Monday, January 28, 2008

Dolphin play bubble rings

Is this amazing or what? How do they do this?

Innards of the Geode

About ten years ago I was given an intact Geode which was brought back from a trip out West. I had seen these before but they were always cut open revealing the beauty inside and always displayed as though they were a piece of art. Never before had I seen one that was still in its natural form...or so I thought at the time.

I was grateful for the gift and wanted to do something with it but it seemed as though I never found the time or had the chance to do anything but keep it wrapped in the newspaper I received it in. As a matter of fact, to this day it still lays in the bottom of a closet wrapped up and in a brown paper bag. If an unknowing person were to discover it perhaps they would simply take it for what it currently looks like; a dirty rock wrapped in old news print, maybe a doorstop.

I don't know how old these things are, nor do I know how many people have just passed them by as being useless, dull, craggy rocks but I imagine that the answer to both of those questions would be many years and many a man. This simple Geode has made me today think of the untapped beauty and worth inside of all of us. Figuratively speaking, I also wonder how many people have passed us by and thought of us as just being what we look like on the outside without bothering or finding the time to see what we may have hidden inside of us? I would even be willing to bet that some of us ourselves haven't completely discovered what we carry within.

It's so easy to take things at face value and disregard the possibilities or forget to look deeper; in my hectic days I have to admit that I do it all the time. I don't have time to explore every inch of everything or everybody to be sure that I know I haven't missed something, some hidden treasure; I find myself too wrapped up with the routine. But...this is no excuse, not a good one anyway.

This sort of reminds me of my previous post about weeds but this is slightly different. Unlike the weed who over time showed its beauty, this is about searching for it; discovering it before it presents itself. I need to sharpen my skills when it comes to recognizing the difference between a rock and a gem, a pain in the ass and someone in pain. It makes no sense to leave it to chance. Just because the outside presents itself a certain way doesn't necessarily mean the inside is the same.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we all need to slow down and look for what's not evident. Life is too damned short to let things pass us by simply because we're hurrying to get nowhere; it's too short to take anything or anyone for granted. Tomorrow these same people and things that we bypass today will be gone and we might never have the chance to savor the nougat center, the cherry in the middle so to speak, if we don't at the very least try.

More importantly is that without our searching, we may never be able to offer the deserved recognition of ones inner, beautiful crystals. The beauty that longs to be shared.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mistakes...I've made a few....but then again.....

The same as in every profession, funeral directors are often faced with situations that leave them not "not so professional" looking. These are the times when you cringe inside, when you want to slink off into a corner and just pretend that what happened was just your imagination. Many times families are involved and actually see the goofs and other times, thankfully, they're not privy to the goings on behind the scenes. The seasoned funeral director, when talking to an associate seems to enjoy relating tales of mishaps and I'm going to pass a few on to you today.

When I was licensed for about a year I worked for a small firm, there were only two of us, and it was a rare occasion when we had more than one funeral happening at the same time. I remember once when we had two calls going on and we mistakenly dressed the wrong woman in the wrong clothes, put her in the wrong casket and set it up for the family to view. It wasn't until the family told us that the woman they were viewing wasn't their mother that the mistake was realized. Luckily for us that they didn't know that their mother was dressed in the wrong clothes and was in the wrong casket as well. We supplied new clothing and corrected the error before the other family ever knew. The family that did see our error actually wasn't too upset except for the clothing which as I mentioned we replaced gratis in an attempt to cover our butts!

See if you can get a mental picture of this. A funeral is about to begin in a church and the casket has been up front and center, opened, for a visitation of sorts. Just before the service is to begin, two directors walk up to the altar and prepare the casket to be closed; in front of an entire congregation. One of the gentleman removes the flowers from the half opened casket and the other folds everything into place, the casket is closed and the lid sort of held down while the other uses a crank to "seal" the casket. At the end of this display the crank is pocketed and they will now simultaneously turn and walk down the aisle; a show for sure. The only problem is however that the one holding down the lid now has the end of his tie sealed into the casket and almost gives himself whiplash as he tries to turn; in front of everyone!

I told you about the time I was directing the funeral when the hearse was pulled into the cemetery and somehow wound up locked with us outside and the casket inside. Talk about an embarrassing situation.

Then there's the story about the part timer who was taking a casket out of town for a burial; it was going to be a 3 day trip and the director on the other end was going to handle the services. Arrangements had been made to house the hearse at two different funeral homes during the trip; so as not to leave the casket out in the elements both homes had garages that we could use. I'm not sure if it's habit or real necessity but keys are always in the vehicles anywhere you go. Can you imagine how the part timer felt after pulling into the cemetery at his final destination only to realize that he had taken the wrong hearse from the garage that morning and no one else noticed either? Yes, the funeral was delayed but the family supposedly took it rather well.

I myself have been covered with mud from head to toe after falling into an unoccupied open grave. When the family arrived at the cemetery, they as well as my boss helped me out of the hole!

It's a good thing that we all have to learn restorative art because I can tell you, without the knowledge that we gain from the course, it would be virtually impossible to replace a beard or a mustache that is shaved off by mistake. I have never been unfortunate enough to do this but I know for a fact it has happened; we are masters of disguise and most times not by choice.

These are just a few, very few, of the things that can and do happen within the industry and any director who tells you that they have never heard of anything like this, or never have been involved in something similar is either withholding the truth or hasn't been around long enough to see them occur. It's only when you're talking past tense about these things that they seem funny. When they're happening to you personally, you want to die yourself!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Give it up!

When they told me she had ALS I didn't know what it was. I later discovered that Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrigs Disease was the culprit. She had just turned 70 and had been a vibrant, healthy, retiree who was actively involved in volunteering for various causes between 40 and 50 hours a week; yes a retiree! She spent many days feeding the hungry and homebound.

She had a terrific resume if that was what anyone wanted to judge her by, she had her masters degree and had been an educator for 32 years of her life. But from what I heard and saw at her memorial service, she was more than well educated; she was a woman to be reckoned with. Not only was she a volunteer for all of those hours weekly, but in her spare time, yes spare time, she was an advocate for the cure of Alzheimer's and held many awards for her participation in sporting events!

This was a woman who did not let anything keep her down, she was concerned with giving, plain and simple giving and gave of herself until she was no longer physically able. According to her family, her ALS came upon her fast and furious and within just a few short months she had lost all of her muscle, eventually was unable to swallow anything on her own; she died rather quickly considering the cause.

She will be cremated however the request was for a "complete" funeral sans the cemetery. She was embalmed, laid in a casket wearing her finest clothing and a couple of her favorite rings, her hair was done and what was left of this woman looked beautiful. She had three children all living in different states and she and her husband had just celebrated 50 years of marriage; they hadn't been in the area too long yet you would think she was here forever by the turnout of people to honor her.

It's times like these that I wish I had been able to know the deceased people I take care of. To maybe absorb some of their kindness by osmosis instead of just being awed by it...but...perhaps just knowing of her, knowing that there are people like this in our filthy world might be enough to make the slightest difference in me causing me to want to give more. I hope so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Must be a full moon" - superstitions/myths

Can you imagine what a file room would look like with 50 years worth of records in it? Records that could vary in the hundreds each day of those 50 years. Enormous is the only word that comes to mind, simply enormous. We all have one of these rooms. Today's one of those days of contemplation for me and my thoughts today have been racing around inside of my "enormous" file room of a brain for years. What actually spurred me to again think of it was the condition of last nights moon, yes the moon.

For as long as I can remember, and that's quite some time, I can recall hearing a phrase over and over and always had a curiosity whether or not there was anything to it. I was a kid, what did I know? The phrase that I'm talking about is "Must be a full moon". Very often when something bad would happen as I was growing up, a murder in the news, a bad car wreck, a fight, anything out of the ordinary, I used to hear this phrase. When I first heard it I had no idea what the reference meant but as years progressed I learned that a full moon was ominous.

Now as an adult, one that has a little bit of education, I should realize that this phrase really meant nothing at all. Perhaps it was something that was coined because of werewolf tales, or it might even go as far back to when the moon was considered a god; I'm not sure. What I do know however is that I still hold onto this superstition (if in fact it is one) to this day. Sounds silly doesn't it? The business I'm in is very random, there is no schedule for when people are going to die that I have access to yet when the moon is full, I can almost guarantee that I will get a call. I told you it was silly.

I have never done a study to see if this is in fact the truth, that the moon has some sort of power over the human body which can cause the weakest of them to die during this time but month after month it seems to hold true; perhaps I should simply be grateful. I know the moon controls the tides, I know there's a gravitational pull, but I'm not sure if there's anything to this moon thing when it comes to death; maybe some of the more educated out there could enlighten me since I haven't been able to locate anything to either explain or refute it.

So, anyway, as illogical as It sounds, I began thinking that some if not most superstitions might have a modicum of truth to them and decided to look further into the subject. I came across this website that listed literally pages of superstitions, most that I had never even heard of and lo and behold there was nothing concerning a full moon. Now, this discovery doesn't prove anything to me as far as this not being a true superstition but I thought it was more well known. Humor me here, I'm not really a country bumpkin, I have been out in the world, but has anyone else heard of this expression/superstition and if so what are your beliefs and experiences regarding it. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The misunderstood Maggot - truly "green"

They're disgusting, they conjure up feelings of dirty, rotting, smelly things and are insects that cause some to taste bile simply by their looks. Wiggly, little larvae of the common fly are responsible for nauseating many a folk, and with good reason perhaps. They are known for their appetite for dead flesh, rotting things that we don't want to see in our lives.

Certain people seem to simply associate these creepy things with other truly creepy things and unfortunately for the maggot they are often misunderstood. As much as I don't want to admit it, or place any association, the maggot is natures funeral director of sorts. Before man has the chance to get his hands on the dead and do what they do to "put them away", the momma fly is busy laying her eggs where possible. It's these eggs that hatch into Larva and are nourished to the time of their metamorphosis into a fly by feeding off of dead tissue. It's these larvae that assist in natures disposition of the dead. Unlike the Bot Fly or Torsalo larvae that feed off of the living.

I was once speaking with a friend of mine who is an RN at a burn center in the Mid-West and somehow the topic of maggots came up. How the hell does one turn the topic of any conversation in the direction of maggots? They were never something that I even considered anything other than gross but I learned that day how maggots were being used for a medical purpose. You may have heard of this before but after I read "What's eating you?" today this again came to mind.

Apparently, burn victims are sometimes treated with "maggot therapy" whereby "pharmaceutical" grade maggots are introduced to the wounds with the hopes that they will clean away the dead tissue, leaving the healthy tissue behind, safe. There is also a natural antiseptic/antibiotic in their saliva which helps in healing; fascinating. This therapy is not only used for burn victims I've learned but also in cases where the healing of any type wound is a problem. It seems to be funny how these unlikely little critters can actually digest death and aid in the healing of the living all at once. Sound familiar? It does to me.

I'm not advocating going out and making friends with a maggot, nor am I suggesting that we keep them on hand for any type of use however, symbiotically speaking, I now have a better understanding why funeral directors are sometimes considered creepy; even after we pupate.

Friday, January 18, 2008


She was a 45 year old single woman with an ex husband and a 13 year old son. Her parents had previously died; her mother when she was in her thirties and her father died just within the last year from lung cancer. Her only brother had been killed in a car crash as a teenager and she had no known relatives or legal next of kin. I don't know the specifics surrounding her divorce nor do I know why her ex husband had custody of their child but those were the current circumstances.

According to her significant other, they were both reunited almost one year ago after he had found her on the Internet at some reunion website. Her significant other had been the child of an army career man and they had always travelled all around the country; that was how the two originally met. They had been young teens together and had a relationship/friendship which lasted approximately 2 and 1/2 years before he had to leave with his parents. They had kept in touch for a few more years and then for some unknown reason the friendship had just ended.

When he found her she was already divorced and living on her own. It wasn't but two months after they had gotten together again that she herself was diagnosed with lung cancer but they both thought that the treatments that she chose to undergo had nipped it in the bud.

Two days before she died her boyfriend had visited the funeral home explaining that she was being taken care of by Hospice and her death was imminent. He wanted to be sure that her wishes were followed; it was then that I discovered all of the above as well as the fact that he held her POA. At that point he had the right to authorize her cremation (her wish) but did not want to fill out any paperwork; he only wanted information. I explained to him that her POA would cease upon her death and his rights would cease as well yet he outright refused to sign the authorization even after I explained the delays it would cause.

When the call came in advising us of her death I knew that this was going to be a drawn out procedure waiting for a court to appoint someone who could legally make this decision.

He came in with his parents as well as a bible which had been her fathers; he wanted to point out the biblical passage that she wanted in her obituary. Don't ask me what made me do it but after I had copied the passage I flipped to the front of the book where family history was written down and after reading it I thought that her father had a sister who had never been mentioned. I was thrilled at the prospect!

Upon returning to the arrangement conference I mentioned the sister, her aunt, and he had no clue of her existence. He had no idea of an aunt at all let alone if she was living or not. I suggested contacting her ex and was told that one of her wishes was not to tell either the ex or her child until after she had been cremated.

I have to tell you, the deceased woman, this man and I were very lucky that day. I took the aunts name down and went to my office; the Internet that got the two of them together also helped me to locate the aunt for him. I found what I thought might be her number and address and passed it on to the boyfriend along with a cell phone. He called the number and it was her! She had never married and was still living in the state she was born...and...luckily had a published phone number and on top of it all had still been in contact with her niece!

Ultimately, she agreed to sign the authorization which was faxed to her and then back to me with her notarized signature. If it hadn't been for this discovery and her approval I'm sure she would still be waiting to be cremated.

The reason I mention this today is, this woman didn't expect to die, her boyfriend didn't foresee this, and especially the aunt didn't expect any of this but crap like this must happen all the time. I know I sound like a broken record, like my words are stuck in a loop but in order to prevent something like this happening to us, we have to make sure that it doesn't happen and we have to make sure now. If you're alone now or have the slightest inkling that you may be someday, shit, even if you're not and don't, some day you may be! Talk to a funeral director, a lawyer if necessary, just do something while you can!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One day I'll fly away

Dedicated to Funeral Service


On the forest floor away from his neat pile of clothes
he was found in a puddle of red,
devoid of the warmth he once gave so freely to others;
veins depleted entirely.
Never again to feel the daily terror that consumed
every waking moment and
the gash on his left arm perhaps to some a badge of defeat
was his portal to
His job was completed yet not in a fashionable sense
but still took him home
away from the hackneyed words that ate at his inner core;
no longer afraid.
Who's to say that he had no right to do what he did,
still causing trouble and sorrow;
once named a "felo de se" at least this time he earned it;
his final day, on his way to

Sunday, January 13, 2008

in need of rejuvenation

It's been ten days since my last post and I haven't had the energy or time to write. I'm so tired of Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease, Cerebral Vascular Accidents, Congestive Heart Failure, Coronary Artery Disease, Atherosclerosis, Breast Cancer, Suicide, Murder, Myocardial Infarction's and all the other wonderful shit that takes people down.

You can't begin to imagine how much I want to do this yet how much I hate doing it if that makes sense. I truly look forward to the day when I no longer have to stare death in the face on a daily basis, when I no longer have to see people writhing in pain, when I can come first. It sounds selfish, I know, but believe me, even though it's not "my" pain it can be very exhausting to ones body and mind.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Funeral Roulette

First off I have to start this post with an apology. There have been many posts that I have written over the lifespan of this blog which have been responded to by many people in which I have failed to follow up. For that I apologize; no excuses just an apology.

Secondly, please bear with me on this post because it may at times seem like it's all over the page simply because there are some things which I have previously stated which will almost be refuted (by myself!).

You've all heard of "pre-planning" your funeral, you've all heard me mention "pre-need" and on August 11th of last year you may have read my post "There's a way without a will" . Briefly, this post was an attempt to let you know the importance of planning your funeral outside of a will. My advice was to put it on paper and give it to a few people who might be left to carry out your wishes.

Part of a response left by Paisley was "how often are survivors plagued by the death wishes of the dead?? i think this would make for an interesting post...." to which I never responded; actually don't remember reading. Thanks to the current funeral I have been handling, my re-reading my post and Paisleys reply, the post you are now reading was born.

As a rule of thumb, most, and I stress "most", funerals that are pre-planned, whether pre-paid or not are usually followed to the letter. The biggest variance that I see is that if a casket was selected when it was done, there is a very great chance that the exact one may not be available say 20 years later but a casket of "likeness" is usually supplied; not usually a problem or real change in the wishes. There are however times when a family simply disregards the deceased persons wishes and proceeds with their own. Quite honestly, I don't know the legalities involved, especially since the deceased no longer has any recourse, but aside from them if there are any, the family or person legally allowed to arrange a funeral can make the ultimate decisions.

The family I met with yesterday was there to finalize the care of their mother who had spent a good many years bouncing from one nursing facility to another. Back in 1977, the deceased woman had made pre-paid funeral arrangements with a funeral home in Florida which provided for her to be embalmed, a wake, a church service with her casket present and then burial in the cemetery where her husband and other family was buried. She had written down all of her wishes, including songs she wanted played and then went ahead and paid for it all; she even went to the extent of having her name and birth date engraved on the monument in the cemetery that was already there for her husband. I have to assume that this is what she fully expected to happen to her body after death since nothing had ever been changed.

One of the first sentences out of her daughters mouth when we met was "We're not going to be burying her, we want her cremated". So now I reply...."okay, we can cremate her but what about her wishes in her pre arrangement?" The response I received was, "she had Alzheimer's, and my sister is on vacation in New Mexico, and the grand kids are scattered all over the country, she would have preferred cremation if she were do we go about getting the money back that isn't used?" So as the words she's saying are being digested by me one phrase at a time I realized that her mothers wishes didn't really mean too much to this daughter. Unfortunately, I also realized that this woman sitting across from me had the last say and there was nothing I could do but now follow her wishes.

Money was not the issue here, perhaps logistics were. There were no choices that were left hanging, there was nothing to have to hem and haw over when it came time to select merchandise or decide locations. It was not up to me to ask why she wanted it this way as opposed to her mothers wishes but it was my obligation to point out what her wishes had been; although her daughter obviously already knew and walked in the door armed with the changes she intended on putting into motion.

Will she be plagued with any type of guilt for not following her mothers wishes? I don't seem to think so. Was the daughter plagued with the fact that her mother wanted something that she herself didn't? Obviously not since she chose to do it her way. Am I plagued by the fact that I had to follow the wishes of someone else rather than the deceased woman's? Honestly, no. If it were my responsibility I would have fought tooth and nail to do it her way but since they are the ones who will have to live with any remorse, all I can do is make suggestions and then do what they ask of me.

So, I guess putting it all down on paper is good, even pre paying for it is good, but here's where I refute my previous statements. Is it guaranteed to be done the way you wanted it especially since you paid for it? No, sadly that's not the case. There are no guarantees at all other than we'll do what you want if your family wants us to honor your wishes. Don't misunderstand, I'm making no judgements here, everyone has different reasons for doing what they do and is entitled to do so. Really, when you think of it, who am I doing this for anyway? Who am I hoping this will help? It's the families that still have to live, not the dead.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Where were you 42 years ago last night?

On December 31st, 1965, at somewhere in the neighborhood between 8 and 12 PM, I could almost guarantee you where I was. Every year at the same time until the curiosity wore off, I would be sitting on the staircase in the hallway peeking through the banister railings. I know I used to think I was hiding but there is no doubt that as they passed through the hallway they could easily see me if all they did was briefly look up, yet I never remember being caught.

On every New Years Eve in my home for as long as I can remember as a child, my parents would throw a big bash for the neighborhood. For the most part, growing up in a city, my block was my neighborhood. I just counted and there were over 180 people living on my block and a good part of it was composed of factories. The blocks themselves would ordinarily have about 50 houses each between the Avenues, many three, four and six family houses, all at least two. To my parents, their neighborhood, was THE neighborhood since many of their guests came from different blocks.

The house we lived in was small, tiny by today's standards. The two rooms where the parties were held were on the first floor; the entire first floor. There was the living room which consisted of a couch, 2 arm chairs (one later a leatherette recliner) a console TV, "the bookcase", 2 end tables with lamps, "the cocktail table", an old burnt and repaired secretary and "the closet", the only clothes closet on that floor. I mustn't forget "the shadowbox", one of my mothers prized possessions which was later replaced with 2 metal Peacocks (which were ugly). We also had 2 glass swans that were filled with salt to make them white. My mother must have had a thing for birds or that might have been the decor of the day.

The kitchen consisted of the stove, washing machine, sink, table and 5 chairs, refrigerator, "china closet" and ironing board (except on rare occasions like these nights). Right off the kitchen, actually in the kitchen, was the only bathroom in the part of the house we occupied. The third floor tenants had their own bathroom of course. Both rooms were about 10X12 each and were set behind one another, straight back. On this night, there had to be close to 50 or 60 people crammed into this space and they were ever changing. Some would come as others would go all night long.

The first people to always arrive were my relatives from up the block. I can remember that they were always armed with a cardboard box filled with bottles that were to be set up on the washing machine (next to ours) to form the makeshift bar and the house always smelled like ham. Once all the kisses and pinches and oohing took place, once we were told how adorable we looked in our new Christmas pajamas and all the Italian phraseology's had been hurled, once all the smeared lipstick was dabbed off of our faces it was time to say goodnight and march upstairs to bed. Mommy and Daddy would look in on us at midnight.

The second floor was laid out identical to the first, the only difference being that the downstairs bathroom was the second floors third bedroom. Mommy and Daddy slept above the living room, my brother and I slept above the kitchen while my sister slept above the bathroom.Growing up I recall it being said more than once that the house was over 100 years old; a brick row house. The heating system, resplendent with an enormous rusty boiler in the cellar, radiators and risers must have been an add on since under our bed (right above the stove) was still the grating that was to initially carry heat from the first floor to the second that was now used by us to listen in. I guess it was my older brother who first discovered this and was more than happy to let me know about it as we played up there before falling asleep. My brother and I had an "early warning system" long before it ever flashed across the bottom of any TV. It was this grating that allowed us to attend these parties albeit in our imaginations.

Once the party was in full swing, based on what we heard, it was then time to sneak out of the bedroom into the hall where we could even see some of it. All we were ever able to see were glimpses through the kitchen door and occasionally a couple would stray out into the hall to steal a kiss (that was big time for us!). This would go on all night long, and every now and again we would have to jump up and run back into bed and pretend to be asleep because we thought we would hear someone headed our way or when the doorbell would ring and new arrivals would show.

I quickly learned that Mommy and Daddy were not going to be coming in at Midnight to look in on us. I can remember hearing them all screaming the countdown from 10 and by the time they had reached 2 I was back in bed waiting, supposedly asleep but they never showed up. I soon realized that I was missing the apparent endless stream of people exiting the house at midnight to make as much racket as possible in the street. What we would do at that point was draw back a bit so they definitely couldn't see us and then jump up and run to the front window. There they were, all of them, out in the cold air, no coats, party hats on, twirling noisemakers, banging pot lids, all screaming happy New Year and hugging and kissing. Damn!!! I wanted to be able to do that someday!!! As they started trailing back in the house, NOW, was the time to get in bed, and fast, because without fail this is when they came and looked in on us; 2 little angels sleeping side by side, hoping their horns couldn't be seen!

As I got older I was allowed to actually be in attendance of some of these parties, as a matter of fact, it was at one of these parties that I first met the woman I would years later marry; I was fifteen at the time. As time further progressed the parties meant nothing to me because I was looking to go out and have my own party, but always managed to call home at midnight and wish them a Happy New Year.

I don't know when but their parties eventually stopped and so did the calling at Midnight since they would be asleep and I didn't want to bother them. Again, I don't know when but my partying also stopped and last night at midnight if I had gotten a phone call to wish me a Happy New Year I would have been woken as well.

It seems like the older I get, the more reliant I become on memories since it becomes harder and harder to make new ones, at least of the same caliber. The old adage that "a picture says a thousand words" might be true, but a memory, aah, now a memory can write a whole book!

Here it is over forty years later and the pictures have all faded, I know that's a fact, but the memory of it is as vivid as if it happened just one minute ago and can be recalled with no struggle at all. Why is it that I can't remember what I ate for supper 2 nights ago?