Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Dark Side of Sod...3

Dear Friends,
This is a crazily hectic time of year…in every direction, for everyone. Folks are celebrating with joy and fellowship with home comings, Baby’s  1st Christmas, religious traditions, a new puppy, a life lived, time off from work and the list continues. They are full of excitement for it is a wonderful time to gather with family and friends. If this is you…that is awesome.  Celebrate this time with everything you have.  But for some who may read this blog, they are not celebrating. They lost their job, money’s beating them up, they are terminal, and they can be elderly or alone. Life happens, and no matter how we try to change things, life just keeps happening. This Christmas someone may be arranging a funeral. The holidays won’t hold the same meaning for them this year or in the future. Just like birth, death changed them.  Change literally changed everything. I keep trying to remind myself that I am not the only person in this world. That others may be dealing with very difficult times.  It’s not hard to understand, I just need a reminder to revisit the understanding.  Sometimes I forget…  : (

The holidays bring emotional times for all. Emotions can vary based on the situation at hand. We are in tough times globally.  “The holidays”, magnifies  the experience we are going through.  We, for the most part, are STRESSED OUT!!!  Money is usually the culprit. Just the thought of buying presents, and the expectation of what our responsibilities are for the season, can be enough to send us right over the edge. My goal here is not to be a bummer during a festive time. (For some it’s festive)  But I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t post a friendly reminder that life’s opposite is real. The calendar does not change the fact that death will present itself to us. It does not matter that it’s Christmas or another celebrated occasion.  Some of us don’t think that death is real.  Some people think that if they don’t speak about death, it won’t happen. (Period) If they DO talk about it, it is an open invite for the grim reaper to come knockin’. Regardless of what we think, no matter who or what we are…we all die. Death does not discriminate, it has no boundaries.  It seems like we are “so not wanting” to think about dying, we don’t realize that by not thinking about it, we are not fully living. Death and life are the only absolutes we experience as human beings.  It is imperative in my experience with families, that when something happens and someone dies, there is a common understanding within the surviving family and friends about the process. (Because there is a process) That having a meaningful conversation BEFORE someone dies can really strengthen the bond that seems so desperately needed in our world today.  I’ve heard “there’s no getting out of this life alive”. 

I meet with families that had no choice but to think about it and deal with the process. They weren’t ready… trying to make good, clear, rational decisions at a vulnerable time regarding what to do with the deceased was challenging at best. Because I’ve had the honor to talk with people during this time, it is obvious to me that in all the people, in all their situations, death HAS to be discussed.

The holiday season may bring depression and loneliness for people.  And everyone has their own story to tell. I have received feedback from families where they feel that  no one listens anymore.  There are groups and organizations available to help those who need assistance. However, people have to know there’s a need so they can take action. Reaching out of our comfort zones and saying we need help is vitally important.  Bottom line is that communication is so wonderful and the key to successful outcomes. There may be unspoken signs that someone needs help and we just need to take a moment to look for them.  Computers give us an amazing ability to find the resources to help ourselves and others.  Even if we look up the information for someone who doesn’t have a computer may seem simple but it could be just the information they needed.

Celebration of Life should be a priority. It is possible to experience relief because someone died, that the focus was the life they lived and celebrating that life was what the family needed. Maybe the deceased had been suffering a long time, making death a blessing for everyone involved. There are so many different scenarios, and from my prospective we are so quick to get on with life, that even death itself isn’t fazing us in terms of getting through the process as fast as possible.  SLOW DOWN…what’s everyone in such a hurry for anyways? We may be losing a vital piece of the healing process that may cause us problems in the future we could have avoided. Grief and its resolution is critical to our overall physical and mental health. Not addressing it, will rear its ugly head again…I have seen this too many times.

I ask that you take time this holiday season to just STOP! Stop for a moment to appreciate your life and embrace your mortality. Be a gift to someone. There are so many people that don’t know where to turn or what to do. Helping others will ultimately help you too. There is great personal reward to reaching out to someone with no expectation of getting something in return. Some of the true enduring riches we possess as people are built from love, kindness and compassion. No one has to know of your generosity. Sometimes that’s better, just because.   As a professional in Death Care helping those leaving this world or who have left already, may you have true peace and comfort in your life in the coming year. That you are richly blessed with good health and prosperity.

Take it easy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Dark Side of Sod...2

John had an ice cream business where he drove a truck through the neighborhood delivering cool treats to the kids for a number of years. He was a great guy, and his business expanded to the point where he became very successful. He raised two daughters and a son and had a long happy life. He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 85.

Although the family was saddened by John's passing, they had talked with him at great length about what his wishes were regarding his funeral. All the details of his service were carefully outlined and the funeral home had John's information on file for a number of years.  John had written his own obituary, with the only part of the arrangements not completed was the death date on his stone at the cemetery. Which he thought was funny..."you mean I have to die first?" he always said.

John never got rid of the ice cream truck. It was a wonderful reminder of memorable times in his life. After his passing, the family met at the funeral home to put the plan in motion. Since arrangements were made previously, John's biographical information was confirmed and the funeral home took his obituary he had written and put it in a format for the local paper.

John always marched to the beat of a different drummer and his funeral was no exception. In fact, he referred to his funeral as the "send off of the century". He wanted to leave a legacy where everyone understood how much he appreciated his life and loved his family. He did not want his surviving family and friends to dwell on this passing, but celebrate the memories and experiences they had with him.

Because he loved living  life to the fullest everyday. The eulogy was written by John and read by his son who told some of John's favorite knock knock jokes. His grandchildren read letters they wrote him, and placed them in the casket. John had taken his favorite team sweatshirt and a pair of pants with his undergarments to the funeral home for safe keeping so the family would not have to make those decisions or worry about gathering his things at a time that would be difficult. Frank Sinatra's song "That's Life" was played as the casket was being put in the hearse.

His grandchildren served as pall bearers. He wanted to be buried in a family plot in a country cemetery next to his parents and wife. It seemed only fitting to him that the ice cream truck he kept all those years, would lead the procession to the cemetery after the service. Once the procession arrived at the cemetery,  the minister closed the service, everyone was given ice cream.

There was also an invitation for a family gathering at the neighborhood park was extended to everyone in attendance. Johns favorite food was hamburgers on the grill, and that's what they had. John's celebration was a perfect way to celebrate the life he lived. In many ways, John orchestrated his celebration from the grave. People still talk about how special it was.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Dark Side of Sod...1

Gwendolyn Masters is a funeral director, and has been since the 80's. She believes that she absolutely has not seen or heard everything. That everyday she will sit with a person or family and will learn just another way people (human beings) think and live, and die. Her family is solid, spread out...but solid. But the mission she has, is to be a bridge between death and life. Ushering the physical remains of someones family member, someones friend, neighbor or co- worker to ultimately their final resting place. And helping those surviving  get through the process. Funeral service to her is much like a professional who works in a maternity ward. She's simply on the other end, she refers to it as eternity ward. When someones born and when someone dies...either way, lives are changed forever. Yes, it's a job and she gets paid to go to the funeral home, meet with families, orchestrate funeral services...but compassion and the desire to serve fellow man is good karma and the right thing to do.

The profession has seen a huge swing in the direction of simple services, that the extended visitation for the surviving community doesn't work for folks anymore. Everybody seems to be in a hurry. Based on thousands of families, services, burials, cremations, embalmings etc, hurrying through the process doesn't seem to work down the road. It's because people don't understand they are in the "dead zone", a place where details aren't re callable, conversations that took place have no memory. This period of time can go on a number of months after the death of someone. Only someone who works in this type of environment daily can see the differences. There is a place for funeral directors in this world and the quest to bridge a gap while a person is in the zone continues. To be a sounding board...comfort... problem solver and trusted adviser  to those in a difficult and vulnerable time helps to satisfy the mission. Welcome to Gwyn's world...the Dark Side of Sod.

When meeting with a family after someone has died, heartfelt conversations about death, recalling life experiences and some good, some bad. Baby boomers are now at the age where they are thinking more and more about their mortality. Death is a thought that crosses their mind often if not daily. But a "sad funeral" is not what they want. What they don't realize is that fearing the funeral director and feeling like they can't celebrate, or be upbeat, or celebrating one's meaning of life is a misunderstanding today. Listening to the needs of the community, the voice and desires of immediate family members calls for flexibility from the director. Successful directors today get this. Just because things have been done that way for years doesn't mean that change shouldn't be considered. As a professional in death service, it is concerning that some of my friends may not make it after years of service. I am absolutely amazed and disgusted at others in the profession that have taken advantage of people. Virtually stealing their money, not to mention defaming death and the emotions people go through when they have just lost a part of their life. So damage control is done to hopefully turn around the impression of me...some without ever meeting me before, that funeral directors are trustworthy. I am always relieved when I get a death call that the family has already taken the steps to discuss and plan out the details of the funeral. They are much better emotionally than those where death was never going to happen to them. It's always interesting when instead of tears...some people still fight in the family...even in death. I have a feeling that the war will unfortunately continue. This family was a non-planning family, and the death was sudden, a suicide, the teenager was 17...

It happens...alot!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Don't forget about our Seniors.

Are we simply too busy to check in on someone that may live close to us whose age ranges from about 75 to 150 years old? There are a large number of folks in their late 80's, early 90's who still live independently in the neighborhoods they have resided in most of their life. The challenge is that our transient, fast paced world keeps us so focused on our own lives, we forget or don't think at all about checking on Seniors in our neighborhoods. So many of us don't even know who our neighbors are.

Meet John and Mary Stevens, they have lived in their home for 50 years and just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Most of their friends by now have preceded them in death. They have lost 2 of their 4 children. The 2 children still living reside in others states. Because Mary's health has been failing the past 5 years, John cares for her. He is devoted to her and will fulfill the promise he made to her 60 years ago..."in sickness and in health...til death do us part." He would not dream of letting anyone else care for her. They used to attend a local church and had been members there 50 years, but due to her health, he doesn't leave her alone. The neighborhood has become transient with folks moving in and out, they just keep to themselves. No one visits regularly, they feel abandoned. They definitely do not want to impose on anyone. John's health is now failing also, he has forsaken his own health to care for his wife.

This is just one small example of what is happening in our culture today. What can be done to help those elders in our areas so that they do not get to the point of helplessness? What about those that have lost a spouse and are all alone? Who checks on them? If you know of someone who you feel may need assistance, please drop in periodically to see if they need anything or are OK.  We simply cannot not offer our help to those that may not ever want to ask for it. Seniors are in their "Golden" years and should be treated like it...Gold. Be on the lookout for Seniors in your area and make it a point to check in on them.'ll be a Senior yourself someday.

Make it a wonderful week...


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Introducing Barb's Blog...

Greetings to all...I hope this blog finds you well. My name is not Barb, but I use it because of Bonz as it is the name on the tombstone on the label of the bottle. Barb BQ Bonz being the person buried there, represents both side of sod...the Dark Side which is death and the Green side which is life. Hence the blog title...The Dark Side of Sod. The title will always remain the same.

Blogs seem to be effective tools to reach the masses about important issues. This blog, and the others to follow, will hopefully bring an awareness to all of us in a way that will enrich the way we live and think about our life cycle.

I want to begin at the end of the cycle. My experience as a funeral planner has been a motivator for me to not "beat around the bush" about the subject of death. Death needs to come out of the closet so to speak. A convenient place where we keep it until someone we know dies. Then we're forced to "deal" with it. But who knows how and what does that mean exactly. Some handle the process well, and others...well, not so much. It is obvious that there are countless questions, big misunderstandings about the funeral process, and how money is making the decisions. But I've found that when the questions are answered, and folks are able to embrace death like every other aspect of their life, they LIVE better as a result.

I would like to get your feedback along the way, and would encourage your interaction to the subject matter in each blog so that your questions or comments can be addressed as well. We are coming into a different time in terms of how lives are being remembered. Celebrations are happening more frequently. The focus is moving from HOW someone died, to HOW someone lived. This is exciting because that's where the legacy resides. We need to cultivate healthy survivors after the passing of a special someone. Because those survivors are indeed our future. So in essence through this blog and others, the goal to bridge the gap and bring a new acceptance about the most natural part of life we know as human beings...death, we together can achieve peace of mind, a greater understanding and deeper appreciation for our lives...whatever that is.

Make it the best day!

Julie Pope
AKA Barb