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They died from a broken heart

They died from broken hearts.

To the skeptic, “died from a broken heart” is a romanticized line from a fictional fairytale.  It’s impossible, they might say, to determine if emotional grief was THE cause of death, which is why — they’d say— a doctor will never write “broken heart” on a person’s death certificate.

The skeptic would be half right.  A doctor will never write “broken heart” on a death certificate, but science has validated the stuff of fairytales.  It’s called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or stress induced cardiomyopathy . . . it’s a psychosomatic condition or event that occurs when grief, stress, and/or mental anguish causes a surge of hormones, effectively shocking the heart and sometimes resulting in death.

Any funeral director who’s been around long enough has likely seen it happen, usually between a couple who’s been married for a long time and just can’t seem to exist without the other.  It’s like the couple has become so close, they’re like  siamese twins with shared organs.

The photo that you see is a Sexton placing two urns next to each other in an in-ground Columnbarium.  The couple died one month apart from each other.  There’s no way of proving stress induced cardiomyopathy was the cause, but they had been married for over 50 years with no kids and little social life.  They were all they had and I think it would have been so incredibly difficult if one has lived without the other for an extended period of time.

Guys, love is real.  It’s wonderful.  It’s heartbreaking. And I do believe that love holds all the mysteries of the universe.  It’s holds the past, the present and the future.  It holds us together, and it evolves us to be more than the mere animals we are.  Love is the magic of the world, but it’s more than magic.  If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned it exists as an actuality . . . and sometimes it exists in our hearts, whatever that means.

FUNERAL SERVICE SUPPORT GROUP

Hey, guys. If you’re a part of funeral service and you’ve happened upon some embalmer/funeral director groups on Facebook, you’ve probably found that the content can be helpful as it relates to practice, but the emotional/practical/human support is rarely helpful. In fact, it’s often hurtful.

As in many human service professions, there’s a stigma connected to sharing our personal struggles. If we share our struggles, we’re often told:

“Maybe you’re not cut our for this business.”

“Some of us just aren’t called.”

“You need to learn to control yourself.”

“This business is only for the strong.”

“There’s no such thing as burnout.”

And it’s bull shit. All of it. We are humans helping humans.
If we acknowledge the humanity in ourselves, it frees us to acknowledge the humanity of those we serve.

So I created a funeral service support group. It’s for those connected to funeral service (past, present, or future) and I’m hoping it provides a place where we can share our troubles without feeling shamed.

HERE’S THE LINK: FUNERAL SERVICE SUPPORT GROUP

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.

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