A Sacred Season

I know that this is a very difficult time of year for many people. It is hard for orphans, who long for the love of a family. It is hard for families experiencing chronic trial, who long for a measure of peace. It is hard for those who are caught in addictions, who long for something of true substance to fill the void in their hearts. It is hard for suicide loss survivors, who long for answers or the opportunity to intervene. It is hard for those who have lost loved ones to other causes, who long for just one more day, one more smile.

There are so many ways to be hurt and wanting, that I could go on and on about how the holidays are difficult.

I believe that funeral directors feel this depth of hurt in their own way at this time of year. These people are wired to empathize with the pain that they encounter. While they have not walked every path of pain, they understand it’s depth and power over people.

This is perhaps why we walk a little more softly, so to speak, at this time of year. We pray for people in our community, that the Valley of the Shadow of Death would be a trip that each can avoid during the Christmas season. While the journey is arduous at any time, walking that valley during the “most wonderful time of the year” is nearly overwhelming.

We know of some who are, indeed, walking that valley right now. Our hearts are heavy for every one of them. Even as they are experiencing the ravages of death upon their bodies, they are doing all that they can to hold on to family traditions and to make memories for their loved ones to hold on to long after they have departed. These “would be” joyful days are tinged with the sadness of knowing that these are the final days.

Yet some who are traversing the valley do so with a bit of anticipation. While this is most definitely, the “most wonderful time of the year” they know that the most wonderful time of their lives is just a bit closer to their reach. Undoubtedly, they have the same sadness as others, but it is buttressed by a sure and certain knowledge that heaven awaits them at the end of their journey.

There are so many ways to be hurt and wanting, but there is one sure way to receive comfort and peace.

No matter what is causing your pain during the sacred season of the Savior’s birth, there is hope and peace for you. This song has touched my heart this season, perhaps there is something in it for you as well.

I would be happy to pray for you during this time. Please feel free to comment about your prayer needs.

There She Goes!

When you go to all of the funerals in your town, you begin to see patterns, or repetition might be a better word. Sometimes the repetition can be dismal or sometime1k_full-sail-publicity-photos it can be comforting.

There was a particular pastor who always told the “Parable of Immortality” in the services he conducted. That piece captured my imagination and I never tired of hearing him tell it. I’ll share it with you:

Parable of Immortality

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze

and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight . . . that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .
” Here she comes! ”

Author: Henry Van Dyke

 

 

About Face

This post was originally placed in my “havenlife” blog in March 2011. It must be the snowy days because this story came to mind again today . . . 

It seems like the funeral director in your town or neighborhood has been there forever, right?  The turnover rate is so low in some places that you get the impression that he was born in the funeral home.

But when a new director does come, it’s a transitional period for the community as well as for the funeral director.  He has to learn all the names, the relationships in all the families.  He needs to learn where all the churches and cemeteries are located; develop relationships with all the pastors and cemetery sextons.  He will learn all of the town and village clerks and the local veteran’s services agent.  He will also build bridges with other area funeral directors and service organizations.  I think you’re getting the picture.

Life for the new funeral director is very interesting, indeed.  And in the early part, it’s like you never really catch up, and you’re praying like mad that things go well.

I remember Mrs. C, an amazingly gracious woman.  Her husband had passed away in during a cold, snowy winter.  She no longer lived in the area, but she understood the plight of the new funeral director; where he needed assistance with information that the previous director would have known, Mrs. C amicably provided it.

It turns out the cemetery was quite far away and it was not one that was utilized by this funeral home often.  For peace of mind, it was necessary to drive out, look over the cemetery, and develop confidence in the route for a successful processional.  Having done that, it seemed we could relax a little about logistics and concentrate on service.

The calling hours and funeral service ended, it was time to proceed to the cemetery.  An accurate and orderly processional was created and off we went.  Driving, slowly, but just driving.

And then, we noticed out the driver’s side window that Mrs. C’s car had pulled up along side of our car, having pulled out and passed the hearse to make the maneuver.  This was in 2003 and cell phones had not migrated into the elderly portion of the population at all, so this was her only method of communicating with the funeral director.

So we pulled over, lowered our window, and heard Mrs. C kindly say, “I’m not familiar with this route to the cemetery.”  Which was enough to send a creeping pink line up the funeral director’s neck (my dear husband) as he looked around to determine our location.   They discussed the situation and decided how to get things back on track for that successful processional.

As there was no cross-road nearby, a turn-around was the course of action chosen.  The “about-face” went amazingly smooth, as numerous cars executed the needed maneuvers to stay out of ditches and snow banks.

Mrs. C was, indeed, very kind about the whole situation keeping the intimate details of that conversation discretely to herself.  Of course, we now know where all the cemeteries are and have not repeated this mistake!

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Hijacking Taps

Note: This posting is not meant to demean any honor guard of any branch of the military. It is simply a true story from our cache of stories …

In January the father of a good friend passed away. And in September, we were honored to assist them in conducting a graveside memorial service in the Catskill’s, quite a distance from our home. So on a Saturday morning, we made the drive out with a van load of equipment and our friend’s father’s ashes, as well.

We found the Veteran’s Cemetery, located the grave lot, and proceeded to set up the equipment. Soon people began to arrive; and shortly, the honor guard arrived as well. There were three soldiers in attendance. What I noticed immediately was that the bugler seemed to be preparing to use a ceremonial bugle.

“The Ceremonial Bugle …

is a dignified method of playing Taps at a military funeral when a live bugler is not available for military funeral ceremonies. It was developed in order to provide a solemn visual image and as an alternative to the playing of a recorded version of Taps on a CD/cassette player.

The Ceremonial Bugle has an electronic insert that enables an individual to “symbolically” play Taps, a more respectful means to honor those who served.”

With fewer musicians available for the rendering of military honors, someone has created this product that usually works well in presenting “Taps” during a ceremony. I have seen the ceremonial bugle used successfully many times. But there were a couple of times when it was not so successful.

As I was watching the people assemble and participants preparing for the memorial service, I remembered some of those not-so-successful attempts and decided to prepare myself as well, not really thinking that I would need to do anything.

The military honor guard positioned themselves, two under the canopy to present the flag and the bugler a good distance away. And the ceremony began. The flag bearers extended the American flag as they waited for playing of taps. The bugler brought the bugle to his lips and . . . nothing happened. He, in a very stately manner, slowly dropped the bugle to his side (presumably make sure the switch was in the “on” position) and lifted it to try again . . . to no avail. With great military bearing, and as his coworkers were still standing with their arms furled out wide holding the flag, he slowly moved the bugle away from his face once again and gave it a little shake. Perhaps he was hoping that it would jar just a little bit of electricity from the battery–just enough to play “Taps” one time, please?

Once again, the bugle traveled to his lips only to leave the audience wondering, and the flag bearers struggling to maintain stance. Meanwhile, I had stepped out of the view of those in attendance and had “Taps” queued up in my cell phone. I wasn’t confident about the volume nor how well it would travel. But I did know that hijacked “Taps” is better than no “Taps” — so I drew in a “here goes” breath and pressed play.

The two soldiers holding the flag seemed to perk up a bit taller as the bugler swiftly but smoothly put the bugle to his lips and held the stance throughout the playing of “Taps” from who-knew-where. As the tribute concluded, the flag bearing soldiers proceeded with the rest of the honors ceremony as though nothing had been amiss.

As the regular military honor guard were making their formal retreat, the one of senior rank caught my eye and his expression conveyed both gratitude and relief. And since the attendees didn’t really know what was happening, they didn’t understand that there was an equipment malfunction nor did they realize that I had just hijacked “Taps.”

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http://www.167aw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123294252

Note: I believe that the color guard inspected and tested the equipment prior to beginning the service. It just seemed to be a “matter of what can go wrong–will go wrong.” 

 

 

 

Not Our Clients

In reading blogs by other funeral professionals, and in our networking situations, I hear the families being served referred to as “clients.” I suppose in the strictest sense of the word, you are “clients” or “customers.” But we just don’t think of you in that way.

When the phone rings and our services are required, we take a large breath with you and feel your loss. Our lives slow down and we once again are reminded of those intangible things that are most important to us. Things like love, reverence, friendship, and relationship. And we hang up our construction clothes, put aside our creative projects, and focus on why we are here. Even though I am not the funeral director, I am fully aware of an actual shift in our purpose and a change in our priorities.

Now is our time to stand with you and to help you. Through this process, it is amazing how much we learn about each of you. We learn things like your favorite childhood memories with the person you’ve lost; we learn about habits good and bad; we learn of your family heartaches and joys.

I love hearing the inside jokes and the practical jokes that run rampant through families. I think sharing safe/kind humor is evidence of deep love and understanding of those you live with. I am sometimes amazed to learn of the life achievements of your loved ones. Great achievements from people who were very humble or who were from humble beginnings.

In the space of three days, we are welcomed into your private lives and we get to know you images-1in a very intimate manner. Perhaps we have come to your home and spent time with you before bringing your loved one to our home. Perhaps we have prayed with you for peace and strength for the events to come in the next few days. Perhaps we have just hugged you or held your hand; or listened to that favorite story; or advised your family about practical concerns; or shared a post-funeral diner with you. . .

It is because of this that we can never call you, our friends and neighbors, “clients.” We refer to you as our “families.”

 

 

DIY Funeral Home

Purchasing a funeral home that needs updates is a challenging proposition. In 2003, we came to Andover and purchased the local funeral home, knowing that we would make many changes.

It is amazing to me now as I consider all that has transpired and as I remember that all the while the work was going on, we were living in the midst of the remodel.

Whenever Bud would begin a remodel phase, he was always trying to contain the scope of it so that he could shut it down in the event of a funeral call. He wanted to be able to shut it down in a way that would still provide a good experience for our families. (Since we never call our clients by the word clients, and we always call them families, I’m hoping that my post will not be confusing…!)

I think the most inconvenient funeral we ever had was when the Andover gathering room was increased in size. It only increased about 14 feet, but in the process of making the addition, we did get a funeral call. The family we were serving at the time was very gracious, and I think the accommodations worked so that story ends on a good note.

Anyway, the goal with renovations, is to start them and keep them moving along in the hopes of avoiding just such conflicts.

When it was time to work on the front porch, that was also the goal. The weather was good, the work space was covered, and Bud just worked and worked barely stopping for meals.

At that time, the girls were attending Andover Central School. Every day, we would have our breakfast and they would scoot along out the front door off to school. The day before “the incident” they had come home from school and entered the house up the front steps like usual and had spent the rest of the day either in the house or in the back yard via the back door.

Meanwhile, Dad came in for supper, and went back out to work on the front porch project.

And another school day came. The girls came down for breakfast and we were having a good time together. Then they realized that they were running late. Karissa was the first to lay hold of her things and she took a speedy departure. As she got to the front door, upon zipping through

she found herself airborne!

And then she went “kerplunk.”

Unbeknownst (yes, people still use that word) to us, Bud had gotten to the part of the porch project where the floor boards needed to be removed. It was a good place to stop for the night, but he didn’t remember that the girls would be exiting the front door, so precautions for a safe exit were not considered….

Thankfully, Karissa was not injured badly. Horrible as it seems, we had a hard time expressing our true empathy because our laughter was vying for first expression. Thankfully, Karissa can now laugh with us and understands the mental image we had; continue to have as I am barely able to contain myself as I write this post… (I love you Karissa! Thank you for permission to post this story.)

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