The Inconvenience of Death


Nothing lasts forever.  We go through phases, seasons, trends, fads, but ultimately everything passes as quickly as it enters.  From the onset of my career in funeral service, wakes were not an exception, rather the norm.  There was never a question that people would come together in the aftermath of loss, to pay their respects to the decedent, say a prayer, share a memory, offer comfort, ultimately honor a life.  Admittedly, it is unsettling to know that this was merely a season. There are some things we’d like to believe have permanent roots

I often question why there is a difference in the way we honor the dead today?  A life lived was that, just in fact.  Why is honoring the dead subject to change? I have a few theories.  There is a marked difference when a spouse arranges a funeral versus an adult child.  For the spouse, no detail is to be overlooked, no corner is to be cut, no short cut is to be taken.  When the adult children are arranging for the second parent who has passed, the dialogue often takes a different route.  The conversation becomes filled with equivocations and justifications, “why have the wake, mom’s friends are dead?” “why have the vault, it’s not required?”, “why go to church, its quicker to do it all in the funeral home?”  And while all of these hypotheticals may contain a degree of factual truth, none of it mattered when mom planned for dad’s funeral.  Why…because honoring her spouse is what mattered.

My father always calls to mind a quote from Sir William Ewart Gladstone, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”  His fondness for these words caused them to take up permanent residence on a bronze plaque that rests right outside the main entrance to the funeral home.  The words of Gladstone are quite simple as they remind us the way we care for our dead reflects the value we place on life.  Our society today has become so removed from emotion.  Everything is a click, swipe or touch away.  Face to face visits with family members have been replaced with video chats and phone calls.  Picking up the phone to hear a voice has been replaced with texts and emails, none of which convey the sentiment or feeling behind our words (unless of course you include emojis).  

Our growth as a society has greatly improved our technological capabilities at the expense of emotion and human connections.  Those became the casualties.  This is why I strongly believe the dynamic of a funeral arrangement conference has changed.  Death is ultimately not convenient for anyone.  Taking a four-hour block of time out of our busy day to honor a life doesn’t fit into our schedule.  Let us not forget the difficulty a weekday poses, often people will wait for a Saturday or Sunday, because it is a better tie in to their schedule.  Death no longer requires us to cancel a scheduled trip, rather, the funeral can wait.  To further my point, how many times nowadays have you heard someone say in jest, “just throw me in the ocean”, “just burn me and dump my ashes”?  While most often these comments are made with the intended humor that accompanies, it moves us towards a throw-away society as we devalue ourselves and ultimately cause our passing to be a “non-event”.  I’m always surprised, albeit puzzled when I hear someone ask for “just a cremation”.  The potential liability and irreversible nature of the process cause it to be anything but simple.  People assume that our work changes or our commitment is altered when a person is cremated in lieu of buried.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I invite you to take a ride to a local crematory on any given day.  What you will see is corrugated boxes delivered in beat up vans, or trucks, piled on upon the other. Some are crushed, battered, duct-taped, with names written in magic marker.  What you will not see is a single family member who thought it important to make the trip to insure all was done correctly, with as much dignity as possible one can garner from a corrugated box.  I’ll venture to say many of the bodies in those cardboard boxes have not been identified, cleansed, dressed or in any way prepared.  If survivors don’t care, the funeral director certainly will not.  As with anything in life, you will get what you pay for.  Funeral directors who bring decedents to a crematory in this manner advertise low cost, but your loved one’s dignity will ultimately pay the price.  Believe me, the funeral business has no shortage of charlatans, and fly by nights, who will entertain a bidding war with families who shop by phone and consider price alone.  Considering all this, we were compelled to make our “Cremation Promise”.  (available on our website).  Perhaps after reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of what it means.  For my family, the level of commitment and care never waivers.  

Unfortunately, for many it comes down to money and perhaps that is the ultimate reason for the shift in our funeral culture.   But I ask you, what price can you put on dignity; on making sure your loved one is cleaned and dressed and is indeed the person in the casket?  Scripture tells us in the Old Testament, when Abraham had to buy Sara’s grave he didn’t ask, “how much?” It was something that had to be done. The cost of a funeral is not a yearly expense.  Indeed, it is a once in a lifetime expense.  We have never turned away a family and never not done all we can to help a family in need.  Our name is on the door and our head needs to rest on a pillow every night, we are committed to help where help is needed. 

I’ve always felt like an old soul in a modern world.  Perhaps now more than ever. In my career I have seen wakes go from two days, to one day to one hour.  We need to stop and think of why we honor the dead? Why did it matter to mom or dad?  Why should the hustle and bustle of life, but for a moment, pause, to honor a life that’s passed?  Sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves, our wants and our desires to see a bigger picture.  While yes, its true, with age comes the reality that life our circle gets smaller, and many friends and family go before us, it doesn’t make a person’s life less significant to forego a wake.  And while adult children might not see the wisdom in the funeral selections their parent’s made years ago, they had a reason.  Why not honor it rather than reinvent it? Whether we select burial or cremation, there is a person inside that casket worthy of the utmost dignity and respect.  Take a moment to recognize that by honoring the dead, we demonstrate the value we place on life.  To add a final bout of historic wisdom, I offer the words of John Donne, the 17th Century poet, who wrote, “Every man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”


My Best to you Always,


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