Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Anthony

Just got a really shitty phone call. My nephews 17 year old best friend is about to succumb to cancer. The doctors discovered it first in his left leg. Two years ago at 15, after playing a basketball game he began limping and thought nothing of it. His parents thought nothing of it. One week later when the limp was getting worse as opposed to getting better his parents took him to a doctor to find out what was going on. Several tests later they all discovered that he had cancer growing in the bone of his leg. He underwent a battery of radiation and was started on all kinds of experimental drugs. He has been in and out of hospitals constantly. These past two years he has basically been a sick boy, then better, then sick, then better; first they thought they had beat it, then it returned. Amputation was suggested but the decision was made not to go that route. I think he may have had chemo at some point because I had heard about his curly hair returning. He has been in and out of remission, never really feeling well or like himself but there was always the hope that he would win over this thing that was slowly killing him. His parents left a lot of the decisions to him. I don't know if I could have done that but it's not my right nor want to question their treatment of their son.

Apparently the cancer has traveled to his lungs now and the doctors have advised them that there is nothing that can be done to try to stop it at this point. It's basically just a matter of time before the cancer takes complete control of him and ends his life. This is so sad. Why is it that a boy, still in the throes of youth, who never did anything to warrant this is going to be taken from this world? Snatched out of the arms of his parents, who have done everything in their power to keep this from happening. It doesn't seem just. I hope he doesn't have to suffer for too long. I hope that when this finally happens his parents will be able to go on. I hope my nephew will be all right.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Where did grandpa go?

The entire family was in attendance during the funeral arrangements for a 63 year old grandfather that was shot in the head and killed by his 4 year old grandson. I can't begin to explain the pain that every one of these people were visibly experiencing.

Before we got the call from the hospital we had already heard that there had been a shooting of a local man. In the community where this happened, the crime rate is very low and murders are almost unheard of. The crimes that are usually reported ordinarily involve some type of theft; often times the reports include barbecue grills, lawn maintenance equipment, an automobile on occasion, sometimes vandalism of a mailbox or stolen planters. We were all figuring that this was going to turn into a huge manhunt because no one seemed to know who had done the deed.

It wasn't until I began speaking with the family that I learned that the child and his grandfather were best buddies. The child spent the majority of his time with his grandfather since both of his parents worked and grandpa was the main babysitter; almost like a second father. One of the games that they used to play all the time was their version of "cops and robbers" using their fingers as guns and arresting each other. They went everywhere as a single unit. Everybody knew the pair.

On this particular day the child's grandfather was busy with a friend digging holes for fence posts and installing a new fence around the property. The two workers were busy doing their chore and grandpa wasn't really paying too much attention to his charge who was sitting in the shady cab of the pickup truck they were always seen in. All the friend could tell the family was that he heard an "explosion" and saw his partner fall sideways to the ground. At the same time he heard the child begin to wail and turned and saw him on his back with a pistol behind his head.

Apparently, the bored child found the pistol that grandpa used to keep under his seat and decided it was time to play cops and robbers. The shot hit his grandfather out of sheer "luck" (or sheer misfortune as I thought) they were all sure, as was I. The backlash of the shot was so strong in the little boys hands that it threw him onto his back, the pistol flew out of his hands, and he was crying out of fear. He still didn't know that grandpa was dead. Can you think of any better reason to profess the need for gun control? Can you imagine the regret that was running through the minds of all that were there? Of course no one blamed the child, how could they. This was obviously an avoidable death that only happened because a deadly weapon was left for anyone to stumble upon and use.

In this part of the country, owning a firearm is common yet there really is no need for one. I myself don't own one simply because I never want to use it. I wish more people around here felt the same way. Maybe if they did I wouldn't be writing this tonight. I can only hope that this poor child is taken far away from here where he never has to hear nor does he ever remember that as a child, playing a game, he was allowed to kill his best buddy; grandpa.

What do you feed a "Hospice"?

Not too long ago I wrote a post about my feelings toward Hospice (LOOK HERE) and how I felt that all involved were special, wonderful people. Well, the other day I had lunch with a Hospice Chaplain and I of course told her as I will tell anyone willing to listen, just how impressed I am with the concept of hospice and how special I believe it's workers are. She of course thanked me and told me that many people now show similar feelings towards their group which was once thought of as mostly "legal euthanasia". I didn't know that. I have to admit I didn't always think that hospice was a good idea until they became a salvation to my mother-in-law as her husband lay dieing. Since that time I have come to realize just how much good is done for the families choosing hospice.

While eating, the topic arose regarding Doctors not being able, or wanting to let go of a patient when there really is nothing left for them to do to make the person well again. According to this chaplain, there are very many cases of patients being released from hospitals only to die within hours if not days, sometimes before hospice can fully get into the home and start the necessary steps with the family and patient. She said that she wasn't blaming these physicians for trying to do all that they could however she felt that they need to be educated and made aware of just how helpful hospice can be to both the patient and their family. I understood the point she was trying to make but I also tried to play devils advocate and asked if it were possible that it was the public rather than the doctors who needed the education. To a lot of people I know, hospice is the end of the line yet as long as they're in a hospital there is always a chance of survival. This too I can understand; life is precious, sometimes no matter what. She agreed that everyone needs to be better educated and made to understand the hospice way.

All in all it was an enjoyable, enlightening lunch which was unfortunately interrupted by my cell phone and my having to leave. Before I left I was sure to make her aware that the home I was going to was of a former hospice patient who had just died. I guess there are certain people who will call on hospice knowing the good that they do and likewise there will be certain people who will never accept the hospice concept. Once again, death is very personal and we can't expect anyone to follow our way unless we show them who we are, what we do and why they might want to.

Follow the map to peace

Just a quick follow up to yesterdays post. I failed to mention that there are other heroes from all over the world also in Afghanistan and back on their mother soil...I want them to be mentioned as well because without each other the change that is taking place could not occur. It wasn't included in my post but part of the conversation I had with the US guys was about their various medals and I was shocked to see that they were wearing medals granted to them by other countries. I didn't know it but they work hand in hand...so...a soldier, is a soldier, is a soldier! Thanks to all of you!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our War Heroes

Another slightly different post. Today, prior to a funeral service, I had the good fortune of speaking with two US Army soldiers that were in attendance to offer military honors for the deceased veteran. When a veteran of any branch of the US military dies, the country honors them with at the very least, the playing of Taps, folding and presentation of the US Flag, eligibility to be buried in a National Cemetery and a marker for their grave. As your rank and amount of service increases so do your benefits, but this is not where I'm heading today.

One of the two was a 21 year old man from the Midwest, stationed at a local Army Base and the other was a 20 year old man from Texas with roots in Mexico also from the same base. They had both been deployed to Afghanistan at the same time but were in different units until fate brought the two of them together due to a shortage of men in one of the two units. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I of course started asking questions of them both, trying to determine why they were in the military. I asked what it was that they did and learned that they were both paratroopers who specialized in seeking out bombs. I asked questions that were specifically aimed at "why" we are there in the first place. I was secretly hoping to hear (directly from 2 men that had seen the killings of war) some sort of feedback that would give me proof that what I have heard over and over was true;we don't belong there.

To my surprise both of them told me that we were in fact making a difference in the lives of the Afghanistan people that was truly for the better. They had been there for almost two years and told me that they literally saw a betterment even though the Taliban was still hiding under almost every rock they overturned. They were aware that there are some people who don't want our help but the vast majority of the population does. Perhaps this was a way for them to justify what they do or maybe it's been drilled into their heads to believe this but then again perhaps it's really true, I would like to believe the latter. No matter what the case these two gentlemen are this country's first line of defense against the enemy and I had to shake their hands and thank them for all that they do for us. It was a true pleasure to meet 2 of our heroes today.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

United in death

Today was an exceptionally hard day. When someone dies without any forewarning at all it is always much more of a shock for the family and friends left behind, I know I don't have to explain this. It's just logical. When someone has been ill for a period of time and family and friends watch as life is slowly drained, as pain increases, as death nears, they have begun their mourning whether they are aware of it or not. This latter scenario does not make the death any less painful however acceptance comes sooner.

The family I was with today not only lost one parent, but both parents in the course of 4 days. Mother and father were on their way home from a cross country trip they had taken which had lasted over one month. According to their 2 adult children who spoke with them often during the trip, they were having the time of their lives, doing things that they hadn't done before. This trip was a retirement gift to each other; they had finally both retired and were now going to be able to spend much, much, more time together and enjoy themselves. According to the children they had been waiting and planning for this time for many years.

Less than 1 mile from their home, according to witnesses, the husband swerved in order to miss colliding with a motorcycle and drove his car right under the rear of a parked truck. Both husband and wife were severely injured and airlifted to a neighboring hospital where upon arrival she was pronounced dead. He was never told that his wife had died since he himself had lapsed into a coma with severe head injuries. The children did not really have time to begin mourning for her because they were concerned about their father who was alive, who might live.

When their father died, 3 days later, we were notified by the hospital that there were 2 bodies for us to pick up. When I met with the 2 girls they knew both had wanted to be cremated and that decision was an easy one. They also knew that their mother had repeatedly said that when she was dead she didn't want anyone "gawking" over her. So the decision was made to directly cremate them with no services. Today both were cremated, the mother first, but before doing so the 2 girls wanted to say goodbye. When the father was cremated the family's wish of mixing both sets of ashes and splitting the mixture in two was done as requested. Their bodies were once again united and will now be spending much, much more time together.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I never really know the full scoop...

This is a follow up of yesterday's funeral which involved the family with limited funds which spurred me to write "Am I alone?". Overall I would have to say that everything went well and the family was extremely pleased with all that I did. It was however a little sad, strange and confusing all wrapped up in one for me. Here was a man that had lived 80 odd years, 62 of those years in the community where we were burying him and counting the Minister and my crew there were exactly 16 people in attendance. His family was comprised of 12 people, 1 minister, 2 of us and 1 friend. I know that at his age it is often a common occurrence when the majority of friends have pre-deceased you but, 1 friend.

The family came from all parts of the state, some in fine vehicles, others in jalopies yet they were all there. They all seemed to get along very well and there was no reason for me to believe that any type of trouble would ensue. I would hope that my family would be happy to see my one friend come to my funeral and welcome them with opened arms but this wasn't the case this day. This was a graveside service and we were to meet everyone at the cemetery. The friend was the first to arrive and the last to leave yet in between this there was a scuffle and a "time out" for lack of a better phrase. As the family began to arrive I went to each of them, introduced myself and noticed how almost every one of them, mid conversation, would peer at this friend with a look of disdain on their face. Something didn't feel right but I didn't ask any questions or offer any of my thoughts to them.

We were all waiting for the last two to arrive and were all standing about making idle conversation when I noticed the blue vehicle pulling into the gates. It was at this time that it all began. Several family members turned to the friend who had been standing off to the side and warned her that these two were coming into the cemetery. As soon as the car pulled up the doors were flung open and this huge hulk of a man started bounding toward the friend all the while saying that he was going to kill her! Just what I needed! All I can say is that a huge feeling of relief came over me as the Sheriffs car pulled up behind the last two "guests" car almost instantaneously and the shouting ended. I'm still unsure of how the Sheriff got there at just that precise moment but I was sure glad. There was some private conversation between the Sheriff and the friend and then they both walked to her car and she eventually pulled away. The service went off without a hitch, HA!, and the family wound up apologizing to me about the incident which I still don't fully understand nor do I really want to. After the family left, the friend returned again and watched us close the grave. She seemed very distraught but was absolutely reluctant to accept any assistance when offered. I eventually left the cemetery with her sobbing over the now filled grave. As I said, sad, strange and confusing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Leave my head alone!

I usually try to post something that has some reference to death but this post is a little different. As I hope you know by now, I'm just an ordinary guy and ordinary things happen to me all the time; this is one that's really been eating at me. Today was just another day of the same type of misunderstanding. I don't get it...I always thought I was pretty clear when I explain myself and if you don't quite understand what I have to say I'll go out of my way to further explain what it is that I mean. Sometimes to a point of overkill. Most people (at least to my face) appear as if they are completely understanding of the words I am saying. Not necessarily in agreement with my opinion but there's definitely understanding of the content.

This one particular person I am forced to deal with on a rather consistent basis always manages to misconstrue what I say. It's not a matter of hearing or stupidity I'm sure of that, it's more like this person wears blinders and can only think on a certain plane; theirs. The simplest things become a problem and it's always because this person doesn't listen to what it is that's being said. I wouldn't call myself an overbearing person nor am I person that is too outspoken, I'm fairly calm and always try to phrase what it is I have to say in a completely understandable way yet a certain pair of ears seems to hear me speaking in a foreign tongue. As I read what I have written it almost sounds like a piddly little thing but you can't imagine the frustration it causes as it's happening over and over and over.

I've almost resigned myself to communicate only in writing with this person so that I have proof of what I've said. I just can't help wondering where the problem lies; why there is a problem in the first place. Could it be that this person is trying to drive me mad? If only I didn't have to communicate with them at all life would seem so much easier. OK, I feel better...until of course I have to deal with them again and my words get twisted!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Am I alone??

Apparently my partner sent out some literature last week regarding costs of a burial as well as costs of cremation to a certain family that requested it. This is a common occurrence and we never even discussed it; there was no need.

Yesterday a woman called me explaining that her father was currently under hospice care and he wasn't expected to live through the night. She continued by telling me that she had received the material that I had sent her, looked it over, and had made a decision to cremate her father. I explained that it wasn't I who had sent the material however I could help her with anything she wanted, and did. Her father was in a nursing center and the majority of what he had saved had gone to them, he only had a certain amount of money left to put towards his funeral and she and her husband really weren't able to contribute too much over and above what her father had. The amount that she mentioned was going to get her father a "nice" cremation with all of the bells and whistles that she was requesting yet I felt a hesitation on her part. When I probed her about her decision she explained that her father had made her promise that no matter what, she wouldn't cremate him yet she didn't have the wherewith all to do as he had requested. She knew that she had to cremate him but she was afraid that this decision would haunt her for the rest of her life.

I couldn't let this woman cremate her father against his wishes simply because she was unable to pay the prices that this industry has set nor would I expect her to go into hock just to bury him. This is the part of what I do that I hate. As far as I'm concerned, money should never have to be a hindrance at this time of any one's life. I will do the funeral, burial, for the amount of money she has and that's the end of it. It may not be as elaborate as the last or next funeral I perform but it will satisfy her needs and possibly help with her sanity. She just lost her father, does she need this additional pain on top of that?

At the arrangement conference today I discovered that I was not their first funeral director of choice, however I was the only one who was even willing to consider what I did. That saddens me and also makes me realize that these funeral directors need to wake up and remember why they do what they do. I'm not going to die or starve because I'm doing this and I don't think that most others would either but the almighty buck is too often the driving force in peoples lives. When and if the day comes when I can't help a person who needs me it's time to just close my doors and look for a job painting lines in parking lots. And until that time I will continue to do what I do. Thursday we are driving 52 miles away to bury him.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wake of the Gypsy

Do you remember the movies you've seen over time that involve Gypsies? Gypsies are often portrayed as thieving, sneaky, liars and backstabbers who will sell their children if it will make them some money. There might be some truth to this since I don't know how they live on a day to day basis but what I do know is how they handle their dead.

Once again I have to admit that I can't say how Gypsies handle all of the deaths in their community because I was only involved with one funeral, and he was a prominent Gypsy. I'm not about to say he was king or leader or anything like that but he was a Gypsy that was known all over the country. When we first got the call that this man had died in one of our hospitals and his family wanted us to help them I have to admit I was a little hesitant if not worried about handling the call. I had a preconception based on all that I had seen and heard.

When his wife and children came in to see me they were accompanied by what I thought was a relative who turned out to be an advisor of sorts. All of the typical information was gathered by me so that I could file a death certificate but when it came to the actual funeral planning there was no advice needed from me. The day, time and place had all been determined prior to their meeting with me. In fact all of the details had been worked out. They were there to simply select merchandise and to tell me what I was to do. They selected the best merchandise I had to offer and the advisor promptly pulled out a wad of cash to pay for it.

The visitation lasted days and people from all over the country were there to pay respects. They cooked in our parking lot and I can't begin to imagine the number of people they fed. Every night before the last of them would leave they literally had a crew that would go around and clean up leaving the place as clean as they found it; maybe cleaner. From what I gathered, his widow was going to be taken care of very nicely. His burial didn't take place locally and we weren't involved in that aspect but from what I was told it was large but went as smooth as silk. Again, the advisor whipping out the cash to foot the bill.

That week I was reminded over and over again that preconceptions are usually wrong. These were a group of people with different cultural ways yet they still respected their deceased loved one like any other group I had ever come in contact with. They hurt like the rest of us and are just people like you and me.

The face of Death

I know that embalming or the like has been around and popular since at least mummification that we know of. I wonder what the first person who ever came up with the idea of preserving a dead being was faced with when it became public knowledge of his/her intention. Were they thought of as heroic or were they thought of as a ghoul? Was it considered unnatural or was it looked upon as a wonderful discovery?

The Ancient Egyptians mummified their dead in preparation for their crossing into the afterlife. Today we know that the body is just a temporary housing while we're alive yet some still continue to request of us to attempt to preserve the dead body and make it appear as if it's sleeping. The reason why? Well to a lot of people today, embalming is a useless, costly, endeavor that is merely performed so that the undertaker can make money. There is no question that the funeral director makes money when someone is embalmed but is that cost that the family pays to the embalmer really worth it to them? You'd better believe it!

Many people have their minds set as to whether they want to have a traditional funeral or if they want something else. With that in mind, there are certain people who know that they want a family member embalmed for whatever reason; it's those people who benefit from the process.

I have personally taken people from their deathbeds who have looked as if they had just gone through some sort of torture, faces contorted, discolored, sores, some emaciated, some bloated. That is the picture a family remembers in their minds...until the embalmer gets a photo and clothing and maybe eyeglasses and jewelry. We aren't trying to make anyone believe that the dead person in the casket is alive; we're just trying to paint a nicer picture for the memory to focus on. But does this really work? I guess for some it does but for others it's almost impossible to get the initial picture of the deceased out of their minds. But maybe for those people, their remembrance is a necessary one, although unpleasant, necessary. And for the ones that leave a funeral remembering how beautiful mom looked, I guess that's necessary too.

Embalming Juice

I was going through my list of usual blogs that I frequent when I came across a "recipe" if you will for Formaldehyde from 1936. I have to thank my blogger-bud MSW, author of Another Day in Paradise blog for supplying me with this information. I don't think that I'll be mixing this formula myself sometime soon however it is good to know that I don't have to rely on the corporations who manufacture this stuff if ever I'm in true need of it and they can't or won't supply it. The chemical composition of the 1936 Formaldehyde and the current Formalin is slightly different but I imagine with fine tuning the results could be similar. The only thing I have to consider is whether or not I want to keep the individual chemicals in the quantities necessary to brew it on hand. Once again, thanks MSW!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Let the Dead rest

I went to a High School which was immediately adjacent to a large local cemetery in my neighborhood. This place was not an unfamiliar place at all. All of my family members were buried in this cemetery and I was used to visiting it on a somewhat regular basis. For that matter, most of the people that I knew who were buried were in this particular cemetery. I grew up around and in it. It's strange, there were a lot of my friends who were adverse to walking on the same side of the street as it let alone step foot within the gates but for some unknown reason these fears were never a part of me.

There were tales about people who had gone into the cemetery and had never again come out. There were tales about packs of wild dogs being inside that would tear you apart if you stumbled upon them. There were even tales about a man who lived in there who would attack unsuspecting visitors and steal from them and harm them. Many people I knew had heard of these tales yet no one knew anyone that any of this had ever happened to. Perhaps these stories were concocted to keep kids like me from going in unsupervised. I really don't know how they started but I do know that they were perpetuated.

Maybe it was bravery, possibly stupidity but probably just curiosity that led me to begin visiting this place for more than dropping off some flowers and saying a little prayer. I discovered that it was like an adventure just walking the cemetery and reading markers and wondering about the past. There was a tree lined drive at the gates of the cemetery that had trees that in summer gave fruit that was delicious; they may have been blackberries, but I'm not sure. I would usually pick myself a handful and eat them as I hiked across the hills looking for the oldest grave I could find. One day my snooping paid off big time when I came across an unlocked Mausoleum; to a 12 year old this was like a prospector hitting the mother lode. The date that followed the surname carved in the stone above the door read 1892.

The stone door was hinged but still very heavy to open. To my surprise, once inside, there on two stone bases were 2 very ornate metal coffins. I can only compare the coffins to pots because they had metal lids at the top where the heads were that were removable. Under these lids was glass and under the glass I could easily make out two people; a man and a woman who had been dead nearly 80 years. Both were black in color yet completely distinguishable; the man had a long red frizzy beard and was dressed in a suit. The woman was dressed in some sort of gown and I could make out that her hair had been pulled back perhaps in a bun. I could see where she had earrings on that had fallen to the fabric at the side of her neck when her ears had rotted off and there was a ring on her finger. Both of them appeared to have long fingernails but I now know that they hadn't continued to grow, they only appeared real long because the skin around them had shrunken way back. It was at that time that I decided that the door couldn't be left unlocked; this was their sanctuary, I didn't even belong in there. The next day I went back with a padlock and a chain that I took from my basement, went in one more time to take a look and then locked the heavy door with the chain, pocketed the key and left. I never went back inside and eventually lost the key but 30 years later I went back after the funeral of a family member. The door was still chained but with a different lock. It wouldn't have mattered if the lock was the same because I didn't have the key for many, many years but I was glad to know that someone else also felt the need to keep them secure. Now that I think back on this I guess I've been taking care of the dead longer than I once thought.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Death, the dirty word

Today I found out that my blog was rated "R" - interesting - I think I may have said shit a few times however that was not part of the cause. I Think I may have even said damn on occasion yet I'm still safe with that. One of the words that I've used which was a part of my R rating was hell, yep hell. But the biggest factor which caused me to receive this coveted rating was the fact that I said "death" 24 times and "dead" 1 time. Apparently the word death is not something that children under the age of 17 ought to hear unless thy have their parent holding their hand.

It seems to me that society has things mixed up here. It's OK for children to hear profanity and see nudity on television in the middle of the day, to play video games that involve violence, to listen to music that really isn't appropriate for my 75 year old father yet the word death is something that we should shield them from. I realize that the computer is rating the blog based only on individual words and not on the context of those words however I'm not saying murder, or rape or worshiping Satan or something you might expect to shock. I'm not saying kill, shoot, or any profane words for that matter. I can only hope that the people who actually rate rateable media are using a different system.


Good News today. I went with my dad for his quarterly check-up and he's still in remission!!!!!

Do you need an Urn?

The simple answer to this is sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes temporarily.

OK - I'll start with the Yes - You've just had someone you love cremated and you've decided that you want to keep the cremains. When I use the word "Urn" I don't necessarily mean one that you've purchased from a funeral director or online. An urn can be any container you wish it to be as long as it can contain all of the cremains without the possibility of spillage. I have seen people use Soup Tureens, Ginger Jars, Jewelry cases, Large Beer Steins as well as once an empty champagne bottle filled with cremains, re corked, and placed in an ice bucket with those plastic ice cubes surrounding it; I thought the last one was pretty neat myself. Use your imagination but of course if you want something more traditional you can purchase an urn made specifically to hold cremains.

Next is No - You've decided that you are going to scatter the persons cremated remains somewhere which could be the ocean, the mountains, a favorite fishing locale, a golf course or as one trucker requested of his wife, you can scatter the cremains up and down the road. Now I know that different municipalities have different views on where cremains can be scattered so you'll probably want to heed those rules. However if anyone is concerned, before a family receives cremains they have attained a temperature of anywhere between 1500 and 2000 degrees Fahrenheit so the worry about germs is completely unfounded. Every crematory returns cremains to families in some sort of temporary container if no urn is supplied and once the cremains are scattered I don't really see a need to have an empty urn around unless that is of course what you wish.

Thirdly - Sometimes - Or for lack of a better phrase, "for a while". I would say the majority of cremations culminate with some type of memorial service no matter what you intend to do with the cremains. Sometimes the cremains are present at the service and sometimes they're not. When they are present, most people want some type of container to house the cremains at least until the end of the service. I guess it could be likened to getting dressed up for a special occasion and then kicking off the same clothes the minute you walk in your door. Some funeral homes have special urns which they use for this purpose alone, I guess you could call them rentals. There's nothing wrong with this as long as the fact that the urn has been used before is disclosed. This is a very good time to use something from your home that may have been dear to the deceased.

When I make arrangements with a family who has chosen cremation I try to determine what their final intentions are and guide them accordingly using the "yes, no, sometimes" approach when the topic of an urn comes to the table. Surprisingly enough, many people believe that a cremation automatically entails the purchase of an urn and are often very pleased when they hear what I have to say. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am not a salesman, I merely provide the options and allow my families to select what they wish.

Have you considered?

Nobody dies on purpose, but...

The past few posts I've written have been about needless deaths and my lack of understanding for the same. After re-reading them it dawned on me that there are thousands upon thousands of these wrongful deaths all around the world and they are not simply relegated to vehicular accidents, which is what I've been focusing on. What also occurred to me was that I'm sure that I'm not the only person who finds them incomprehensible yet they continue to happen and all I do is ask "why?". All of these people are victims of something or another and I'm wondering if I, the one not yet earmarked as a victim, should help on a personal level in the fights that are being waged as opposed to just wondering. I think I should, I think we all should.

I know that there are federal as well as local government and community agencies that attempt to keep these victims safe with various laws, regulations and assistance programs and I have to think that there have been a great many individuals whose lives have been saved because of them. I'm thankful for these organizations for without them I would imagine that there would be many more cases of needless death than there currently are. What follows is a list of agencies and organizations that actually help the public become aware of how to keep themselves safe; some of which we can become a participant of, others teach us while still others always need advocates:

D.A.R.E. - Drug Abuse Resistance Education is a wonderful program that should be a part of every community.

MADD - Mothers Against Drunk Driving - You don't have to be a mother to realize the effects of alcohol on driving and you don't have to be a mother to support the cause.

Child Welfare - Sometimes just having the right information helps us to prevent a needless situation.

Suicide Prevention - The more we know about something the more we can do about something.

Actual Causes of Preventable Death - Check out these numbers and causes updated in October of 2006 and see what we need to do.

Safe Kids - Learn what you can do to prevent...

T A D D - Turn Around Don't Drown - NOAA's Hydrologic Services gives us some information about flooding and the associated dangers.

Fire Safety Council - Brush up on how to save lives and keep your home safe too!

NSC Defensive Driving - The National Safety Council's site on defensive driving is a site all drivers need to visit.

There are tons more than the ones I've listed above but these seem to be the most informative that I've come across. Spend some time surfing through these links and if you already know the information brushing up on it never hurts! I know I learned some things so now it's time to put them to practice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What will it take?

What's going on with these kids? Today I walked in to the funeral home to find that we had gotten yet another call from a family of an 18 year old girl who died as the result of an auto accident. Hey, I know that accidents happen, I'm LIVING proof of the fact but this young woman makes two in the same week; both died because they weren't wearing seat belts.

I can't profess that I know the laws of every state in this country but I do know that in the state I live in it's a law that your seat belt must be worn. We've all seen the television commercials, billboards and newspapers telling us how important it is to wear these belts, telling us that seat belts save lives. We all know of at least one person that has died as the result of of a wreck while not wearing a seat belt yet some people continue to drive vehicles without wearing them. I don't understand.

It doesn't matter if your 10 or 110, when you're in any vehicle, no matter where you're going, no matter if you're driving or riding in the back seat, no matter if the driver is someone with the best driving record in the world, please strap yourselves in! Anyone that drives knows that the guy driving the other vehicle is a potential enemy, a potential killer. What makes this death even worse is that this girl today lived in the same community and attended the funeral of the last young girl who was killed the same way just days ago! When I spoke with the last girls mother she mentioned how she hoped others would at least learn from her daughters death. What do people need to learn a lesson?

I'm sorry I'm ranting about this but it's just so upsetting and so frustrating to see a needless death occur and to see the needless pain it causes all because of a little thing that WAS MADE to prevent this very thing from happening just being ignored.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Life's a Beach

Tourist season is well upon us and we have already sent home 4 of our guests in a state that they never expected on this go-round.

We have some of the prettiest beaches in the country and in my opinion some of the most dangerous waters to go along with that sugary looking sand. Each year we lose many people to the ocean and it's rip tides. The locals around here know that the water isn't always as nice as it looks and somehow manage to keep away from it when told. The tourists however are here mainly for the beach and will try to enter into the ocean no matter what the reports say or what the weather is. Because of this, unsuspecting swimmers have gotten themselves caught up in currents that have literally worn them down to the point of drowning. The local weather station almost begs people to stay out of certain areas as well as the entire ocean at times yet at any given time you can see someone if not several someones in the water no matter what the warnings are and each year I end up sending people home from their vacations in caskets.

With the popularity of our seashore and the fact that tourism is a mainstay for many people of this community I could never understand why the town never installed Lifeguard stations on our beaches. Sure, there are signs posted that read "Swim at your own risk" strategically located on beach accesses but how many unnecessary deaths is it going to take before a more stringent defense is taken? Seriously, what would it cost to have a few lifeguards on the beach? Isn't that cost worth just one life saved? I guess that decision is up to the city council and things may change someday if it affects them directly but until the time that there is better safety on our shores I guess unknowing people will continue to die.

Organ DONATION my ass!!!!

First off let me start this with the fact that I believe whole heartedly in Organ Donation. I know of several people personally who have received organs, some which have had their lives enhanced and a few whose lives would have ended by now if they didn't receive the organ. I myself am an organ donor simply because I want to give of my dieing/dead body to someone that can use it. This post is in no way aimed at the Medical profession since without them organ transplantation would be impossible.

Today in my email I received this invitation: " Everyone at BlogCatalog hopes you will join us and blog this Wednesday in the first world wide blogger social campaign to raise awareness about organ donation and the issues surrounding organ donation". Below the above invitation was a listing of various stories about how organ donation has helped people, about how black market organ harvesting should be stopped and other similar articles. All were very interesting and some moving. I don't know if this was a WEB-WIDE invitation or if it was aimed at specific people based on the content of their blogs. Either way, I received it and had to put my two cents in. Unfortunately it will have to be Tuesday because Wednesday I have to deal with the families that have had to make the ultimate decision whether or not to donate a part of their loved one.

It may not be obvious to some but being who I am and doing what I do puts me in direct contact with Organ Procurement corporations as well as the families that they reach out to. I have had several meetings with agents of these companies and have had the chance to ask questions and get answers that the general public may not be aware of. Some of the answers I received were not consistent with what I "thought" organ donation was about. I have also dealt with families who have been contacted immediately after a death only to be asked if they would mind if mothers eyes, skin, long bones and the like be removed as a donation.

The word "donation" is used very loosely in these organizations however the fact is that this is an extremely lucrative business and someone is making big bucks on the guise that these organs are being given to the needy. Given to the needy? Bullshit!! In one of my consults with a corporation which will remain nameless I discovered that once these donated organs are harvested they are then sold, yes sold, to doctors and hospitals across the country who are in need of a specific organ or organs. They in turn re-sell these organs (which is never written on paper) to the patients who have the need for them and the money to afford them. Granted, these harvesters need to make a living, these physicians need to make a living and the hospitals that the doctors are affiliated with also need to keep their doors open so money has to change hands somewhere along the line; but isn't a donation a donation? I don't think I know anyone who works at anything for nothing yet I do know workers who donate. The problem I have is that when I donate something, anything, I expect it to be GIVEN to the person that I donate it to. I don't expect, nor want for that matter, some middleman or men to benefit by my donation. Hell, I know I can't have a family member rip my eye or heart out of my body and hand it to either a blind person or heart patient and then expect them to just plug it in as if it were some computer component; that's where the medical expertise comes in, ergo the cost. Understandable. But what I don't understand is that when for instance a cornea is purchased by a hospital versus a heart why is it that the price from Organ Procurement companies to Hospitals fluctuates by tens of thousands of dollars?

If everyone thinks that organ donation is so wonderful and I can literally donate my organ to someone then why can't the procurer, the doctor and the hospital donate their services so that this is an all around donation? Doesn't that seem to be a real donation? And, if that isn't possible for whatever reason, shouldn't the donor actually be the seller and receive some sort of compensation for their organ? You know, I'm not trying to stir the pot and suggest that the sale of organs be legal, I'm just saying that if someone gives of their body it should be just that, a gift. I still intend to let my organs be used if worthy but I only wish that the person or persons receiving them, no matter how grateful, could rely on my donation being just a part of a greater donation. A true donation of life.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Just another Bauble

Well, today I finally delivered the 7 pieces of jewelry to a family that I had taken care of back in February. He wasn't cremated yet we were still able to supply the family with tokens that they could wear in remembrance of their loved one.

There is a company called Meadow Hill that sells impressions of fingerprints. These fingerprints are cast in either Gold or Silver and can be adorned with a birthstone and can also be inscribed. The first time I heard of these "Thumbies", I wasn't sure if they were going to turn out to be something that would catch on but apparently they have.

Before the burial I had been asked by the family if I could get these items. I didn't initially tell them about them but they knew of their existence and wanted them. It's a simple procedure for me, I simply collect a group of fingerprints using the kit that the company supplies, have the family select which type of item they want and then I submit the fingerprints with the order. Six weeks later the cast prints arrive for my presentation to the family. The daughter that picked them up was extremely pleased with the product and I think I am going to be offering these to people as opposed to just supplying them on request. I still don't think I'm going to charge the MSRP; they can have them for what I pay for them. I feel this is just an extension of my services to the family, not for making additional money. Maybe I'm crazy but I feel that donating my time is something that I can afford to do.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Death by stupidity

He was very abrupt; after our initial introductions he told me flat out that his 13 year old granddaughter had been killed in a car accident and he wanted to know if I would be "interested in handling her burial". I immediately offered my condolences and let him know that of course I would help him. "Fine" he said, "these are my phone numbers but, I'll call you" and then he hung up. I didn't know what to think. There was no emotion on his part, he was very business-like however by mid afternoon we had an appointment for 11 AM the following day to make arrangements. It wasn't until the appointment was set that he advised me that his granddaughter's father lived in another state and that his daughter would be the one making all of the decisions.

The following day I made funeral arrangements with 11 people from both sides of the family, including the father; some were crying, some appeared to be in a trance and others were nonchalant. Apparently, the little girl had been riding in the backseat of a small vehicle. With her was her brother (16), her boyfriend (15) and the car was being driven by a 21 year old boy. Of the four of them, she wasn't wearing a seat belt. From what I read in the newspaper, the car had been travelling at approximately 90 miles per hour when the driver lost control;she was ejected from the vehicle and struck her head on a piece of machinery that was parked at the side of the road. She was killed instantly. Not one of the other three had a scratch on them. To me this seemed as if it were caused by poor judgement on behalf of the driver yet both sides of her family were blaming each other. I would ask something of one family member and another family member would try their best to make a point completely opposing the response. I was beginning to realize that there were more than a few states separating this family. This went on for some time before I had to ask them, extremely politely, to put their differences aside until we could all get through the next few days. To my surprise they actually complied, publicly.

Because there was such a large, young, immediate family I expected the large crowd at both the visitation and the funeral service. What I didn't expect was that there would be well over 1 thousand in attendance. Of course when there's a traumatic death accompanied with an open casket you automatically have a certain group of curious people just wanting to get a look but I would say from what I heard, that the vast majority of people there were friends. This young girl, despite the rift in her family, touched the hearts of an immeasurable amount of people. There was no doubt she was loved by young and old alike and was going to be missed dearly.

It always saddens me when someone dies as the result of some preventable accident. I've seen too many young people die behind the wheel of a car. I don't know what it is that makes an intelligent child become not so bright behind the wheel of a "weapon". I did the same thing, I sped knowing that I was doing wrong yet I sped with no consideration for mine or others lives. What is it about the young that make them want to tempt fate? Are they brave or are they stupid? Please kids, don't drink and drive, don't speed. I know you think you're indestructible but isn't this little girl proof enough that you need to take care of yourselves?

Should the 21 year old be held responsible because he was the adult driving? Should her mother be held responsible for allowing her to be out so late at night? Should the father be held accountable because he moved to another state and didn't watch her close enough? All I know is that this little girl is dead and her broken family is now shattered, fingers are being pointed blaming the innocent, they say the equipment at the side of the road shouldn't have been there, the road was slick, they say accidents happen there all the time. There have to be a million excuses for this but bottom line is that if our kid's aren't taught that their lives are worth more than anything in this world how can we expect them to try to keep their most valuable possession safe?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wide -a- Wake

The first time I saw a dead body I must have been about 7 years old. Being short, I can still remember being almost eye level with the deceased; I remember the strangest things about that day. He was a man that I had never known or had seen before yet my great-aunt had somehow managed to get my parents to agree to my going to the "wake" with her on Saturday afternoon. He was a dark man if I remember correctly, he looked like he was plaster. What impressed me the most was the large amount of hair sticking out of his ears. I know it sounds funny today that I would remember such an odd thing considering this was the first corpse I had laid my eyes on but obviously at the time it must not have seemed right to me.

I can't remember the next dead person I saw because after the wonderful success of wake number one I became my aunt's partner in woe. It seemed as if every time one of her friends would depart from this world I was off on a day trip to some funeral home or another; I still have the stack of prayer cards wrapped in a dried out rubber band from all of the wakes I attended. It almost became a hobby to collect these cards which were like little souvenirs of my trips.

If someone had told me that later in life I would become one of those people who adorn the dead and make them a little more pleasant to look at I would have told them they were crazy. Yet, as time went on I learned the smell of rotting flowers, the sickly sweet smell of an embalmed body as well as my aunt's circle of friends. Some of the last of the wakes I attended with her were for people I had met at earlier wakes. I was networking when networking wasn't the catch phrase of the day.

The last dead body I saw was today, and I know I'll see another tomorrow. I still find it hard to believe that I do this day in and day out and have been around death all of my life. I don't think being exposed to death from such an early age helped me to decide to do this but I'm sure it didn't hurt. Was I trained from 7 years old how to handle myself around the bereaved? Could that be the actual reason why I do what I do with such ease? I'll never know. My aunt died several years ago but I have to thank her for the exposure which may have afforded me the opportunity to accept death and want to help those in need. Thanks aunt Vicky!

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Marble Orchard

When I think of Art I think of collections in museums or in fine homes.

I think of famous Artisans who were named somewhere in our history books.

I think of beautiful gardens with sculptures made from marble, bronze and granite.

Very rarely, actually never, do I think of a cemetery

The Green Wood Cemetery

Never would I have ever considered a cemetery to be an art gallery yet the one that houses my deceased family is just that. Take a look at The Green Wood Cemetery and see what some people do when they memorialize their dead and see for yourself what this Historic location is all about.


ONE) What I thought was my first Award - "Bodacious Blog"

TWO) My actual first Award - "Nice Counts"

THREE) My favorite Award- One of the "Heavy 7" - cool one

FOUR) My fourth Award - "I'm Fabulous" - never realized that

My latest Award - "Be The Blog" - this one I'm proud of.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Blood is indeed thicker...

Wednesday we flew to New Jersey to visit my family for the holiday weekend. The last time that I had seen any of them was in April on a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate my father's 75th birthday. That particular trip lasted all of about 16 hours before someone was hospitalized and ended in catastrophe with the death of my father's second wife.

Thankfully, this trip was different! When we arrived in New Jersey, we were greeted by my brother and niece ( his daughter ) and were whisked off to the family "compound" to begin the first of 5 days of absolute enjoyment. The reason I use compound is not because his home sits on a huge estate, although it is complete with a basketball court and in ground pool all in a park-like setting, I use compound because there were 12 of us in the house (not counting the two dogs). No question, at times it was tight, especially on mornings with everyone trying to get ready for the day, but I wouldn't have traded the time I was there for anything else. Our group consisted of three generations of people that spanned from 22 to 89 years of age with a combined total of over 450 years yet with all of the differences we all felt the same; we are all family, we're all one.

Besides the national holiday we were also celebrating a 52nd birthday and a 30th wedding anniversary so there was always some reason to continue the party. I'm sure I gained a few pounds with all the food we ate, we swam together, we played games together, we watched baseball together, we reminisced about the ones that are no longer with us, we laughed, laughed, and laughed some more. We went to Atlantic City one day and donated some of our money to the city through it's fine casino's. There was mention of a wedding; but that was only talk. Most of what we did was talk. It seemed as if everyone of us needed this gathering to help us remember what's truly important in this life. We are a family. For me, there is nothing in the world that can compare to my family and I'm extremely thankful that I have one as close as they are.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Up, Up, and away!

I'll be back in a few days - Off to see the family! ----->

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Please don't "spare" me

It was 1:30 AM on January 28, 2002 when we received a phone call from the hospital. We were told that we needed to get there as soon as possible, but not to rush.

My mother had been hospitalized 5 days earlier to undergo Aortic surgery. My brother, sister and myself all lived in different states and my parents lived in yet a fourth state. We were all told that the surgery she was about to have had a 30 percent mortality rate. The 3 of us arrived a week prior to the surgery and had decided to be with them through her recovery. She didn't look or act like herself; it was obvious that she was declining and the surgery must have been necessary. We all individually had conversations with her at different times during that week as well as round-table laughter and reminiscing. We ate all of our meals together, watched TV together, it felt like the family I had when I was growing up. The sad part is that deep in my heart I knew this was going to be bad. Something just wasn't right.

The day of her surgery we all drove together to the hospital and sat with her until it was time for her to be admitted. We were still an entire family. It was a very long day but when the doctor came to see us he made us aware that the surgery went fine and we were all ecstatic. He went on to tell us that the next 24 hours were critical; she needed to wake from the anesthesia, breath on her own and then the long haul would begin. But, she never woke again.

During those 5 days she had a seizure, they thought it might have been a stroke. We OK'd the CT scan which would tell us if it was a stroke, if it were they might have to do something to keep it from doing permanent harm. After the CT scan the Heart Palpitations began, serious palpitations. They had slowed when we were told to go home, the doctor said she needed rest and there was nothing we could do at the hospital and besides we needed our rest too.

A few hours later while a nurse was bathing her she hemorrhaged and was gone. That's when we got the phone call. They never told us she had died but told us not to rush. Needless to say, we made record time getting there only to be told that we could go and see her if we wanted. When I walked in the room I lost it. This wasn't some somebody laying there dead, this was my mother. I was then expected to just take over and make it all happen, which I did. I thank God that all I had to do was make phone calls and supply details because I don't think I could have done any more.

The next three days are a blur. I managed to have her taken home, have the wake, the mass, the burial in the family burial plot but don't ask me to repeat how I did it. When we took Dad home he had 3 sealed envelopes. On the front of each in my mothers handwriting were our names. In each was a letter from mom to us; I only ever read mine. I still cherish that letter.
Apparently the three children were "spared" from the truth. The mortality rate of this particular surgery was 70% not the 30% we were all told. However without the surgery she didn't even have a 30% chance of survival and that's why she had decided to go through with it. She went on to tell me her innermost feelings and to tell me how she loved me. Gave me advice on what I might want to do, should do and shouldn't do. I wish I could have heard this straight from her mouth although at that point the letter was like candy to a child.
It was at that time that I knew I would never try to shelter someone from the truth no matter how dire it may be. It didn't make me feel better knowing that the truth had been kept from me for my own sake. As a matter of fact I felt cheated. I was never given the opportunity to cry with her; for her while she was alive. I know she did what she did because she thought it was best and I don't condemn her for it. She will always be my one and only mother, my love. I know she did it for us. But I won't. I don't think I can.