Ashes Piling Up at Funeral Homes

 Culture, General, Society  Comments Off on Ashes Piling Up at Funeral Homes
Aug 222008
 

I’ve occasionally talked about my previous career working in the funeral service. Given that, any article about funeral homes tends to catch my eye, as did this AP report about unclaimed cremation ashes at funeral homes.

In the story they talk about how some funeral homes have storage spaces overflowing with the cremated remains of people that are never claimed. I know at the funeral where I worked in Greensboro, we had a closet full, and that was over 20 years ago.

Cremation Urn Most states have laws or regulations allowing funeral homes to eventually dispose of cremains, but some states don’t have anything. This means funeral homes really have to keep the ashes or face litigation later.

I don’t even remember if we had regulations in North Carolina, but I know that most of the funeral homes I know of would never dispose of cremains, and would hold them forever.

The sad part of the story is that these represent people that once lived and had some impact on the world. I guess most were loved by someone. How is it that you wind up at the end of your life with no one who cares enough to at least claim your ashes and scatter them.

I hope I’m never in that boat.

I suppose it has always been hard for me to understand because I come from a southern background where a life is acknowledged after death with a wake, a funeral, and usually a graveside service. I think I don’t so much like the recent trend of “disposal.”

Humankind has a need for rituals and recognition of significant life events. Nearly every culture, no matter how primitive or advanced, develops rituals around life’s major events, and most observe some sort of ritual related to death. I think it would our loss to give these up. We have a chance to share the grieving process,and celebrate and at least acknowledge a person’s life.

Frontline-The Undertaking

 Culture  Comments Off on Frontline-The Undertaking
Oct 312007
 

I watched most of an excellent and touching Frontline episode last night on PBS. It was called The Undertaking. Thomas Lynch is a writer and poet in a small town in Michigan, and he’s also a funeral director. His family has been caring for the dead in his hometown for three generations. Given my background, this certainly caught my attention. I was not disappointed.

Matt Roush with TV Guide described the show this way:

Steering clear of Six Feet Under irony, this deeply moving meditation on mortality shows the Lynch family business going about its work with quiet reverence. … Far from being depressing, The Undertaking lifts the spirits by reminding us that, in Lynch’s words, ‘The dead matter to the living,’ and that the ritual of a funeral helps return the grieving ‘to life with the certain knowledge that life has changed.’

Lynch believes as do (and recently commented on), “We have in some ways become estranged from death and the dead. We’re among the first couple of generations for whom the presence of the dead at their own funerals has become optional. And I see that as probably not good news for the culture at large.”

The Lynch family believes that the rituals of a funeral are more than mere formalities. “Funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters,” Lynch contends. “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”

I want to read Lynch’s book now, but I would encourage everyone to try to watch on-line or order the DVD. This was a very thoughtful look at something that haunts us all.

Home Funerals

 Culture, Family, Southern  Comments Off on Home Funerals
Oct 262007
 

I read an article on MSNBC a few days back about a small but growing practice of “home funerals.” It’s touted as a way for people to reclaim their death rituals. Having been a funeral director in the past, the title certainly caught my eye.

I am old enough to remember when it was very common for the embalmed and casketed body to be taken to the family home for the wake. I remember relatives being brought home, and while that was on the decline by the time I was working in the funeral business, we certainly still took bodies home from time to time. Anecdotally, I believe this practice was more common in the rural areas of the south, but I have no statistics on that.  We’ve had instances where the funeral service itself was in the home followed by the graveside service at the church cemetery.

Given that, having a body brought back home for a wake, and left over night, would not strike me as terribly unusual. I am also a believer in the importance funerals and the other rituals around death. I think today’s all to common practice of a cremation with just a “memorial service,” followed by a quick reception fails to honor the importance of the life of the deceased person, and doesn’t allow people an adequate outlet their grieving. I want the body there in a casket, to bring home the fact that this person has died, but that they were important enough to the lives of all gathered to be honored and memorialized with a funeral.

I think having a visitation or wake the evening before with a funeral the next day is just not too great an imposition. Today we seem to want to “do the right thing” by having some sort of service, but we need to get it over with with as little disruption as possible to our busy lives. I believe it dishonors our loved ones, fails to acknowledge the importance of their lives, and leaves people without a process for grieving.

Now having said all that, I must admit I found some of the practices with these “home funerals” a bit over the top. Rather than home funerals, they strike my as do it yourself funerals. Here’s the description of one of these funerals from the article:

After Daron died at her home in Bellevue, Wash., Howley kept her there for two days. Family members washed and dressed the body of the teenager who loved soccer and played the cello, placed dry ice under her torso to slow decomposition and moved her to a back bedroom so visitors could pay their last respects. A sister who flew in from New York painted Daron’s nails and applied her makeup. Howley slept in the same room as Daron.

“It was really comforting to be able to go back and touch her, to have her still there,” Howley says.

Now I’m a strong believer in observing the rituals of life and death. I think they are an important part of life. They not only help adults grieve, but help children begin to understand the cycle of life. I have no problem with bodies being taken home for wakes, but I find this to be a just little over-done. Dead bodies are not sanitary, but can be made so through the embalming process. I love my family members, but even after having grown up in the funeral business (my father and several relatives were in the business), and my experience handling and embalming bodies, I do not want to be involved in the preparation of the bodies of my family members. In fact, more often than not, funeral directors and embalmers pass along the task to colleagues. Not because a bad thing to do, it’s just uncomfortable.

Everything considered, I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with going to a do it yourself funeral process, but going through more traditional rituals is certainly an important part of grieving.

That 80s Show

 Family, Politics, Presidency  Comments Off on That 80s Show
Jun 132004
 

Ronald ReaganA chapter of 2004 has now closed. At the end of year, during all the perspectives, certainly the funeral for former President Reagan (1911-2004) will be one of the most noted items, and for several good reasons.

For one thing, Americans nowadays so rarely come together for anything, that we need events like this big public funeral to take just a short time to quite our lives just a little, and hopefully dampen the political rhetoric some. I have to admire the Reagan family for being willing to share this most personal moment in such a public way. That has to be a very difficult thing.

As was typical of anything that involved Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, it came off with a lot of class. Perhaps that’s one of the things that has made Ronald Reagan so appealing from an historical perspective.

Let’s face it, the U.S. really was no longer a proud nation when Reagan came into office in 1981. We were still licking our wounds from Vietnam and coming from the unrest and consternation of the 1960’s.

I need to preface all these comments with the disclaimer that I can’t find much in Ronald Reagan’s policies that I can agree with, but I do have respect for him as one of the last of an unfortunately dying breed. He was a “regal” person. He knew how to wear the office. What I mean by that is, he found that mix of being almost princely, while still being able to touch and communicate with the common people. He made sure the office was always seen in the best possible light. As noted above, he was a class act.

Reagan's Funeral ProcessionHe really did treat political opponents with respect, and this seems to be the end of the time when people could disagree on political issues, but be friends after the offices closed.

I am convinced that Ronald Reagan was genuine in his patriotism. I think he really did believe in America and its people and the ideals of our founding fathers. And at a time when patriotism was unfashionable, he was unashamedly patriotic. I admire that. I think Reagan genuinely meant it when he said, “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

I also believe that, even though I can’t agree with most of his positions and policies, he truly believed in them, and believed they were the best course for the country. I think he really did try to do his best, and failed only when other people with less noble motives were involved. Even then, Reagan didn’t do too badly at owning up to the situation and taking responsibility, as in the Iran-Contra Scandal.

Ronald and NancyClearly, he and Nancy Reagan were as completely in love as two people can be. She protected and cared for him in many ways. We laughed at some of the ways. Our cynicism lead us to just not believe it sometimes, but at the end of the day, she stuck it out to a very bitter and sad end, and then shared her husband with us all once again.

Reagan did help end communism as a major threat, and he did help restore some belief in the high ideals of America. So, as they say today, I give him “props.”

He was, in his heart, a good and decent man, who really did try to do his best. As Lady Margaret Thatcher said in her tribute, “Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles — and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.”

So what, if anything, will cause him to be viewed by history as “great?” Continue reading »

That 80s Show

 Family, Politics, Presidency  Comments Off on That 80s Show
Jun 132004
 

Ronald ReaganA chapter of 2004 has now closed. At the end of year, during all the perspectives, certainly the funeral for former President Reagan (1911-2004) will be one of the most noted items, and for several good reasons.

For one thing, Americans nowadays so rarely come together for anything, that we need events like this big public funeral to take just a short time to quite our lives just a little, and hopefully dampen the political rhetoric some. I have to admire the Reagan family for being willing to share this most personal moment in such a public way. That has to be a very difficult thing.

As was typical of anything that involved Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, it came off with a lot of class. Perhaps that’s one of the things that has made Ronald Reagan so appealing from an historical perspective.

Let’s face it, the U.S. really was no longer a proud nation when Reagan came into office in 1981. We were still licking our wounds from Vietnam and coming from the unrest and consternation of the 1960’s.

I need to preface all these comments with the disclaimer that I can’t find much in Ronald Reagan’s policies that I can agree with, but I do have respect for him as one of the last of an unfortunately dying breed. He was a “regal” person. He knew how to wear the office. What I mean by that is, he found that mix of being almost princely, while still being able to touch and communicate with the common people. He made sure the office was always seen in the best possible light. As noted above, he was a class act.

Reagan's Funeral ProcessionHe really did treat political opponents with respect, and this seems to be the end of the time when people could disagree on political issues, but be friends after the offices closed.

I am convinced that Ronald Reagan was genuine in his patriotism. I think he really did believe in America and its people and the ideals of our founding fathers. And at a time when patriotism was unfashionable, he was unashamedly patriotic. I admire that. I think Reagan genuinely meant it when he said, “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

I also believe that, even though I can’t agree with most of his positions and policies, he truly believed in them, and believed they were the best course for the country. I think he really did try to do his best, and failed only when other people with less noble motives were involved. Even then, Reagan didn’t do too badly at owning up to the situation and taking responsibility, as in the Iran-Contra Scandal.

Ronald and NancyClearly, he and Nancy Reagan were as completely in love as two people can be. She protected and cared for him in many ways. We laughed at some of the ways. Our cynicism lead us to just not believe it sometimes, but at the end of the day, she stuck it out to a very bitter and sad end, and then shared her husband with us all once again.

Reagan did help end communism as a major threat, and he did help restore some belief in the high ideals of America. So, as they say today, I give him “props.”

He was, in his heart, a good and decent man, who really did try to do his best. As Lady Margaret Thatcher said in her tribute, “Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles — and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.”

So what, if anything, will cause him to be viewed by history as “great?” Continue reading »

That 80s Show

 Family, Politics, Presidency  Comments Off on That 80s Show
Jun 132004
 

Ronald ReaganA chapter of 2004 has now closed. At the end of year, during all the perspectives, certainly the funeral for former President Reagan (1911-2004) will be one of the most noted items, and for several good reasons.

For one thing, Americans nowadays so rarely come together for anything, that we need events like this big public funeral to take just a short time to quite our lives just a little, and hopefully dampen the political rhetoric some. I have to admire the Reagan family for being willing to share this most personal moment in such a public way. That has to be a very difficult thing.

As was typical of anything that involved Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, it came off with a lot of class. Perhaps that’s one of the things that has made Ronald Reagan so appealing from an historical perspective.

Let’s face it, the U.S. really was no longer a proud nation when Reagan came into office in 1981. We were still licking our wounds from Vietnam and coming from the unrest and consternation of the 1960’s.

I need to preface all these comments with the disclaimer that I can’t find much in Ronald Reagan’s policies that I can agree with, but I do have respect for him as one of the last of an unfortunately dying breed. He was a “regal” person. He knew how to wear the office. What I mean by that is, he found that mix of being almost princely, while still being able to touch and communicate with the common people. He made sure the office was always seen in the best possible light. As noted above, he was a class act.

Reagan's Funeral ProcessionHe really did treat political opponents with respect, and this seems to be the end of the time when people could disagree on political issues, but be friends after the offices closed.

I am convinced that Ronald Reagan was genuine in his patriotism. I think he really did believe in America and its people and the ideals of our founding fathers. And at a time when patriotism was unfashionable, he was unashamedly patriotic. I admire that. I think Reagan genuinely meant it when he said, “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

I also believe that, even though I can’t agree with most of his positions and policies, he truly believed in them, and believed they were the best course for the country. I think he really did try to do his best, and failed only when other people with less noble motives were involved. Even then, Reagan didn’t do too badly at owning up to the situation and taking responsibility, as in the Iran-Contra Scandal.

Ronald and NancyClearly, he and Nancy Reagan were as completely in love as two people can be. She protected and cared for him in many ways. We laughed at some of the ways. Our cynicism lead us to just not believe it sometimes, but at the end of the day, she stuck it out to a very bitter and sad end, and then shared her husband with us all once again.

Reagan did help end communism as a major threat, and he did help restore some belief in the high ideals of America. So, as they say today, I give him “props.”

He was, in his heart, a good and decent man, who really did try to do his best. As Lady Margaret Thatcher said in her tribute, “Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles — and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively.”

So what, if anything, will cause him to be viewed by history as “great?” Continue reading »