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Comforting the Bereaved

Kane County Chronicle
Business Feature Cover Story
Written by: Ronald Hause 

GENEVA — Renee Wood's business is comfort.

Her definition of comfort differs, however, from fur-lined boots, relaxed-fit jeans or "comfort food" served at family restaurants.

For Wood, there's another kind of comfort that's in much shorter supply. That variety encompasses the right kind of gift to send someone caught in the painful throes of a major life's loss.

Formerly a neonatal intensive care social worker, Wood said she had found it difficult in her own professional life to find appropriate gifts for those suffering from the death of a loved one — especially in situations in which parents had lost a young child.

"If I had a hard time finding an appropriate gift, other people might have a problem, too," Wood concluded.

Shortly after she and her husband, Jimmy, moved to Geneva from Little Rock in 2000, Wood embarked on a mission to brighten the lives of the grieving.

By then retired from her social worker's role, she began a gift firm, The Comfort Company, or what today has become www.thecomfortcompany.net. She said she felt an affinity for the work, in part because her jobs in hospitals had put her in close contact daily with families in grief.

"Sometimes I'd go so far as to contact the funeral home and make the arrangements," she said.

Since taking the firm onto the Internet approximately two years ago, Wood said, she has seen demand jump for the carefully selected, tasteful gifts she culls from more than two dozen suppliers.

"Just this month, we shipped out our 4,000th order," Wood said.

The Web site gets 600 to 700 distinct "hits" daily, she said. More than 140 gifts fill out the firm's roster of offerings.

The collection of gifts includes remembrance ornaments, garden stones personalized with a message, a Victorian tear bottle, a remembrance wall and a loss-of-child figurine. One of the most popular is the Serenity Angel.

The business niche she fulfills appears to be a unique one, too, and Wood said for the most part it is only flower stores that do some of what her online service provides.

"But in terms of doing just what I do, there is a handful," she said.

One of her more interesting projects has been to work with the Fox Valley Hospice on a special gift, a pewter heirloom, which is used as a fund-raiser by the Geneva-based agency.

Wood operates on the opposite side of the ledger from the pain and grief that prompt people to send comfort gifts. It's her opportunity to lift up those in bereavement.

"I love it," she said. "I look forward every morning to getting up and going to work."

Because her office is her home's basement, the commute doesn't take long. But she acknowledged there might come a day soon when she must find a larger business space outside her home.

The mother of four, the youngest only 2, Wood gets help from her older daughters. The work load can be significant, especially because some of the gifts require assembly before they are shipped from her home.

Seventeen-hour work days are a norm in the weeks before Christmas, she said, and she acknowledged the clutter can build.

"It's taking over too much of the house," she said.

The native of Tarpon Springs, Fla. (the "sponge capital of the world"), Wood is married to a United Airlines pilot, who finds time to help her in her daily chores.

The enterprise requires more than simply responding to Internet orders and packing and shipping products. Wood said he must locate sources of appropriate gifts. For a particular item, for instance, she flew to a manufacturer in Rhode Island, sketch in hand.

It's been an experience operating her own firm, she said.

"I really didn't know how to work a computer when I started."

* For information about the gifts offered, consult the Web site, www.thecomfortcompany.net. Some of the gifts also are available at Forget Me Not Creations at 426 S. Third St. in Geneva.

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