Friday, November 30, 2007

If you could...

As a kid, one of the most favored games we used to play was, as we called it, "make believe". You probably played this as a child although it may have had a different name and if you were the slightest bit like almost every child I've ever known you enjoyed it. For those of you who didn't play it, the basic premise of the game was to pretend - no other rules, no keeping score, just a way to wile away the time and have some fun. See, I told you that you played it too.
I'm not really sure how or when I got started playing this or when I decided that I would like to pretend to be something or somebody I wasn't but I know that those times were lots of fun. I wasn't alone in liking this game, I only remember that whoever I was playing with at the time got as much enjoyment out of it as I did.
A few posts back I wrote down some facts about myself and one of those facts has stuck with me although I know it very well; I guess it's one of those things I rarely think about but is always sitting on the back burner so to speak. I said "I still can't believe I do what I do as a profession. There are times when I can say I've enjoyed it but for the most part...I wish I had the guts to just walk away from it with no regard to having to earn a living; maybe I could do something else? If only I could figure out what." and this has sort of been gnawing at me. Not any more than usual but it has me contemplating the statement which I now see in print.
In another of my posts I spoke about dreams. Not the kind you have at night during REM sleep, the kind of dreams that go hand in hand with hopes. I guess these dreams started way back, back as far as "make believe" when I was pretending to be someone or something I wasn't. When I wanted to feel what it was like to be more than I was. As a kid I had no idea that these pretensions might have been dreams and hopes but now that I pull it apart, look closer, I think they just may have been.
Dreaming is not something that I consciously try to do; it just happens, and pretty often I must add. I had always thought that these dreams were good. They were a way of guiding me in the right direction hopefully leading me down a path that would eventually get me to where I wanted to be. Or so I thought. Now that I examine them, I don't think that even one of my dreams has ever materialized or realized itself. Have I been setting myself up for disappointment after disappointment over and over? Has the harsh reality of life shown me that whatever it is I dream about is simply fantasy and dreams are only for kids? Is it a means of escaping a hum-drum existence for awhile? Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it that's probably the case most times.
I guess dreaming for and about things would be okay as long as you kept in mind that it's just play time and that the hopes you have will more than likely be dashed. Hell, it's probably easier to win the lottery than it is to have one of your dreams come true; a crap shoot, a huge gamble on bother.....right? That's what I at first thought after realizing that I was only kidding myself.
Well, here's where the dreamer in me rears his head, like I said before, I can't help it, they just happen. Okay, I now know that a lot of what I'm hoping for will never happen, a lot of what I would like will never come to fruition, a lot of who I want to be will simply be determined by fate. But should that stop me from hoping? To a logical person the answer would of course be yes, you know, why waste the time. Don't we all have more valuable ways to use our thought processes? I guess I'm illogical because...well...I'm not going to even try to stop them when they arise. Without that little bit of hope it would sometimes be unbearable and this seems to be a way out! Definitely illogical but worth every moronic moment.
Let me tell you, this has been a very enlightening post for me. I have discovered that I'm illogical, childlike in the respect that I still play "make believe", happy and satisfied with the knowledge that most of these dreams are probably an escape, although one never knows...and on top of it all...extremely happy that after all these years I still remember how to play!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A burning desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

SOLITUDE -Billie Holiday

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Eight Random Facts meme

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


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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Vaction?

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

cha ching

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks for being you!

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks for being Dead

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

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

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

Thank You!

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

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

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

aningeniousname for your news items, for making me laugh.

GracefullyAbnormal for being grateful & graceful, for being.

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

Be The Blog award

Planning 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


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


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gobble, Gobble, Roar

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007 you hear what I hear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What do you think it's going to take before everyone in this world can afford or have healthcare? Thanks Crystal!

Try'll like it

They seem so neat and orderly to me
these dreams planted in my wee brain
You may wonder why I care for them so;
without them I can't stand the pain
So you think I'm a trite, haughty dreamer,
I have no rebuttals to say
I'm an enemy of hopeless reason;
I'll fight it til my dieing day
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

The day might come when my dreams become real
and I no longer have to be scared
Or the day may come when these hopes and dreams
will be buried with me but I've dared
To dream the dreams and the hopes like a child
who hadn't a clue in the world
No hint that it can all easily end
as quickly as being unfurled
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

Who really knows all for certain, might you?
I sure as hell don't and can not
If I stop hoping and plotting my plans
that's when I will have not a shot
Why let forever come crashing around
my feet in a heap on the floor
I cannot permit myself to be bound
to bridle my fate I am sure
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

If they never dwelt inside of my mind
my eyes would see nothing but grey
There would be no glimmer not one small chance
of getting that part in that play
This parlor game that we all know as life
has winners but only a few
I am not trying to win the top prize
I just want to garner a view
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

I have declared to live for my dreams high
in hopes that some day they'll come true
Am I now a fool? I dare to say not
Well maybe I am but are you?
Are you too a fool who chooses to dream
of things you can't see but can feel
Or are you a wit who opts just to crave
the small part you see that is real
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

When and if that fine day should come
I'll be there with wide opened arms
Ready to grab it and savor the time
accepting my new founded charms
Never forgetting those long times without
those days when I plotted the schemes
Those frightful days when all I did have
were wishes and hopes and big dreams
So call me what you want and think what you may...but

I want to say Thank You to...

My Dreams

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bad, Bad, funeral director!

I have been hemming and hawing about a similar post for close to two weeks now. Yesterday I received a phone call that has had me thinking further and I have finally decided that I needed to write this.

Let me start off with the call. Upon answering the phone, an obviously angry person asked me who it was that was in charge of obituaries. He never gave his name nor did he offer any information about himself but he certainly had a lot to say. "How was it possible that we, the funeral home that had buried three members of his family was making this person look as if he were a hero". "If we didn't do something about this, we could count on the fact that we would never see another family member of his be buried here let alone step through our doors". He claimed to be a christian man and said the things that were done were definitely not christian. He went on to tell me that the minister who officiated the funeral, was once his dear friend but now that friendship was over because of this. He had just seen a newspaper from last week and in it was an obituary of a man that we had just buried; an obituary and photo supplied to us by his family. The man in mention was a young man in his early twenties who according to hearsay was responsible for a heinous crime. There is no doubt that the crime which involved the rape of a slightly older woman than he, the rape of her toddling child and the murder of them both occurred; this I know because we buried them as well. He was found in the same room with them with a deadly bullet wound to his right temple.

The local community is saying that this man raped them, murdered them and then turned the gun on himself; I was not there and the three of them told me nothing but that they had been shot, I am not a forensic. The press to this date has never said that he in fact was the person who committed the crime; all I've read is that he was found with them. As I said, this I knew.

He was an ex-marine who had served three tours of duty in Iraq and his family couldn't help but feel that he was a patriot. His obituary was that of a veteran complete with a photo of him in his dress uniform; which he was buried in. There was a friendship between the parents of the man and woman and no mention was ever outwardly made that he in fact shot them or committed suicide. His family kept saying that they knew who was responsible for this and that they were going to take care of him no matter what the law did. Her family was very quiet about the whole thing and never once blamed the man for any of it and I'm sure that they know just what the police have said. Even the military who initially refused to honor him with a military funeral changed their minds due to an ongoing investigation.

I cannot judge anyone for what they may or may not have done. It's entirely possible that he did what everyone is saying and even if he had, and I knew it, I would have still done exactly what I did. First of all, I'm here to take care of the families that come to me for assistance in taking care of their dead. My entire purpose is to assist these people through this ordeal. Everything that I do is to help heal the people that are still living, not to try to revive the dead or to determine who it is that deserves what. As far as his being a christian, what ever happened to forgiveness? If this man did in fact do this he was obviously not in his right mind.

I've come to the conclusion that this man who called, who I was tempted to tell off by the way, was he himself suffering from some sort of pain and this obituary only exacerbated it. I hope that he can eventually come to terms with whatever it is that has him feeling this way whether he ever uses us again or not.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Lost & Found

As some of you may know, I love people; living people. I have been lucky in my life to have had the honor of assisting many, many people when they truly needed a hand. I consider myself fortunate.

Throughout my 49 years I have worked as a candy salesman, a packager in a bulk mailing factory, I have worked for a company that reproduced graphics; mainly blueprints, I have been an inventory specialist (stocker), I have worked in the Insurance industry, I was partner in a carpet cleaning business, worked in several brokerage firms, several funeral homes. I can Embalm, I can Cremate, I can arrange the most simple to the most elaborate funeral you could ask for or if you prefer I can steam clean your whole house for you. In other words, sometimes it seems as if I've lived a haphazard life.

Of all the things that I've done, what I currently do is the most satisfying, the most fulfilling. I can remember back when I was 15, still in High School, when the most important and exciting things to me were getting high, getting laid and breaking the rules, the law; though not necessarily in that order. If someone had told me then that this is where I would eventually end up I would have told them they were crazy. No way am I going to end up like that. But I did. If someone were to tell me today that tomorrow I'd be washing cars for a living I'd say the same but I now know it could happen.

I read a very good post the other day regarding doors. The opening and closing of doors to be exact, you know how the saying goes, one door closes and another is mysteriously opened. Well, the other day our very own front door opened and in walked the mother of the 13 year old that I had buried some months back. You may remember her, she was the girl involved in an auto accident. Her family, the community, everyone was extremely upset by the loss of this girl; blame was being hurled. Her mother, a single parent, wasn't sure she was going to be able to go on; a huge door in her life had slammed itself closed in her face and she didn't immediately know where to turn.

This day however, she seemed happy enough and explained that she was in the area and wanted to stop in and see me and once again thank me for all I had done; she also wanted me to meet someone. She further went on to tell me that she wanted another of my business cards for her father who also wanted to get in touch with me and somehow thank me. I offered her some coffee and we began to talk about how she was doing. She began talking matter of fact about her newborn and I guess I either had a puzzled or confused look on my face which told her I had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn't known it when we first met but this woman was pregnant at the time that her daughter was killed; she had been for 7 months even though she showed no outward signs of a pregnancy.

She explained, almost apologetically, that when she had first discovered she was pregnant she seriously considered termination but her daughter, her little confidant, talked her out of it. The two of them had gone every step of the pregnancy together and her daughter had even made the decision on what they would name her sister, the baby girl that she would have. When her 13 year old was killed, she then knew that this child she was carrying was special; even more special than anyone could imagine. A chapter in her life had finished with the loss of her daughter; a door had been closed. When her second daughter was born a new door opened affording her a reason to once again live.

As we were talking, her mother, who was with her walked in.....with the baby....she was beautiful; teeny; fresh and pink and smelled like cream. This little door, which had been ajar for the past several months, literally burst open upon her birth and became life's reason for this proud, glowing, mother. This now brings me back to the beginning of this post.

We never know when the good or the bad will start or will stop, we never know when the next door will close on us or when the next will open. All we can count on is that sometime during our existence we will all experience good and bad, joy and pain, and we never know when it's going to hit. Time will tell, you can't have your cake and eat it too, what comes around goes around, don't count your chickens before they are hatched, a bird in the hand......Blah, Blah, Blah.....our lives are lived like animated cliches.

So, in retrospect, all of the doors that opened and closed in my life have led me to where I am today and I hope they will stay stationary for quite some time. If by chance however, there should be some turbulence in my life which causes a slamming sound.....well.....I'll feel lost but I'm sure in time I'll find a new path to take and will make the most of it.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Faith, Hope and Chastize me

In this life I've come to realize that there are certain groups of people that no matter how hard you attempt to please, no matter how life presents itself to them, no matter what is going on around them at any given time are self centered and just plain unhappy. Their way is the only way. They seem to live as though the world is out to get them. If something, anything, doesn't go exactly as they expect it or think they want it, they immediately see wrong screaming persecution and dissatisfaction. Children are called brats; but what do we call these same brats who have reached adulthood and are still stuck in this bratty syndrome?

"Nothing like this ever happened before the likes of you showed up". "Why do we now have to end up with the shitty end of the stick?" "Why can't you people go back where you came from; where you belong?" These words or feelings are usually expressed by the group I mention without concern about what's going on in the lives of others around them. These people are the "personally persecuted" of our world, the "Bless your Heart phonies" who claim to hold the greatest faith.

About seventeen years ago when I moved from the Sodom and Gomorrah of the North into the Bible belt of the South, Americas holy land, the Mecca of the USA, Gods gift to the continent, from day one a small yet BIG word was and still is constantly thrown in my face. That word is faith. "You need to have faith". "Without faith you are lost, eternally damned." Well, let me tell you something, "I" have faith. Faith comes in many colors and flavors and without the different faiths that I have I could probably become one of the personally persecuted myself. When faith is mentioned in this neck of the woods there is only one faith that people think of but my faith takes on many shapes.

I may not have the faith that you do but I have faith of my own. Faith that one day I will be able to look back on my life and know that I have touched others lives. Faith that one day the hate and anger we face every day will disappear. Faith that I am living the best way that I can and will have no regrets. Faith that all humanity, whether "personally persecuted" or not, are truly, inherently good inside. Faith that when my life is over there will be no more problems or strife. Faith in love. Faith that my faiths will happily get me through this life.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Show me how you row

I can remember being at a relatives wake when a distant cousin decided that he now had the right or perhaps the motive to tell me about my great grandfather and how and why he came to this country.

I had always known that I was the third generation in this country on my mothers side and I also knew that I was only the second generation on my fathers side. This had never bothered me or even phased me in the least until my great uncles wake. I can't say that I was bothered by what I learned but it sure made me curious.

Sometime in the 1890's my mothers grandparents were born in Italy and in their early twenties immigrated to this country through Ellis Island in New York's harbor. I had never been told nor did I ever ask why they had come to America; it never seemed to come up and it was never an issue. It still isn't.

The story I was told goes something like this: "Your great grandfather was fleeing Italy when he came to this country. He had a fight with a neighbor over a tree that adjoined their property which was shading his garden. Your great grandfather swore the tree was his and the neighbor swore the tree was his and no one could decide who the true owner was. At the end of that day, your irate great grandfather, then a young man and no ones grandfather, took it upon himself to chop the tree down thereby giving his garden the sun it needed to grow." All of this was being told to me as my great uncle, my great grandfathers son, lay in his casket at the front of the chapel. "When the neighbor saw what your great grandfather (Antonio) was doing, he confronted him waving his fists. Your great grandfather was very mad, so....he swung the axe he was using at his neighbor and continued doing so until he was dead." Okay, I can handle the fact that I've got Lizzie Borden's brother Antonio's blood coursing through my's where the timeline gets screwy. "Your great grandfathers father, finding his son covered in blood knew that he had to get his boy far from where he had done the dirty deed. Passage was booked on a steamer ship and he was on his way to America". In that instant I was thinking that in those days it should have taken some time to accomplish this...but...who knows? It was after this conversation that I decided I had to do a little more digging to see if this guy knew what he was talking about. So I searched the Ellis Island website and lo and behold there they were.

Now my great grandmother also comes into the picture; they crossed the ocean together. I'm not sure if they were married or not since the ships manifest from the same sailing shows her coming over with her maiden name; maybe it was a ruse to try to disguise the fact that they were together. It also shows the name of an infant who she was travelling with who I presume is their dead child who I've heard my family speak of.

According to the records I found, when they came to this country on the lam (which I haven't been able to prove or disprove), they had exactly twenty dollars in their pockets and were each supposed to be met by an uncle (who I never met or even knew about). My great grandmother and the child were classified as peasants and my great grandfather a farmer according to the manifest.

Once through Ellis Island they blended into New York amongst the many other farmers, peasants and immigrants. He went on to operate a fruit and vegetable concern and they had four additional children. Those children had children, their children had children, we (our generation) had children and some of those children have had children.

The point I'm trying to make here is that I'm not far from being a newcomer to this country; if they had come from a different area perhaps I would be the offspring of someone who jumped the border. Every one of us in this country is here for one reason or another and some of those reasons might be less than honorable. Some of us feel that this is OUR country and that no one else has the right to join us; I've often fallen into that mindset myself, but really, it's wrong if you consider where your blood has been.

It doesn't matter how you got here, it doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't even matter why you're here. What does matter, and greatly I may add, is what you do once you get here. It's what we do that make us who we are not where or who we're from. We've all heard the adage about the picture being worth more than a thousand words, simply put, don't try to tell me what you're made of; show me. Just show me so I don't have to rely on what I hear.