Monday, July 2, 2007

Family Trees

Family trees
All family trees have that special branch that broke off somewhere along the way. When someone dies all the branches come together to cry, laugh, remember and sometimes beat the crap out of each other.
Working with families gets very interesting when they are caught in a family feud. Most the time, it ain't no game show.
As a funeral director you do your best to stay neutral and you never, ever take sides. During the arrangements they will yell, accuse, point fingers and stomp out. Most of the time it's the remaining children that can't agree or just can't stand each other. Sad really.
However, never underestimate the power of creativity when it comes to getting back at one of your siblings.
I was working with two sisters (in their 70's) that were planning a funeral for their mother, Mary. It was clear they did not get along and they disagreed about everything.
One sister lived in town and the other was from out of state. The local sister couldn't stand the other because she told me she was so nosy.
After the service was over the local sister came in to pick up the remaining flowers. I helped her get the plants and flowers in her car. As we were loading the flowers she started laughing. She turned to me and said, "guess how I got back at my sister for all the things she has done to me over the years?"
I didn't know if I wanted to know.
"My sister is so nosy. She has to know everything. So...I sent this beautiful bouquet of flowers to mom along with a special note"
She handed me the card and it said,
"To have and always will be the love of my life." Love , Bill.
I said, who's Bill?
She said..."your guess is as good as mine! My sister will try to fiqure out who Bill is until her dying day. Serves her right."

Ghost pager

For the first three years I worked at the funeral home I was on call at night. We have an answering service that takes our calls aside from our business hours. When we recieve a death call, the answering service pages or calls the director that is to pick up the body and embalm. We then get up, put a suit on and head to the location of death. Most of the time it is the hospital or the home, sometimes it's the scene of a car wreck.
One night~in the middle of the night~my pager went off. I was sound asleep but awoke, turned on the light, and looked at my pager. It was blank~no numbers. I looked at the clock, it was 12:03 a.m. I thought, that was weird. I guess I dreamed that it went off. I went back to sleep.
Just as I drifted off to sleep, the phone rang. It was around 1am. The lady at the answering service said, we have a call in the Via Christi ER. She gave me the name of the person and that the family was waiting. I asked her, did you try to page me earlier? She said no.
I drove to the hospital and found the family in the ER waiting room. After visiting with them for a little while it was time to go to the nurses station and get all of his information and room number.
As I filled out our first call sheet, I asked the nurse for his time of death.
I am not making this up.
She said 12:03

The Birds

There was a young man~in his late 30's~that died several years ago. I'll call him Joe. He had a severe handicap since birth and he had spent most of his life indoors being cared for by his mother. Joe couldn't speak, walk or see but he could hear. He loved listening to his stereo beside his bed. Joe's mother told me that his favorite song was Songbird and they wanted us to play it at the graveside service. She said it always calmed him. Here are the lyrics:
For you there'll be no cryingFor you the sun will be shining'Cause I feel that when I'm with youIt's all right I know it's rightAnd the songbirds keep singingLike they know the scoreAnd I love you I love you I love youLike never beforeTo you I would give the worldTo you I'd never be cold'Cause I feel that when I'm with youIt's all right I know it's rightAnd the songbirds keep singingLike they know the scoreAnd I love you I love you I love youLike never before Like never beforeLike never before
I will never forget his graveside service. It was a bright clear day. The minister started the service with a prayer, then he began to talk about Joe's life. It was at that point, I was to play Songbird. Then the most amazing thing happened.
As the song began to play, we could hear hundreds of birds in the distance. The birds became louder and louder and before we knew it, they were flying directly over the graveside tent. The huge flock of birds was so loud that we couldnt hear the song anymore, all we could hear were the birds. Everyone just looked at each other in shock. Ill never forget the Dad (who was elderly) started crying and shaking his head in amazement.
The birds passed over the tent just long enough for the song to play. I sensed that it was Joe's way of saying goodbye.

Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?

This is one of my favorite funny stories. (In the end, the family found it funny too~or I wouldn't be laughing)
While working in the city we had a service for a man that was pretty young~in his 50's. The family was going to email us the poem for the memorial folders. We recieved the email, from one of the daughter-in-laws. She gave us the songs, soloists and a few other details about the service and then the "poem".
We thought that for a man's service, the lines seemed kind of strange, but if that was what the family wanted~that's what we do.
We printed approx. 250 folders and handed each and everyone of those out at the service to all family and friends in attendance.
I was driving the family limo that day. After the church service we were settled in the cars and about in procession to the cemetery when one of the sons said, "What does this all mean?" I glanced over and he was pointing to the memorial folder. I wasnt sure what he was talking about so I said, "Did we make a mistake on the folders?" He then said, "I didnt send this to you."
Okay, I was starting to sweat. No way did we make that big of a mistake. All at once, a shaky voice from the back (the daughter-in-law that sent us the email) said, "I did".
"I sent that email about the songs and soloists but the sayings below were just my footnotes that are on every email I send"
So the top lines of the memorial folder read like this.....
If men are from mars, why don't they just go home?
Mothers of little boys work from son up to son down
Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?
What if the Hokey Pokey is what it's all about?
The laughter in the limo that followed greatly calmed my nerves. It's one of those moments where you dont know whether to laugh along with or not. The family said that *Pete* had the greatest sense of humor and they took it as his way of making them laugh.
I can't help but wonder what all those people thought as they were reverently sitting in the pew, quietly reading the folder.


Before moving back to my home town, I served for two years as an apprentice at a funeral home in Oklahoma City. It was there that I met Rosie. The funeral home had a cemetery connected to it and Rosie's husband was buried there.
If I had to guess she was in her 90's. She always had someone drop her off or sometimes she would arrive in a taxi. My desk faced the front glass doors so I would see her in her green coat taking slow baby steps with her cane towards the door.
The first time we talked I didnt quite understand why she was there. I didn't realize at the time she was there to teach me something.
Rosie came to the cemetery every chance she got to visit her husband she had lost several years earlier. She would come back into the funeral home and wait for her ride and thats when she began to talk to me about her life.
She began to tell me about her husband. I'll never forget it, she would say, "Honey, you just know a good lookin man when you see one." I laughed so hard because it doesnt matter how old ya are~that's true, girl.
She would talk about her husband being in the service and all the places they traveled to over the years. She cried when she got to the end of her stories and she would always end our conversation with, "oh, we had such a wonderful life."
It was then that I realized that she wasnt only mourning over losing her husband, she was mourning over losing her "life" too.
At my age I had so many things to look forward to, people to meet, places to see, opportunites everywhere. Rosie had reached a place in her life~a place we all will one day~where all she has to look forward to in her life was the chance to relive those memories by telling her story to someone who would listen.
I try to remember Rosie when I am in a hurry ~running to the store, stressed out because my toddler is screaming that she wants more candy, baby has a dirty diaper~irritated at my husband.... One of these days, these will be the days I'll miss.