The air smells briny and gulls caw overhead. In the distance, against the backdrop of an iron-colored horizon, a few hearty lobstermen trawl the sea, braving the frigid temperatures. It’s snowing again, but that’s not newsworthy. It’s winter in Maine. Three miles up Sea Road is Bibber Memorial Chapel, a funeral home that’s been serving the communities of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport for eighty-four years. Ask a local to point you to the establishment and you’ll get “The gray Victorian on the hill,” or, “Next to the wedding cake house.” There’s no sign in the yard advertising burial and cremation services, just an inconspicuous bronze plaque mounted next to the front door that reads: Bibber. There’s no need for a sign. Dick Bibber and his family know everyone in town, and everyone in Kennebunk knows them.
Richard V. “Dick” Bibber, CFSP, is about to head out of town for a few days respite at the family cabin in Rangeley, about 130 miles west of the coast. It’s where he goes to unwind, along with his wife Patricia, to feed the deer and watch the skiers on the slopes. 2021 was a busy year for Bibber Memorial Chapel. They answered over four-hundred calls between their three locations, a lot for a firm used to taking 250-300 calls. They’ve been so busy Bibber recently hired a funeral director from Louisiana. I can’t be certain if he’s totally serious, or if there’s a hint of mischief in his voice, when he tells me, “I think the Maine winter is going to be an experience for her.”
It’s a few days before the New Year, and already a few of the local cemeteries have been closed for two months due to weather. Other cemeteries, Dick says, will stay open, “until the snow piles up too much.” Only a small percentage of funeral homes—mostly those operating in the extreme northern portions of the country—have to contend with storing remains until the spring thaw. But Dick has been doing it his entire life, and it’s just the way it is. “Makes things busy come April or May when we’re doing our regular work and our spring burials. We manage.” He pauses and adds, “I do think it makes it tough for some families, opening old wounds again.”
Dick, age eighty-two, tells me, “I still come in every day and get in the way.” His two sons, Eddie and Doug, run the day-to-day operations, but having grown up at the original family funeral home, Kennebunkport Bibber Funeral Home, located at the corner of Elm and Maine Streets, Dick doesn’t know how not to come in every day. Undertaking is in his bones. “If you sit in the chair, the chair is going to get you,” Dick says, offering a parable for those who waste away in retirement. He’s certainly slowed down from taking such roles as president of Selected Independent Funeral Homes and chairman of the Maine State Funeral Board. These days he’s content to make crematory runs, chase down death certificates, and take out-of-town funerals. “Road work,” he calls it. One thing is clear while talking to Dick, he’s one of the most community-oriented people I’ve almost met, and his respect for the people of Kennebunkport borders on reverential. “The town has been very good to us,” he tells me more than once. The gratitude in his tone evident.
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