Sunday, December 30, 2007

Almost Home

I heard this song for the first time yesterday at a funeral service and found that it made me sit down and listen...it's simple...but so vivid. When I came home I looked on youtube for what I thought it should be named and sure enough there it was. Later that afternoon I was reading a post by Granny Smith ( I don't know how to link from youtubes site ) which sounded almost identical...not country, more urban. When I went to respond and read the other comments, there was a link to the song within Paisleys comment. I wanted to put this on my blog and here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

.....to one and all

In less than 48 hours it's going to be the year 2008. Where has our time flown? I remember being told as a kid that the older I got the quicker time would pass and all I can say about that now is "they weren't kidding!"

For too long I remember hearing in my family that "maybe this year will be better." The events of every year that cause us heartache are what we look back on in hopes that the coming year will not be as mean to us as the current year has been. It seems as if we're always searching for personal peace; not necessarily perfection, but a little peace.

The year that grandma died - horrific!
The year the cancer was discovered in him - horrendous!
The war in the Middle East - earth shattering!
Kennedy's assassination - unthinkable!
The beginning of the HIV epidemic - felt like the beginning of the end!
The year that she lost her leg to Diabetes - not her!
The 911 attacks - unfathomable!
Bush's re-election - mind boggling!
The year the operation was a success but she died - crushing!
The years of those deadly auto accidents - Diana and Grace are dead!
The Lindbergh baby - "Lucky Lindy?" - despicable!
The hurricanes and tsunamis - why!
The tornado's and floods - why!
The earthquakes and fires - why!

Why, why why indeed; can anyone tell me why....you can not!

These are just the tip of the iceberg when discussing personal as well as global disasters and all recall different memories for different people, but might these be outweighed by the good that is much easier to forget? Is there a reason why we can remember the horrendous so vividly and almost choose not to forget, yet the many good things are often filed where they are harder to pull? History for the most part is a record of the shit.

I'm sure there may be some of us who find it extremely difficult to remember the good in our lives, the global good, but if we look hard enough we can see it everywhere, everyday intertwined between all of the heartache. Of course we want the bad to stop, not to show it's ugly face again, but I don't think that there will ever be a time in any ones life when horror isn't a part of it; I see personal tragedies daily.

For a moment let's try to concentrate on the goodness we have felt, the happiness we have seen, no matter how minute or fleeting. The storms in our lives and in this world will always be there for us if we want to remember them, but to hell with them, let's think of the rainbows!

The year she was born with a heart malformation - but made it!
The year I was spared from accidental death - that was good!
The year we fell in love - blissful!
The year, month, week, day we went to work - we have a job!
Cutting coupons - we can afford a paper and to be able to use the coupons!
The year the cancer went into remission - wonderful!
The end of any war or conflict - finally!
The year the grandchild was born - joyous!
The time you gave a penny to the poor - heartwarming!
The time you helped that person you didn't even know - uplifting!
The year you were published - recognition!
The year you began recovery - clean at last!
The year you began menopause - no more freaking period!
The time you found someone special in your life - heavenly!
Eating a ton of chocolate - euphoric!

Non of these are earth shaking moments, in fact some are downright mundane but they sure make the rest of the crap around us momentarily seem to disappear. We, I, need to remember these times more often, forget the bad more often, uplift myself more often! We've all heard "life is what you make it" but in reality we don't have much control over how we make our lives. We all just live while life happens all around us, to us. What we do have control over however is what we choose to remember. Even if it takes writing down the good things as they happen to or around us and keeping a list so that when the bad pops up we can refer back to that list and smile a bit.

Now that I've finished, I will step down from my beloved soapbox (which I so dearly love) and begin my list of "the good" for the coming year. As something that I feel good about happens I will add it to my list and conversely when something bad happens I will try to strike it from my memory. After all, what good does it do to remember the bad?

So in closing, I wish you all a Happy & Healthy New Year and wish that all of the good that happened this past year comes back to you again and again! And the bad? I hope you can forget it! As for me, I got an unexpected day off from work today and it will be entry number two, after my newest friends!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Is it a snap?


The call came in while I was still at a church in the middle of a service for the woman who I was burying that afternoon. Apparently, the newly deceased had died that morning and the nursing facility where she had been living had just contacted her family. The person that took the first call wrote down as much information as possible and tried to set an appointment for the family and I to meet. During this conversation the family had requested that "since tomorrow is Christmas, can we do it on Wednesday morning, say at about 11:00 AM?" and the appointment was set.

It wasn't until I was driving back to the funeral home after the service when I received the second call. The family had called back and requested that instead of meeting on Wednesday, they wanted to come on by that evening "and get things started." I was only about 45 minutes out and they were planning on arriving in an hour so if all went well I could make it; as it turned out I beat them by about half an hour.

When they showed, we all greeted, condolences and introductions, and we set about to try to arrange the funeral. One of the first questions I had for them was when they might want to do all of this and the reply was "Wednesday"; the day after Christmas. It was now 6:30 PM on Monday, Tuesday was Christmas, and they wanted to do this on Wednesday morning. As much as I hated to have to say it I did, "Wednesday morning would be virtually impossible." since so many components of a funeral are reliant on outside assistance. "How's Thursday?" was answered with "if we have to." That evening, after they had left and arrangements were made for the most part, I sent off my order for a casket to be delivered on Wednesday morning but there wasn't much more that I could do other than alert our preparation room staff that she was to be embalmed.

They had told me that contact had been made with their minister and any time would be fine. I worked some on Tuesday from home, obituaries, contract, gathering info I knew I would need first thing Wednesday morning and hoped that I could get this done in a day; all would be fine provided I could get in touch with the necessary parties and all the while I was hoping there would be no other deaths that day and evening.

Well, part of what I was hoping actually happened but the route to that outcome was bumpy to say the least. The funeral went off without a hitch on Thursday as I had hoped but the first mishap was with the newspaper. I wrote and emailed an obituary to the newspaper on Christmas day which never made publication. I later found out that because of the holiday the paper which is a weekly, was published a day early; we could all live with that.

The second foul up was when the casket delivery truck arrived and I found out that the casket I had ordered was never loaded on the truck that morning; they are a very reputable firm I may add. A quick phone call revealed that my casket was still on the loading dock and was being sent before I hung up. Next, I contacted the minister, the way I always do prior to a funeral to ensure all was okay and to see if there was anything I could do for him. Foul up number three; the family had spoken to him but never told him a time or date and he already had another funeral (two hours away) scheduled for the same time. I was now becoming exasperated; they told me he was okay with any time any day? So far we have no casket, no obituary and no minister for a funeral in the morning!

Next, the family calls to tell me that they are going to be late bringing the clothing since everywhere they have attempted to go to get flowers had either been closed or had nothing for them to buy; so they were still shopping. Before I called my gravedigger, I called the cemetery that was supposed to have the burial plot only to find that there was no space in existence so I didn't have to call him yet! What else can go wrong! Now on top of everything else there's no grave. It was at that moment I felt like calling the family and telling them that the funeral was not going to happen the next day; but I didn't. I would get it all fixed.

Don't ask me how, but the casket finally arrived, the clothes eventually showed up and she was dressed, the correct cemetery was supplied and I was able to have it marked and contact my gravedigger, a second obit made it into a different paper for the following days publication, the vault was there and the minister (who I thanked profusely) shuffled things around and was able to make it. As far as the family was concerned, all had gone as smooth as silk, not a single hitch, with the exception of the flowers which they eventually were able to get. I honestly had some doubts that this was going to happen so quickly but it's amazing how things fall into place at the last minute no matter what the problems seem to be; the funeral was just fine in all respects.

I don't think that any family realizes the scope of people and work involved in a funeral and sometimes, even though I very often feel it costs too much, just sometimes, I feel as though I've earned every penny....as well as every gray hair, upset stomach (no need to mention my ulcer), headache, line in my brow, and occasional chest pain that go along with it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The thirteenth floor



Well, it's come...and it's gone...and just like everything else in this life, the minute the clock struck that hour it became history. How many children were born on that day? How many souls left this world on their journey into another dimension? History yet just numbers.

How many of our births will be celebrated a couple of thousand years from now? How many of us will depart this world with such enormity that it will also be infamous? Not many I suspect.

Could I be so brazen to believe that such a large number of the population of this planet is wrong and I'm the right one? What is it that caused me to change the way I feel about something that was drilled into me for so many years? Being pessimistic, is my life less full because of my own shortcomings or lack in beliefs?
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So many questions yet so few answers; I think that has a great deal to do with it. Perhaps someday I will receive the shock of all shocks when I find myself part of the group that missed the boat. Or, the shock may be that there never was a boat to miss. Whatever the case, I don't understand how one could spend their whole life believing in a possibility; out of fear of the unknown. And if I'm wrong? I've been wrong before but time will tell.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

In the blink of an eye


It always seems when your back is turned for a moment, that's when things happen that you would not have allowed yourself not to be part of.

About three weeks after I returned from my last "getaway", I accidentally discovered that an acquaintance's daughter had died while I was away. They had gone to a different funeral home but that meant nothing to me other than I would have surely known sooner. The girl that died was in her twenties and had been stricken with Krohn's disease for as long as I knew her and her parents. Her mother and I had worked together for about 8 years and I had gotten to meet her family which included her husband and two daughters. We didn't have too much in common other than we saw each other daily and wound up at many functions together. The daughter I speak of was an intelligent, sweet girl and I saw her on an average of maybe once a month yet I almost felt closer to her than to her parents. My wife and I often spoke of her illness.

Over the short time that I could call us "friends", her mother was constantly taking the child to different doctors all over the state. Apparently, in the end there was more to it than Krohn's disease. When we parted paths our friendship ended in the sense that we rarely spoke and even more rarely saw one another. In the past few years I don't think we made any type of contact at all. "Out of sight, out of mind" is too true.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had read her daughters obituary as all of this was taking place I would have certainly attended both the visitation and memorial service that took place. The two of us would have gone together.

The saddest part of all this for me is that still until today I haven't contacted her mother to express my sympathy because I don't know what to say to her. I'm supposed to be this funeral director who is trained in bereavement, trained in helping those who are grieving and yet I can't find the words to say to this mother and father. I've been taught that if you don't know what to say, it's better to say nothing at all....well....what I have just recently learned is that saying nothing at all is also a detriment...to yourself. I have to do or say something, that's obvious to me now but guess what? Now I'm thinking I waited too long and don't want to pick at scabs.

I wish I knew what to do that would be best for this girls family.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"A visit from St. Blog"


Twas three days before Christmas and gray was the sky
my thoughts were of presents that I've yet to buy
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The stockings were hung on the mantle piece bare
in hopes that just someone might put something there

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The pine trees were swaying and dripping with rain
the worst fear of mine was a late hurricane

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With the wife in her bathrobe my head in a fog
it would be no weekend if I didn't blog
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When out on the porch the screen door was banging
off in the distance were fire bells clanging
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Tornado! she said, lets get under the table!
my only concern was the loss of our cable!
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If I had known this I'd not moved to the coast
Please let me finish this half written post!
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So as you can see daily life's become fast
gone are the days when this used to be last.
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my fellow bloggers!

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and thank you to the anonymous poet who wrote "A visit from St. Nicholas"

Friday, December 21, 2007

Got a tissue?

Cloaked in ebony shades of mourning
the crowd of wailing comrades walked through
The door that was to be used as an entrance way
not meant to be used for an exodus into hell
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Upon their arrival the moaning begins quickly
the facade of the sickeningly wet tears that flow
Stifling to hide from those around how much they hurt
bodies wracking as we wheel in the empty shell
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I think some believe it's an obligation of theirs
to shelter others and hide the depth of their pain
It's claimed that these type of actions don't help to allow
Them to cope with the loss of their treasured one
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I say facade but not meant to imply that it's fake
it's merely the face of their current demeanor and
Unlike those who are untouched by the passing of love
have barely a hope of ever again feeling the sun
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...on their tear stained faces




By DS

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Ultimate Gated Community





It's been ten days since my last post and it's not that I've forgotten. I've been sick, some sort of cold/flu that has taken a lot out of me and it's been pretty busy at work as well. I haven't been sick enough to keep me home from work except for one day but I felt like crap. I've finally started feeling good enough to care about wanting to write something but all I have to write about makes me again feel shitty.

I choose to be who I am but this time of year is not too festive for me. Let me re-phrase that, this time of year, every year, invariably brings sadness into my life. While the rest of the world is running around preparing for the holiday, going to parties, wishing all that they meet a happy holiday, a merry Christmas, I'm still confronted with death everywhere I turn; there's never any escaping it. Who can I wish a happy holiday to when I know that their days are filled with sorrow and are the furthest from happy? Why would I want to remind them that the holidays are going to be void of that special person in their lives?

Death is death no matter when it happens but this time of year always seems to bring more sadness to the scene no matter who it is that has died. I'm not sure if it's a selfishness that causes this extra sadness or if there is some legitimacy to it. I realize that a death that's associated with any landmark date is always a bit harder because you can't ever forget no matter how hard the brain tries to let you.

I was at a memorial service the other day (whats new) and a mother of a 28 year old man was telling me what she had heard that morning. To preface this let me first explain that he had been killed in an automobile accident and for the first time since I had met her, four days prior, she wasn't grimacing in pain, no tears; she was absolutely radiant. There were many others who obviously didn't share in her feelings including his wife, four children between the ages of 4 and 9, grandparents and more but what she had heard somehow helped her.

Apparently she had been watching TV that morning and had tuned into a televangelist who was talking about the loss of a loved one at this time of year and how terrible it made one feel. She told me that he, the televangelist, made the point that we should not be thinking that this is our first Christmas without our loved one. Instead, we should be thinking that this is our loved ones first Christmas in heaven. She went on with a grin from ear to ear to tell me that she hadn't looked at it that way before then and when she finally did, she was able to be at peace. Everyone has a different view of what heaven means to them and if she hadn't heard it from a televangelist I would have wondered what her take was; but I know so there was no need to wonder.

I know there are many people who don't believe what she does, and rightfully so; it's their choice. However, I couldn't help but think at that very moment how wonderful it must be to have a faith so true. When we lose someone to death we all suffer separation anxiety, sometimes guilt, fear, despair. I have to admit that I don't have the kind of blind faith that this woman has and don't think that just a single sentence could change the way I would feel if I were to lose someone as she did. But, I envy her. I wish I did.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Queen We Are The Champions Lyrics

HAD THE LYRICS HERE BUT YOUTUBE VIDEO IS GONE...SO!

When Queen was part of what I listened to regularly, this song was one that I particularly enjoyed. Maybe it was the lyrics, maybe it was the piano, the guitars, maybe it was Freddie Mercury. All I know now is that the older I get the more this means to me. We're all champions no matter what we've left behind, no matter what we never got to do; it's not over. We're all our own champions getting through each day as best we can....yet....going on, and on, and on. Believe me too, there are probably others that think of each of us as "champ" as well because they see what we sometimes fail to see in ourselves. Be proud my champion friends!

The Age of Entitlement


When I was about six or seven I was allowed to play outside the gate of the front yard all by myself; as long as I didn't go past houses A & B. When I was about fourteen I was allowed to stay outside "past" when the street lights came on. At seventeen I was given permission to smoke even though I had been doing it for years without said permission. At eighteen I now became entitled to some things; I could drive as long as I had gotten a license and I could also now legally imbibe in alcohol. At twenty two I was entitled to marry as long as I knew what I was doing and could afford to take care of myself. All through the years there have been different things that I have been entitled to do, each of course with guidelines and stipulations like the rest of life but alas there is still another.

When one turns forty nine they are bestowed the honor of joining that prestigious group of individuals who belong to AARP. I guess that they want to give you plenty of time to prepare for that hopeful day when you no longer have to depend on getting up at five in the morning to go and scrounge for your food via work. Anyway, what the hell, the membership isn't that high and of course there are perks to joining like in most other organizations you pay to belong to. Why not add this group to the list of associations that I have one time been a part of or still hold membership to.

They publish a bi monthly magazine and part of membership gives you the opportunity to receive this magazine I assume at a discounted rate.

Well, my magazine came last week and I was really thrilled to see it in the mailbox. I was about to learn some of the most important secrets that this group had to share in regards to my far off yet oncoming retirement status; another eligibility or entitlement.

To my surprise right on the cover, in pretty big type I may add, it reads "Special Report" - The Cruelest Funeral Scam

Immediately I think to myself "wow", this is going to be very informative, "I have to check this article out first"; and I did, to my now chagrin. Now I know I'm probably somewhat perpetuating the article by writing about it but I feel compelled to respond and this is the first forum that I plan to place my response. Some of you might already have read this article and I wish I could get all of you to read it somehow however I don't intend to put a link to them on my blog. Screw em.

First off, the article is entitled - R.I.P. Off - A funeral-industry scandal that's fleecing thousands of Americans - Quite catchy little title don't you think? It got my attention, and since the magazine boasts to have the worlds largest circulation I can imagine it caught the eye of many more than me. In the article they highlight a specific husband and wife and a specific funeral home that ripped the couple off. To make it simple, the couple purchased a pre-need contract and were told that their funeral would be paid for once their payments were completed. Before either of the funerals took place, the funeral home changed hands and the new owner put out a press release stating that he was not going to honor the contracts that the previous owner had initiated. My first thought on that sentence was "that's illegal." The new owner is quoted as saying "Obviously, things were a lot cheaper in 1965" and "I wouldn't have bought the business if I thought I'd have to honor those contracts." I don't recall who used to say it but I remember the phrase - "What a maroon!"

The TN attorney general has a different spin on it though, supposedly, $20 million in pre-need trusts were included in the purchase and the new owner and his partner drained theses trusts shortly after the purchase. This is truly unfortunate, illegal, and hopefully now that it's discovered will be reversed. We all know that there are crooks in every industry including mine but they're certainly not the norm.

Giving them their due credit, the magazine does go on ( in one very short paragraph) to say that for many customers, their pre-need money is safe discussing a retired city administrator who had no problems at all using his pre-need contract.

They go on to list a few more scenarios where pre-need is misrepresented and how the unknowing public can and will be ripped off. I had to agree with them that these scenarios are in fact possible and some probable but we're dealing with legally binding contracts here. In my state, the State Board of Funeral Service, which is federally regulated, as is the entire industry, issues the blank contracts to us and we are basically filling in the blanks and explaining why. There is no doubt in my mind, like with any other contract, the buyer must beware. But what the buyer must be wary of is not what the funeral home or director is going to sneakily do with their money, they must be wary of what they're agreeing to....it's all on paper besides being explained by licensed professionals and as I've advised you in the past, if you don't understand it or it isn't fully explained....DON'T SIGN IT!!! Remember, you're entitled but there are still stipulations and guidelines.

Over all, the article could have been, and in sections was, very informative to anyone considering one of these contracts however what got me hot was the way that it was written with a generally negative stance on the subject at hand. What also got to me were two statements in particular. One was from a Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance where he was quoted as saying "This is not every every once in a while, and is not just a few bad apples." I don't know how you interpret that statement but I read it as him saying that this is "a fairly common occurrence." The other statement that not only upset me but also made me think the guy is an asshole was stated by a mortician who very aptly comes from Reamstown, Pennsylvania, named Michael Tod Good. He said "WE funeral directors should never have been able to take money for pre-need, it's just too tempting." Perhaps it is too tempting to him but I don't personally know a single funeral director who feels this way and am insulted to be classed along with this joker. Don't include me in WE, thank you very much.

As I said, this article was informative but definitely biased. Aside from the fact that I just didn't like to see this in print, it also made me wonder if taking the full advice of the worlds foremost authority of retirement was the way to go. How many other of their stories or topics are also biased, also a little slanted. Do I want to find out at sixty five that the information I've been relying on to achieve my happiest retirement days was really just a way to capture a sensationalist readership? I suppose like everything else we shouldn't believe everything that we read. So tell me, do you believe this biased recount of the entitled?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ho Ho Ho, you cheapskate

Tonight was an eye opener for me. I hate to bring this up again since just 2 weeks ago we were all bombarded with Thanksgiving posts; as nice as they all were. Everyone had something or another that they were thankful for and during that entire time span I'm sure it was on every ones mind.

I don't know about you but I seem to obviously forget rather quickly.

Tonight I was in WalMart, no big department store, just the area superstore and I was looking for some shirts for the winter. First of all I have to say that when I went in the store I went out of my way to avoid the man from the Salvation Army with his Santa cap, bell and tripod holding up his pot for donations.

A couple of weeks ago I had gotten two shirts before we went away and they turned out to be really nice so tonight after we had gone out for dinner we figured we'd stop there and pick up a few things. You know, the typical stuff, shampoo, deodorant, a couple of magazines, some over the counter medicines... I was also able to get three shirts for myself. The whole place was decorated for Christmas and was filled with shoppers. I noticed a lot of empty racks where articles had been sold out. To the average eye it appeared as if they were doing a great business.

As we were standing on the check out line I happened to glance over by their optical store and there was a Christmas tree filled with these round paper ornaments each hung by a piece of white yarn. As we were passing by it on our way out to the car ( with $85.00 worth of shit in 2 small bags ), I decided to stop and see what this tree was about.

I'm not sure who the sponsor was but it was a tree of wishes. Each of these ornaments, which I know you've seen before, bore the age and gender on one side and on the back was their wish. There were various different ages and various different wishes yet none could have come close to being worth what we were carrying in these two little plastic bags.

I stood there reading them when for some reason, one in particular struck a spot in me. It was a seventeen year old male who was wishing, yes wishing, for a pair of pants for Christmas. The other kids were wishing for things like Spiderman pajamas, a game, cheap stuff, nothing major. And what did I do? I had the gall to stand there and tell my wife how sad I thought that was and then say "c'mon, let's go" and just walked out of the store.

After I left I thought about what had just transpired and if I wasn't headed for my dads house I would have turned around right then and there. I need tires on my car, I have bills to pay and gifts to buy but some of this is going to have to wait a bit. Tomorrow I fully intend to head back to WalMart with a couple of hundred dollars and I'm going to try to fulfill as many wishes as I can for these kids.

The first thing I'm going to buy is a pair of pants, waist size 31, medium length. Thankful? Am I thankful? Hell yes I am!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

You've heard of hunting accidents?


How would you have handled this? I was at a loss.

There's a group of you, all sitting at home basking in the afterglow of a sumptuous meal, reminiscing about days gone by, one or two snoring. You've got a mother and father of an only child, the child's grandparents are there, there are aunts and uncles and even a few cousins all feeling fat and lazy. The day was going very nicely and the furthest thing from any ones mind was catastrophe.

The only child, let's call him Jeff, had finished his meal and decided to take in a few hours of the remaining daylight and go and do some hunting. Jeff was in his early twenties and had been hunting with his dad since he was about 14 years of age, he knew the woods and he knew the protocol. He had already bagged two does earlier in the season; for the most part he was a seasoned hunter.

Jeffs father was the one who answered the telephone and the conversation went something like this: "oh, hi Jeff....Jeff, whats wrong?...pause.. What are you talking abou...pause...Where are you!....pause....okay, I'll be right there, stay on the phone and talk to your mother." During this whole conversation you can imagine how all of those in earshot of this end of the conversation perked up. "What's wrong, what's going on, what happened!!?" At this point he handed the phone to Jeffs mother and took off. Jeffs father and an Uncle jumped into a truck and headed to their stand.

At the end of this summer Jeff and his father built a tree stand at a location where they always frequented to hunt. No one is entirely sure whether Jeff was coming down from the stand or if he had just gone up but he was either lifting or lowering his gun with a rope when it discharged. The round hit him in the wrist causing him to lose his balance and he fell to the ground just below the stand. When he had called his dad on his cell he explained that he was having trouble breathing; he thought he may have broken a rib in the fall.

They parked on the road by the stand and immediately entered the woods calling his name. No response. When they came upon Jeff he was laying there with his eyes closed and his phone to his ear. His left wrist was obviously shattered and there was some blood. They called his name, they shook him, and they could hear his mothers voice faintly over the phone saying his name over and over as it fell from his hand.

The shot that hit Jeffs wrist had also pierced his chest about an inch to the right and just below his left nipple. Everyone seems to think that he never realized that he had been hit in the chest and what he thought was a broken rib was actually the bullet wound. Jeff died that day laying in the woods talking to his mother on the phone. His wrist was not the only thing shattered that day.

This was one of those freak accidents that take the lives of people every day. Jeffs mother and father were more than shattered. They had lost their "big" baby and could not understand how their god could let something like this happen.

At the funeral home his mother was a literal wreck. It was obvious by her bloated face and swollen eyes that she had been doing nothing but sobbing, trying to understand all that happened. Her husband and some family members were there to hold her up but it did no good since they all seemed to be in a similar condition.

When they first saw Jeff in his casket several of them literally fell to the floor and just started heaving. Jeffs mother had to be almost carried out of the funeral home. His father could only repeat "I thought I taught him better". I hope that the time doesn't come when his mother finally hears her husband say this and blame him; it was not his fault and I tried to tell him this.

There's no need to tell you the size of the visitation or the funeral, suffice it to say it was tremendous...and horrible. When I stand off in the distance watching a family and feel tears well in my eyes I know that they're in pain because I too feel it. I'm supposed to be this stoic person who is a professional and knows how to stifle emotions....all I can say is there are times when it is entirely out of my control and this was one of those times.

This one really grabbed at me and I need to try to forget it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How do I embalm?


On June 8th of this year I wrote a post about embalming. Well, I can't count the number of posts that involve embalming but that particular one tried to explain the process. That one was too nice, too refined, too much like a text book. My last post about procedure was regarding cremation and I felt it only just to explain in "real" words how an embalming takes place.
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Before I go on, you have to realize like in any profession, the main goal is the final outcome and like everyone else, each embalmer has his own way of doing things. Although there aren't many steps to the process we all have slight variances in how we achieve that outcome. So, if there are any embalmers reading this I really don't want to hear how you do it because this is how "I" do it; and that's what counts to me. Here we go.
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First off, every funeral home must by law have access to a preparation room, the "prep room", which is filled with all kinds of goodies used in the process. The basics: An embalming machine, which is simply a pneumatic pump that can be adjusted for rate of flow and the pressure of the fluid being pumped. Scalpels, scissors, aneurysm hooks to assist in finding and raising arteries and veins, needles for the suturing of incisions, drain tubes for insertion into veins to facilitate drainage, a needle injector used to close mouths, forceps, a trocar used for aspiration of the abdominal and thoracic cavities, head block, of course an operating table; these are just the instruments and the majority of them are sized variously, for the variously sized people. You can also find ligature, eye caps, injector needle inserts, mouth formers, rolls of cotton, various arterial fluids, cavity fluid, embalming powder, dyes, shampoos, nail polish, hairspray, plastic clothing, towels, sheets, dry shampoo, glue, razors, shaving cream, gloves, smocks, and the list could go on forever...and these are the basics.
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The first thing I do of course is to get into a smock, "glove up" and get the person on the table. I always use "universal precautions". I then remove all of the clothing or hospital wrappings being careful to keep an eye out for any "sharps" that may have been left behind. I then remove any IV's that have been left in, feeding tubes, sometimes colostomy bags, tape, leads, basically everything to the skin all the while taking note of any special treatment that may be needed such as to sores, skin slip...I then cover the persons genitalia with a towel.
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Once this is complete I determine the type of fluids I will be using and begin to brew the mixture. While the water which is mixed with the fluid is filling the pump, I wash the person down with a germicidal soap. Once this is done I perform any shaving that is necessary since I find it easier while the person is still un-embalmed. I next "set features" by inserting eye caps which grip the inside of the eyelids and help to keep them closed and also put in any dentures and close the mouth with a needle injector. Very rarely do I use cotton or filler to puff out hollowed features because I feel the person looks more natural if left as is unless there is obvious emaciation.
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The next step is to raise an artery and a vein. I usually use the carotid artery and jugular vein to start, however the femoral artery is often used as well as the axillary artery when good fluid flow cannot be achieved; but that will be found out later. Once I've made my incision and located the two vessels I use an aneurysm hook to raise them to the surface. I place a cannula in the artery and the drain tube in the vein and hold them in place with either clamps or ligature.
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A tube is attached to the cannula which will supply the mixture of formalin I have prepared and the pump is turned on; I start with very low pressure until I see what the output is like. In theory, the fluid being pumped in forces the blood and fluids out; simple...in theory. Sometimes however the blood has clotted and causes dams which do not allow the fluid to flow freely and swelling could result, this is why I start out slow. When this occurs, the vein tube can be pumped manually which helps to break up clots. You can also massage the person in hopes of releasing the clot or clots. If this fails this is when the additional arteries come into play, almost like a bypass.
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When the output turns the color of the fluid being pumped in you know that complete circulation has taken place. Before this happens you can tell where the fluid has reached by the pinkish tint that the flesh takes on. Over time you learn to tell just by the feeling of the skin since it feels slightly different where the fluid has circulated. I usually start out with two gallons of fluid and that is often more than enough; if not I prepare more.
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Once this is done I remove the cannula and drain tube and tie off the openings so that there is no back flow or drainage of the fluid. I now aspirate. Okay, aspiration consists of a trocar or a long tube with a sharpened point which is attached to a hydro-vacuum. This tube is inserted into the abdomen and pierces the diaphragm to puncture each of the organs and esophagus in the thoracic cavity to remove any remaining fluid. Once this is completed the same process is done to the abdominal cavity. So, in actuality, the trocar punctures the heart, lungs, esophagus and the liver, kidneys, bladder, intestines and spleen. The next step is to replace the fluid you removed with cavity fluid, an extremely strong fluid that is not mixed with water. This is to preserve the mentioned cavities. This abdominal puncture is sealed with a "trocar button".
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At this point I suture any incisions I have made after drying them with cotton and adding a sealant powder. The entire person is washed again, the hair is shampooed, and the arms are placed in the fashion I want them to remain since the tissues will begin to firm and remain in the position they are in. All of the instruments are sterilized and all of the non liquid wastes are placed into a bio-hazard bag for disposal with medical waste. Fingernails are then cleaned and trimmed, eyebrows and sideburns trimmed, stray hairs plucked or trimmed. The person is then dried, covered with a sheet and awaits their clothing. The embalming is done and it takes as long as it takes; there is no time limit.
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These are abbreviated steps, there are many details which I have left out but for the most part you now know how to embalm someone.

Friday, November 30, 2007

If you could...


As a kid, one of the most favored games we used to play was, as we called it, "make believe". You probably played this as a child although it may have had a different name and if you were the slightest bit like almost every child I've ever known you enjoyed it. For those of you who didn't play it, the basic premise of the game was to pretend - no other rules, no keeping score, just a way to wile away the time and have some fun. See, I told you that you played it too.
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I'm not really sure how or when I got started playing this or when I decided that I would like to pretend to be something or somebody I wasn't but I know that those times were lots of fun. I wasn't alone in liking this game, I only remember that whoever I was playing with at the time got as much enjoyment out of it as I did.
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A few posts back I wrote down some facts about myself and one of those facts has stuck with me although I know it very well; I guess it's one of those things I rarely think about but is always sitting on the back burner so to speak. I said "I still can't believe I do what I do as a profession. There are times when I can say I've enjoyed it but for the most part...I wish I had the guts to just walk away from it with no regard to having to earn a living; maybe I could do something else? If only I could figure out what." and this has sort of been gnawing at me. Not any more than usual but it has me contemplating the statement which I now see in print.
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In another of my posts I spoke about dreams. Not the kind you have at night during REM sleep, the kind of dreams that go hand in hand with hopes. I guess these dreams started way back, back as far as "make believe" when I was pretending to be someone or something I wasn't. When I wanted to feel what it was like to be more than I was. As a kid I had no idea that these pretensions might have been dreams and hopes but now that I pull it apart, look closer, I think they just may have been.
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Dreaming is not something that I consciously try to do; it just happens, and pretty often I must add. I had always thought that these dreams were good. They were a way of guiding me in the right direction hopefully leading me down a path that would eventually get me to where I wanted to be. Or so I thought. Now that I examine them, I don't think that even one of my dreams has ever materialized or realized itself. Have I been setting myself up for disappointment after disappointment over and over? Has the harsh reality of life shown me that whatever it is I dream about is simply fantasy and dreams are only for kids? Is it a means of escaping a hum-drum existence for awhile? Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it that's probably the case most times.
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I guess dreaming for and about things would be okay as long as you kept in mind that it's just play time and that the hopes you have will more than likely be dashed. Hell, it's probably easier to win the lottery than it is to have one of your dreams come true; a crap shoot, a huge gamble on nothing....so.....why bother.....right? That's what I at first thought after realizing that I was only kidding myself.
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Well, here's where the dreamer in me rears his head, like I said before, I can't help it, they just happen. Okay, I now know that a lot of what I'm hoping for will never happen, a lot of what I would like will never come to fruition, a lot of who I want to be will simply be determined by fate. But should that stop me from hoping? To a logical person the answer would of course be yes, you know, why waste the time. Don't we all have more valuable ways to use our thought processes? I guess I'm illogical because...well...I'm not going to even try to stop them when they arise. Without that little bit of hope it would sometimes be unbearable and this seems to be a way out! Definitely illogical but worth every moronic moment.
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Let me tell you, this has been a very enlightening post for me. I have discovered that I'm illogical, childlike in the respect that I still play "make believe", happy and satisfied with the knowledge that most of these dreams are probably an escape, although one never knows...and on top of it all...extremely happy that after all these years I still remember how to play!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A burning desire


I ordinarily try to keep these posts as non-graphic as possible however this one is going to try to explain the actual cremation process to you. When people think or speak of cremation they really don't have a true picture of what goes on aside from what their imagination can conjure. I hope this sheds some light on the subject for those of you that want to know and for those of you that don't.....I would suggest heading elsewhere for the time being.


Of course there is the equipment. I myself can't begin to explain all of its components but I can tell you it's a very large unit; it's about six feet wide, perhaps eight feet tall and about twenty feet in length and has the capacity of reaching three thousand degrees Fahrenheit although that is not an optimum situation. This is the unit where the actual cremation takes place. There is also a second piece of equipment known as a processor, this is where the remains of the cremation are pulverized into what is typically referred to as "ashes" or in the industry "cremated remains".



Let's assume this is the first cremation of the day since it does make somewhat of a difference. When a body is first placed into the cremation chamber, all mechanisms are off, all flow of gas is halted and the container that is used to house the body should be as centered as possible. Of course prior to placing the container in the chamber another identification is performed as well as documentation. At this time a numbered steel disc is placed at the opening and corresponds to the documentation to ensure identification once the cremation is completed. At no time will more than one person ever be in the chamber.



Timers are set based on the size of the person and the type of container they're in; these settings are provided by the manufacturer and are learned and tweaked over time. It is these settings that determine the final outcome of the process and are very important to avoid any type of pollution from the machine. Once the cremation is begun, within the first five minutes the chamber has already attained somewhere between 100 and 300 degrees and continues to climb. By the time thirty minutes has elapsed, ignition of the container has taken place sufficiently for the cremation burner to ignite. This will now begin the actual process which lasts at the least another two to three hours.



By now the temperature in the chamber is fluctuating between 1500 and 1600 degrees and the body now begins to deteriorate. The first portion of the body to be completely cremated is the flesh that covers the extremities as well as all of the skin, hair and facial features. By the time the process has gotten into the first hour you need to inspect the inside of the chamber and most often have to "reposition" the remains. The bulkiest part being the torso may need to be positioned differently so that it is directly under the cremation burner.



As the second hour closes another inspection of the chamber should reveal that the majority if not all of the flesh and organs have been entirely cremated and the cremation burner is now working on the skeleton. When the timers are finished, the last inspection should show what appears to be only parts of the skeleton; the skull may have collapsed, the ribs may be gone, and most of the remaining bone will either be in pieces or will also appear collapsed and be a bright, hot, white. Now the cooling process begins.



Once the cremated remains have cooled sufficiently, they can then be removed using a steel brush which is attached to a steel pole and transferred to the processor. We also use a specially made vacuum to gather as much as possible to add to the processor. At this point a very powerful magnet is used to separate any remaining metal, IE, hinges, wiring used to hold the sternum in place after heart surgery, snaps from clothing, and occasionally a missed pacemaker which should have been removed prior to the cremation as well as other miscellaneous things. Sometimes forceps are necessary since not all metal can be picked up with the magnet. We also have to remove hip and shoulder joints that have been replaced and anything foreign that has not been completely melted by the heat.



The remaining cremated remains are then transferred into what actually looks like a huge pot but is attached to machinery that makes it act as a huge blender type processor and are pulverized. Once this is completed we are now ready to place the remains in whatever container or urn the family has requested and return them to the family.



It's not pretty or less gruesome nor is it clean or green but it is what a good majority of people are looking for. It's no nicer than embalming someone, it's no nicer than the thought of natural decomposition, it is what it is. I'm not sure what has turned an entire country, or world for that matter, into believing that this is a much nicer way of doing things but it's a fact that's proven by statistics. Perhaps money is the driving issue. Perhaps the fact that we are a civilization whose families are now spread all over the world and there is no longer a need for a burial place since no one will visit it is the real reason. Perhaps like owning an I Pod, it's the thing to do. Maybe we're tired of filling up our land with the dead. Whatever the reason, I just wanted to give you a better look.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

SOLITUDE -Billie Holiday

The minds pictures may be different, the era for sure, yet the sentiment is still strong for many.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Eight Random Facts meme


The other day I was reading a post at my not so mouldy friend Agnes Mildews blog Hex My Ex which was entitled "Eight Random Facts meme..." and thinking to myself, hmmmm, really. When I got to the bottom of the post I found that the darling Miss Mildew had tagged me. Apparently, the meme requires that you supply 8, little known, random facts about yourself and I figured I didn't want to give too much away but I had to at least give you something. So here is my attempt to respond:
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Fact # 1 - I still can't believe I do what I do as a profession. There are times when I can say I've enjoyed it but for the most part...I wish I had the guts to just walk away from it with no regard to having to earn a living; maybe I could do something else? If only I could figure out what.
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Fact # 2 - At 15 years of age I was arrested for burglary along with a friend (HA!) after we had broken into what I thought was an abandoned house. It turned out that the house was occupied but that didn't stop us. The friend was known by the police and was of course picked up, he after all being my "best" friend, led the police directly to me causing my arrest as well. Fortunately, all was dismissed and I never wound up with any kind of record after probation.
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Fact # 3 - This may sound ridiculous but after moving to a beach community I discovered that I was deathly afraid of sharks. We were in the ocean one afternoon enjoying the water when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a shark. I can't explain the fear that I felt at that very moment. That was the last time I ever went in the ocean. I went out about a month later and contracted to have an in ground pool put in my backyard. Don't ask me why but sharks scare the shit out of me.
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Fact # 4 - The catholic high school that I went to was aptly nicknamed "pill hill" and it was there that I learned how much I liked drugs. Call it peer pressure or call it plain curiosity, but whatever it was at the time, I can't name but a few of the newer drugs of today that I didn't try and like, even including Formosa Oolong tea when we were broke! Those days are long gone, not by choice at first, and I have come to know it was fun but also see how it may have hampered me.
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Fact # 5- I try to portray this caring, loving, do-gooder but it's not always me. Sometimes I like to just forget everyone else and just think about me as selfish as that may sound. I enjoy being alone and surely enjoy giving to and thinking of only myself.
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Fact # 6 - My favorite food has got to be Chinese. I could eat it day and night, every day, and I would be extremely happy. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, as a matter of fact I think I like it better cold, no matter where I am if it's available as a food choice that's where you'll find me.
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Fact # 7 - I have epilepsy - it's completely controlled by drugs and almost nonexistent but I know it's still there. The fact is, I have missed doing so much my entire life because of always being afraid that a seizure would pop up. I'm tired of taking pills and I'm tired of constantly monitoring my behavior to keep it at bay. I wish I could live for just one week without it, again.
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Fact # 8 - We don't have any children because it was "I" who never wanted them; it wasn't a matter of whether or not we could have them. Because of that decision, I feel as if I've painted the two of us into a corner and have set the stage for a very lonely existence when one of us dies and the other is left completely alone.

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I obviously didn't give away anything that I wouldn't tell anyone but I know that these little tidbits are definitely "little known facts". I guess I have an obligation to pass this on so in due time three of you will be tagged. Until then, think of some things that you haven't already let us know.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Vaction?


This past week I have been out of town, I guess you could call it a vacation although at times it felt less like a vacation and more like a counseling session. My wife, my father and myself all went to New Jersey to take advantage of some free time, see the family for the holiday and just to sort of forget what we all tried to leave behind.
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For a short time I was hoping that my dad could forget about the cancer he is fighting, my wife could get away from working and dealing with irate clients, and I could try to forget the everyday grind that I face.
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My wife and I had initially planned on going away alone since this exact time of year is our wedding anniversary and we haven't really had too much time to ourselves over the past year or so. When we discovered that my father was to start radiation therapy and was going to be finishing the series the day before we planned to leave we decided not to go at all but to stay behind and take care of any of his needs. When we told him our plans to cancel he wouldn't have it; according to his doctor he would be fine so we decided to take him with us. That in of itself was fine.
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He had good and bad times but overall I would have to say that he felt well. Yesterday we got to see my brother, his wife, my niece, nephew and their grandfather for a few hours and shared some time and a meal. One more aspect of the trip that went well.
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My wife didn't have to put up with her attorney boss nor did she have to field any irate clients as they walked in the door. I have to assume that she had a good time and I know she was thrilled to see the kids; they're not children anymore but to her they will always be her little ones.
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I too had a good time but as luck would have it I wound up talking to some woman about her leaving her husband and the death of her daughter. I must radiate something that attracts certain types of people to me. Someone I know once called themselves a "freak magnet" and although I can't say that I attract anyone much freakier than myself I have to say I am a magnet of sorts.
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We spent some time at a casino while in NJ, it seems that is the one place my dad can forget all his cares. So here I am sitting at a penny slot machine trying to keep an eye on my dad as he zips around on a scooter going from machine to machine. I was oblivious to everything going on around me except for him when the woman next to me, who I now think may have had a bit too much to drink, leans over and asks me "are you married?". Her words were slightly slurred, she was wearing these BIG eyeglasses and had a cigarette dangling out of her mouth. I looked right into her magnified, bloodshot owl eyes and nodded yes.
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She goes on to tell me that if I'm not married that I shouldn't make the same mistake that she did. "It all changes once you get married, you should just have a girlfriend". All the while I'm trying to be polite and nodding and smiling when in the next breath she asks me "are you looking for a girlfriend?" No, I'm here with my wife I told her, this time in words. First off I'm married and not looking but this woman had to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies compared to my forty nine. She had the face of a woman who had smoked all her life complete with the deepest wrinkles you'd ever seen.
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At first I didn't know what to think, but her next sentence sort of gave me a hint. "Would you like to come and see what a nice room I have?" I don't think so. "I left my husband and have been so lonely lately." Am I being propositioned by this woman? "Where is your wife?" was the next question. Alright, I had to get away from her because I wasn't in the mood to even explain what I was now thinking. I said I have to go and quickly cashed out of the machine and stood when I felt her pulling on my shirt tail. This was unbelievable!
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The first lie that came to my head was "I'm sorry ma'am, I'm going to a funeral today and I feel like hell, I've got to go." She just looked at me and burst into tears. OK, now I feel like shit, I somehow made this old woman cry. Do I just walk away and leave her in tears or do I try to calm her down first? Can you guess what this jerk did? You got it, I sat back down and asked her why she was crying.
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"I left my husband because he was a sonofabitch after my daughter died." Oh shit, here we go! Now her daughter died after I mention a funeral. Oh, I'm so sorry, when did your daughter die I asked. "I remember it like it was yesterday, she died on April 23'rd, 1968 and that frig I was married to wanted me to forget her and have another!" "I told that bastard to keep his friggin' hands off me!" At that exact second I knew I could not, in the five minutes I was going to give her, help her to forget 39 years worth of bitterness and anger.
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I again told her that I had to leave and called a waitress over and ordered her another Corona to replace the empty bottle she had been clutching. I really felt sorry for this woman but I knew I had nothing else to give her which might ease her pain. I waited with her until the beer showed and I was shocked how quickly she "released" me when she had a full bottle in her hands.
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I saw her three other times that day and each time she was nursing a beer and talking to someone. I hope that she finds somebody who will be able to give her what she's looking for, I just knew I couldn't supply it. This was my winter vacation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

cha ching

Sitting at a slot machine
hoping for a win
Dollars dropping one by one
is it not a sin
Spending life and using cash
all to waste some time
Hoping for the bells to ring
wishing for a chime
They claim it's done for the fun
losing more and more
Going for that big brass ring
cheaper in the store
At the end of every spin
when it all is theirs
Does it really cause you joy
take away your cares
For a time I guess it does
til you must go home
Back to your reality
like this truthful poem
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by a poorer DS

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks for being you!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! No matter what we have or don't have, no matter where we live, we all have 'SOMETHING' to be thankful for and today is simply a day to remember those things. No one has all they want but we all have at least one thing to say thanks for. Each other.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks for being Dead


I've been holding off on this one for some time because of what it contains. I at first found it difficult to understand but time has afforded me the opportunity to see that what's good for the Goose isn't necessarily good for the Gander or the Gosling or anyone in the Gaggle for that matter. Everyone has their own needs, wants, likes, dislikes and everyone is thankful for something different; some thankful they have it and some thankful they don't.
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They had been taking care of her mother for the last thirty three years and initially it was no problem at all. The three of them lived as if they were all joined at the hips and very rarely were they seen without at least one other although most times they travelled in a pack. They did all the things that families do. They still lived together and I was told that in the earlier years they did everything together, they shopped together, they went to church together, they ate out together, they vacationed together; there was almost nothing that they didn't do together. You get the picture.
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I knew these people for seven years before they came to see me professionally and from all outward signs they always appeared happy. Little did I or anyone else know that these were not great years for any of them to say the least. As a matter of fact the last twenty odd years were "hell" as they called it. According to both the daughter of this woman and her son in law, although they loved the mother and she always acted sweetly in front of "strangers", when behind closed doors she was a "sour bitch", someone you could easily hate. They also told me that their mother made no bones about the fact that she thought the same about them and reminded them of it daily.
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It was obvious to me that there was something that kept these people together all of those years but I just couldn't pinpoint it. Sure they were family but I don't know how long I would have lived that way. I'm sure there are some people, especially at this time of year, who wish for the family that these people appeared to have had but after talking to them I just don't know if it would really be worth it. One of the comments that was made to me was in the form of a question and I simply had no answer. "How could we have divorced mother?".
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Long story short, they're "thankful that she's dead". At first I thought that this was the most selfish and cruel comment I had ever heard but I guess they have the right to feel the way they want, and do, rightfully so or not. I know there are many sides to every story I hear and in this instance I would have loved to have heard the mothers version of her life but I never will. I tend to believe that their story is a bit biased and all I can imagine is that if their mother now had the capacity to voice her side of it, she'd probably be "thankful that she's dead" too.
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So as you can see, thankfulness comes in many varieties and no one can tell any of us what we should or shouldn't be grateful for until they have lived our lives themselves.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Yes we are............

Am I the one
controlling my life?
are you the one
in charge of today?
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Am I the one
whos tongue is a knife?
are you the one
who makes life gray?
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Am I the one
in charge of today?
are you the one
whos tongue is a knife?
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Am I the one
that makes life gray?
are you the one
controlling your life?
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by DS

Thank You!

I was just able to head over to earth2karen to pick up an award she passed on to me this past Thursday and want her to know that I truly appreciate it. Aside from being just plain old recognition, this particular award has a small story behind it that I want to share.

In the true tradition of swapping, I have a few that I'd like to pass this on to myself. These are bloggers, people, who really "own" their blogs. Blogs that I read as often as possible and look to for inspiration. Thanks again earth2karen and also a thank you to:

...why paisley? for all that you say, for making me think.

aningeniousname for your news items, for making me laugh.

GracefullyAbnormal for being grateful & graceful, for being.

Hop over to here and grab the code. It comes in 3 colors so you pick!



Be The Blog award

Planning 101


How to plan a funeral.............let me show a few of the steps

This is a little long so you might want to grab a snack!

The first thing that occurs with any funeral is of course "the first call". This can come at any time of the day or night, on any day of the week and will get my immediate attention no matter what I am doing at the time...use your imagination. It will most likely be from a hospital, hospice nurse, EMT, Police or sometimes a family member. When the family calls they have usually bypassed someone who can give authority to release the body to a funeral director so one of those people need to be contacted.

Next, someone, sometimes two are off to the place of death to retrieve the deceased person and bring them into our care. This is called "the removal" and is done by trained personnel who know the importance of this step and use great caution when doing so. Occasionally, some vague information is gotten at this point to assist us in the next step we are to take.

Depending on the time, either that day or the next the family is contacted by a funeral director to set an appointment for them all to meet at an arrangement conference. It is also at this time that the director attempts to get verbal authorization to embalm and explain what they will need to bring with them; i.e., clothing, photos, necessary information. All of these things may have been done by the removal personnel and if so this step is obviously skipped. If the family is opting for cremation it may change from this point on but this is assuming a burial.

The next step is to notify the preparation room staff if they will be embalming this person. If all things necessary to begin the embalming are in hand (such as dentures if applicable) we can begin, if not we wait until we have them. There are also times when we have to wait for tissue harvesting within the first hours of death or the completion of an autopsy which can sometimes take days.

At the arrangement conference, which can last for hours, information is gathered about the deceased for use on a death certificate as well as information that will be needed to write an obituary. Full name, dates, parents names, location of birth, addresses, education, doctors name, phone numbers, cemetery, grave location, SSN, military history, occupation, industry and maiden names are most of what's needed for us to complete our portion of the death certificate. I then need to know where and when the service is wanted, who the minister will be, songs that will be played, names of pallbearers, family members names, which of these are living or deceased, names of schools, degrees if any, branch of military and rank, organizations that the person belonged to or was involved with, hobbies, pets, likes, dislikes, accomplishments; as much information that is willing to be shared. Once this is all gathered it's time to move on to merchandise and prices are discussed. The family needs to select a casket; usually a vault, memorial folders, register book, flowers, acknowledgement cards, pallbearer cards, door spray, sometimes clothing. This is just the tip of the iceberg. When everything is finally discussed and all is selected it's time to move on to paperwork and signatures. By this time a family is usually exhausted and is understandably looking to bolt. Before they leave I let them know the next step for them and once again ask if they have any questions.

It's now time for me to take all that I've learned and put it to use. The first thing that I'll do is to prepare an obituary since we always have deadlines to meet. I always like to have a family member proof what I've written before I either fax or email it with an attached photo to the paper(s) to avoid any errors prior to press but this proof isn't always possible. This is why I recap everything with the family before we move on to merchandise.

Next I'll contact the minister and church to be sure that the dates wanted are in fact available; I also check with the cemetery to be sure there is a plot available for the burial. Once these things are verified I can move on to ordering the casket and the vault and begin preparing the memorial materials.

I'll now contact the military if needed, get the clothing to our preparation room staff if I have it, order a hair dresser if necessary, order a door spray and get the chairs and register stand loaded to bring to the families home.

Once the door spray is ready I can head over to pick it up on my way to the house; now is the time to pick up any information or items that may have been unavailable or forgotten at the arrangement conference.

After I've been to the cemetery to view the grave and to be sure it is properly marked I can now call our grave digger and alert him of the burial giving him dates, times and dimensions. By the time I've gotten all of this done I'm often into day two, the visitation is usually tonight and the funeral tomorrow.

Today I have to be sure that the casket arrives and the person is dressed, casketed and cosmetized for early this afternoon when the family is to be by for a first viewing. Somewhere in between here I need to get to the doctors office to try to have him/her sign the death certificate so that I can file it with the county and order the families certified copies. We also have to touch up the funeral home to be sure it's ready for tonight. When the flowers start arriving they have to be properly tagged so that they end up with the right family. Oops! I almost forgot to order the police escort for tomorrow.

People usually start arriving for the visitation around 5:30 or so and can often still be in the funeral home at 10. This is a time of socializing with the crowd and being sure that the family has everything that they want. It also allows me time to meet the extended family, meet with the minister to discuss his order of service for tomorrow, make any last minute changes the family requests and estimate the size of the crowd at tomorrows 9AM funeral.

The day of the funeral: We all get in at 6AM to prepare for the day, we remove all of the flower cards, jewelry that the family wants back, wash the vehicles, load the flowers, get the casket in the hearse, gather any paraphernalia we are to take with us and head to the church to be ready by 8. At the church we reverse what we've loaded, set it all up, be sure that the church is ready and head out to the parking lot to await the attendees and be sure that they are parked correctly for the procession to the cemetery. We are also off to the home to pick up the family and get them to the church all the while hoping the escort will be waiting for us. When the pallbearers start to arrive we instruct each of them what they will be doing and seat them all in tandem. When the family arrives it should be just a couple of minutes before the scheduled time of the funeral so that they do not have to wait around for the service to begin.

Once the service is over, we once again load the flowers and send the truck ahead of everyone so that the flowers are set up in the cemetery upon our arrival. The pallbearers place the casket in the hearse, lights on, I take one last look around to be sure that all is done and we're off to the cemetery.

At the cemetery the pallbearers now place the casket on the grave, we seat the family under the tent, the minister steps in and the committal service begins. Once this service is completed the military if in attendance does their part and upon completion of the flag presentation the director steps in to speak to the family. It's at this point that any announcements are made to the crowd and for the most part the funeral is over. Most times the family will stay at the cemetery and speak with all of those that were there before they are ready to leave. It is now time to have the casket lowered, the vault sealed and the grave refilled.

It's not entirely over yet because this afternoon or tomorrow or at the families convenience we are back out at the home delivering plants, picking up chairs and the register stand, removing the door spray if they so choose and answering any questions they may still have. I usually leave them alone for a few days before I call to check to see if there is anything that I can do for them and to be sure that all went as they expected.

All of the above happens in what seems like a whirlwind and is quite a lot to handle in just a couple of days. I have left out many details and just gone over what I feel are the most important steps although every detail is as important as the next. A "good" funeral is really like a well oiled machine; just seemingly smooth no matter what is actually going on. There are times when several funerals are taking place simultaneously and you very quickly learn how to adeptly juggle. No family should suffer in the least because I have too much going on at once and I hope they don't. I'm not the only one with my hands full at this time because the families themselves also have a lot to do and this I realize and try to help them with as much as I can. Then all I want to do is go to sleep before it starts again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Olla!

This has been a hectic two weeks, maybe even the past month and I have met with numerous families but I have to write about the family I met with today. You've heard me say that I know that the cost of a funeral is too high and I really can't say when the prices became so outrageous, but they have and they are.

Today's family was a young group; I couldn't tell the ages of the parents but they have a just teen aged son, a 6 year old daughter, a 4 year old daughter and their stillborn daughter. I know the ages of the children because they were the first to arrive with an adult friend of their parents and while we waited for their parents we talked and joked about ages and spelling and mainly little kid stuff.

When their parents came in they had an entire group of their friends with them; one of which turned out to be the interpreter. See, they are Mexican and do not speak English well enough to understand all that we had to discuss, although their children spoke perfect English. Since I don't speak Spanish well enough either we were very fortunate to have a bi-lingual amongst us.

They had just lost their baby and on top of their feelings of loss they were also faced with what I'm sure were uncomfortable feelings having to deal with me; perhaps wondering what I was saying before they heard it translated into Spanish as I myself wondered the same only in reverse. As it turned out this family was not from the town I'm in and at first I had no idea why they had come to me.

I have dealt with many Mexican families before, both handling losses of children as well as adults who we have shipped back to Mexico for burial. In doing this in the past I have come to learn that there is usually very little money available for a funeral. There have been many times when the Mexican Consulate has been involved and quite often they pay a small portion of the funeral that takes place on American soil. When there is no other money to be had I accept what they have, sometimes nothing.

The interpreter told me that this particular family came to me because they knew of me. Knew of me? How on earth could they know of me? I actually asked those questions. The answer I received was on the lines of: "the Mexican community is very close and what you have done in the past to assist others has spread far, you have a reputation for helping us when others won't". At first this sounded great, wow, what a boost to my ego but as I was listening I was also thinking. So have they heard that I'm a sap? A pushover? Someone who will give you what you want for nothing if you claim poverty?

I didn't ask these questions nor will I; perhaps I don't want to know the real answers. Maybe I am a pushover, but I'd do it for anyone if I felt they needed it, it actually makes me feel good. Maybe deep down I'm really doing it for me but It's not hurting anyone it's only helping. Anyway, we are going to cremate the baby and it will cost me nothing but my time and some propane. It will cost them nothing but.....well, nothing; they were extremely grateful. I know they don't have much and have a family to try to raise, and we can afford it. So why shouldn't I just do it?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Phew!

Busy day today, two visitations, 2 first viewings, a graveside service this afternoon, I need to get a casket to a church some 30 miles away, have to make arrangements on the new call we got last night and get that rolling, prepare for the burial we have tomorrow...and I have to breathe somewhere in between. Wish me luck.

DS

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gobble, Gobble, Roar

It is once again that time of year. The mornings are cold, the evenings are cold, frost on the roof as well as the pumpkin. Everywhere you turn you can see signs stating that "Collards" are for sale. It's once again time to watch out for the deer that are running from hunters and leaping in front of your car offering themselves up to be your new hood ornament. Most of the Mums have shot their load and if the country's population of Turkeys could somehow communicate they would have already issued the warning of that fateful day which will soon be upon them. If you look carefully you can occasionally spot one hiding in the woods as you drive by, hoping to escape being dinner, and more thankful than any Plymouth Rockian!

Down the road a piece, man is not the only danger to Turkeys, livestock or pets these days. There is a new gun in town that has been dubbed the "Bolivia Beast". In the past years there have been sightings of the abominable snowman or Bigfoot or whatever you call him where you live, right here in this sleepy little community; perhaps he was a yeti trying to find a better way of life in his retirement. Footprints have been discovered and recorded in the mud, no snow here!

This new threat, the beast, hasn't been spotted in the flesh but it has left the sordid remnants of its havoc. There have been footprints and droppings found in and around the pens where it has killed its prey. No Chihuahua, hound, pit-bull or goat is safe in these parts. To date the only fatalities have been animals which are left outside overnight, but the fear is that the taste of animals blood may somehow lose its delectable attraction and the beast may come hunting humans. Halloween wasn't even the same here because of the fear that kids would be gobbled up! I know a few I should have invited but knowing them they would have been left on the buffet.

At first the press, yes even the local press have their noses in this one! Anyway the press was saying that it was a big feline yet there are no big cats in this area; people began thinking it was an escaped lion or tiger. There is after all a zoo nearby. After a fang count in the local zoo showed that none of its catty characters were missing the new story was that it must have escaped from a circus that was travelling through the area. So the hunt was on for the carnival that was missing its roar but that too proved nothing. Do they even have travelling circuses anymore? I'll tell you, the stories that they come up with around here are sometimes hilarious.

Bottom line is that this year, slightly different than others, we now have something new to be thankful for. We can now be thankful that the "Bolivia Beast" has not knocked on our pen and eaten the turkey that we have been fattening up for ourselves. After all, how else could we dispay or symbolize our thankfulness other than by eating a bird?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

...do you hear what I hear


Over the past six months I have chronicled a vast array of funerals that I have performed and have also showcased some of the many people who I have dealt with over the years. I wish I could say that every time I sat down with someone to plan a funeral that the end results were near perfect but I can't. Any of you that work with the public know that no matter how hard you may try to please someone it doesn't always end the way you hope or expect. Also, any of you that have worked within the same industry, field, for any length of time and have worked for more than one employer know that no two companies have the same standards or operate exactly alike.

I can't say exactly how long I was licensed and working in this industry when I first screwed up a funeral but I can remember the circumstances of this time as if they took place yesterday. I know I wasn't completely green because I had made funeral arrangements many, many times before and had learned how to cover slight errors to the degree where a family wouldn't even know that they had taken place. But this time was different. This time the mistake was evident to the family but not to me and I only realized it had occurred when it was too late to do anything about it.

I was working for a new company operating a satellite location and had been there for approximately two weeks when this all took place. The phone call I had gotten that day was from my manager requesting me to go to the main office to make arrangements for a funeral that had been preplanned. There was supposedly a file waiting for me with all of the necessary information, I just had to now go and orchestrate the already written music. It seemed as if it were going to be an easy task. Before I left for the main office I had contacted the family and set an appointment and also gathered some of the paperwork that I felt I would need.

Upon my arrival I was informed that the director whom I had once briefly met who prearranged this was a seasoned professional but was out of town and unreachable. "Just follow the written directives and you'll be fine". It was at this point that the file was given to me and I had some time to review it before the family was to arrive. It was also at this time of review that I discovered that the file I was to follow was nearly empty and that I did in fact have only one directive; cremation. Still in all, I had done this before and could handle it with ease.

The two daughters that came in to arrange for their mothers cremation were fairly young, say late twenties, and seemed awfully nice; at first. I apologized for the absence of the director that they knew, explaining the out of town situation and advised them that I would do everything that they had discussed. As I explained that the only information I had was that their mother was to be cremated and would have to basically discuss their wants from scratch I was told that it, the service, the cremation, was pretty cut and dry.
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They wanted their mother cremated, a short memorial service in our chapel the following evening, and...by the way..."if you haven't realized it yet, I'm a perfectionist". Those last nine words of hers immediately put me in a "warning" mode but I obviously didn't comprehend the severity of the warning.

She was right however, it was pretty cut and dry from what we discussed. I got all of the authorizations signed, set the time for the memorial, spoke with the minister, got all of the info for an obituary and set up a time for identification later in the day. After they left I notified the preparation room staff of the cremation and identification and went on to write and forward the obituary. It was a little difficult trying to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings but it was going smooth. When they returned for the identification they advised me that they wanted the memorial in the satellite location which was well over 40 miles away, but really a boon for me, and wanted a small floral arrangement from a shop where they lived. I suggested that if the delivery cost was high it might warrant them to bring the flowers themselves, "but that's entirely up to you". It wasn't until the next morning that I was made privy to the shit that had hit the fan overnight.

Apparently, the unreachable director wasn't as unreachable as everyone thought since the family was able to make contact that evening and explain how they were mistreated. The scenario went like this: Everything that the family and this director had discussed was completely disregarded by this "new" guy. When they came back to identify their mother, the blanket that was covering her had a "huge" hole in it which looked to be a burn; I never saw it. When they asked about flowers, this "new" guy told them that they had to get them themselves; not what I said. He never mentioned the urn that they had discussed; no urn was ever mentioned during our meeting nor was it written in the file I was to follow. On top of all of this the following mornings newspaper had an error in the obituary; I screwed up the spelling of a name I must admit.

I know I'm far from being perfect, I have yet to meet a perfect person however I strive to be as perfect as I can be, which oft times is extremely far from the mark. Sure I could try to place the blame on someone else, perhaps the creator of the nonexistent file, or perhaps the perfectionist daughter who by the way was the only of the two to complain but I can't; I won't. The most important aspect of what I do relates directly to rapport building and this is aided by listening and questioning skills. After these common skills comes the coordination and performance of what I have just heard followed by the active participation in these things. If there is ever a break in this chain or even a weakness in one of the links there is always the possibility of it all falling apart but the most delicate is the listening. In this case I have to say that I didn't ask the right questions nor did I hear all of what they had to say; especially the unsaid.

Over time I have honed my listening and questioning skills to almost that of a detective. Probing where needed to get all of the information, asking all of the right questions to help me turn any situation into something positive. Positive is what we all want and need in our lives to help make things smooth, to help iron out the wrinkles. No matter how long I've been at this or how good I think I am at doing it I know I can always be better and when I get to a point where I don't think I can do any better it's time to hang up the gloves.
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This was surely not my last mistake but I know it taught me to keep my ears opened at all times and that when there are blanks, not to just leave them as is but to have them filled in.