Death in the News

After the Sandy Hook Shootings: What Happens Next?

On Friday, December 14th, Sandy Hook Elementary experienced a tragedy that is creating a new normal for the town of Newtown, Connecticut.

The very same day as the school shootings I worked a viewing at a small Mennonite church in Gap, PA.  As with most Mennonite churches, the pastor is bi-vocational.   This specific pastor works as a part-time pastor and full-time salesman for an agricultural feed company.  The area that he covers includes Bart Township, the same area that experienced the Amish school shootings in 2006.

We walked in to the church, set up the casket and flowers and I broke the news to the pastor about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.  His countenance fell as he immediately connected the Sandy Hook shooting to the Amish School shooting.  “I’ve been the salesman there for years.  All the Amish families are my friends.  Just the other day one of the mothers who lost a daughter told me she’s reminded of her daughter every time she sees children coming home from school.”

This, like all tragedy, finds a life of its own.  Friday, December 14th marks the first day of a new normal for Newtown, Connecticut.  In many ways, this new normal is a sad birth.  In this blog post, I want to look at the practical side of how the next couple days and weeks will look for Newtown.


TRAUMA RESPONSE: Thankfully, there are professionals who are being tasked this very moment in setting up response teams.  The American Red Cross, various hospice programs and the American Psychological Association all have large scale trauma response teams who are trained to counsel children and parents in psychological and bereavement support, organize support groups and guide the community back to some type of semblance.  The response teams will evaluate, support, offer guidance and help as the children, parents and teachers begin this dark journey.

Children do grieve.  As long as there are relationships formed, there’s grief.  And while the general public is not very adept at understanding a child’s ability to grasp death, those from the APA, Red Cross and hospice programs are.  All the children will experience traumatic grief (CTG), many will experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the hope will be that these children, like the youth from Columbine, will bond together and find deep fellowship in their grief, sorrow and pain.

Pragmatic questions like, “When do we restart school?” and “When should I go back to work?” will be guided by these wonderful angels from the response teams.


BODY IDENTIFICATION AND FAMILY NOTIFICATION:  By deduction, the families know whether or not their son or daughter, husband or wife is dead by the simple fact that they didn’t come home.  But, their son or daughter, husband or wife may be so … that the bodies have yet to be identified.

Some families may be called into the hospital to visually identify their loved ones, other bodies may be too distorted and will need to be identified through other, more technical means.  All the bodies will be studied, some autopsied, some given for organ donation and one – the shooters – will be looked upon with contempt by all who view him.

Once identified, the families will start the funeral arrangements.


These police were apparently some of the first on the scene of the Newtown shootings.

FUNERAL ANNOUNCEMENTS:  There’s only one funeral home in Newtown, Connecticut. And while I doubt the Honan Funeral Home will bury all the victims and the shooter, they will probably bury many of them.  From what I can tell by the obituary section on their website, the Honan Funeral Home is not a very large funeral home.  In fact, they’ve only advertised 12 obituaries in the past year.  They will need help as they could very well have twice their yearly volume in one week.  And thankfully, per this article, other surrounding funeral directors are offering their help to Honan.

Any funeral home and funeral director who works with these families will need their own type of support over the months to come.  Most of us don’t enter this business because we’re cold hearted; rather, we enter it because we’re generally big hearted.  These tragedies hurt us as well.  Embalming the body of an elementary school student that has been autopsied and shot is enough to permanently disturb anyone, including a seasoned funeral director.

Questions of “how will this family pay for this funeral?” are likely taken off the table, either by the funeral director’s generosity or by nonprofits like Bury a Child (run by my friend Nancy Burban, who lives in a neighboring town) who are already donating caskets and raising funds for funeral expenses of the children (UPDATE: Per Nancy, all the funds have been raised to cover the funeral expenses of the victims).

Police and other first responders will carry a burden that no man or woman should ever carry.  They have seen images no one should ever see.

Pastors, too, will experience many sleepless nights as they prepare words for an unspeakable event.


THE NEAR FUTURE: The funerals will be large, sad and no doubt full of horrible theology explaining how we can’t question God, how God will turn this into good, etc.  Yet, despite the horrible theology, many churches will find themselves full.  Churches will comfort some families.  The community will become more closely knit.  Memorials and monuments will be built to honor the memory of the children and the teachers.  School will eventually reconvene.  On December 14th, 2013 CNN will hold a special marking the one year anniversary of the shootings.  And in five years the world will forget.

But the pain will linger.  The grief will remain in the hearts of the parents and their families.  Time will not heal these wounds.  This is the new normal for Newtown, Connecticut.

Mikey Welsh Predicts His Own Death

Have you ever had a horrible dream or premonition that you were going to die?

If you were able to answer that question, thankfully the premonition has yet to come true.

99.99% of the time those premonitions don’t come true, unless you’re Mikey Welsh.

Mikey Welsh was the former bassist for Weezer (of “The Sweater Song” fame) and he tweeted the following on September 26:

On October 8th he died in his sleep … at Chicago … from an overdose … that supposedly threw his heart into cardiac arrest.

Scary, huh?

Or is it.

Would you, if you could, like to know your death date?

I have a buddy and his grandfather supposedly has such premonitions.  He’s predicted five deaths within his family; and although he didn’t know who was going to die, he did know THAT someone was going to die.  Now, apparently, he let’s everyone know when the premonitions come to him … gives everyone a nice, scary, keep you on the edge of your seat, you might be next, forewarning.

I’ve often thought that if euthanasia becomes uber popular and easily accessible with no terminal rational that we could fix our death dates and instead of funerals we could have massive going away (permanently) parties.

Did Mikey Predict his own death?

Or did he just take his death into his own hands?  I don’t know … we’ll let the medical examiner make that determination.

But, and here’s the $1000 question: If you could control when you die (within reason), would you?

Lady Gaga and Taylor Kinney in Lancaster for a Funeral

I went to high school with Taylor, although I doubt he remembers me.  We graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School in the class of 2000 … although I don’t think either of us came from a Mennonite background.

Since high school, he’s been cast in a number of TV roles.

But, recently, his tabloid fame has gone in an upward trajectory since he was cast in Lady Gaga’s “You and I” music video .

And, according to various sources Taylor is dating Lady Gaga … or rather, is dating the person behind Gaga, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

I didn’t know Taylor too well. We had a couple classes together and he beat me more than once in some badminton games (I have a picture of us hanging out somewhere in my storage boxes from high school), but otherwise we hung out in different groups.

So, how does a news tid bit like this make it on a blog about God, death, funerals, etc.?

Well, the two of them were recently in northern Lancaster County (about an hour from where I live) for the funeral of Taylor’s grandmother.

Grief is a complicated thing.  And I can only imagine life, and death, are even more complicated when the celebrity factor is in the equation.

What really impresses me is Stefani’s ability to support Taylor by coming to Lancaster without creating any commotion that would have disrupted the funeralization of Taylor’s grandmother. It was a real gracious gesture on Stefani’s part, and one that I think shows a significant respect and character.

I know the funeral director (Chad) that held the service for Taylor’s grandmother.  I went to funeral school with Chad, and after talking with Chad on numerous occasions, we found out that he and Taylor often played golf together, and that their families were close, so, being that Chad and his family were close to the Kinney’s,  I know Chad did a great job serving that family.

I pray that Taylor’s able to find the peace and silence to think about his late grandmother and grieve her loss.

Not a Time to Politicize or Preach, This is a Time to Remember 9/11/2001

Two weeks ago we had the funeral service for a young man at the funeral home.  He died of a form of cancer and left behind not only a young son, but a little tension between his family and his friends.

When there’s tension, as the funeral directors, we usually end up hearing both sides of a story.

Unfortunately, the way we heard both sides of this story was through the public condolence section of our website. When we post an obituary on our website, we allow for respectful condolences to be posted in comment threads.  For the most part, people keep the comments gracious and courteous.

But that wasn’t the case with this young man’s comments.  They were riddled with hatred, directed towards his father, supposedly using some things he had said recently as evidence of him being a “bad father” who “didn’t love his son.”

Nasty stuff.  All of it.

We deleted those comments.  And, after speaking to the father, we decided to remove the obituary all together.  The father had the final say, as he’s the legal next of kin, and so his story won out.

It’s all immature.

What this type of fighting says is this: “I’m more concerned about being right than I am about remembering life in death.”  It says, “I’d rather win than remember the deceased.”

And there’s a time to deal with the tension, there’s a time to expose the wrongs, but now is not the time.  Now is the time to remember the deceased.  The loss.  The life lived.  Not pick fights.  And while funerals might help you, they’re not about you.


I’ve been reading a lot of online articles, blogs and editorials in this whole build up to the 10 year anniversary to September 11, 2001.

And I can’t help but draw a comparison to the immaturity I’ve seen displayed this past week at the funeral home to the immaturity I’ve seen in all this commentary.

People just can’t help but make this whole thing about their agenda.  They can’t help but politicize 9/11.  To take a back door shot at George Bush.  To write an “anti-war” blog post.  To talk about the misdirected vengeance of America post 9/11. Or, they talk about how glad they are we killed Osama.  How they hope we’ll get justice from the all guilty parties.

There’s a time to talk about these things, but it’s not now.

Now is a time to remember the lives lost. Now is the time to remember our momentary unity.  Now is the time to remember the prayer vigils, the flags we dusted off and hung on our porches.  Now is the time to remember the heroism of the New York Fire Companies and the utter outpouring of charity of the American people.  Now is the time to remember where you were at when you heard.  To remember what your feelings were.

Now is not the time to stand on our soapbox, but the time to sit in our chairs and share our experiences, and think about the life that flowed from death on that fateful day.


Let’s start here.

How did you first find out about the attacks?  The news?  A phone call?  A co-worker?

Who was the first person you intentionally talked to after you found out?  Did you call your spouse?  A good friend?

What was your first reaction?  Did you cry?  Were you angry?  Scared?

What is your clearest memory?

Sacrifice, Honor and Funerals: The Death of Military Personnel

War is hell.

I don’t know that anybody likes it … especially the families that are sending their young men and women over to fight.

It’s tough, both physically and emotionally on both the soldier and the soldier’s family and friends.  It pushes us to make decisions we’d never make in a perfect world.  But those who do fight do so out of a sense of duty, a sense of sacrifice.

And sometimes those young men and women not only fight … they also die.

Their story ends in a crescendo that is as sad as their decision to serve was honorable.


When I heard about the 30 military personnel (37 persons overall) who were killed when their helicopter got shot down this past week, it made me think about my friend, Cpl. Brandon Hardy.

I played ball with Brandon when I was young.

He had a great smile.

His smile was one that brought out all the good in his face … it made him look more handsome … it brought out his awesome eyes … and made him look more mischievous too.

I remember where I was when I found out that Brandon was KIA in Iraq in the spring of 2006.

I was sitting in the chapel at the funeral home with my mom and all her family, looking at my maternal grandfather as he lay in his casket.  He had passed only a couple days earlier after a short battle with cancer.  The quiet was disturbed by the sound of the phone, prompting my father to run from the chapel to the office.

After a couple minutes he came back with the disturbing news.


Cpl. Brandon Hardy

I’ve never seen our community pull together to honor somebody the way they honored Cpl. Brandon Hardy that week.  In fact, as long as I live I’ll remember.

I’ll remember how – on the night of Brandon’s viewing – we left the funeral home, escorted by the police, with the family in procession behind us, and as we headed to the church, which was located nine miles away. There – by the thousands – were people lining our path, some waving flags, others holding signs, “We Love You Brandon!” and “We’re Proud of Your Sacrifice”; others saluting as the hearse and family drove by; but all – together — honoring Brandon’s sacrifice.

It was the single greatest outpouring of honor and love I have ever seen.


I live in a special community.  A community that – at times – is close knit to a fault.  A small town, where your bad activity is in the paper the day before you do it.  But, where there’s real love and real concern for their own.

Over the next couple days, as those 37 service men and woman are laid to rest, I can only hope their respective communities can honor their sacrifice as ours did for Cpl. Brandon Hardy and his family.  I can only hope that the families can have that one gracethe grace of community that responds to sacrifice with honor.

There’s nothing more honorable than sacrifice.

And there’s nothing more moving than when that sacrifice is given in death. And there’s nothing more powerful than when that sacrifice is responded to by a community, out of their love.


If you would, say a prayer for the 37 families who lost loved ones this past week. I don’t know any of them, but I know many of them will be dealing with anger, bitterness and a pain that few of us know, and that the rest of us should be thankful we’ll never understand.

Pray that their communities can pull together in support and give the families the grace of honor in death.

It’s in sacrifice that we see the highest and best in humanity.

And it’s in honor and love that we see humanities highest and best response.

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