Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mourning: Mardi Gras style

When I die I have one wish; and only one. That wish is that whoever should survive me has an easy time both mentally and monetarily. As far as my funeral is concerned it doesn't matter to me if my body is buried, cremated, or put in a field to rot. Seriously, when I'm dead it's not going to matter to me what's done with the body that used to be me. I want to leave that decision to the one(s) I leave behind. If whoever is left feels the need to have a big funeral with a band and naked ladies on stilts carrying geese whose feathers have been dyed bright blue and orange so be it. If they feel the need to have a private somber service with just the closest of friends and family in attendance but want fireworks at the end, so be it. If they want to have my shrouded body brought to the top of a mountain, doused with gasoline and lit on fire, so be it. If they want to wrap my body in a sheet and dump me off of the back of a cruise ship and continue on with their their vacation, so be it. The point I'm trying to make is that the people left behind are going to have to cope, not me. My coping days will be over. I want them to have the ability to decide how they want to handle my funeral. You've heard me say that I believed in pre-planning, and I do, this is my pre-plan. I have made sure that there will be funds enough for them to do it their way, so in effect I've paid for it all.

LOL...of all the things I mentioned my wife has promised me that she wouldn't take me to the mountain top and torch me...this is good to know! But I really mean it. They're the ones who are going to have to keep on living and dealing with the death. So when the time comes, all they have to know is that however they choose to handle my remains, I would have agreed with them. And that it's ok to do it their way; because that's my one wish.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who needs who?

15 months ago I met two of the nicest people who one day out of the blue decided to call me. He was 68 and she was 67. They looked like retirees you would see in any magazine advertisement, groomed, tanned, dressed well. Between the two of them, they had decided that it was about time that they sit down and make some plans. All of their kids lived out of state with their own families and lives and they didn't want to have to burden them if anything should happen to either of them, or both. They were from an area that was close to where I was born and raised and we could really relate to many things both here and there. We talked all about the things we missed and the places locally where we could get reasonable facsimiles of the same. We shared the same feelings about more than one topic and there was a closeness felt although we were still basically strangers. After about an hour of conversation the underlying reason why they were with me that day finally showed itself.

Just one month earlier he had gone through bypass surgery and although he didn't look it he was sure that he wasn't long for this world. At first she joked about it but eventually admitted that the doctor's had told them that this wasn't going to be a long term fix. His body had been so weakened by years of illness that although they bypassed a blockage his arteries were "shot". So today's visit was in preparation of his death.

Three days ago I received a call from a local hospital advising us that the "_____" family was requesting our services. I hadn't become friends with these two but as I said there was a closeness when we met and I immediately felt it again. The shocking part ( you'd think by now I'd have learned!) was that it wasn't him; she had died. We went to get her and he was still there with one of his son's. I didn't expect him nor did I expect the reaction when he saw me. I said hello, told him my shock and expressed my condolences. Before I could say another word he wrapped his arms around me and his steely composure just disappeared as he began to weep. "I thought it would be me, it was supposed to be me, this is wrong!" The son, who I'd never met started crying too and the three of us were standing in the hospital hallway all hugging one another. I couldn't help but feel like crying myself yet I struggled to hold back, I had to try to help these two.

After the funeral, I spoke to one of his sons; the one from the hospital. They were all going home the next day and he was going to be all alone. After 49 years. I asked the son if it would be okay with him if I kept in touch with his father. Maybe call him now and again to see how he's doing. What he said and did at that moment made me "once again" realize why I have to do what I do. He looked up and said "thank you", then looked at me for a moment before the bear hug. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you ask that". "Dad's going to need a friend and I know he thinks the world of you". "Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!". "When Dad goes it will be a relief knowing you'll be here to take care of him".

I never stop realizing new sides to myself. I only take care of the dead on the side, my true need is to take care of the living that are left behind. They are the ones that need me and they are the ones I need.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Event Planner

For a few seconds let's talk about "events". A birth is an event, first words are an event, graduations, marriages, having children, getting divorced, the kids marriages, grandchildren being born, and of course the "D" word. The one nobody likes to talk about or even mention.

Well, like it or not we're gonna die. Chances are, some day we'll end up as a heap of unrecognizable bones in dress clothes. Our flesh will probably feed something and help it thrive but still nobody likes to admit it's going to happen; it's a big taboo.

Death is just another of the many events that take place. Death is not a special event and the funeral director is not special either. He or she can easily be compared to "any" event planner. The main objective of any planner is to make sure that all goes off without a hitch and that everybody is pleased with the way it happens. When the bride and groom to be sit down with their wedding planner the first thing the planner needs to find out is what they are looking for and what means they have to accomplish their wants. The same holds true for "planning" a funeral. Once this info is gathered that's where the experience comes in and suggestions are made.

We end up ordering the flowers, coordinating with clergy when the service will take place, helping to locate the spot where it will happen, contacting caterers, composing and announcing where and when its going to be, contracting for the dove release, paying all of the outside vendors up front, directing all of the assistants in what they need to know and do, hoping the weather will be good and making everything alright if its not; all while running around like a chicken without it's head. What do you think? Did I just describe a wedding, an elaborate party or a funeral? It could have been either of the 3. Now a wedding takes a good six months to plan and execute and a party can easily take a month however a funeral is typically completed, soup to nuts in under 4 days. I suppose over the years I've learned how to plan a damned good party in a hurry! Who'd have figured?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


In one of my first posts I had mentioned that there are crooks and scam artists in every industry and that the newspaper constantly proves that to us. I'd be willing to bet that everyone has read one time or another that a certain funeral home, crematory, director or even the entire industry was crooked; scamming people. Nothing but a bunch of people who you have to keep your eye on so they won't take advantage of you. I'm sure some of it is true but I'm getting off the point.

Funeral homes have been constant targets of scam artists for at least as long as scammers have been scamming. There was the scam where we would receive a call from the operator telling us they had a call for us from a hearing impaired person. The person making the call would give us some bogus information and request that we send merchandise to a specific location. To back that transaction they would give us a stolen credit card number and authorize us to charge it for the shipped merchandise. Not all directors were smart enough to see this for what it was and a lot of money was lost. Fortunately, me being Mr. Skeptic helped me that time. Then there was the one where we would receive a a FAX that would have basically the same type of request. Again involving a stolen credit card number that they were requesting we charge. When they had finally stopped a new one would start. I'm sure any of you in business have gotten the one where the "Business Man" was asking for your help in transferring funds and you were to get a huge chunk of it. All you had to do was provide them with your bank account number and the funds would be transferred into your account. I guess there really must have been people who fell for that one.

The latest one, I got the FAX today, was from a hearing impaired woman in the UK whose mother had passed away while she was with her and her final request had been to be buried in the states where she lived. The daughter only had her "Mum", no other family and needed our help. The gist of the whole thing was again centered around a credit card that she wanted me to charge and simultaneously wire her funds so that she could pay the director in the UK so that he could get the "corpse" to me. She went on to say how kind we were for helping her and thanked us for our cheerfulness? 30 years ago any of us would have felt bad for the woman and probably helped any way we could but today we have become so aware of others trying to steal from us that whether true or not we're not going to help. All this tells me is that we are living in a sad, warped world. A world where we are made to be afraid to help others. What a shame.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Can't take it with you? Watch em' try!

You wouldn't believe the things that get buried with people. Over the past too many years I've come to the conclusion that the old adage about you not being able to take it with you doesn't aways apply. Some people are buried with the oddest things imaginable while others are buried with everyday household items. The following list is made up of just a few things I've seen go down with the ship.

Daddy ( who died of lung cancer ) never went anywhere without his "Dip". Surprising right?

There was the woman who was buried with a box of Tea Bags and a Tea Cup in her hand.

The grandmother who was buried with Fido's ashes at her feet.

There was the woman who's casket looked like a Christmas tree from all the flashing toys that were left inside.

The man who had photos literally covering all of him but his face.

There was the Teddy Bear so big that the casket had to be sealed in order to keep it closed.

How could I forget the gambling granny who was loaded down with rolls of quarters.

I understood his fishing rod but had to remove the plastic bag of bait.

There was the woman buried with her satchel full of makeup.

I'll never forget trying to get a folded up walker complete with tennis balls for feet in the casket.

Ever see someone laid out with a motorcycle helmet on? I have.

The drummer..........only had his sticks.

I can't tell you how many Bibles have gone down.

Ahhhhh, I can't leave out the woman and her Styrofoam wig stand.

Ever try lifting a casket complete with plumber and tools?

How about the lady who was buried with a bag of hair curlers.

These are just some of the things that I can recall off the top of my head. I know there are more but next to the ones I've mentioned above they seem almost typical. So, no, it's mostly true, you can't take it with you but I sure have met a bunch of people who have tried to sneak it through customs!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cut my throat, it'll heal

This is a cut throat industry. You might think that because we are a group of caring individuals that we all treat each other the same way we treat the families we deal with. Well, think again.

When I applied for a position at a certain out of state funeral home it became apparent to me during the first interview that they wanted me. I had met with the owner and his wife and the interview had taken place over lunch. I fit into the position perfectly and they seemed like nice enough people who acted impressed. The offer sounded pretty good but I knew there were certain things that I was going to have to ask for as a condition to employment. At the second interview all of my concerns were covered and met. The owner did however tell me at that time that they had intended to retire in a few years and that the business would be sold, he was afraid that information might change my decision and he felt I needed to know it up front. I saw that as a possible opportunity and quickly let them know that I might be interested in purchasing the business in time if it turned out to be a match. My final request was that they give me the first opportunity to either say yes or no before they made the "for sale" public. After all, I was selling my home and uprooting my family to another state; it had to be worth the move. They agreed entirely but let me know that there would be no monetary break to me since this was what they were depending on for retirement. Not a problem. At this point it was all talk but sounded like a plan.

One month later my wife and I were living in a new home in a new state both fortunately with jobs. As time progressed the four of us became friends both in and out of the funeral home. They vacationed a lot and I was left entirely in charge of the business a good part of the time. There was no question that they were pleased with my performance as well as how I was fitting into the community. More time passed. During this time I often questioned them about their retirement and gave them little bits of information that I thought might help them. We were becoming more and more like a family. My wife and I had proposed to them that we were in fact interested in purchasing the business at their retirement and they both seemed pleased. Our plans were now set into motion, we just had to wait.

It had been seven years since I started with them and we had a specific part-timer who was finally retiring. Gifts were planned, a party, all the necessary things surrounding an employer and a retiring employee. All but one thing, a replacement. I had broached the subject on more than one occasion and never got a clear answer. Never considering that the seven year relationship with my new found family might be drawing to an end. One day he finally answered my question about a replacement with the truth. "I've been meaning to tell you, the business has been sold". What? I had to have heard that wrong. When I expressed my concern about what I thought I had heard he merely apologized and let me know I had heard right. "I've promised the buyer not to tell anyone who he is but the good news is that he has agreed, in contract, to keep you on with the business". That sure made me feel a whole lot less shitty.
The FOLLOWING day, the owner tells me that he had a conversation with the buyer and had gotten the impression that he wasn't going to be able to afford me, contract or not. Besides there was nothing in writing about how long he would keep me. I might want to consider this over the weekend. Well, that weekend I considered a lot of things. But what followed on Monday was not one of my considerations. Monday the owner tells me he had another conversation with a local competitor and they were looking to hire someone right in the area. If I wanted, I could call because they were expecting to hear from me. It didn't take me long to decide to go for it since there was the possibility that I wouldn't have a job very soon anyway and even if I did hang around there it would be like a new job so why not just start fresh.

I scheduled an appointment for that afternoon and met with the General Manager and Location Manager. The General Manager seemed to know quite a bit about me but I chalked that up to the fact that they had been trying to woo me into that firm for years. He explained that their business had taken a huge turn for the better and that's why they were looking for additional help. I explained that the place I was currently in was being sold and the new owner probably couldn't afford me so I was glad this job just arose. Again, before I left them I had a job. I told them I could start in two weeks after I gave notice which I did verbally that night. Now here's the twist. As it turned out, not only did I give my notice that night but so did the General Manager who hired me. He was moving on to better things, he had just purchased a funeral home!!! My funeral home!!! This was the only time in my life that I was hired somewhere because I wasn't wanted. It was then that I learned what it felt like to be a consolation prize.

I've since moved on to better things myself and I understand that his funeral home is doing well. At first I despised the whole crowd for what they did or didn't do but I've gotten over that and just keep my eyes open a little wider now. To me that was cutthroat.

Her Rock

He started by explaining to me that he had bought this ring for her birthday one year and it was her prized possession. She ran a shop that sold "Italian Ices" on the beach and everyone that came in to get some ice immediately noticed this rock on her finger. I know he told me but I don't remember the specs of the ring. What I do remember is that it was big, I mean real big, big to the point that if he didn't make such a "big" deal over it I probably would have thought it fake.

Since this was her prized possession and everyone that knew her knew of it he wanted it to be on her finger when people came to view her body. That was no problem, that was a normal request. One that I had received almost every time a woman was in a casket; whether it be earrings or a cross or a string of pearls jewelry was not uncommon to be on a deceased for viewing. Many times the family would request it back before burial and sometimes it was to be left with the body. This was one time when I knew it wasn't going to be buried with it's prized owner; once again understandable.

Aside from the size of this thing, the number 40,000 stands clear in my head. You read right, 40,000...dollars! His biggest fear was that someone (he might have meant me for all I know) was going to steal this off of her finger and told me that I would be personally responsible for making sure that didn't happen. Now I knew that this was going to be a large crowd and I was sure that he or she had told everyone that cared to know all about the size and cost of it yet nothing like that had ever happened to me. I explained that it would be very difficult to ensure it's safety and give them privacy at the same time so it might be best if she didn't have it on. I didn't want to be responsible. But, that wasn't an option; she was going to be wearing it. I wanted to just tell him that I wouldn't be responsible but I consented.

All during the visitation I watched the door almost expecting to see some unsavory character walk in ready to steal this ring. I even thought of calling the local police. I was getting paranoid. Every so often I would meander into the visitation room and glance at the casket looking for it. All seemed to be going well until near the end of the visitation he came to me almost running with a look on his face that I can't even explain. The first words out of his mouth were " IT'S GONE!!!!!!!!!!"

I asked him "are you sure"? It can't be gone it was there five minutes ago, this is bullshit I thought, he's trying to screw me. Who was in the room that could have possibly taken it? "Okay, please calm down, we'll find it" (I prayed). I knew we were insured for just these things but the thought of the funeral home on the front page of the newspaper with such interesting details about thievery had me reeling inside. Should I lock the doors and get the cops in here to strip search these people? Shit! All of these thoughts were running through my head at break speed when his daughter walked over as cool as could be and announced "Dad I took mom's ring off for you is that alright?". The two of us nearly melted into the floor and then just stared at each other and began to laugh. His response to her was "sure honey, that's fine", she handed him the ring, shrugged and walked away. The funeral home never made the papers, there was no law suit, he was happy with the services and the few gray hairs at my temples got much thicker that uneventful evening!

Brain Dead

Living in a large retirement area has given me the chance to meet some really interesting and intriguing people. People who have lived and worked a great portion of their lives and are willing to share their life stories without concern of judgement. It doesn't hurt that I'm the local funeral director and people usually end up in the arm chair across from me telling me information about their deceased spouses, however I particularly enjoy speaking to and about the living. Retired couples have come from all over the country to live in this area because somewhere along the line the media has picked up that this place exists and it's now on the retirement map. This now brings me to Charlie and the stories he's told that have stirred my mind.

First off let me give you a brief background on Charlie. He's in his mid seventies and currently heads the hospitals Board of Directors. He's from somewhere in the state but his career was in the military which took him all over the world. He retired fairly young from the service and eventually became the President of a nice sized corporation. He owns several pieces of rental property in our area as well as other parts of the state, has a sweet wife and 2 children, one a Baptist Minister. He's suffered circulatory problems for years now and has been through many surgeries and all seem to have done their intent. I think he's very comfortable financially and his mind is as sharp as a tack.

During one of our conversations Charlie told me that his surgeries didn't all go smoothly and in fact he had died 3 times. Each of these three times he explained with wonder he had out-of-body experiences. He recalled being above his body looking down at the doctors attempting to revive him. He heard their conversation and said he had a definite view of what they were doing and on top of it all he didn't really want to go back; he felt so good. I had read of this before but never knew anyone who even knew anyone who had experienced this, let alone three times!

I try to consider myself spiritual, not necessarily religious but none the less spiritual. I know all about the theory of evolution and I have read the Bible. Science of any kind has always fascinated me; maybe because that's where the truth lies. If you've read my profile or past posts you have an idea of how analytical my mind is. Okay, now here is what this story sparked me to consider; maybe this is where I lose it!

We all know that when our heart stops beating, (Clinical Death) the tissues of our bodies have some time before they actually die. Clinical Death is not to be confused with Biological (Brain Death) which is complete in several minutes after no oxygen is received. From what I've read the brain takes approximately 30 to 40 seconds without blood flow to lose consciousness as in Cardiac Arrest yet many people are revived and are fine despite this. I've also been told by doctors not to speak too openly around an unconscious Coma victim because their brain may be hearing and processing the information. Okay, so if I compile this information is it possible that the person having this out-of-body experience be instead just hearing what's going on around them? When a person first dies (heart stops) can their so called lifeless eyes see for those first 30 to 40 seconds? Can their ears hear? It seems like a short time but try standing completely still for 40 seconds and you'll see how long it really is. We'll never know the answers to these questions, maybe not even when we ourselves die but if it were true the luckiest of us would have that time to say the last " I love you" or at the very least "goodbye". What a thought. Thanks Charlie.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Death Care...Part 3

I last left off with my future wife telling me that everything was going to be okay after I had explained that I was now unemployed.

This story could easily provide me with years worth of posts but I'm going to make it extremely short. After years of different positions, houses, and friends in different states I think we might be settled for awhile. We went through the usual ups and downs of marriage and always managed to land on our feet, most importantly, together. We've laughed together, cried together and made our life and plans together.

She was right, everything was and still is okay but everything seems to be going by so fast now. It seems we were young only yesterday but many years have passed. Both of us still have one parent left; the loss of her father and my mother was equally devastating to each of us. My mothers death was the first time I had felt the personal pain associated with a death. Now that my fathers health is failing, the pain that had eased is starting again but I still have a wonderful wife to help me through it.

When all is tolled, I have no complaints about my life and the course I chose was obviously the right one for me. Sometimes very tiring and stressful but still right.

Dignity in Death

Death is not an entity or a being, death just is. It's there for you and for me and no matter how hard we try to hide it will eventually find us and take us. It's often been referred to as a thief. One that comes in the middle of the night at times and just scoops us up, takes us away never to be seen or heard from again. You might get to see the body that once housed "us" but aside from memory, we're gone from this earth.

Countless times I've heard the phrase "Death with Dignity". Well, death itself is never dignified as far as I can see it. Death is feral; untamed. For example, the person who has spent their entire life trying to live and portray a dignified existence, always the most prim and proper is sometimes found with dentures in a glass on the sink, hair a complete mess, face purple and distorted wedged between the wall and toilet bowl naked except for the clothing around their ankles. Dignified? I don't think so. You're crossing a street and the bus comes out of nowhere and the next thing you know your brains are splattered all over the road. Dignified? You're ravaged with cancer and before the second mastectomy site has a chance to fully heal the cancer grabs hold of your lungs and you're gone. Dignified? You die peacefully in your sleep yet when the EMS team gets there your clothes are torn and there are several unknown people looking at your lifeless body. Dignified? The American Heritage Dictionary defines dignity with words like esteem and poise. Death couldn't care less if we're ready for it or not it just shows up, does it's job and then others are called in to complete the process. Poise doesn't play any part at all.

Euthanasia has once again been in the mainstream thanks to the release of Dr. Kevorkian. I myself am not pro Euthanasia but it seems that if we really want to die with dignity we have to have some hand in it. Yes of course there are living wills to tell others that we don't want extreme measures to keep us unnaturally alive with the hopes of a dignified death. And yes there are certain circumstances completely out of our control when a dignified death is virtually impossible. But how far do we want to go to guarantee ourselves the dignity that is constantly being put in our faces? I don't know, it just seems to me that some things in life AND death are just not dignified at all.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Degrees of Fairness

I can remember as a kid standing on the boardwalk in Coney Island with my entire family and we had all gotten "frozen custard" cones. Everyone had the same cones with their favorite flavor, mine was banana, yet to my selfish child's eye mine seemed the smallest. All I could think was that it wasn't "fair". Why should I have to get the smallest one? Poor me.

All through my life I have heard people, including myself say that certain things which didn't go our way weren't fair. When the tax bill would come in and the majority of it was for school tax even though I had no children, that wasn't fair. When the city decided to put in public water and I decided to keep my well yet I received a water bill, that wasn't fair. When my parents were forced to put me on a school bus and send me into a different neighborhood for classes, they said that wasn't fair. When the pay raise I was expecting took almost a year to process and wasn't retroactive, that wasn't fair.

This was a terrible day for a lot of people. Today I saw something that was truly unfair. It didn't affect me directly but I knew it wasn't right; it was downright unjust. The funeral we had today was for a 35 year old man who was killed in the prime of his life when his automobile was struck by a dump truck. He had been out of state with his wife, three small children and his in-laws on vacation. He and his father in law took one morning and went fishing by themselves. On the way back to the motel that they were staying in, this truck T-Boned their car killing the 35 year old driver and severely injuring his father in law.

Now you tell me. Was it fair that this happened? No. Was it fair that the father in law had to sit there pinned in the car watching his son in law dieing before his eyes? No. Was it fair that his wife became a widow at such a young age? No. Was it fair that these three small children lost their daddy in the blink of an eye? Hell No! Was it fair that his mother had to see him for the last time in a casket? No. But...this is guarantees of fairness, no guarantees of it even being nice. However, the next time I think something is unfair I'm going to remember the blank stare of his wife as she walked to the grave site. The three children literally clinging onto their mother with tears streaming down their frightened faces and the wails of his other family and friends. Could there be anything more unfair? At this particular moment everything that I've thought wasn't fair in the past has become bullshit in comparison and I realize always was.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'll keep my beautiful weeds, thank you!

How many times have you heard, read or even said "the grass isn't always greener on the other side"? I don't know about you but it's no new expression to me and I sure as hell know it's true.

He told me his name was Tom and had just turned 55. He and his wife were here to keep an eye on the contractor that they were using to build their new home that was almost completed. You see, he was a retired federal worker and his wife had always stayed at home to take care of the family but it was time to give up their old home and move into an area where they could enjoy their retirement. Tom had come into the funeral home alone explaining that while the builders were taking their lunch break he had decided to check out some local businesses; meet some locals. Since that time he came back once more for more idle conversation.

He was a tall, ruddy man who had a physique that obviously wasn't one that he had gotten overnight. He was brawny and probably well muscled. We talked about different things such as the last hurricane and what damage it had done to the area, how I liked living here, where my wife shopped for food and things like that. He went on to tell me that they were building in a neighboring gated subdivision; one that the true locals referred to as "hoity toity". When my wife and I had first come to the area we had looked there ourselves but quickly discovered that we couldn't afford it. Since then I've only been back to visit a friend or two or to put someone into the back of my vehicle. However, as we were talking, fleeting thoughts were running through my mind about how I wished my wife and I would someday be able to do something similar when the time was right. I was secretly hoping I would look so good when I was his age.

Just a few months later I got a call from a woman who started the conversation by explaining where she was from and that I knew her husband Tom. I immediately knew who she was and before I could ask her how Tom was doing she told me he was dead in their bed and he had told her to call me when she needed me. I was in shock. This guy looked as healthy as a horse. I gave my condolences and let her know I would be out to the house right away but told her as soon as she hung up with me she needed to contact 911. She told me there was no need but she had in fact called the Hospice nurse who had been taking care of Tom and she was almost there. Hospice nurse I thought? So apparently it wasn't his heart. When I got to the house and met her and her children she told me where her bedroom was and asked if they could just have another minute with him.

While I was waiting I expressed my shock to the nurse who proceeded to tell me that Tom had been terminal for about a year now. He and his wife both knew that he wouldn't be around much longer and that's why he had decided to get her settled in an area where she would be safe and have friends after he was gone. When I got to see him he was just a skeleton that still had skin on it. He didn't even resemble the Tom I had met just a couple of months ago which finally brings me to the green grass part.

It's not always easy for me not to want what I don't have. I would imagine that I'm not alone in this either. But reminders like this make me happy to have what I have, live where I live, be who I am. Grateful that I get to get up every morning and be with my wife and family. I know my time will come to an end just like everybody else but I can wait. It will happen soon enough. And until that time I just want to be the best I can be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Local Funeral Home with large client base is looking for an individual to become part of the team. We are a family oriented operation in the best location on the East coast. You can not only have a wonderful career but can also be able to enjoy some of the finest fishing, hunting, and beaches imaginable. This is a great area to raise a family and become part of a growing community all while earning a salary commensurate with your experience. We offer a five day work week with every other weekend off, paid vacation and holidays, paid sick days, medical insurance, 401K plan, dental insurance, no night calls and room for advancement into management. We are looking for a licensed person however we are willing to train the right person if you meet the following requirements:

Honesty is a must

Sincere at all times

Clean driving record

No criminal history

Looking for advancement

Necessary education to acquire license


If you feel you meet these requirements please call us or email us with your resume and we will schedule a confidential interview.

One last thing though, don't expect to do any of the fishing or hunting we mentioned because you will never have the time. I hope your family likes the beach because don't expect to ever get sand between your toes or sun anywhere but on your face and hands. This is definitely a growing community and you'll know that because we expect you to join every club there is and promote our business. Don't overdo it telling us your experience because the salary is already set and it's not that hot. Our five day work week often stretches into seven so if I were you I wouldn't count on too much free time. Your paid vacation will probably have to be a day at a time so you needn't make any plans to leave town. The paid holidays may not fall on the actual holiday but you will get the day. Try not to get sick because the paid sick days are really intended for a hospital stay. Medical, dental and 401K are great benefits. No night calls, well that's when no one calls us at night. And if you can stand all of this and be willing to give us your first born we may consider you for management. Now, doesn't this sound like a spot for you?

Beware of it all

Just last week I was spouting the need for pre-planning and pre-paying for your own funeral. I still feel that it's a good concept however there are some aspects which I failed to tell you. You see, not every funeral home, director or state for that matter treats pre-need the way I do. Not that I'm doing anything against the law, quite the opposite, I'm not taking advantage of the existing laws. I have to believe that the way I handle it is the right way, maybe not the most profitable way, but sorry, this time I think I'm totally right no matter what the law. I'm the one who has to be able to sleep at night after dealing with a family not some law maker...anyway...

The financial concept is pretty simple. We offer and contract services for you at today's prices. You then have the option of making the contract "standard", meaning that the prices are not guaranteed to stay the same (and unless you die within the year probably wont) or "inflation-proof" meaning that the prices are guaranteed to be the same prices as today forever. A big difference between the two contracts is that the standard contract can and usually is "revocable" while the inflation-proof is usually "irrevocable". Getting confusing? It's really not. The way that we can guarantee prices without going under is that the funds are invested, in your name as either a trust or insurance policy and we then hope and pray that the interest/dividends keep up with inflation. That increase is what we use to offset the price differentials. What I do if the investment instrument happens to pay more than the price increases is simply refund the difference to the family. Now, here's the kicker.

The law says that we funeral directors are able to keep 10% of the contract annually as an administration fee. My take on that is that I don't feel I have the "right" to take money that truly doesn't belong to me yet. The other biggie that I failed to mention is that some states, New York being one of them, do not allow funeral directors to refund any excess monies to families on pre-need contracts. What the state requests is that any excess funds be sent to these bright funeral directors do is make sure that there is absolutely no money left over, ever. Sound legit to you? I sure am glad I no longer practice in a state that works this way. All I know is that "the concept is good". Just please beware of the fine print and ask a million questions. Make sure you know what you're getting into and don't accept any answers that don't really answer your questions. If they can't satisfactorily answer your concerns, go elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday's Tonic

This is something I thought of doing and honestly hope that everyone at least takes a look at the links below. They're not necessarily there for you personally but you might be able to get an insight into what your neighbor is feeling and why. I'm no expert on this stuff but I know I've been hearing much of the same information for as long as I can remember. Lots has changed since I started doing this but I'm sure the associated pain is and will always be the same.

TAPS - Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

MADD - Journey through Grief

When you pet dies

Full Circle of Care

How can the Teacher help with grief

Infant and Miscarriage loss assistance

Grief - When should it end?

I wish I could say enjoy but I can't so I'll just say good reading.

Cost of Dieing

This had been one that I'd been fighting over in my mind for the first, I don't know maybe fifteen years or so. Why the hell does it cost so much money to simply take care of our deceased love ones? Granted, a Funeral Home is a business and just like every business there are expenses linked directly to a bottom line that needs to look good in order for us to prosper. But do all of these services and extra merchandise we funeral directors try to peddle really help the family? Sadly enough, over time I've come to the conclusion that the answer is yes simply because they select them.

Not once during my career have I ever "pushed" anything on anyone. I offer the options available and then it's up to the individual(s) to select what they want. I'll answer any questions they may have regarding what a particular service is or how a particular piece of merchandise is manufactured or used or why it may or may not be needed. I try not to consider myself a salesperson because deep down that's not what I want to be. I don't want to be the guy that tells you why you should purchase this or that specific thing from me as opposed to someone else because mine is better. Yet, that's what businesses do. That's part of how they grow. There's no doubt that when a family selects a copper casket over a 20 gauge steel non-protective casket I'm happy. When the total funeral bill is paid in full I'm happy. But on the flip side when a family comes back to me and tells me how much I've helped them, I'm extremely happy, elated. But who am I happy for? Me? My family? The deceased? I'm happy for the business. The business that can now continue to keep it's doors open allowing me to help my families with their wants and needs.

I know it's expensive to finalize a life. I know it shouldn't have to be a burden on anyone to simply bury their loved one and I do my best to make sure it's not. I also know what it costs me and as I've said before I myself am a simple person; far from rich, far from becoming rich and much more common than rare. I drive a plain car, live in a modest house, my suits, white shirts, ties and shiny shoes are my uniform. So I guess the bottom line is that all of this will continue to be expensive until someone can come up with a way of living life without the need to eat or pay bills and still run a business. What truly needs to be found is a better way of doing things and that is what I am continually trying to accomplish. For the business which is ultimately for them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's never easy

Every month she comes into the funeral home and smiles as she holds out her fifty dollars. Sometimes it's two twenties and a ten, other times it's a fifty, and other times it's fives and singles. When her adult son had taken his life a few years ago and we made the arrangements for his funeral her biggest concern was that she didn't have the money right away to pay me. It was obvious that she didn't have much yet she wanted to do the best she could for her boy. I've since told her more than once that the bill was taken care of yet she insists on "paying her way".

All of his life he had been a person that just never seemed to fit in with schoolmates or his family and never had very many friends. He had grown quite fond of illegal drugs and had several run ins with the law yet managed to hold a small job at a local appliance store keeping the place clean. Everyone knew him and he was referred to as a "junkie" by many. He was a truly troubled boy and upon his death his mother actually broke down in tears asking me what it was that she had done wrong.

I never felt as helpless as I did that day when I had absolutely no explanation to give her why he had decided his life wasn't worth living any longer. I knew how I felt deep down but I certainly couldn't tell her that the things she was telling me would have sent up a red flag in my mind making me think that he might be asking for help. What good would it do? Who would it have helped? I hope that somehow, someday, she will understand and believe that she really did do all that she knew how to do. So every month I will continue to give her a little hug and a peck on the cheek and when she's done paying I'll of course invite her to continue to come by and have a coffee with me when she's in the area; just to talk.

Hospice anyone?

People ask me all the time how is it that I can stand to be around death constantly. I'm sure not everybody has what it takes to work with death daily but I don't think you have to be that special to do what I do. Yes of course you need compassion and caring but aside from that and the technical things that I have to do, the most important skill is listening. Making sure that you hear exactly what is being said and not interpreting it into something it's not.

Now, the group of people that I couldn't belong to are the workers in any Hospice. These have to be the most special people in the world. Not only do they see death every day but they actually feel death every day. Imagine your client walks or is wheeled through your door, you are introduced, you plan a strategy of assistance to keep them pain free and then you basically wait. During this time you become almost a member of the family, you develop friendships both with your clients and their families and you continue to wait. Who knows how many of these scenarios are happening at the same time; how many people are preparing to die and you the Hospice worker are their main support; how many times can the heart be yanked? These wonderful souls have to grieve alongside some if not most families and continue to be the professionals that they are when the death occurs. I certainly don't envy them.

I can't tell you how many homes I've been to in the middle of the night only to find a dedicated, loving, Hospice nurse standing at the bedside comforting the one who is left behind. They're there before I get there and I usually leave them there when I go. The nurses I know have said that in order to keep their sanity they have to somewhat distance themselves but there are times ( I'm sure many ) when it hurts real bad. I know for me, watching a person die as opposed to treating the family after a death would certainly be more of a trauma to my emotions.

This week, National Nursing Assistants Week, I take my hat off to all of the nurses assistants, caregivers, family and friends who help my families before they have to see me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Born to Die!

It sounds like it should be tattooed on the arm of some gang-banger or prisoner but in fact it's something that we all need to remember. From the time of our conceptions we began aging. No new news right? As each of us age we are headed in one direction. There are many things that occur in all of our lifetimes but the result is the same. Every time without fail we eventually die. We were all "born to die".

I guess what really matters are the marks we leave behind. We're not all going to end up in some history book, I know I won't. But just because we're not in a book doesn't mean we're not part of history. I'm no medical man nor do I claim to be but I know myself. I know that the majority of what I think about and do as well as my decision making all come from some sort of memory; you can call it education if you want. These memories have all come from somewhere; someone. Lots of someones have left their marks on me and they probably don't even know or remember that they have. Think of it. How many people have left their marks on you helping to make you who you are today?

Unknowingly I've been sharing my memories leaving my little marks for years; we all have. You don't have to be part of some space expedition to leave your mark on the world. The things we do on a daily basis are sometimes enough to make a difference. Little things, things that we're passing along to others. So being "born to die" isn't that bad when you consider the multitudes of opportunity we have to make a difference and become a little historic while we wait.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

No! Let me drive!

It's funny how life just happens around you no matter what your plans are. After first being exposed to the funeral industry I thought that the two of us were going to lead a charmed existence. At that time, I now realize, I didn't have a clue of how this business really worked and how it was going to affect our entire lives. We had so many plans that just never happened because I was too busy working. The funniest part is that I thought I was working toward those plans but there was always some reason why I couldn't do something or another. My wife was basically forced to become a "funeral directors wife" because the same as me, she had no clue; I know that this career of mine has been hard on her. We both work and it's a rare occasion when our days off coincide. She has and still does spend a lot of time on her own simply because I'm not there to share many things with her. There are many events that she goes to alone or forgoes going to because I'm working, when out, we're always in two cars in case I have to leave and get to work, there have been birthday parties planned by us that she has had to handle on her own because I was working, vacations without me because I've been working, doctor visits alone because I'm working and so many other simple every day things. It may not seem like a big deal and if I re-read what I've written it sounds mundane but when this is a constant thing, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year it doesn't take too long to become tiresome to say the least. Yet, we still have our plans, we still have our goals, we still hope they happen but if not we'll just get around those turns when we get to them and try to set a new course. Setting the course is easy, it's the steering I have a problem with.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Why? Let me tell you why

If you know anything about me at all, you at least know that I'm a funeral director. You know that no matter how kind or how sensitive I seem, that without death I wouldn't have a "job". Not this job anyway. The thought of this at times really bothers me because I sometimes feel as if I'm benefiting from other peoples miseries, even though I truly feel that what I do is a service to people at a time when they need help. There are times however, when I feel that I could somehow be providing similar services on a different level.

You see, from the outside looking in it must appear as if I want death to occur, resulting of course in the pain it creates. How could I not? This is what I rely on to feed my family. Right? Well yeah, right...but wrong. While I'm not wishing for any death to happen; I guess what I do wish for is that if it should happen in your family that you call me. I wish I were able to do this at absolutely no charge to you or profit to me but I don't know how it's possible.

Just yesterday I was standing at the front door of the funeral home greeting people as they arrived for a funeral. All of a sudden I heard this mournful weeping coming from the room where the immediate family was waiting that I could almost feel in my bones. At that split second I thought to myself "why do I do this?". Why do I subject myself day in and day out to watching and hearing people in pain?

I had no answer for myself at that instant. I know how I got here but I don't know why I have stayed in this industry for the past 20 odd years. Then it slowly started coming back and got me remembering the number of people I have served in that time, thousands of families. People from all walks of life with 3 things in common. They were in pain, they needed me and they called me. When they called on me I was there to give them all that I could.

That's why I do what I do. Pretty simple.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


At first glance when the two of them walked through my door I had no idea what they could possibly want. They both appeared to be very young. He was wearing torn jeans with a cap sticking out of his front pocket, a soiled tee shirt and had flip-flops on. She was also wearing torn jeans and was wearing a blouse that allowed you to see her flowered bra through the fabric and had on running shoes; she had a big purse slung over her shoulder.

I introduced myself and asked how I could help them when she began to sob. They both had just left the hospital and decided to stop in to see me on their way home to be sure that the hospital had contacted us; at that point they hadn't. The previous morning she had been rushed to the hospital with excruciating pains in her swollen abdomen and they were both afraid that something was wrong with the baby she was carrying. As it turned out, their fears became reality that day. Sundrop was delivered stillborn.

Her husband was a huge comfort to her, that was obvious. He cradled her in his arms and whispered in her ear. They were not as young as they looked but still in thier early twenties and during our conversation explained to me that they had another child just three years old. They had already decided that they wanted to cremate their baby and wanted to bring her home to their three year old. They were hoping that they would be able to see the baby at the funeral home because someone, a relative I think, had talked them into not seeing the baby and they had later regretted that choice. I explained that we didn't have Sundrop just yet but we could continue with all of the necessary paperwork if they were up to it. They agreed and we completed the arrangements for the baby's cremation. I let them know that I would contact them as soon as I had their baby and they could come right back and see her.

When the child was brought into our care I immediately went to see her. She looked like an angel. I went back to the office and contacted the family and she told me she would be right over. When she came back it was with her sister, her mother didn't want to see the baby and he had to return to work that day otherwise he wouldn't have gotten paid. I brought Sundrop in the room swaddled in a blanket. I carried her right to her mother and placed her in her arms then excused myself to a point where I could keep one eye on them in case they needed me. She sat there for a good twenty minutes rocking the lifeless child all the while smiling and cooing to the baby; touching it's face and kissing it's hands. Her sister sat next to her and tears just streamed down her face. When she was ready she looked up for me; I saw her. She stood before I could get to her and she handed the child to me and asked me to be careful with her. I assured her I would and I was.

When I returned she thanked me for allowing her to hold her baby. She didn't think she would have ever been able to. Days later, she, her husband, and Julie their three year old came to pick up Sundrop when she was finally ready to go home. The two of them thanked me and the four of them went home as a family. This was one of the most heart wrenching experiences I have ever had.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pre or Post it's still a Need

I'm not sure exactly when it is but when we reach a certain age the thought of death starts to enter our minds more frequently. When we're young we have the attitude that nothing can hurt us; we never even give death a single thought. Then something changes, perhaps we see people who are closer and closer to us in age dieing and it becomes a new concern. Perhaps we see our older family dieing, and it's getting closer. It's not a concern that we lose sleep over but nonetheless it's a thought that wasn't there yesterday.

Pre-planning my funeral? Are you nuts? Why on earth would I want to spend any time let alone put some cash away for the day I die? Well, there are many answers but all are quite simple. First of all, there's no question in my mind that when a death occurs the funeral director is the last person you want to see. You know something has to be done but you'd prefer you didn't have to be doing it. So, with the help of family, friends, clergy and the director you somehow struggle through the process all the while dazed and wondering where the money to pay for this is going to come from. You had no intention to "plan" and "buy" a funeral right now; maybe ever. We can't control when we die , but if we're lucky we can control our funeral. It's not like it's the luck of the draw whether or not we're going to die, it's inevitable. We insure our houses, we insure our cars, we insure our boats, our jewelry, most things of value so that if they are damaged or lost we will have the necessary funds to either repair or replace them. To take care of their needs.

I'm not trying to infer that by pre-planning and pre-paying for your funeral that you are insured to be repaired or replaced. The point I'm making is that you're insuring that the people you leave behind will not have to make decisions for you; will not have to pay for your death. I often hear people say "this is the last thing I can do for mom". That's all well and good but it's a struggle for anyone to have to make decisions at the time of a death. Wouldn't you want your pre-planned funeral to be the last thing that you do for your family? It's not just about money though. It's types of services, it's locations of burial, it's music, it's scripture readings, it's information that is not often at your fingertips. What would they have wanted? Make it easier, put it all on paper and if at all possible pay for it. You will be doing your family a service that can only be compared to love; for them.

Wreck & Roll!

As it was happening I could think of nothing but the moment. I didn't see my life flashing before my eyes all I saw was the world in front of me spinning.

Yesterday, I was driving back to the funeral home after a service in a "funeralized" utility van that we use to carry flowers and other miscellaneous things to homes and to funerals. The funeral had been way out in the middle of the country at a small church cemetery and the road I was on was a link between civilization and the church. There was basically nothing on this 12 mile stretch of road with the exception of, well nothing. Not a mail box, not a cut-out in the woods that could have led to a house, zilch. Just me and the forest on either side. It was really a pretty ride until I realized I was going too fast for the left curve I had just encountered. I started out by driving onto the right shoulder, attempted to correct that and was now on the left shoulder, corrected again, hit the right shoulder and this is where it started. I had gotten the van straight enough that when it got close to the ditch both right tires met it at once and the van flipped. From that point on all I remember happening was seeing the sky, the ground, the woods, hearing glass shatter, and knowing that I wasn't going to just pull away from this one.

The van wound up facing the opposite direction I was travelling sitting on all tires. I was stunned to say the least and immediately was grateful that my seat belt was where it always is; on me. The first thing I noticed was that I was moving forward so I put the van in park. I then tried to see what had happened to me. I remember my side window shattering but never felt any pain yet I noticed blood on the front of my white shirt. Somehow my left shirt sleeve had been nearly ripped off and again there was more blood. I felt my head and there was more blood along with little squares of glass although it was everywhere. I tried using my cell phone and couldn't even see the contact I was looking for and just kept scrolling for what now seems like at least a couple of minutes over and over. I was smelling something funny and figured I had better get out of this thing and climbed out of the passenger side of the van. Once out, I turned and could only think of the shape the van was in. Needless to say it was a mess, even messier than me. Trying my cell again, I now discovered that I had no service. Great.

Some real nice guy eventually came by, his cell worked, 911 was called and my partner who was still at the cemetery was called. The second on the scene was an empty hearse! I knew I'd be okay now because I had a ride...front seat please! EMS showed up, 2 ambulances, a fire truck and state troopers. The Emergency people were wonderful. They wouldn't let me move and started asking questions that I had heard other EMS people ask before; name, day, date, year, age, medications, pains, phone numbers, wallet etc. I was then in a neck brace, on a backboard, on a stretcher heading to the hospital but all I wanted to do was go home. While in the ambulance I could hear them on the radio with the hospital giving them my stats. The next thing I knew I was getting oxygen and an IV had been started. Once I got to the hospital there had to be 5 people around me all asking questions at once. I heard one mention to another to alert surgery. This was getting out of hand, I wanted to see a mirror but of course didn't ask. What did they see that I didn't know about?

I was finally taken out of the neck brace and the backboard was removed and was advised that in the type of wreck I was in (roll) they had to be absolute of any kind of neck, spine or injury to internal organs. Numerous X-Rays were taken, a CT scan was done, blood was drawn and all results were negative. I was given some medication for pain as well as some for inflammation, told not to try to treat any pain with heat and was sent on my way about 5 hours after it started.

Today I feel like someone took a baseball bat to me, especially my neck and back. I'm black and blue in spots I can't explain and I have lots of cuts and scrapes but I'm here. This probably wasn't as bad as I make it to be but I've seen so many wrecks end differently and the person appeared not to have a scratch on them that I can't explain how thankful I am.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

She was Stolen!

Did you hear about that young girl in New York that died after overdosing on Methyl Salicylate, an ingredient in BEN-GAY! Did you have any
idea that anyone could overdose from using Ben-Gay? Why didn't we know about this stuff before someone had to die from it? Yeah, I know, they say it's very rare but still how many millions of people every year are playing with fire when they douse themselves with this stuff or something else that contains this obvious poison? She wasn't drinking it! She was doing with it what was intended! How many older people who used it on a daily basis have died from it only to have their death blamed on their old age or some disease? I mean really, does this stuff need to be in our medicine cabinets or on grocery store shelves? I know it's been around forever but so has Arsenic, and lead based paint was once just dandy to use but we now know it can kill us and it isn't sold. So what's the difference? This crap should be pulled. All I know is that I don't think I need to use it nor do I think I'd want anyone I care for using it. Maybe someday the people that approve this kind of stuff will take the public into consideration before the lobbyists that line their pockets.

Is it Sanka or Granny?

In the past I've said that if it can be imagined, it would be done. Well here's a new one for me but I'm pretty sure it's been around a while yet still in the "can we make it legal" stage. Swedish firm, "Promessa", has come up with a new way of disposition. Have you ever had a mole or wart frozen? We all have heard of Burial, Cremation, even burial at sea but they have "invented" a new way which in tune with a "greener" environment is truly ecologically friendly. This is directly from their site. Get this.

"How it's done

The method behind ecological burial is crystal-clear, easy to grasp and accept. It is based on a new combination of tried-and-tested techniques that prepare the corpse for a natural process of decomposition. The procedure is justifiable in terms of ethical, moral, environmental and technical considerations, and does not subject the body to violent or destructive handling."The method is based upon preserving the body in a biological form after death, while avoiding harmful embalming fluid. Then it can be returned to the ecological cycle in a dignified manner as a valuable contribution to the living earth," explains Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, biologist and head of operations at Promessa Organic AB. An important part of the solution is to remove that which is least important; the water that makes up 70 percent of a normal-sized body. Technically speaking, this is done using an entirely closed individual process in which the corpse is freeze-dried in liquid nitrogen.Read more about nitrogen Within a week and a half after death, the corpse is frozen to minus 18 degrees Celsius and then submerged in liquid nitrogen. This makes the body very brittle, and vibration of a specific amplitude transforms it into an organic powder that is then introduced into a vacuum chamber where the water is evaporated away.The now dry powder then passes through a metal separator where any surgical spare parts and mercury are removed. In a similar way, the powder can be disinfected if required. The remains are now ready to be laid in a coffin made of corn starch. There is no hurry with the burial itself. The organic powder, which is hygienic and odorless, does not decompose when kept dry. The burial takes place in a shallow grave in living soil that turns the coffin and its contents into compost in about 6-12 months time. In conjunction with the burial and in accordance with the wishes of the deceased or next of kin, a bush or tree can be planted above the coffin. The compost formed can then be taken up by the plant, which can instill greater insight in and respect for the ecological cycle, of which every living thing is a part. The plant stands as a symbol of the person, and we understand where the body went."Our ecological burial reduces environmental impact on some of our most important resources; our water, air and soil," says Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, biologist and head of Promessa Organic AB. "At the same time it provides us with deeper insights regarding the ecological cycle, and greater understanding of and respect for life on earth." Show illustrated description. This is a service also made available by funeral homes."

Very interesting indeed. The final outcome sounds great but I guess freezing someone and then bombarding them with vibrations until they shatter into dust isn't considered violent or destructive handling. I don't honestly think I can come up with anything more destructive unless of course when water is re-introduced it becomes a corpse again. And they do say that the remaining dust and corn starch will help a tree grow so there is a real use. I know, I know; cremation is just as destructive. Embalming aint so cute either. The difference is that I don't go around saying that the body will be reduced to ash by removing water with the use of heat. It's incineration, definitely not a pretty picture. None of it's nice, we all know that. It's just that this needs to be marketed for what it is, not some new way to regrow rain forests. Just what I'd want, a bush named mom. But, once again, it's all about personal preference. There's no doubt that there's NO nice way to dispose of the body of someone we love, but please...this is a new procedure, a "green" procedure, but where are these people looking for the green to end up? Hooray for the entrepreneur!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Check out this Monument!

The Taj Mahal, in India is what I would consider the mother of all monuments. Originally erected for one, it is now shared. Check out this site that gives you a virtual tour of the Taj Mahal all from the comfort of your desk chair. I thought it was pretty neat!

A Rose by any other name

This past May 27th, Marietta Garden's in Fairmont, NC Marietta Gardens had their annual open house but we weren't able to get there this year. They are the largest growers/producers of Day Lilies in this region, perhaps in the South. When we decided to go last year we had no idea what to really expect other than a ride out in the country with a stop at some Day Lily growers farm. We knew they were having an open house the day we went and figured it would be a nice change of pace. Originally, my Mother in Law who is a huge flower lover had wanted to do this but her annual trips to visit were never at the right time of year where she could enjoy the flowers. So we decided to go for her and see what it was that she wanted to see that she couldn't see in any ones backyard. As we first started nearing the farm we could see off in a distance that there were literally fields and fields of flowers. It was hard to imagine the quantity of flowers that were there today, only to be replaced by new ones tomorrow. All these beautiful flowers, expendable, gone over night yet the field seems to appear the same tomorrow.

They reminded me of the city, thousands and thousands of people milling through the streets. Everyone different in appearance but also expendable. How many of those people disappear overnight, never to be seen again yet the fact that they're missing or dead is barely noticeable but only to the ones closest to them.

I know there is no comparing the death of a flower to the death of a human but it was just more apparent to me that there was a similarity. We all matter, we all brighten the landscape, we are all beautiful in our own way. Yet when the time comes for us to depart this world those things no longer come into play. We're remembered just as these photos are but still the beauty is no longer visible to the eye. Our true beauty remains in every heart we touch, every smile we create, every good deed that we do. What we do and become today is how we will be remembered tomorrow. I only hope that I will be remembered as beautiful as a Day Lily.

Only Human

When I started this blog I knew that I wasn't going to make it all flowery and nice. I also knew that I wasn't going to make it just an informative or somber site. Those components will of course be part of it but what I want to show you is that we "Funeral People" are just that, people. Like in any field, crazy, funny, disastrous situations pop up when least expected and I plan to tell you the ones I remember most. This is not an apology but please don't take any of the strange things what I write as being anything but what they are. There's no disrespect intended, they're just occurances in my life.

Sweet Goodbye

Until My Dieing Day

Very short and lonely,

are these days of mine,
so kiss my lips once again,
to slow and stop the time,
wrap your arms around me,
hold me near your heart,
and gently whisper in my ear,
that we'll never be apart,
look me in my eyes,
and say you love me so,
but please don't break my heart,
by saying you have to go,
the one thing that I fear the most,
is losing sight of you,
to no longer have you in my life,
to not have a love that's true,
so I'll hold the love within my heart,
where I can keep it safe,
where it will be and will remain,
until my dieing day.

Sonya Simmons

Simple yet straight to the point. Nice.

Friday, June 8, 2007

You and me = we

It doesn't matter where we were born, where we were raised, who our friends are, what connections we have, what our plans are, what school we attended, how attractive or ugly we are, what God we pray to, how healthy we are, if we exercise, what kind of trips we can afford, what kind of car we drive, what country we live in, if we live in a mobile home, if we live in a mansion, if we are famous, what kind of pet we have, what our age is, if we have a swiss bank account, if we're on welfare, if we're foolish, what we wear... the list can go on forever. What does matter is that we're all people. We all love, we all laugh, we all hurt, we all cry, we all die. So tell me, deep down are we really different from one another?

Ideal Wake

I know in my business it's probably considered a sacrilege but this is my kind of wake!!!

You can't make this stuff up!

This was a family member of the owner so everything had to go perfect. So, as a young funeral director my boss sent me ahead of everyone else to check the grave site to be sure everything was OK before the procession got there. I drove up in a van and discreetly parked it out of the way yet followed orders and made sure the funeral home Logo was in plain sight.

I walked over to the grave site all the while scanning the area for anything that might have looked out of place, picking up things as I walked. I stepped under the tent and surveyed the chairs to be sure that the chair covers were all dry and that the chairs themselves were in a nice neat row. The flowers had already gotten there and were arranged, so, trying to make a good show to the boss I straightened a few making sure any wilted or dead blooms were out of sight.

I walked over to the grave itself noticing that the lowering device had not yet been put in place, wondering if maybe there was water in the bottom of the grave. When all of a sudden it happened. I started slipping. Well, it felt like I was slipping but what was happening was the ground that I was standing on started caving into the grave. Before I knew what actually happened I found myself sprawled out in the bottom of the grave. I never realized how short I was or how deep graves were until I stood and my head didn't even come close to the top of the grave. Shit!!!!! How do I get out of this one?

I tried to jump, I tried to dig my feet into the side of the grave and climb, I was covered in reddish clay colored slime. By the time the funeral procession arrived I had managed to make a lot more of the grave cave in by trying to get out. My boss walked up and stood there in disbelief. His first words were " why are you in the grave?" Well, duuh! You think I want to be in here? I could hear him explaining to the family that we had an accident and that the soil caved in...Along with me! They asked if I was okay and I answered from the hole that I was fine. Two men helped me out as they struggled to hold in their laughter. We went on with the funeral however we couldn't proceed with the burial just then. As soon as the minister was finished I managed to slip off. You can't imagine how dumb I felt. According to my boss he had never seen anything like it in his life. It turned out in the end that the family was more concerned about me than they were about how I turned Dad's funeral into a circus and all they did was praise us.


You wanna do what!?


Embalming and or some type of preservation, has been recorded in history as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. Back then, only the wealthy were mummified. History has shown that the Egyptian mummies were extremely well preserved, making them recognizable as humans for thousands of years. Over the years the procedure has changed many times to what we now know as modern embalming.

We use embalming today for two primary reasons - to allow adequate time between death and burial so that various customs may be performed in between and to prevent the spread of infection although not the main issue. Cosmetics and cosmetic work are primarily used for aesthetic reasons.

Modern embalming now consists mainly of removing blood and gases from the body and the insertion of a disinfecting/preservative fluid. Small incisions are made in either the carotid or femoral artery and the jugular or femoral vein, a disinfecting/preservative fluid is injected through the artery, and the blood is drained from the vein.

If an autopsy has been performed, the vital organs are removed and immersed in an embalming fluid and then replaced in the body, often surrounded by a preservative powder. If an autopsy has not been performed, the embalmer aspirates fluids out of the body cavity by making a small incision near the navel and aspirating the bodily fluids.


This is probably the most often asked question of embalmers.

It is primarily done to disinfect and preserve the remains. Disinfection is important for all who handle the remains and for the public safety of our communities. In years past, deaths due to Typhoid Fever, Malaria, and other highly contagious diseases put funeral directors and others who came into contact with the remains at risk of contracting the same disease. With today's Universal Precautions the embalmer really need not worry as long as he follows them. Secondly, there has traditionally been a period of visitation or viewing of the remains. This is known as the wake or calling hours. Without embalming, most remains become un-viewable within a short time. There are constant changes going on chemically and physically within the remains that affect the looks that we are accustomed to seeing. Embalming acts as a hindrance to this and gives us time.


Another common question.

When a body is to be embalmed, it is subjected to a series of steps before the actual preparation of remains are complete.

STEP 1- Pre-Embalming Prep

First, funeral home personnel place the remains on an embalming table, not unlike those used for an autopsy. They then remove all of the clothing, and either clean and return them to the next of kin or destroy them. Next, personnel carefully inventory any jewelry, usually taping or tying rings in place, to prevent loss. Other jewelry and glasses are removed during embalming and then replaced on the remains. The deceased's features are the adjusted.

STEP 2- Preparation

The embalmer bathes the remains with a disinfectant spray or solution by sponging it on. Next, the embalmer positions the remains. He relieves rigor mortis (the stiffening of muscle tissue due to chemical change) by flexing and massaging the arms and legs. Then he or she will move the limbs to a natural position. At this point any hair or stubble is removed with a razor. To begin the embalming process, a small incision is usually made on the remains right side of the lower neck. It is at this site that two of the largest circulatory vessels are located. The carotid artery and the jugular vein.

STEP 3- Embalming Process

Incisions are made and a tube connected to the embalming pump is placed into the carotid artery. Another tube is placed into the jugular vein, this is called a drain tube. The basic theory is to pump embalming fluid into the artery. This will cause the blood to return through the veins for disposal. Approximately 3 gallons of a mixture of fluid and water are circulated through the remains for thorough disinfection and preservation to take place. There are times when clots and other factors stop the flow of fluid through out the whole system, and at these times, other points of injection are necessary in order to do a complete and thorough embalming. There are many factors which go into the process, which cannot be explained here due to space limitations, but some of the factors that the embalmer must assess before embalming are the mode of death, the weight of the remains, the general overall condition of the remains, any disease, etc. These factors determine the types and strengths of fluids used, and the type of embalming necessary to complete the task. This type of embalming is known as arterial embalming.
The next step, called cavity embalming, is the application of full strength fluid to the internal organs. A small incision is made in the abdomen, and an instrument called a trocar is placed inside the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The embalmer aspirates both the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The trocar is then attached to a gravity fed system, which causes full strength fluid to be put into each organ. All incisions are then sutured closed.

STEP 4- Washing

The embalmer then washes the remains with cool water, he or she then cleans the fingernails, and applies other chemicals on the hands and face. The embalmer then washes the hair. This may be done either before, during, or after embalming.
Hairdressing is normally done after embalming has been completed.

STEP 5- Dressing and Casketing

The fifth and final step is dressing and casketing of the remains. It is common to use a full set of clothing, including underwear, socks or stockings, and sometime even shoes if so desired. Once dressed the embalmer will begin the cosmetizing of the face and hands of the remains. A special mortuary cosmetic is used, although store bought cosmetics may be used also. This is the true art of the embalmer. It is through the proper application of cosmetics, that a more life-like presentation will be made. The final step in the preparation of the remains is to place the remains in a casket. Adjustments to clothing, touching up of hair and cosmetics and properly fixing the interior of the casket. This final step is usually very time consuming and must be done properly. This is the result of all the other work combined. The embalmer tries to pose both the head and hands in a life-like position, and finishes up his work by making everything look tidy and uniform.

It's now time to call the family.