate to have many, many funeral homes, many veterans never get the funeral they deserve because, quite simply, they cannot afford it. This borough business owner said he wanted nothing more than to ensure that under his watch, they would.
“Remember, some of these men and women are spending their last days in V.A. hospitals, nursing homes or at home under hospice care, feeling so all alone. These men and women need to know while they are still alive that a fellow veteran does care about them and wants to prove it,” said the funeral director who lives in Lyndhurst.
“I’m honored to do what I can to help those who served our country,” said Opacity, explaining that some may be skeptical of this giveaway to veterans, and wonder why any businessman would take such a loss to help someone.
“I feel the loss I’m taking is like a grain of sand compared to what some of our veterans have lost. Some have not only lost their lives but also came home with the loss of limbs and must learn to live an entirely different lifestyle than the one they had before they went to war,” he said, adding that his father served as an Army medic during World War II.
“He touched many people with his helping hands. I was honored to follow in his footsteps,” he said, adding that becoming a funeral director and as a fellow veteran, is carrying on the family tradition of extending those helping hands.
“Now I make this gesture, this offer, to honor his memory,” Opacity said, adding that his father taught him “old school values.”
“Our slogan, ‘a family helping families,’ stems back three generations in the history of the Opacity family,” the funeral director explained, adding that his grandparents, Paul and Anna, came to the United States from Austria. His grandfather, a carpenter, and his grandmother, a mid-wife, lived in Newark and helped many families grow in that area.
Giving away caskets to veterans, though, is not the only charitable work Opacity and his wife, Ida, do for the community. He quietly continues to give back by serving St. Theresa’s parish in the borough, was a member of the Kenilworth Local Assistance and volunteered at a local food bank.
However, old school values and humbleness keep this local businessman from talking about what he does for others.
“We know we did it and God knows we did it and that is enough for me,” he said.
Opacity explained that as a veteran and member of the V.F.W. and Disabled American Veterans, Union Chapter 40, he is more than aware of the plight of many veterans. He also was touched personally when at a recent local Disabled American Veterans meeting, two men walked in, one an American Legion Post commander, the other the Union County American Legion commander. They wanted to know if the funeral director who was giving away free caskets to veterans was present.
“They said they just wanted to meet me and thank me and it was a great thing I was doing,” said Opacity, admitting he was humbled to hear that word had spread about his offer.
Another reason Opacity made the offer to veterans is that support from the Veterans Administration has been reduced and remains extremely limited after a veteran dies.
“For example, if a veteran died from his service-connected wounds, which he or she is receiving compensation for, the VA will provide the family with up to $2,000 burial allowance. If a veteran passes away while hospitalized in a VA hospital but it is not from service-connected disabilities, the family can receive up to $700 allowance and a $700 interment allowance. But if a veteran passes away from a non-service connected disability and was not hospitalized by the VA, then the family can only receive $300 towards funeral expenses and possibly $700 towards burial costs.
Opacity said the surviving spouse does not receive anyother compensation from the VA and any service connected disability payment stops when the veteran dies.
“This leaves a big hole in the income of the family,” Opacity said, adding that a veteran can be entitled to a VA pension providing that he or she is rated as 100 percent total and permanently disabled from military service,” he added, pointing out that this disability must have been in effect the past ten years.
The family, the funeral director explained, can also receive assistance with burial from the New Jersey State Veterans Cemetery in Arneytown. The state provides a grave for the veteran and spouse, opening of the grave, a concrete outer burial container and a government marker for the grave, all at no cost to the family.
Opacity said this, plus his offer of a free casket is designed specifically to help family members that veterans leave behind. The funeral director is hoping his gesture of goodwill eases the financial burden placed on many families of veterans.
“You know, death knows no holiday,” said Opacity, mentioning that this gift to veterans is something he “just had to do.”