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Drowning in the Waves of Grief

Waves crash over you, throwing body and mind

In chaotic directions of darkness and pain.

You were made for the land and so you hold your breath

As you claw your feet into the ground.

The currents pull you out deeper and deeper

Each gasp is met by another wave of details and emotions.

What do we do now?


When should we have the funeral?


Should I go back to work this week?


How can I raise the kids on my own?


Death and grief plunge you again into a foreign terrain

Where every breath is struggle.

You weren’t meant for this




You will never see them again

Except in the recesses of your mind where

Memories will be replaying

Scenes that become distorted by time and erosion.

The sleepless nights


The disingenuous platitudes


The religious cliches


The loneliness


Wave after wave.

You will not accept this.

You will never reach “acceptance”

Of the new normal that threatens the foundations of being

Foundations broken by the waves that rippled

When he/she fell into the depths of the oceans

Leaving you in the wake of the waves.

If you give yourself, you won’t be forgotten: a reflection on Alzheimer’s disease

Alois Alzheimer's patient Auguste Deter in 1902. Hers was the first described case of what became known as Alzheimer's disease. "Auguste D aus Marktbreit" by Unknown - Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia

Alois Alzheimer’s patient Auguste Deter in 1902. Hers was the first described case of what became known as Alzheimer’s disease.
“Auguste D aus Marktbreit” by Unknown – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia

The Promethium advances of medical science

Watch from the sidelines as deteriorating minds

Are rendered to a nascent infancy where



And person

Fade backwards into nothing.


If you give something away you don’t lose it.


“Nothing can be done” your doctor sheepishly admits

“Your time is slowly fading”

Your questions like,

How long?

When will I lose my license?

Will I be violent? What will I become?

Are met with a simple, “I don’t know.”

The anticipatory grief begins.


If you give something away you can’t lose it.


Time is now a precious commodity

Time is now your worst enemy

Time will fade you

Time will take your memories

Now and only now is your best time

Now is the time to get the house in order


When you give your memories away you can’t lose them


Active management for such a passive disease

Write it down

Record it.

Share “that one time . . .”

Use that time to give, give and give.

Give yourself away.  Quickly.

Time is running out.

Because . . .


If you give yourself, you won’t be forgotten


10 Things about Embalming Autopsied Bodies

1.  Funeral directors aren’t Al Robbins.  We never ever autopsy a body.  That job belongs to the coroner or medical examiner.

2.  Yes, we are able to embalm autopsied bodies.

3.  Because there’s a higher degree of difficulty and there’s factors we can’t always account for, there exists the likelihood that an autopsied body may be noticeable less aesthetically pleasing than an embalmed body that hasn’t been autopsied.

4.  Embalming an autopsied body can take double to triple the amount of time it takes to embalm a body that has not been autopsied.

5.  Because of the extra time, some funeral homes will charge more for embalming an autopsied body.

6.  Most embalmers use the right common carotid artery when inject embalming fluid.  From the carotid, the fluid travels down to the heart, with the heart acting as the distribution hub.  It then goes from the heart to all corners of the body (except for the left side of the cranium).

In a complete autopsy, the heart (as well as the vital organs) are removed.  Since the heart is removed, embalmers have to perform what we call a “six point injection”.  We inject in the right and left common carotid arteries to distribute fluid to the head; the right and left axillary to distribute fluid to the right and left arms; and the right and left femoral arteries to distribute fluid to the right and left legs.

7.  Most of the internal organs from the autopsy are placed in a bag after the coroner or medical examiner have completed their work.  Those organs are then placed back into the chest cavity.

The bag o’ organs must be removed for embalming.

8.  Most embalmers will pour a very strong embalming fluid (called cavity fluid) into the bad of organs and place the organs back into the chest cavity after embalming is complete.

9.  Sometimes the bag o’ organs isn’t returned with the autopsied body (although this is rare and it’s something I’ve never experienced).  In this case, embalmers fill the chest cavity with something like cotton or the innards of a pillow or candy (in that rare case the family wants to use the deceased as a piñata).

10.  A cranial autopsy involves the removal of the top of the skull (see below).  Affixing the skull back in place can pose problems for embalmers and is often the reason an autopsied head may look ever so slightly disfigured.


Freebie:  The requirement for an autopsy varies from state to state.  If an autopsy is required, the coroner and/or medical examiner can perform an autopsy without the family’s consent.

For the most part, if the death is at all suspicious, accidental and/or the sudden death of a person not being seen by a doctor, an autopsy will be required by law.

But, if you’re being treated by a doctor and have a history of medical issues, an autopsy is very unlikely.  Unless, of course, you’re an extraterrestrial alien, then you will be autopsied.  Aliens are always autopsied.

21 Steps of an Autopsy

Image taken from the video MEDICOLEGAL AUTOPSY - PART I

Image taken from the video MEDICOLEGAL AUTOPSY – PART I

Today’s post is an excerpt from The Odd Index by Stephen Spignesi and is being posted with Stephen’s permission:

1.  The dead body arrives at the morgue.

2.  The body’s identity is confirmed, assigned an identification number, and given a toe tag, which is a cardboard ticket with all of the corpse’s pertinent information written on it. This tag is tied to the big toe.

3.  The body is photographed from head to toe, front and back, in the clothing it was wearing when it arrived at the morgue.

4.  The body is photographed from head to toe, front and back, completely naked.

5.  The body is weighed on a scale, and the weight is recorded. The body is also measured for length, and completely X-rayed.

6.  The fingerprints of the corpse are taken. In instances in which hands and/or fingers are missing parts are duly noted.

7.  The clothing the deceased was wearing upon arrival at the morgue is carefully examined. Fiber samples from the garments are taken for later study, and stains on clothing are noted and examined.

8.  Any and all moles, wounds, tattoos, scars (including surgical scars), and other physical body anomalies are noted and examined.

9.  The corpse’s fingernails, toenails, skin, and hair are examined. The skin on the arms and legs is carefully checked for syringe markings.

10.  During a medical autopsy of a female, a rigorous examination of the external genitalia (labia, pubic hair, etc) is performed to determine whether or not there was a rape or sexual assault committed against the woman prior to (and/or after) her death.

11.  Body fluids (blood, urine, etc) are withdrawn from the body and subjected to comprehensive toxicology tests.

12.  The coroner makes a huge, full body-length “Y” incision that opens up the entire front of the body. The incision starts at each shoulder, proceeds on an angle down to the mid-chest, and then joins into a straight line that extends all the way to the pubis. This is the most dramatic element of a medical-legal autopsy, and most people who have never seen one performed are stunned by the dramatic way the body is spread wide by this incision. Many people have, at one time or another, seen some sort of surgical procedure performed. The incisions, even for major abdominal surgery, are thin, neat, and relatively “clean.” An autopsy incision need not be neat, nor concerned with excessive bleeding. Thus, the corpse is split wide open by a deep cut that is a very effective reminder that the person being autopsied is, in fact, quite dead.

13.  First the organs of the upper abdominal cavity-the lungs, heart, esophagus and trachea-are removed. The coroner then takes out the lower abdominal organs, which include the liver, spleen, kidneys, adrenals, stomach, and intestines. Slices of each organ are taken and tested.

14.  The internal genitalia of both males and females are examined. In the case of females, the uterus and vagina are carefully studied for signs of pregnancy, rape, or some form of sexual assault.

15.  The organs of the pelvic region, including the bladder, the uterus, and the ovaries, are removed. Samples of each organ are taken and analyzed.

16.  When the cause of death are either drowning or a suspected poisoning or drug overdose, the contents of the stomach are removed, examined, and carefully analyzed. All findings are recorded.

17.  Any and all bullet wounds are recorded. The number of wounds is noted, as well as the perceived direction(s) of the bullet(s). An estimate, based on the configuration of the bullet entrance wounds, is made as to what distance the gun was from the victim when it was fired. All bullets are removed from the body and placed in plastic bags. The bullets are then examined and recorded as evidence.

18.  First, a deep incision is made in the skin of the scalp. The cut, which is called intermastiod, begins behind one ear, travels over the top of the head, and ends behind the opposite ear. The scalp is then grasped firmly and pulled forward over the face, baring the skull. Using an electric saw, a wedge-shaped portion of the skull is cut out and removed, exposing the brain. The brain is then removed in its entirety, weighed, and examined.

19.  Since he or she is now through with them, the coroner returns all of the removed internal organs to the body cavities.

20.  The autopsy findings, complete with a final opinion as to the cause of death, as well as all reports and photographs, are turned over to legal authorities. This “package” becomes part of the corpus delecti, and is used as evidence in a court of law when necessary. The folder containing all of this detailed information is known as the case file.

21. A final determination is made as to the cause of death, and the death certificate is filled out.

For more information about the author, Stephen Spignesi, visit his website HERE.

Good Irish Funeral Music: “Danny Boy” Revisited

Today’s guest post is written by NYC Funeral Director Amy Cunningham:

It seems fitting to reveal on Saint Patrick’s Day that the most common Google query that reliably draws readers to “The Inspired Funeral” day after day, week after week, is “Irish Funeral Music.” The last Irish funeral music post I wrote, garnered me tens-of-thousands of page views. Either the Irish are needing to know what is traditional or new to their own funerals, or those who aren’t Irish want to convey an Irish vibe to the festivities.

So lately, in my effort to be of sound funeral planning assistance, I’ve been fixated on how to make “Danny Boy,” the most famous of all Irish funeral ballads, new again. Can the beloved, seasoned, ever-so-classic-you-can’t-believe-they’re-trotting-it-out-again ballad be even more heart warming than it already is? Yes, it’s terrific–a total knock-out, in fact– sung in the classic mode by a male tenor, but here are some ideas you might consider when confronted with a funeral where “Danny Boy” is requested.

1. READ THE LYRICS AS STRAIGHT TEXT. DON’T HAVE IT SUNG AT ALL . Just read all four stanzas aloud from a podium, and grope for your handkerchief. Read it as a poem, aloud right now, and realize that by the time most singers get to the best, most moving lines, we listeners have been lulled into a sad, sweet snooze. (Take note, in stanza three: an “Ave” means “a prayer.”)

th-23Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

2. HAVE IT PLAYED WITHOUT THE LYRICS AS AN INSTRUMENTAL ON A SLIGHTLY UNUSUAL INSTRUMENT. Here’s a super great “Danny Boy,” totally right for a funeral, on church pipe organ and solo trumpet. Here’s Eric Clapton playing it on guitar with characteristic emotion, and not singing a word. And if you’re bleary-eyed from too much funeral planning and need a little chuckle, here’s “Danny Boy” played as an instrumental, down in the NYC subway system, on a saw.

3. JETTISON THE MALE IRISH TENOR. Women have been singing “Danny Boy” beautifully since soprano Elsie Griffin belted it out at the turn of the century. My personal favorite female-rendered “Danny Boy” is Sinead O’Connor’s, recorded in such a way that you could quickly improve any “Danny Boy” funeral by cuing it from an iPhone into Bose speakers. Nice save. And don’t neglect the grandchildren! They can sing “Danny Boy” at a grandfather’s funeral, and rock the house (though funeral music should generally not be a performance).

This idea might not be everyone’s pint of tea (or Guinness), but imagine “Danny Boy” played on sprightly banjo, after all concluding remarks and benedictions, as people are warmly greeting each other, hugging, finding their coats, blowing their noses, and remarking what a good funeral it was (Irish or not). Moral: it’s okay for a funeral to leave people uplifted in the vast majority of instances, grateful that the deceased were with us for as long as they were, and happier themselves–goddamnit– to still be alive, resolved to make good use of whatever time is left.


About the author: Amy Cunningham is a New York City funeral director and funeral celebrant especially passionate about getting families back involved in more personalized planning. She lectures on back-to-basics funeral planning and the greening of the industry. In her prior life she was a magazine journalist who wrote for Parenting, More, Glamour, and the Washington Post magazine. She is an active member of the National Home Funeral Association and ICCFA. 

She writes a blog called

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