‘He gave until his last breath’: Remembering funeral home director Michael Ahearn


  • Michael Ahearn, at right, with his late father, also named Michael Ahearn. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/28/2021 5:13:58 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Michael Ahearn knew his last day was imminent, so in preparation he did what he’s done for so many others as a funeral home director over the years — he planned his own funeral.

Ahearn, who founded Ahearn Funeral Home 20 years ago, told his brother, Patrick, on Sunday that he had picked out his gravestone and written his obituary. He died that day at age 55 from a brief illness, which his brothers said was not COVID-19.

“That son of a gun planned his own funeral,” his brother, Dan Ahearn, said. “He did everything in the last few hours of his life as a last gift to us … I don’t want you to have to think about this stuff. I’ll plan this … He gave until his last breath.”

Michael Ahearn’s brothers and wife, as well as others who knew him well, remembered him as kind, humorous and someone who loved this city where he spent 90% of his life.

“He loved Northampton. He’s a true Hamp boy,” his wife, Bridget Goggins, said. “He didn’t ever want to leave this place.”

Michael Ahearn was born in Northampton in 1965. After graduating from Northampton High School, he went to Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, to play soccer, but, as Patrick Ahearn recalled, school didn’t work out for him there because of his grades.

So, he sat his parents, Michael “Mike” J. Ahearn Jr. and Patti Ahearn, down to deliver the news: “I’m about to save you guys a lot of money,” Patrick Ahearn recalled him saying. “Somehow, he was able to put a silver lining on almost anything.”

That change put him on another career path, Dan Ahearn recalled, as he ended up helping out at a family friend’s funeral home in Northampton.

“He said, ‘Mike, you seem to have a talent for this kind of work,’” Dan Ahearn recalled. “Mike had no idea there was a school for being a funeral director.”

It didn’t take him long to pursue a mortuary sciences degree, which he earned in 1986. He then worked at several funeral homes in New England over the next 14 years, including in Northampton. In 2000, he opened Ahearn Funeral Home with the help of his father, a former city councilor who died last June at the age of 87.

Irish heritage

Irish heritage was also important to Ahearn. “He’s about as Irish as you can get,” Goggins said.

He was involved in the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association and was a parade marshal, and he was also involved in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade Association.

“But the funny thing was that he had never been to Ireland until two years ago,” Goggins said.

The couple won tickets in a raffle through the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She remembers him looking out the window of the plane as they flew into Ireland.

“Oh my gosh, it really is as green as people say,” she recalled him saying. “He had tears in his eyes.”

Beth Callahan, Michael Ahearn’s cousin who grew up with him in Northampton, recalled him surprising her family with a bagpiper at her dad’s funeral.

“I have three brothers, and he was a fourth brother. He was one of my best friends,” Callahan said. She added, “Anything anyone would need, any time of the day, he would absolutely be there.”

Sports were also a big part of his life, Goggins said. He loved to golf at the Northampton Country Club, which his obituary describes as “a place, to quote his good friend the late Jim Durfer, that is ‘a social club with a golfing problem.’” He was the assistant golf coach at Northampton High School.

Though Michael Ahearn didn’t have his own kids, “he treated my two sons and Dan’s two daughters as his own kids,” Patrick Ahearn said. “He was the fun uncle.”

Gary Keefe, a Northampton resident and Ahearn’s friend since childhood, said “my kids, when they were little, they knew Mike as the tall funny one of the family,” he said. “He always had you laughing.”

Since he died, Patrick and Dan Ahearn have heard from people who he helped after their loved one’s death.

“We knew Mike was very good at his job. I don’t think we knew how good he was,” Patrick Ahearn said. “Because he’s not one who would brag about it.”

Patrick Ahearn remembered asking his brother once, “Mike, how do you do that job every single day? He said, ‘How I have the opportunity to help people find comfort in the most difficult times of their lives? How could I not like that?’” Patrick Ahearn added, “It takes a special person to do that. His primary thing was helping people in difficult times.”

Calling hours were Thursday and a private funeral is being held Friday but can be seen virtually at https://youtu.be/0qkrMHBQCOU.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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