Sunday, December 30, 2007

Almost Home

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

.....to one and all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Is it a snap?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The thirteenth floor



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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

In the blink of an eye


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"A visit from St. Blog"


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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Got a tissue?

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




By DS

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Ultimate Gated Community





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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Queen We Are The Champions Lyrics

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

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

The Age of Entitlement


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ho Ho Ho, you cheapskate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

You've heard of hunting accidents?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How do I embalm?


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