Death

You’ve done good, Love

So, guys.  You know what’s okay to do . . . even though it’s hard and slightly weird?  It’s okay to tell yourself that you’re doing a good job.

Life is hard.  Death is hard.  Grief is hard.  Death care is hard.  Getting out of bed, getting dressed, helping the kids get ready for school, and walking out the door to work isn’t easy.  Some days, just getting out bed is a victory (especially after a night call [my selfie is a #nightcallselfie].

Let me speak for a minute to those of you in any kind of human service work (including parenting because that shit is the toughest of human services . . . and, lest I forget, the human service of self-care because the mental, physical, and spiritual health of ourselves is an uphill battle everyday, a steeper uphill battle for those of us with any kind of trauma or sickness). SO EVERYONE IS IN SOME FORM OF HUMAN SERVICE!

If you’re caring for the grieving, for the sick, or for the dead and dying, you’re doing a good job.  If you’re caring for your family, kids, parents, relatives or the family you’ve chosen, you’re doing a good job.  If you’re caring for yourself and your health and trauma, you’re doing a good job.  How do I know?  Because you’re here.  You’ve made it this far.

But, let’s be honest: I don’t know you.  I don’t know what you do.  I don’t know your faults and struggles.  I don’t know the nuances of your life.  BUT YOU KNOW MORE OF YOU THAN ANYBODY.

Of course you have your faults.  We all do.  Faults are part of learning.  Sins are chances for growth.  Shit can grow flowers.  But stop and look at how far you’re come.

I’m NOT an optimist.  And I’ve never been a huge fan of positive self-talk, but I’m also a realist who knows that telling yourself good things usually produces better things.  Because self-fulfilling prophecy works.

Today, I told myself that I’m doing a good job.  I took a minute to look at the good I’ve done over the past five years (and sometimes that good is just surviving). As we head into the weekend, remind yourself the same.  You’ve done good, Love.

#confessionsofafuneraldirector

A rosary and a quiet good deed amplified

Good people are everywhere.  And bad people are everywhere.  That mix is in our families, politics . . . hell, it’s even in our own hearts, AND that mixture of good and bad is in the church.

I’m not Catholic.  I serve Catholics on a semi-regular basis, and they seriously have THE best funeral luncheons.  I even go up to receive Father’s blessing during the funeral Mass’ Holy Communion.

This past year more than 300 current and former Pennsylvania (my home state) priests were accused of sex abuse.  Over the course of seven decades, these priests weaponized their faith to steal innocence from more than 1,000 children, unspeakable crimes that were often covered up by church leaders.

I got a phone call this morning from the daughter of the deceased who asked us if we had any rosaries we could put in the casket.  I told her we do, and that I’d wrap one around the hand of her loved one.  A few minutes later she called back with a question, “Do you know if the rosary has been blessed?” “Umm,” I paused for a second because I didn’t know rosaries were supposed to be blessed, “I don’t think so?” “Can you make sure it’s blessed?” she concluded.

I called the Catholic rectory to see if I could stop by to have Father bless it.  The church secretary answered the phone, “Father’s not here, but I have something for you that I’ll bring over.”

A few hours later she was at the front door. “This rosary,” she said, “was blessed by the Pope when he visited Philadelphia in 2015.” I responded, “What?  Really? And you’re sure they can have it?” She played it off like it wasn’t a big deal.  But it IS a big deal, something the family of the deceased will never forget.

Everywhere we go, there are good people and bad people.  We want it to be one or the other, especially when it comes to groups we love to chastise. “All Republicans are bad.” Or, “All Democrats are bad.” Or, “All Muslims are jihadists.” Life, and the people in it, are SO much more nuanced that the black and white categories we love to use.

Good deeds happen every day, they’re just quieter than the bad ones.  Never be quiet about injustice and amplify the good because we all need to hear the whole story.

Finding the energy of our dead during the holiday season

Get ready for a new age-y and weird thought that isn’t nearly as new age-y and weird as it sounds.

The energy of our dead surround us in everything we do, especially during the holidays.

I know, whenever we talk about “energy” it’s super ambiguous and unquantifiable, and it sounds like something a Californian yogi (who lived in Tibet for a season and has a  Reiki session every Wednesday night) would say over a vegan dinner (and no shade towards vegans, yogis, reiki practitioners, or Californians, because I’m practically a vegan, who’s married to a Californian, has a basic yoga practice, and would love to try Reiki).

When you make a holiday recipe that was given to you by your late grandmother, that’s the energy of your dead.

When you decorate with Christmas ornaments that are family heirlooms, that’s the energy of the dead.

When your family gets together for a holiday dinner, THAT is the energy of the dead because each of you are there, each of you exists because you’ve been carried there by your ancestors.

It’s natural to think that the energy of our dead only dwells at funerals and cemeteries, but I’d like to think their energy is particularly strong right now . . . during the holiday season.  It’s in your cookies, your traditions, your decorations, the side dishes, the love, the giving, the hugs . . . it’s in the season, surrounding us.

As the holiday season kicks off, here’s a friendly reminder that the energy of our dead isn’t isolated to funerals and cemeteries, but it’s here, now, during this season.  Look for it.  Embrace it.

Remember Edie Norton

It’s rare that I share a funeral related story and include the deceased’s actual name.  Except for my personal family, I almost always change the names of those involved for the sake of their privacy.  I’m making an exception for Edith “Edie” Norton and Brian Wilson.

The world goes around because there are people who give more than they take.  Some of those people become well known, but most go about their lives unrecognized.  Edie never received recognition for her life’s work, likely because her life’s work was focused on just one person.

Brian Wilson had nonverbal autism and needed constant personal care.  At one year of age, Brian’s parents knew they needed help raising him, so they hired Edie, a young woman with a bachelors degree in psychology.

Because both of Brian’s parents worked demanding jobs, Edie was at Brian’s side 24/7.  Her “job” wasn’t a 9 to 5, it was a life commitment, one that she honored until Brian died last year at the age of 33.

A little over a year after Brian died, Edie passed away on November 2nd at the age of 69.  I met with her siblings to make the funeral arrangements (Edie never married or had biological children of her own). In the obituary, Edie’s family wanted it mentioned that she cared for Edie as a son.  But Brian was more than a son, he was the center of her day, the center of her daily actions, her daily thoughts and her life.

I want you to know about Brian and Edie.  Edie life and death won’t be covered by the news, but she cared for someone who couldn’t care for himself.  And although their lives were somewhat isolated, and although their names won’t be written in the annuals of human history, they did find the magic that makes the world go round.  And I’d like for you to remember their names today.

Look for the helpers

The guy behind me plowing a path through the snow to a gravesite is Ed.  Last Friday, I showed up at a somewhat secluded cemetery to inter cremated remains with the deceased’s family.

When I drove in (an hour before the family arrived), Ed was plowing the cemetery drive.  I rolled down my car’s window, he shut his little snow plow off, and I yelled out, “are you the one who ordered this white stuff?” He chuckled and said, “No, but I’m the one getting this shit out of the way.” I had no idea who Ed was, never met him before.  I introduced myself and he explained who he was.

It turned out that Ed is just a neighbor who saw that the cemetery hadn’t been plowed.  He also figured out that there was a graveside service and decided that he’d plow the cemetery with his small plow so we could get into it.

Ed was easily into his 80s, hunched over, grey haired with a sailor’s mouth. “What kind of service you have today?” He asked. “It’s a private cremation interment, only the deceased’s mother and grandson are attending.  The mother uses a walker” I explained.  I had brought a shove because I figured I’d have to shovel a path from the drive to the gravesite, but as soon as I told Ed, he started his plow and carved out the path you can see in the photo.

This business is full of experiences that viewed alone would destroy your faith in humanity.  There’s the murders, the accidents, the death of children, but for every one thing horrible, there’s 10 Eds who restore our faith.

You’ve heard the Fred Roger’s quote about looking for the helpers (I’ll put the quote in the comments so you can read it again). Seeing the Eds — the helpers— is the privilege of working around death.  Because there’s so much in humanity that’s horrible, but then there’s complete strangers who curse like a sailor while cutting a path through the snow for a bereaved mother and grandson who make the horrible just a little better.

Look for the Eds.  And if you can’t find them, you know what to do because it’s written deep in your heart.  The helpers aren’t saints.  The helpers are me and you.  The helpers see snow and they plow it.

#confessionsofafuneraldirector

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