My First Funeral

I’m referring to my Grandpa’s funeral; he died when I was in fifth grade. His services iStock-173198700-1280x720began with a “wake” which was held in his church.

What is a “wake?” These thoughts are from the Protestant perspective, or more specifically, a primitive denomination viewpoint. A wake is an old, old custom rarely seen these days. The original idea was that family members would remain with the body for a period of time and remain awake, watchful, and praying. A common time frame for this event was three days and usually the deceased remained in the home for those days. Originally, there was the belief that the body could be overtaken by an evil spirit after death and the people watching could prevent this.

A common thought is that a wake was intended to verify that the person had, in fact, died. But the practice of wakes continued to take place well into the 20th century – even though the idea of inhabitation by evil spirits had by then been widely rejected. Also, holding wakes occurred even long after the practice of embalming was well established. It would be impossible for an embalmed body to revive from a comatose or near-death state.

Grandpa and Grandma had given the church a building lot on their land so the church was just across the field. There was quite a tribe of cousins and we didn’t understand about a “wake” and we had no desire to sit in a church with a deceased person in a closed casket (even though it was Grandpa) and a crowd of emotional people. So, we were allowed to go “up to the house” and so we could get away from it for a while.

And things were fine until it got dark. Suddenly we all heard something – a noise we could not identify. Then the terror fell upon us. We had all been subjected to superstitious stories by Grandma when we visited so we were certain that what we heard was a GHOST—or maybe even Grandpa! We ran! Every last one of us! I remember running in the mostly dark down a rutted dirt lane. My sister was just enough older than I was that she realized we would have to run beside the highway if we kept going, so we cut sideways across the field to get to the church. The adrenaline carried us all the way there – though a bit slower than the cousins!

I don’t remember anything until the scene jumps and I am in the church on the day of the funeral. This particular denomination would always, I have learned since, have a string of preachers take their turn preaching at every service, even funerals. My Grandpa had been one of the preachers in that church, so he may have had the honor of a visiting preacher or four. They have a particular style of preaching that is very energetic, but hard to understand. The service was long, long, long. The drive to the cemetery was long. The graveside service was long. I only have specific impressions after the near-ghosting – short shadows of a few memories all shoved together.

Why did I want to share this with you? True confession, it is great of fun to tell, because it is kind of weird. Primarily though, it is a part of my history. The death of a grandparent is a hard, hard thing that many parents want very badly to shield their children from the experience. They want to protect their children from all real-life human death.

ChildAttendingFuneral-1 Our protectiveness drives us to seclude them from calling hours and funeral services and grave side committals. We fear that we are going to damage their tender emotional health by exposing them to the realities that each person must someday face in one way or another. I believe this approach is detrimental to the child.

That death is inevitable is without question. Today’s children will experience death less frequently than children of the past. Families are smaller, infant and child death rates in the United States are less than in the past, adults are living longer. By default, young people have less exposure to death than people of previous generations. The result of this is that they have a nearly non-existent framework for managing the process of death and the events following.

should-children-attend-funeralsParents will have few opportunities to journey with their children through this difficult time, so I believe they should be willing to walk them through each loss that comes. When a friend of the family or distant relative dies, this can be a time of learning and preparation for the youngster. When the parents process death maturely in the presence of their children, they gain a wealth of information that will help them throughout their lives. They learn basic things such as the social graces of how to conduct themselves in the funeral setting. They learn family culture as they observe the ceremonies that are chosen for the purpose of honoring the deceased. They also learn about more difficult tasks, including processing the emotions that refuse to be controlled or reconciling the ideas of death and their faith or after-life beliefs, or managing various aspects of grief.

I am sad when I see parents who do not understand that they have so few times when they can make an incredibly positive impact on the long-term emotional health of their children. By the simple act of allowing the child to observe them in the funeral setting and by speaking carefully and truthfully about the events, parents can set their children on a path of healthy attitudes toward death.

I encourage parents to include their children in the various ceremonies of a funeral event – calling hours, funeral or memorial service, graveside service. I believe it helps them to be encouraged to take a participatory role as this helps them to process their own grief.

Given all this, a parent may be overwhelmed by the prospect of presenting something child-funeral-crying-blog5-e1510928675106-600x300that they, themselves, do not know all that well. We offer a resource that they may not even realize is an option. I am available to give tours of the public spaces in our facilities, and to talk with children about how to “do” the social things at a funeral, and to help them understand that they will be sad and that’s okay. During the tour, they will hear suggestions that will help them to process their grief and direct them toward healthy closure. A funeral home does not have to be a big scary place in their minds; I love to help children see that they can be comfortable and find closure through the funeral services.

My first funeral was not your normal sort of event, to be sure, and I have many impressions but few solid memories. But it taught me about some of our family culture, which as an adult I have come to value more highly, so I’m thankful to have been included. My own children, to this day as adults, have not experienced the death of a close relative, but I’m hopeful that they have a been instilled with the framework of how to prepare for that time.

 

 

 

Pooh said it . . . (1)

I love quotes. I enjoy concise statements that hold profound thoughts. I have quote signs in my house. I believe that these little signs help keep us focused and on track all through out the day. I have lately become aware of numerous quotes by a loveable bear, Winnie the Pooh.

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“Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.”

So what’s in your today or tomorrow? Lots of problems that you have been staring you in the face for some time now? That’s the thing about problems, they just hang around and we feel like we always have to be conquering them. And once one is solved, it seems there are always more to fill the space.

We are all on the same page about the latest problem of Covid-19. This problem has been stealing quality time for weeks and weeks. It promises to steal away our summer, and our autumn and maybe even our winter by affecting our vacations, our harvests, and our employment. Obviously, I have no answers to this problem—lots of opinions, but nothing of substance.

But the journey–I am so encouraged by those of you who are still making a wonderful journey for yourselves and your families. On Facebook, I asked for people to share “one great thing the little people in your house did today!”

The responses were truly delightful and included:
Molly JT – Belly laughed…with one another, again and again. Time together is bringing them even closer.

Kimberly – They actually got along all day and hung out together.

Jordan – Read a story together like we do every night before bed and with the little babe, snuggled.

Katrina – Helped clean up the kitchen.

Joy – He wanted to talk about Jesus a lot at bedtime and wanted to pray on his own. Without prompting, he prayed, “Jesus, You are Lord and God.”

Chris – Sang the entire Hallelujah Chorus with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on video.

Tricia – Our little girl has been saying “I love God” all on her own, many times a day!

Aimee – He climbed up in the chair with me and cuddled for a half hour before bedtime.

And I love Tara’s contribution:
My kids brought all their outside toys into the turkey coop and set up a little amusement park so the turkeys could have fun!

Such entertaining and creative things happening in your homes! Remembering that we are on a journey together may be just the thing to help us focus on the good experiences rather than the problems. We all know that our problems are always going to be with us, but how easy it is to forget that the other people in our homes are what makes the journey exciting, fun, and memorable.

When we each come to our own journey’s end, we will not be thinking about all the problems we solved or the many that were elusive. We will be thinking about those dear people who experienced with us the joys and heartaches, the triumphs and the tragedies, the moments and the milestones. May we each find ways every day to celebrate our journey and experience the great things that are in our homes, just waiting to be noticed.

Celebrate your life and cherish memories!

Feel free to add a comment about some good things happening in your homes . . .

 

Not about the works . . .

Bud is home.

It is pretty amazing that he only arrived there Wednesday afternoon and is home today. He has seen a great deal in these few days and he was prepared to stay longer. In the last 24-hour period he was there, he noticed a significant slow-down in the number of calls for initial transport, so it seemed like a good time to transition out.

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The vehicles in this lane are waiting for entrance into a hospital morgue area for transporting bodies.

During his time there, he did have opportunity for interaction with people in various settings. While waiting in line to pick up a body, he visited with a Muslim chaplain. The man shared that he felt that this is a good time for people to be doing good works so that their good can outweigh their bad in hopes of going to heaven. Their conversation touched several topics which Bud found interesting to learn about from the man’s perspective. And where he could he tried to lay a little seed. He pointed out to the man that we can all know for sure if we are going to heaven and it’s not about what we do, but about who we know.

A message I heard this morning pointed out that our good works are not about the deed, they are about the heart and the relationship. I understood that God does not see the deed, He sees the heart, because of the relationship. So, I surmise that if God does not recognize the person doing the good work the deed goes unnoticed.

How often do I perceive the good things that your child does? Not often, especially if I have never met your child. But just let my child do something kind or thoughtful and I take notice! The two children could have done the exact same thing, but because I have a relationship with one of them his/her deeds mean something. The same way with God.

But our good works are not what has ensured our entrance into heaven. They are a reflection of the relationship that we have with Him. The faith part was first, and then the good works come forth from there.

Perhaps Bud planted enough of a seed in this meeting to inspire more investigation.

This is where Bud worked while he was Downstate.

Last Responders

Most of them don’t feel like heroes. They are normal, flawed people just fulfilling their purpose in life. Most of the time, their purpose isn’t spotlighted by the world. Most of them are usually chagrined by the attention and just want to serve. Bud is one of those people. He went to the NY epicenter because 1) he is able — many of our hometown heroes must be here to serve locally, or to care for growing families, and 2) because serving families is his purpose. And he is one of those people who does not count himself as a hero. When you just want to serve an amazing God, you know who the real Hero is.

But there come those critical moments in history when these people, in “doing what they do” are understood as a crucial component of our society. People are finding thoughtful ways to show their appreciation for the service received from the responders — first, middle and last. Here’s an example of what one business in Queens is doing for the “heroes”:

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Sent via text from Bud today.

In my feed came a posting from Pat McGowan, one of my instructors from Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary science. I have permission to include it here:

 

“Some days all that can be done
is to salvage one sadness from the mass
of sadnesses, to bear one body home,
to lay the dead out among their people,
organize the flowers and casseroles,
write the obits, meet the mourners at the door,
drive the dark procession down through town,
toll the bell, dig the hole, tend the pyre.
It’s what we do. The daylong news is dire—
full of true believers and politicos,
bold talk of holy war and photo-ops.
But here, brave men and women pick the pieces up.
They serve the living, caring for the dead.
Here the distant battle is waged in homes.
Like politics, all funerals are local.”

And Pat concludes the post with a heart-felt greeting:

Thank you to my friends and colleagues who are the “Last Responders”.
Stay safe and stay strong.

 

Not in Kansas

IMG_0446This is a photo that Bud sent me via text, with the caption that said, “Verrazano Bridge – not in Kansas anymore.” He took this on his way to Coney Island on Wednesday.

Navigating the City was nothing like usual. This photo was taken during “rush hour” but the normal rush was nonexistent. It appears that the situation held a similar surreal quality such as when Dorothy found herself in the Land of Oz.

The purpose of this trip to Coney Island is to answer a call for assistance with the many death cases occurring in the area. In September, 2001 there was a call for funeral directors in New York City.  At that time, Bud did not feel that he was in a position to help.

Once again, there is a call for funeral directors. The providers there are overwhelmed with the number of cases and need help with transporting the deceased, embalming or cremation prep, and many other tasks. Bud has been thinking of going for a couple of weeks, as this time he feels he should be there.

One of the funeral homes he contacted had, at the time of his initial contact with them, 109 cases to work through, with more calls coming. For comparison, funeral homes that are members of the National Funeral Director’s Association handle, on average, 113 cases per year. This one facility is working to serve one hundred and nine families, and their call rate is currently about 30 new calls per day.

On his first partial day, Bud has simply been transporting decedents from the morgue at Mount Sinai Hospital to the funeral home. The photo below was captioned: Ramp to temporary morgue, Trailer 2. (The temporary morgue is not the house in the background, rather it is the white trailer.)

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In my reading, I’ve learned that most hospitals in the area have morgue capacity for about 12, but there are some that can handle up to 25. This has resulted in the installation of the temporary morgues.

As you consider the situation in New York City, whatever you may think of the entire Covid-19 scenario, please remember that grief is running rampant there. Vast numbers are managing grief every day and their pain is deep and real. Please pray for those families and friends who are navigating the valley of the shadow of death.

Please pray for Bud. It may be that he will be the most help by transporting, but whatever his assigned task, it will be challenging simply because of the sheer numbers involved.

 

Not cancelled . . .

I’m feeling it, so I’m sure that you are as well, that it would be wonderful if we could move on from the current health crisis. COVID-19 has hijacked our entire existence and even our deaths, and as such, we all need to adapt. Yet funerals still happen and need to happen. Mourning does not stop for a virus. Grieving continues, and in some families, is amplified because of the virus.

We continue to offer viewings and funeral services for the immediate family. For years we have offered free webcasting services. This service is even more valuable to you now in the midst of the current crisis. Given the private nature of funerals, our streaming is password protected, giving you total control over your guest list. You choose your password and give it to those friends and family that you’d like to participate.

I love these words by  Jamie Tworkowski from the TWLOHA blogsite:

“Conversations will not be cancelled.
Relationships will not be cancelled.
Love will not be cancelled.
Songs will not be cancelled.
Reading will not be cancelled.
Self-care will not be cancelled.
Hope will not be cancelled.”

Adding to the list:

Mourning will not be cancelled.
Compassion will not be cancelled.
Encouragement will not be cancelled.

We are here to help and offer hope. Click on the image below for a story of hope . . .

Promise-Blog

 

We don’t sell you flowers . . .

Recently a lovely lady approached us during calling hours to ask about the flowers she ordered. She indicated that she had purchased them from our website and the order said that the flowers would be delivered in time for the visitation. Her flowers were not on display and she was dismayed that we would make a promise like this and then not fulfill.funeral flowers

As I began to talk with her, I realized that it would be better to ask her to show me how she had ordered the flowers. We went to the office and I showed her our website. I took her to the obituary and I clicked on the “Send Flowers” link. This link is shown on every current obituary page. The link takes you to a page that shows some local florists from whom flowers may be ordered. But there is no order form, simply phone numbers and names.

She said this is not where she got the flowers; in fact, the page she used had flowers shown and choices to make and could be ordered directly from that page.

I then did a search on the obituary, which brought up the Legacy.com version as the top option in the search. I clicked on the obituary and she was very excited to see the exact page she had seen earlier.

But this page has nothing to do with us. We do not support it, nor do we benefit from it. In fact, we usually are harmed by it–as are our local florists. What we would like for each person to understand is that Legacy.com is big business.

From Wikipedia:

Legacy.com is a website founded in 1998, the world’s largest commercial provider of online memorials. The Web site hosts obituaries and memorials for more than 70 percent of all U.S. deaths. Legacy.com hosts obituaries for more than three-quarters of the 100 largest newspapers in the U.S., by circulation. The site attracts more than 30 million unique visitors per month and is among the top 40 trafficked websites in the world.

Legacy.com is a privately held company based in Evanston, Illinois, with more than 1500 newspaper affiliates in North America, Europe and Australia . . . .”

As you can see, newspapers are primarily responsible for the success of Legacy.com. Our local papers jumped onto this platform many years ago because it took away the need for them to support websites to hold myriad obituaries for their local community. They found a way to allow someone else to carry the cost of perpetual maintenance of the life stories of the people in your hometown. And that was just fine with Legacy.com because they had a larger vision.

Now you can search for an obituary from your community and land on a national clearing house that looks like it could be a page from the funeral home down the street. And on that page, they will be offering to sell you flowers, candy, balloons, chocolates, and various other comfort items.

But they are not us. They are not even the local florist. They are not even in our state. And Legacy.com makes promises that cannot be kept because they do not understand the economic and customer service dynamics of our region.

And if they cannot deliver, as was the case in my opening story, they don’t care. The lady of the story did not receive any kind of customer service call telling her there would be no flowers. She just arrived and was totally disappointed.

So, why do we allow this to happen? Shouldn’t we be the top response when someone searches for an obituary. We learned a long time ago that Legacy.com has resources that we cannot match–literally, a business has to “buy” the opportunity to be at the top of the results when a search is performed.

So “Caveat emptor” — that web site that you’re clicking on might not have anything to do with a local business. When searching obituaries, you can be sure that Legacy.com is not a “local” company and they do not support local businesses.

If you must search for a place to purchase flowers — start on the website of the funeral home handling the services. Some of those do, in fact, have ordering platforms from which you can order flowers. In these situations, the florist is not getting the full cost of the arrangement as the funeral home receives a commission.

On our site, you will find referrals to our local florists.  These establishments are in the business of flowers and provide wonderful services directly to you. They answer to you and you can bring your concerns and questions directly to them. And from them, you can expect and receive excellent service on the arrangements you need for funerals in our area.

(And please, read the other postings about bloomstoday.com, flowers.com, and other flower gathering services….)

(Just for fun – I looked up the ranking for our website. In the United States, there are 1,727,216 sites that get more traffic than does ours!)

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Half-Way Day!

As many of you know, I (Linda) have been working on obtaining my funeral director’s license. I take classes through Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.

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Last week was a milestone because it included HALF-WAY DAY! October 4, 2019 is the last day of my program!

Thank you for your encouragement and prayers! We’re on the backside!

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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