The Son of a Funeral-Planner Explores His Dad’s Grieving Process

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Funeral-Planner

Jesse grew up observing grief. He learned the most about it from his dad, a man who seemed not to express much at all. Here is how.


Lou was walking alone when he died of a heart attack. He was my dad’s brother-in-law, but they seemed more like best friends. My dad was Lou’s best man in his wedding, they’d talk politics, and they played music together. So, when my dad was put in charge of Lou’s funeral, it was no surprise that it became a multi-act musical tribute. Lou’s kids played, neighborhood kids got up, my mom and I performed.

We held in our tears during the funeral, since we had to perform. But then the final act began. It was a recording of Lou on piano and you could hear him breathing. I think it goes without saying that the last thing you expect at a funeral is to hear the dead person breathing. And so mom began to cry. I began to cry. Outside, as the funeral let out, we supported each other, sobbing. My dad remained inside, arguing with the sound crew.

At that point in our lives, my family had been been playing in my dad’s funeral band for several years. This was the fifth funeral my dad had planned. But what started as a genuine attempt to honor the departed had become hard for me to understand. I wondered if somewhere along the way to funeral director, my dad had lost his ability to grieve.

* * *

You could say it all begins with Johnnie. He was my dad’s older cousin and they were close. Johnnie was a charming kid who wore patches from yoyo competitions, did trick-dives off the diving board. When Johnnie would visit for the weekend, my dad looked forward to sharing a room.But there was also a darker side to Johnnie’s life. His mom was the daughter of a military officer and came from an abusive background, a tradition she seems to have passed on. There were rumors that she whipped him with belts and threw him against walls. When he was 1 year old, he had a broken leg, cause unknown.

Once Johnnie turned 18, he took off. No one heard from him for years, though snippets came down the grapevine that he had grown his hair out, discovered heroin. And then just like that, Johnny reentered my dad’s life. “I went out to one of the first fiddler conventions,” my dad told me, “and I got out there kind of early. I saw a guy dumpster-diving for food, and I took a closer look, and it was my cousin Johnnie.”

They spent the day together, talked about Johnnie’s family. My dad offered him a place to live and Johnnie accepted. But before long, alcohol starting disappearing from the house. I was a baby, my dad could be gone for long periods of time, and my mom, who had once dated an alcoholic, felt uneasy about the situation. “He had that, I don’t know how to say it, this jive, the lying, the part that I had been dealing with for so long with somebody who had that kind of addiction.”

My dad asked Johnnie to move out and once again he disappeared. From what we know, the rest of his life was spent doing odd jobs, battling addiction, getting arrested, and studying the Bible with a men’s Christian group. Then, on his 50th birthday, after relapsing, he went to Big Sur and killed himself under the stars. My dad took it hard. He asked Johnnie’s mother if they were going to have a funeral and she refused. She accused Johnnie of taking his own life just to get back at her. So my dad picked some songs, wrote a eulogy, and put on a funeral himself.

“Chat, rap, talk, spinning the yarn, that was Johnnie’s gift wasn’t it?” my dad’s eulogy began.

My mom and I joined my dad up front. We played an old folk song called “Hobo’s Lullaby” (I knew it because my dad would sing it to me before bed). The rest of the funeral went well. People stayed and ate dinner. Dad didn’t cry. He didn’t seem sad. He circulated around the room, calm, cracking jokes. But in the weeks that followed the funeral, he stopped singing “Hobo’s Lullaby.” When I’d ask for it before bed, he’d say, very nicely, “I can’t sing that song.”

I could tell something was going on for dad. I didn’t realize it then, but that song, “Hobo’s Lullaby,” was a brief window into my dad’s sadness. And then, just like that, it shut again.

* * *

A few years after Johnny’s death, my grandmother had a stroke and the process began again. This time the death took many months and my dad was put in charge of caretaking. Day by day, her body and mind broke down. He was by her side when she died. Soon after, we discovered that my grandmother had planned her own funeral. She not only requested specific songs, but specific people, including the family funeral band, to sing them. My dad arranged the performances and pushed us to practice. Then the day of the funeral arrived and to the surprise of everyone but my grandmother, 300 people arrived. We shook with nerves as we played. The audience clapped.

Afterwards, we packed the minivan with equipment and barely made the reception in the backyard of my grandfather’s house. People shook our hands and complimented us.

Once we played her funeral, the expectations were set. We played when my Uncle Tom died. We played when my grandfather died. And a funny thing happened, the more tragedy struck, the better we got. By the time Lou died, we were ready to really put on a show. But that window into my dad’s grief didn’t reopen and I was left wondering, once again, what was going on inside my dad’s head.

* * *

Years passed, we continued to play funerals. But as I got older, moved out of the house and struck out on my own, I began to resent my dad’s demands. I started dating, and I began to wonder why I had difficulty showing emotion. I knew it had something to do with my dad and that angered me. I decided: no more family band. I went on strike. And then a few more years passed, more dating, and I began revisiting the most important deaths and funerals of my childhood. And as I did so, I came to see my dad’s emotions, and mine, in a new light.

When I went to my mom and asked her about my dad, she told me something that happened to her the last time she was on stage. She is a very nervous person and when she’s performing with my dad, she searches the audience for someone she finds reassuring. But this time, during “Amazing Grace,” she did something different.

“I started looking around at different people and I could see that they were very moved. There was part of me that felt I did it right, using my own feelings to portray this song, to sing it, but also recognizing the effect my singing had.”

This got me thinking. Maybe, for my dad, performing is about experiencing grief. Maybe he can feel loss by seeing it in others; a kind of grief by proxy. Could that be it?

The final answer came later.

My girlfriend was driving and I put in a recording of the family band. As the music played, my parents’ voices coming through the tinny speakers, the emotion that swept over me came as a surprise. I felt proud. I watched my girlfriend’s face as the music played, hoping the music would bring tears to her eyes. “Listen to this one,” I said. “You can hear my uncle breathing. This one has my cousin on it.”

As I searched her face for a reaction, I remembered what my dad gets out of these performances. Yes, he feels pain and loss. He feels sadness. But it’s the performance that does that. It’s the performance that allows him to see his own pain through someone else’s eyes. And just like my dad, I was seeking this from my girlfriend’s reaction, this many years later.

And so, if I should lose someone close to me, here’s what you can do. Watch me play, let the music move you, and let me watch the music move you. Come up to me afterwards and let me shrug in modesty, crack a joke. Let me pretend I don’t care. But let me think, secretly: Yes, I’m the son of a funeral planner. Yes, I play in the Family Funeral Band.

Getting to know my dad in a deeper way allowed me to learn something about myself. We are not macho men, but we aren’t liberated men, either. Somehow, we learned to circumvent the emotional limitations of masculinity by performing our grief. It’s a work-around, we know.

It’s the best we can manage, for now.

Complete Article HERE!

What to Expect When You Come to the Funeral Home

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After you’ve decided on a funeral home and are ready to begin the process of planning a funeral, your funeral director will ask you to come into the facilities for a visit. This personal contact with the people in charge of your loved one’s remains is an important step in the grieving process. Not only will you get to benefit from face-to-face interaction, but you’ll also be walked through each decision ahead of you.

Although every funeral home operates differently, most visits take on a fairly similar format. Expect yours to look something like this.

  • Initial Telephone Contact: Almost all funerals begin with a phone call to the funeral home of your choice. Your funeral director will tell you where to come to make the arrangements, set up an appointment, and let you know what types of items to bring with you. These often include financial papers as well as personal effects.

  • Meet the Staff: Your funeral director will be there to greet you when you arrive. This individual will become your primary point of contact for all the funeral plans you have ahead of you—and he or she will also become your partner in grief. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and accept support when you need it. That’s what the funeral director is there for.

  • Make Arrangements: After you arrive at the funeral home, you’ll most likely be led to a consultation room. Offering privacy and comfort, this room is where your funeral director will walk you through the process of making final arrangements. Even if the deceased had everything pre-planned or laid out in a will, the next-of-kin will be responsible for solidifying all decisions.

  • View Caskets/Options: While catalogs exist to help you visualize the details of the funeral, many funeral homes also have showrooms where you can see the caskets, linings, and urns for yourself. Many people find it comforting to make a tactile connection to these types of items.

  • Go Over Payment Plans: Paying for a funeral is a costly affair, even if the deceased set aside money for the final arrangements. Once you’ve decided on the type of funeral you’d like to hold, your funeral director will go over your payment options. No matter how difficult, this is a necessary conversation, and you will have to sign contracts before things can be set in motion.

  • A Moment to Reflect: It can be difficult to make these kinds of decisions all at once, so never be afraid to ask for a moment to yourself. No decisions have to be made during this initial consultation, so if you want time to talk to family members, have the contract looked over by a lawyer, or to slow down and think things through, you have every right to ask for time.

You also are not obligated to sign up for any services at all if you feel like the funeral home might not be a good fit. Although you may have to pay for transportation and service fees if you choose to have the body transferred to another home, you’re never locked into a funeral provider you don’t like until the contracts are signed.

Complete Article HERE!

Why the First Cremation in the U.S. Was So Controversial

It was a scandalous topic before Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in 1876.

By Amy Elliott Bragg

LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.
LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.

“Things were a little ghostly,” wrote a reporter for the Philadelphia Times, setting the scene for a morbid public spectacle. The press had been invited to the first “modern” cremation performed in the United States. It was December 6, 1876.

The Times reporter was among a crowd of journalists and townspeople gathered at the top of a hill in Washington, Pennsylvania to witness the first run of a new crematory built by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne. The furnace, designed by LeMoyne and built on his own property, was based on a working model presented at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. The remains to be cremated were those of Joseph Henry Louis Charles, Baron de Palm, a Theosophist who was fascinated by “Eastern” philosophy, and besides that had once known a woman who had been buried alive, and was terrified by the prospect.

Burning the dead is an ancient practice, and in some cultural traditions, it’s a thousands-year-old norm. Today, cremation in the U.S. is soaring in popularity; by 2018, the Cremation Association of North America predicts that over 50 percent of Americans will choose to have their bodies cremated.

Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.
Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.

But in late 19th-century America, cremation was a radical, tradition-bucking idea. LeMoyne and other cremation advocates believed that burying the dead in the ground allowed germs to seep into the soil, thus contributing to the spread of diseases like cholera, typhus, and yellow fever. Cremation promised to sterilize human remains and bypass the altogether slow and icky process of decomposition. When performed in a state-of-the-art indoor furnace, it was a sanitary and high-tech alternative to burial.

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.
Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.

Throughout the 1870s and ’80s, as debates about cremation raged in the papers, local cremation societies were organized to argue their case and — more importantly—to raise funds to build crematories. The first public crematory in the U.S., at Lancaster, Pennsylvania—funded by the Lancaster Cremation and Funeral Reform Society—was built in 1884. By 1887, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Detroit had all built crematories, many of them designed to look like chapels, with stained glass and stonework. These crematories operated independently of cemeteries, which saw cremationists as competitors.

A few of these early crematories still exist; in Cincinnati, the building is hiding behind deceptive new construction.

The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.
The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.

Sometimes the dead traveled hundreds of miles to have their last wishes fulfilled. When Barbara Schorr died in Millersburg, Ohio in 1887, her family honored her wish to be cremated by sending her body to the Detroit Crematorium—nearly 200 miles away, it was nonetheless the closest crematory. But it was still under construction, so Barbara Schorr lay in state for several weeks while it was completed.

Today, a portrait of Barbara Schorr, commissioned by her sons, hangs in the columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery, honoring her as a pioneer of the cremation movement in Detroit.

 A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.
A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.

Because cremation was a moral crusade for the betterment of public health, it attracted sympathizers from other moral causes to its ranks, including no small number of women activists. The suffragist Lucy Stone was the first person cremated at the Forest Hills Crematory in Boston in 1893. Frances Willard—suffragist, temperance activist, and avid bicyclist—was also a vocal advocate of cremation. In 1900, the New York Times ran a satirical news item about the cremation of Willard’s cat: “Each of Toots’s human friends will sprinkle a little myrrh or frankincense over the body, and while it is being consumed the incense will counteract any odor which might be emitted through the furnace chimney.”

By the early 20th century, the sensationalism of cremation had waned, and the practical case for cremation was winning minds. After all, cremation, which requires no elaborate monument marker or plot purchase, is significantly less expensive than in-ground burial. Eventually, cemetery directors realized they might be better off joining the cremationists than trying to beat them. In 1899, Mount Auburn Cemetery—famously one of the original rural cemeteries in the U.S.—hired an architect to renovate an existing chapel on the grounds into a crematory. It was the first cemetery crematory in the state of Massachusetts, and it marked a turning point in the history from what was once a “ghostly” spectacle to an agreeably American way of death and burial.

Complete Article HERE!

NYU: We Didn’t Know That Donated Bodies Were Winding Up In Mass Graves

NYU

 
New York University has apologized for allowing bodies donated for use as cadavers by medical students to wind up in mass graves for paupers.

The New York Times found (http://nyti.ms/1Ua2cO5 ) that the remains of donors who had signed forms that promised cremation and the disposal of their ashes “in an appropriate and dignified manner” were instead sent to Hart Island, a potter’s field where unclaimed bodies are buried at public expense.

“As an institution, we weren’t aware that this was happening,” Lisa Greiner, a spokeswoman for NYU Langone Medical Center, told the Times.

Mel Rosenfeld, the senior associate dean for medical education at NYU, said the practice ended in 2013 when the medical school instituted “major changes to our disposition practices for donor remains.” Now, all donated cadavers are cremated, with the ashes returned to families or scattered in a crematory’s memorial garden.

The bodies buried on Hart Island included those of well-off and prominent New Yorkers such as the reproductive rights advocate Ruth Proskauer Smith, who died in 2010 at the Dakota, one of New York City’s most fabled apartment buildings.

Her son, Anthony R. Smith, said in a letter to the Times that his mother would have been outraged by the way her remains were handled “not because she would have cared where she was ‘disposed of’ but because this hugely wealthy institution used this device to cheat the city by having taxpayers pay for burial.”

Marie Muscarnera was buried in a mass grave in 2008 even though she had left $691,700 to the NYU medical school in her will.

The Times says that Muscarnera grew up in Brooklyn in dire poverty but amassed a nest egg of more than $1.3 million through her dressmaking talent and shrewd investments.

Muscarnera left all her money to charity and donated her body to the medical school for use as a cadaver, signing the form saying she wished her remains to be cremated.

Instead, the medical school used her body as a cadaver for three years and then paid a funeral home $225 to transport it to a city morgue in the Bronx. Muscarnera’s body was boxed in pine and ferried to Hart Island, where the city pays inmates 50 cents an hour to do the burying.

Complete Article HERE!

Dying traditions, and new life, in the funeral industry

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Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.
Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.

Death is inevitable, but, increasingly, traditional burials are not.

From diamonds made from cremated remains to eco-friendly interments, the $20 billion funeral industry is being reshaped, creating opportunities for the entrepreneurially minded — and financial hardship for those with business models more set in stone.

Consider:

At Rockland Golf Course a few years ago, a kayaker paddled to the middle of a pond with the cremated remains of a golfer who had hit many an errant ball into the water. As the rower released the biodegradable container and the ashes dispersed, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and 75 members of the man’s golf league chipped shots into the water.

A Great Barrington woman wrapped her mother’s body in a cotton sheet and laid her in a cardboard coffin lined with dry ice. The family then held a three-day vigil at her home dance studio, inviting people to play music and see and touch her face for the last time.

In Woburn, a carpenter with a degenerative brain condition is set to be buried in a suit embedded with mushrooms, which will neutralize the toxins in his body as it decomposes into the earth.

In Seattle, plans are underway for a facility to turn corpses into compost; in Italy, a pair of designers is working on a biodegradable burial seed pod that will allow a person’s decaying body to provide nutrients for a tree planted on top of it.

But the number of alternatives to caskets and cemeteries is making life tough for undertakers and monument makers.

At Woodlawn Monuments Inc. in Everett, sales have been in a “freefall” over the past 10 years, said co-owner David DeFilippo. His family has been making tombstones since his great-grandfather opened a shop in 1907, but DeFilippo, 50, said the company – which also employs his mother, aunt, and uncle — is likely to end with him.

“People always say to me, ‘You’re set, people are always going to die,’” said Jeff Hardy, of the Chelmsford burial vault company Hardy Doric Inc. “Well yeah, it’s what happens to them after that keeps changing.”

Death rates are rising as America’s population ages, but with some estimating that cremations surpassed burials for the first time last year, and other cheaper alternatives becoming more popular, profits are being tamped down.

Lewis Funeral Home on Nantucket closed its doors in 2013 after 135 years in business, citing the rise in cremation as a cause. Families who opt for cremation spend 42 cents on the dollar compared with those who have traditional burials, said Teresa Gyulafia, strategic communications director at Batesville, a funeral product manufacturer in Batesville, Ind. — “a big economic burden to the industry.”

Interest in cremations has risen swiftly in recent years, particularly among the growing ranks of the nonreligious. In the 1960s, less than 5 percent of deaths resulted in cremations, according to the Cremation Association of North America. But after the Catholic Church lifted the ban on cremations in 1963 and started allowing cremated remains at funeral Masses in 1997, the practice has become more common. In Maine, which has one of the country’s highest cremation rates, 73 percent of deaths resulted in cremations last year. In Massachusetts, it was 45 percent.

By 2030, the national cremation rate is expected to be 71 percent.

The movement toward cremation and natural burials harkens back to the way things used to be done. Cremation was big during the Roman Empire, before the practice became associated with pagan rituals. Embalming arose during the Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies of fallen soldiers being shipped home from the battlefield.

In response to a shifting market, traditional funeral providers are branching out, offering more custom products and personalized service. To counter a drop in domestic sales, Dodge Co. in Billerica, the world’s largest supplier of embalming fluid, has been selling more sports-themed urns and video tributes. New England Casket Co. in East Boston, founded by an Italian cabinet maker in the 1930s and now run his grandson, makes a casket with a camouflage lining and a rifle holder, among other unique offerings, and has started making more oversized caskets for an increasingly larger clientele.

At Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, owner Bob Biggins offers concierge services: making arrangements with caterers, helping plan dinners at country clubs, and arranging bereavement rates at hotels for out-of-town guests.

Biggins coordinated the golf course memorial. He also put together a funeral procession for an ice cream man led by his iconic truck, complete with popsicles for guests at the grave site, and had a body shop paint a casket to look like a school bus for a local driver.

“You have to adapt to meet what your clients’ needs are,” Biggins said, “and it’s not the old-fashioned cookie-cutter funeral.”

As death becomes less of a taboo topic — at “death cafes” the end of life is discussed over tea and cake — people are also increasingly looking for unique ways to memorialize the dead. Off the coast of Florida, a manmade reef serves as an underwater mausoleum for cremated remains. The Daytona International Speedway considered creating a place to house urns, known as a columbarium, to accommodate NASCAR fans who had been scattering ashes inside the track.

The burgeoning natural burial movement is also changing the industry. The Green Burial Council, which certifies environmentally friendly providers, started with a single funeral home in New Mexico in 2006; today, there are more than 300.

When Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge held a workshop on green burials two years ago, on a sunny Saturday in June, 150 people showed up. “It was the first beach day of the summer, and all these people came to hear about death and disposition,” said Candace Currie, director of planning and cemetery development.

Mount Auburn has sold about half of its 50 natural grave sites in the past two years, and the nonprofit Green Burial Massachusetts Inc. is working to establish the first all-natural cemetery in the state. Mourning Dove Studio in Arlington has seen a sharp uptick in demand this year forbiodegradable caskets made of recycled paper, woven banana leaves, cardboard, and pine.

The process of alkaline hydrolysis, in which bodies are dissolved in a lye-like solution with the help of heat and pressure — seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation — is legal in a handful of states, including Maine and Vermont.

Some question the movement toward scattered ashes and unmarked graves as too ephemeral.

“How are we going to record our existence?” said Jacquelyn Taylor, a former professor of funeral service education at Mount Ida College in Newton who works as a data analyst for the Dodge Co.

But just because people want a natural burial doesn’t mean they don’t want a place to be remembered.

Dennis White, the Woburn carpenter with a degenerative brain disease, will be the first person to be buried in a Coeio mushroom suit. White, 64, liked the idea of returning his body’s energy to the earth, free of toxins, but wanted a plaque to mark his final resting spot. In Limington, Maine, he and his wife found a cemetery that would let them do both.

Ann-Elizabeth Barnes, the Western Massachusetts woman who held a home funeral for her mother and helps others do the same, said the experience helped bring her closure.

“The first day she looked like herself. She had a little smile on her face. She looked quite peaceful,” she said. “The next day she was just a little bit caved in. The next day she was definitely a cadaver.”

At that point, Barnes knew, “It’s time, she’s gone, we can really say goodbye.”

Complete Article HERE!

Executive Producing Your Own Goodbye

My father-in-law was a planner his entire life. The end was no exception.

By

Hollywood film industry producers or directors in a sound stage
Hollywood film industry producers or directors in a sound stage

We’re better at welcoming new life into this world than we are at saying goodbye. But some point we all end up on the off ramp, regardless of whether we choose to realize it.

But before we hit the exit, there are a few important things to consider: the body, the obituary, the service, and the afterparty. And my father-in-law, Hank, taught all of us how it’s done.

Hank died last January at 92. In December, two doctors declined to operate on his leaky heart valve. They didn’t think he’d survive. So we had a wistful but wonderful Christmas with him as he furniture-walked around the house, grabbing at table and counter tops with labored breathing until he finally settled in on the TV room couch.

Fortunately for all of us, Hank was an engineer and a planner. Years earlier we’d received a blue folder filled with notes on what to do in the event of his death.

He sent us these thoughts in the year 2000. He re-sent them in 2008, complete with an addendum from his wife called “When We Drop Dead.”

First was the body. Yale Medical School was supposed to get it. He left us the phone number and a name. This is actually more complicated than it sounds. You have to die in Connecticut. Yale has to receive the body quickly. And you need an authentic death certificate before they’ll take the body away.

Next, the obituary. Hank kindly provided the name and number of the New Haven Register obit section. And The New York Times’. My husband wrote it. That’s hard to do when you’re grieving. If at all possible, might I recommend writing an obituary in advance, when your head is clear and you have time to check the facts.

There are two kinds of obituaries: paid and unpaid. The paid have a just the facts, ma’am format. My husband wrote this long, heart-tugging piece about his dad’s rags-to-riches story of working hard and rising through the ranks until he was head of a manufacturing company. How his dad had never thought of going to college until a friend off-handedly told him, “Hey, you’re pretty smart. You should.” How he trained in World War II to be a dive bomber pilot (a profession in which half the men died). How when he was 13, he watched his own father drop dead of a heart attack while placing a star on top of the Christmas tree.

It was a lovely obituary. It was WAY too long. My husband eventually wrote a shorter, more bloodless, just the facts one for the paid section but it made him sad. His dad had been a prominent local philanthropist in New Haven. He’d given to hospitals, universities and schools.

Onto the service. I’m a comedian. Twice before he died, Hank asked me to host his memorial service. I said, “But Grandpa, I’ve never emceed a funeral.” He said, “Jane, it’s not a funeral. It’s a celebration of life. I want people to have fun. Tell them how I loved Scott Joplin and Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and South Pacific. How every year we went to the Messiah sing along at Yale because I loved classical music. And keep it to 90 minutes.”

I emceed. His two sons spoke—one at the beginning of the service and one at the end. So did all four grandchildren, who wanted to share stories about the great guy they knew: how he windsurfed until he was 85, let them drive as kids in his beat-up station wagon as they sat in his lap—unbeknownst to Grandma or their parents. Three representatives from his favorite organizations spoke. And two Scott Joplin piano interludes and one soprano singing Handel’s Messiah were woven into the program.

The obit that had been too long? That went into the program. The grandchildren put a copy on every seat.

The New Haven Register sent a reporter and a photographer. So much of New Haven showed up that it became the next day’s front-page story.

It would have been enough. But ever the planner, Hank had one last idea: the after party. At the end of the service, Charlie Salerno and the Clamdiggers their festive red-striped jackets playing Hank’s all-time favorite song, “When The Saints Go Marching In!” He had left us their card—the brass section marched to the stage and led a procession out the hall and directly toward the two bars that he’d drawn in his notes.

Hank was a terrific planner in life. And he did a bang-up job executive producing how we managed the time right after his death. If only he could have done that for others, he’d certainly have found a great second career.

Complete Article HERE!

The new trend is ‘fun-erals’ with a rise in personalised ceremonies

By Amy Molloy

Memeroial candles might be a thing of the past.
Memeroial candles might be a thing of the past.

I DON’T know where my first husband is buried. That might sound odd — especially as I attended the funeral in a cemetery somewhere in Dublin — but I have total amnesia when it comes to the exact location, and most of the service.

I remember I wore a white dress I bought at a charity shop; I remember it was cloudy and the cemetery was next to a school soccer pitch where a match was playing.

I’m sure it was a beautiful funeral and I’m grateful to my late husband’s family for arranging it at a time when I was incapable of even brushing my teeth. But I felt no connection to the occasion, even though I was the widow.

During the traditional service, I tuned out and focused on the sounds of the soccer match and the ecstatic cheers of the children as they scored goals against each other. To me, their enthusiastic celebrations were more representative of my husband than a cold, grey cemetery. And I’m not the only mourner to feel this way.

Traditionally, how we commemorate death is dictated by dogma — you must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches. Increasingly, however, modern mourners want a more personalised service that reflects their loved one’s true character — even if it goes against social and religious etiquette.

‘You must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches.’
‘You must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches.’

It used to only be celebrities who had flamboyant farewells (the funeral wishes of Joan Rivers included a wind machine near her casket so that her hair was “blowing just like Beyoncé’s”).

But these days, “fun-erals” aren’t just for performers with deep pockets.

The National Funeral Directors Association has highlighted a rise in personalised ceremonies, including a heightened interest in eco-friendly options.

In Australia, you can order a casket made from handwoven willow, be laid to rest in a coffin made from 100 per cent biodegradable cardboard, or even have your ashes buried in an “organic eco pod” which sprouts into a tree.

Another survey by funeral services company The Co-operative Funeralcare in the UK found 54 per cent of people would prefer their funeral be a “celebration of life”, and 48 per cent would like to incorporate their favourite “hobby, colour, football team or music”.

We want choices — even in death — rather than a cookie-cutter approach to commiseration. And now an Australian funeral home, set to launch this month, is taking “imaginative mourning” one step further.

The House, a Sydney-based service founded by friends Morna Seres, Kylee Stevens and Christian Willis, will offer “memory services” as opposed to traditional funerals.

What’s the difference? First of all, location. Instead of churches, chapels or other traditional places, services will be held at unique venues around the city, including dance studios and art galleries, who have agreed to hold private events — with a casket as part of the decor.

Instead of churches and chapels, funerals are being held in art galleries.
Instead of churches and chapels, funerals are being held in art galleries.

Unusually, the three entrepreneurs have no previous experience of funeral care, instead coming from careers in art, fashion and styling. But they believe the funeral industry needs an injection of creativity. “I was stimulated [to start the business] by my own father’s funeral,” says Seres. “He wasn’t religious, so we didn’t want it to be in a church or chapel. The only other option we were offered was a graveside burial. It was a rainy day and the sound system didn’t work in the open. It just didn’t feel like a true reflection of who he was.”

The idea was further encouraged by the funeral of a mutual friend, where Seres and Stevens were both struck by the impersonal experience.

“From the service to the sensory elements surrounding the day, it just didn’t feel relevant to my friend or their family,” says Stevens. “Coming from a background in the fashion industry, I started thinking about how the design process could be applied to how we say goodbye.”

Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons — but do they really need to be? The House believes a funeral should be a “transitional experience” for attendees, using art, design and “sensory experiences” to help with the grieving process.

This could include setting up an art exhibition or photos and videos. Instead of sitting on rows of chairs like a conference, they encourage mourners to move around the coffin, chatting freely instead of feeling confined by tradition.

‘Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons.’
‘Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons.’

They may be onto something.

A survey by the not-for-profit organisation Include a Charity found that Australians would prefer their funeral to be a “more casual send-off”. When questioned about their ideal ceremony, 71 per cent said they’d like their loved ones to wear bright colours and 98 per cent said laughing at a funeral was an appropriate way to remember someone.

We’re also breaking out of the mindset that a funeral has to be uncomfortable for attendees — and it’s all about the small touches. Some people even said they’d like “a barista to serve good coffee” at their service.

Instead of traditional hymns, people are also opting for modern music (Green Day’sTime Of Your Life is a popular choice, apparently). I have a friend who, when his 22-year-old brother died, organised a silent disco by the graveside — imagine spotting a crowd of mourners with headphones on, dancing in silence.

Then there’s the debate around digital documentation. Many funeral parlours now offer webcams so that overseas relatives can tune into a service.

When 13-year-old YouTube star Caleb Logan Bratayley died last October, more than 47,000 people tuned into watch a live-stream of his funeral on Periscope. On YouTube there is a GoPro video of a Buddhist funeral shot from a drone flying above it. Insensitive? That’s just a matter of opinion.

Ceremonies should honour a loved one’s memory.
Ceremonies should honour a loved one’s memory.

“Many ceremonies, like weddings and birthdays, have evolved from a traditional style of celebration to a reflection of an individual’s personality,” says psychologist Barbara Jensen. “This is now also true of funerals, although the change has happened at a slower rate because death is still very much taboo in our society. The important thing to remember here is that there is no right or wrong way to do things, and this is important if a funeral is going to be healing for the attendees.”

This type of healing, however, costs. How much will a multi-sensory, personalised funeral reduce a next-of-kin’s inheritance? The House says it can match the average cost of a funeral in Australia (from $4000 for a basic cremation, according to government finance website moneysmart.gov.au).

“Our cost does vary on the requirements of the individual,” says Seres. “But it is important to us that, if someone walks through our door and doesn’t have a lot of money, we’re still able to service them.”

Final costs can also be reduced by enlisting family and friends to help with certain elements.

The danger is that personalised funerals could go the same way as children’s birthday parties, becoming just another pressure. A decade ago, kids were content with jelly, ice-cream and pass-the-parcel, but now a parent feels like a failure if they don’t hire a full petting zoo and the cast of a Disney musical.

Ceremonies that honour a loved one’s memory, though, as well as providing friends and family with closure, are a wonderful farewell.

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