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15 Questions about You and Death

Back before Twitter, before Facebook, before Gmail, around the same time that Hotmail was cool, there was this place called the “Myspace.”  And on this “Myspace”, it was a common practice for the members of the “Myspace” to answer a litany of random questions and then post one’s answers to said random questions so that all one’s friends could see the answers.

Let’s go back to the age of indestructible Nokia cell phones, to the time when you connected to the internet through dial up, and let’s pretend it’s once again cool to have frosted tips and answer random questions.

One.  Are you a death virgin (have you had anyone close to you die?).

Two.  When you die, do you want embalming, cremation or other?

Three.  Who is your current crush?  (Had to throw that one in there for old times’ sake)

Four.  If you could choose, would you rather die having sex, or die while saving an old person from drowning?

Five.  Would you rather die slowly (so that you could say your “good-byes”) or fast (so that you could have minimal pain)?

Six.  Does the most epic way to die necessarily involve Chuck Norris?

Seven.  Do you believe in the afterlife?

Eight.  On a scale of one to ten (with 10 being the highest), how would you rate your fear of death?

Nine.  Should voluntary active euthanasia be legal or illegal?

Ten.  Have you ever touched a dead person?  If so, how would you describe that experience?

Eleven.  If you died today, would you be happy with your life?  If no, what would you regret?

Twelve.  What do you think is worse: outliving your spouse or outliving your children?

Thirteen.   If you could come back as a ghost, who would you haunt?

Fourteen.  Worst death ever in a movie?

Fifteen:  If you believe in God, do you think he knows the day, hour and minute when you’ll die?

Reach back, grab some nostalgia and answer these question in my comment feed.


I Am the Creator of the Good

As the news flashed across the screen, “230 Dead in Club Fire” I sat remembering five years ago when I unzipped two small body bags.  I remembered the smell.  The smell that lacks a comparison; a smell that sticks to your clothes; a smell so permeating that your piss smells like it for days after.

Enclosed in each body bag was the small body of a burnt child.  I was unzipping the bag to see if they were viewable.  Charred.  Blackened.  Bald faces.  “No”, I thought to myself, “there will be no public viewing.”

And my face, my face looks down as I let things outside of my control paralyze me from the inside. Motionless, I sit as I remember that mother as she screamed out her grief in the funeral home.

When we think about the inevitable, how do we lift our heads?  How do we not just close our eyes and ask for the mercy of eternal sleep?

You will die.

I will die.

Maybe painful.   Maybe today, robbing me of watching my son grow.  Or maybe I die old, the last of my family, alone.  Or, maybe I will see my son die, unable to stop an inevitability that is stronger than I.

And yet, I’m reminded, as I sit paralyzed that although from dirt I was made, I am no longer.

“Stand up, child of God, so I can speak to you.  Stand up.  You were made in my image, you will create.  You will create what is good.  Stand up, so I can speak to you.”

So I stand.  I will not be paralyzed by what I cannot change, I will learn to smile.  I will be vulnerable.  I will stop and look at the stars, the flowers, the beauty of the snow, the fading transience of a passing sunset.  I will always have time to talk to you, to stop and help you and to be your friend.  Each day will be my masterpiece; each day, as I lay down my head to rest, I will see that it was good.

I will be the creator of the good.  I will be like God.  I will speak it into existence.

Holla Atcha Boy! I’m a Thanatologist!

A thanatologist is sorta like a proctologist.  We promote health for those stinky, dark orifices of life that no one is comfortable talking about in a public setting.  So, if you need someone to check on your polyps (metaphorically speaking), I’m here for you.




Five Rights of a Funeral Consumer

Every time tragedy strikes, the swindlers come out in drovers.  In fact, a couple scam artists set up fake charitable organizations during the Sandy Hook School Shooting and were taking “donations” for the families of the victims.  There are few words to describe the awful level of humanity one must adopt to scam those experiencing tragedy.  And while we’d like to think scamming those at their weakest moment is a confined event, it takes place as a matter of practice by some who are masquerading as “funeral directors.”

I’d like to say that ALL funeral directors are in the funeral business to serve people, but sadly there are those who are looking to profiteer on humanity in their weakest moment.  Yes, many — even most funeral directors — are good people, but there are some.

In 1984 the Federal Trade Commission established The Funeral Rule.  It was created to protect you, the consumer, from scam artists who hide under the guise of respectable, here-to-help-you “undertakers.”  Even decent funeral directors tend to bend parts of the The Funeral Rule, and I – being a funeral director – know which parts tend to be bent.

Let me highlight those parts of The Funeral Rule that you, as the consumer, should be aware:

One.  A burial vault is NOT required by state law.  Most cemeteries require a vault to keep the ground from eventually caving in, but some do not require vaults.  If you don’t want to pay the extra expense of a burial vault, find a cemetery that doesn’t require them!

Two.  While embalming still constitutes the “traditional funeral”, it is NOT required.  In fact, we must have the permission of the next of kin to embalm.  You can even have a public viewing with an unembalmed body.  No worries, no one will catch death if an unembalmed body is displayed in public.  *Some states require embalming when transporting a body from one state to the next. 

Three.  You don’t need a casket for cremation.  Profiteering funeral directors will try to sell a rather pricey “alternative container” for cremation, but most crematories only require a body bag that keeps body fluids contained.

Four.  You don’t have to buy the casket, urn or merchandise from the funeral home.  You can buy it from a third-party, such as Wal-Mart; or, you can make it yourself. 

Five.  Our “basic service fee” is necessary to pay, but everything else is an optional item/service to be purchased, such as a casket and even transportation of remains (you can do this yourself … although you need to go through the proper channels).

When all is said and dead, if you want a “traditional” funeral or cremation, it should be more cost effective and efficient to use your local funeral home’s services and products, but sometimes it’s not.  I advise you to price shop BEFORE you pass.  Some funeral homes are nearly twice as expensive as others and it’s helpful to find that out before you die.

There are funeral directors who are legally sound, but ethically stinky in their pricing.  Make sure you find a funeral director that YOU can trust with your funeral and your money.  And know your rights.

Unable to Say a Last Goodbye: A Guest Post

My husband Christi, my girl Caro (3), and me (Melanie)

Today’s guest post is from Pastor Melanie Thirion.  Melanie lives with her family in South Africa.  She tells me that English isn’t her first language, but she writes better than I do!

Here’s her bio: I am a follower of Christ, a wife to a very humble man named Christi, who happens to be a minister too (another story for another day). I am the mother of a spirited angel called Caro. I’m a youth minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, Kenridge congregation to be exact, in Cape Town, South Africa. I am also a part-time lecturer in Practical Theology (youth ministry) at Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch.


In the first congregation where I ministered, I made a friend that was much older than me. She was a wise woman, someone who had a strong sense of justice and lived closely with Christ. She had a servant heart. While her children were part of the youth ministry, she and her husband were committed to the ministry, always driving lift-less teens to church (the age for a drivers licence in South Africa is 18 years), taking in troubled teens, showing them that loving parents still exist in this day and age.

When my baby girl was born, she looked after her when I had to return to work. I never had to consider day-care for my baby, she took the responsibility. Probably the best gift she could have given me and my girl. Since my parents, as well as my husband’s, live far away, she was my baby’s grandmother. Her house is the first place my baby slept right through the night. I believe she poured wisdom and love and grace into my girl’s life.

I then changed congregations, but still drove 20 minutes, once each week, for my little girl to visit my friend.

She became sick with bone cancer about two years ago. The chemo seemed to work and we all prayed that she would heal, as she had overcome breast cancer about 8 years ago. But once the cancer spread to her organs, I knew it was just a matter of time. Three months ago we had a heart breaking conversation when she told me she couldn’t look after my girl anymore. It was a very difficult decision for her to make, as this, for her, marked the beginning of the end. During our conversation, I went into minister-mode and seemed alright with her decision, numbing my emotions as just ministers can do in emotional-laden situations. I was in denial.

Then, the second week of December, we skipped our weekly visit to my friend. I can’t even remember why. And the week after that my friend was in the hospital and her liver failed. I thought I still had time to visit her, to say goodbye. So the next morning, I organised my schedule so that I could go to the hospital early afternoon. When I got into my car to drive to the hospital, her daughter texted me: “Mom just died.” I was too late. And hated myself.

I had a hard time forgiving myself for being too late. Which is kind of self-centered I know. As a minister I know that I shouldn’t beat myself up about that. As with birth, death has a time of its own – independent of anyone’s schedule or preference. But I did beat myself up, a self-directed tantrum. I wanted to say goodbye, I wanted some more time with my friend. I wasn’t ready for her to die. But, as with all the kingdom of God, it’s not about me…. My friend was ready to die. And she did. Although I was disgusted with God.

I found comfort on the day of her funeral. The minister shared with us how we now have a friend among the cloud of witnesses Paul speaks of in Hebrews 12. This scripture, not a typical funeral text, comforted me, and re-affirmed eternal life for me. The thought of my friend being amongst the great faith heroes, where she rightly belongs, gives an eternity to her legacy. I also had the opportunity to spend a minute alone at her coffin, saying goodbye.  But the journey did not end there.

I still had a little part of grief that needed to be aired. I took to my paint brushes and painted something that will always remind me of my friend, but also of my God who comforted to me through his Word. Just take note that I am in no way an artist. It’s just the way I deal with emotions. And grief.

Rest in peace my dear friend. For I know that God is with you.

Attached is a picture of the painting I made, drawing inspiration from Hebrews 12:1-2.


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