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The Undertaker

(The gender pronouns are slightly outdated in this poem, but it’s easy enough to substitute she for he.)
Written by Darlene Rush

This is for the undertaker,
Whose story is sad to tell,
For what he does is never mentioned,
and often overlooked as well.
He’s not at all what you might picture,
He’s not wrinkled, old and gray.
His face is not the pasty white,
Like storybooks portray.

Some people laugh and make their jokes,
And some turn up their nose,
And many think that he is strange,
For the life that he has chose.

But there are many things that they don’t see,
And even more that they don’t know.
Like all the nights he gets no rest,
But never lets it show.

I have seen him work both day and night,
With no time to eat or sleep.
To care for those in mourning,
And comfort those who weep.

The load he carries on his shoulders,
Is more than you or I could bear.
But he always seems to find the time,
To show you that he cares.

So when you see the undertaker,
Make sure you see the man,
That does the job that no one wants
And that no one understands.

Take the time to shake his hand,
And a moment to just say “hi.”
I think you’ll find the undertaker,
Is just an ordinary guy.

How to Plan for Death

For most people, planning for death isn’t their choice way of spending an afternoon. Most people avoid the thought altogether, until they get older and accept death as just another part of life. As most people know, your death doesn’t only affect you; it affects everyone that you surround yourself with, and it’s important that you leave this world on good terms. There are many ways to make amends with your loved ones before passing, but of these things are a few that stand out above the rest.

Finances

All fuzzy feelings aside, preparing yourself and your family financially for death is one of the most important things you can do with your last remaining years. There is a list a mile long of ways to ready yourself and your loved ones for your passing, and it’s crucial that you square as much of it away as you can beforehand. Death comes quick, and if you aren’t ready, it can wreak havoc on your finances.

  • Funeral plan insurance from GIO and other similar companies can be beneficial in paying off funeral costs, debts and any other expenses during the grieving process.

  • Drawing up a will as far in advance is possible is highly recommended as a way to settle disputes over your estate and assets upon dying.

  • The earlier you start planning, the more money you’ll have to leave for your family. For those that don’t plan, expect over 40% of your assets to be claimed by taxes.

Conversation

Death is a scary, confusing thing for everyone involved. It takes years to understand, and even as you near your death bed, there are countless questions to be asked. During this time, for your sake, and the sake of those around you, opening a dialogue about death can help ease the tension. It may be a fearful time, but it’s also a time where you can speak freely and grow even closer to the people in your life.

  • Having the talk isn’t easy for anyone, but only you can speak to what you’re going through. So, use this as an opportunity to tell people how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing.

  • If anyone has questions about death, answer thoughtfully and insightfully. Unless there’s someone you know dying right next to you, you’re the authority on death and can therefore offer insight as to what it feels like.

  • Always remember to be open-minded, and encourage your loved ones to be as well. Discussion is important, but it also needs to be respectful.

Make Peace

It may sound cliché, but as death looms, it’s up to you to make peace with yourself and others. The concept itself is very vague and subjective, but it is an important part of the process nonetheless. Although easy to take for granted, making peace offers an opportunity to both atone for possible wrongdoings in the past and to celebrate all the joys that you experienced in your life.

  • There’s not a particular right or wrong way to make peace. It’s mostly about acceptance of the inevitable by all parties.

  • Before you can really make peace with yourself, you have to make peace with other people. This can be your immediate family, friends or even people from your past that you haven’t connected with in a long time.

  • If there are bridges you have burned, building them back up to reconnect with people is important as you break on through to the other side. Don’t overextend yourself, but think back on how you have affected other people’s lives and reach out to those that you have influenced the most, and those that have been influenced by you.

Death is one of the most terrifying aspects of being a human being. No one wants to go through it, but unfortunately, it’s more inevitable than you think. So, before you croak, make sure that you’re taken care of, and more importantly, that those around you are taken care of. You only have so much life to live, but if you make the best of it, you’ll be able to live on forever as a memory.

*****

Today’s guest post is from Chris Jensen.  Chris is a freelance writer and life insurance adviser. His family means the world to him and he’ll do anything to ensure a bright future for them.

Lady Gaga and Jesus

Last night Lady Gaga showed up to the VMAs looking like Morticia Adams.  And seeing Gaga all deathed out reminded me of a post I wrote a year or two ago called, “Lady Gaga and Jesus.”

*****

When you set up a twitter account, you’re supposed to give a brief description of yourself that’s viewable for the public eye.  My description states, “I blog about my journey as a missional funeral director. I’m the last person to let you down in Parkesburg, PA.”

Lady Gaga’s used to state, Mother Monster.”

Queer theorist Michael Warner writes,

“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.”

Lady Gaga is the embodiment of Queer Theory, not necessarily in her sexuality, but by her identification and normalization of “whatever is at odds with the normal.“

A quick scroll through her nearly 40 million twitter followers shows that most of them are “weird”, they are “the rejected” and the “monsters.”  The kind of people that would walk through the doors of a church and be sneered at by the onlookers.

 

Many flock to her as their “mother monster” because she accepts, even normalizes the weirdness

the queerness

she embraces those who feel that they’re not apart of the “normal”

people that are broken

not whole

not legitimate

that are, in some ways, monsters.

People like … me.

Most churches would hate her.  Most churches would hate her followers.  They either couldn’t see past the lifestyle, couldn’t see past the way they dress or couldn’t see past the philosophy.

But not Jesus.  In fact, a quick look at Jesus’ tribe and we soon realize that he too was the “Mother Monster” the One who made a mosaic out of broken pieces.

Mary Magdalene the Harlot.

John the Baptist.

Matthew the Tax Collector.

Peter the Zealot.

Thomas the Doubter.

Paul the Persecutor

Monsters.  Rejected.  All.

Lady Gaga’s tribe is strong.  They’re strong because they’re united by their brokenness, by their “queerness.”

Like Jesus, Gaga has found one of the strongest bonds for community: not primarily sin, but rejection.

One of the main differences between Gaga and Jesus is that Jesus inaugurated his tribe through death and new life.

But, if Jesus was walking in America today, and if He was afforded the opportunity, I’d love to see his conversation with the “Mother Monster.”

I wonder if Jesus’ people have become too normal to embrace the rejects of the world?  If we see Lady Gaga and her followers as the ones Jesus WOULDN’T want, maybe we’ve lost touch with the real Jesus and become too comfortable with a Jesus that doesn’t exist.

Death Porn

There are two ways you can look at death as being pornographic.  In the one sense, pornography is representative of something taboo.  In the Victorian era sex was a taboo subject.  Today, as some have argued, death is the new taboo … a taboo that we make a huge amount of effort to deny.  Anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer said, “At present, death and mourning are treated with much the same prudery as sexual impulses were a century ago.”

Richard Beck wrote,

“the American success ethos is, at root, a neurotic defense mechanism involved in repressing death anxiety. The American culture is, thus, largely delusional and fictional, characterized by a fundamental dishonesty about our mortal condition. Americans pretend that they are immortal and have “all the time in the world.” Consequently, anything that punctures this illusion–disease, decay, debility or death–is pushed aside and avoided as unseemly and illicit. Hence the label “the pornography of death.”

Death as taboo pornography.

But there is another kind of death porn.  Another way death and pornography are related.  This other way isn’t through representation but through analogy.

Porno films have an intrinsically depersonalizing effect on those involved and those who watch.  This commodity of sex has been shown to effect real life relationships in a variety of ways, most of which tend to be harmful.  Just as “sex as commodity” can become harmful so can “death as commodity.”

Have you ever wondered why you can watch a gratuitous amount of violent deaths on TV and not be too particularly bothered by it?  I’ve never lost sleep over a death on a TV show (although it was difficult when Lori died on The Walking Dead.  And the Starks in Game of Thrones).

We play Black Ops on our game console and kill a couple dozen persons in one sitting without thinking about the fact that we are playing a game (A GAME!) where the objective is to kill as many people as we can.  And the best gamer is the one who can kill the most.

We watch violence and gore on TV, in movies and remain relatively unaffected.

And this “unaffectedness” is because death has become a commodity.  A thing.  Something we can look at.  Removed from person, and removed from emotion.

Death as a commodity is, in many ways, like pornography.  It’s become something that we can safely substitute for the real thing.  It’s all the visuals without the love, the trust, the grief and the person.  Just as pornography is the commodity of sex without love, so our present grasp of death (via TV, video games, etc.) is death without person and without grief.

And yet, while violence is all throughout our TV shows and video games, we are really uneasy when we talk about the real thing.  It’s all the gore without the grief, which – like sexual pornography – doesn’t always prepare us for the reality of death and the grief that comes with us.

Death porn can make us insensitive to a co-worker who is “grieving longer than he/she should”.  “Shouldn’t Pat be over that death by now?”  If all we know is death porn, then the answer is “Yes.  Pat should be over that death by now.”  With death, there are no “one night stands” but death porn makes us think there is.

When death becomes pornified, it becomes something that we should “shield the children from.”  So, like we often do when talking about sex around our children, we bath our language with euphemisms.

Grandpa has been:

“Called home”

“Gone to a better place”

“Gone to glory”

And when someone dies in the family we make sure that our children don’t have to see it.  We “block that channel.”  We are so used to the scary fantasy of death that we don’t realize how much beauty, love and life is in real dying, real death and real grief.

Finally, we learn to do death in private.  Sure, we might have a funeral (although funerals are become less and less of a social occasion), but we don’t want others to see us grieve.  When a friend asks, “How are you?” we won’t say how much grief hurts, we won’t let our friend see our emotions; instead, we’ll say, “I’m fine.”  And so we’ve denied it.  We’re ashamed of it.  We feel guilty.  “I just don’t want to be a burden to them.”  As though death and grief is something that should be kept away, hidden and private.

But death isn’t pornography.  Death isn’t dirty.  Death isn’t something we should deny.  Like sex, in the context of love, death is full of beauty, love and life.  What good sex is to a good relationship, so the good death is to a community.  Death provides that experience where the community – despite our differences — can come together as one.

The pornification of death robs us all.  It hurts us, hurts our relationships and hurts our community.

Words From a Grieving Friend

A facebook and real life friend posted this in his status yesterday.  It was so good that I wanted to share it with you.

If you know someone who is grieving, this is probably how they want you to treat them:

Dear Friend,
Please be patient with me; I need to grieve in my own way and in my own time.

Please don’t take away my grief or try to fix my pain. The best thing you can do is listen to me and let me cry on your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to cry with me. Your tears will tell me how much you care.

Please forgive me if I seem insensitive to your problems. I feel depleted and drained, like an empty vessel, with nothing left to give.

Please let me express my feelings and talk about my memories. Feel free to share your own stories of my loved one with me. I need to hear them.

Please understand why I must turn a deaf ear to criticism or tired clichés. I can’t handle another person telling me that time heals all wounds.

Please don’t try to find the “right” words to say to me. There’s nothing you can say to take away the hurt. What I need are hugs, not words.

Please don’t push me to do things I’m not ready to do, or feel hurt if I seem withdrawn. This is a necessary part of my recovery.

Please don’t stop calling me. You might think you’re respecting my privacy, but to me it feels like abandonment. Please don’t expect me to be the same as I was before. I’ve been through a traumatic experience and I’m a different person.

Please accept me for who I am today. Pray with me and for me. Should I falter in my own faith, let me lean on yours. In return for your loving support I promise that, after I’ve worked through my grief, I will be a more loving, caring, sensitive, and compassionate friend-becauseI have learned from the best.

Love,
(Your name)

By Margaret Brownley

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