Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dark Side of Sod...7



The Gift of Life

Don't think of organ donations as giving up part of yourself to keep a total stranger alive. It's really a total stranger giving up almost all of themselves to keep part of you alive.
~Author Unknown


What is the Gift of Life? To some, it is an extreme sacrifice for a family of a life lost that is laced with terrible grief. To others, it is an answer to prayer… life at the end of the tunnel…a second chance.  The bittersweet miracle of the Gift of Life is that someone had to die in order to be a donor and help someone else.  Did you know that there is a difference between Organ donation and Tissue donation? But right now, if you were asked the question…Would you be a donor or would your family members want to be a donor? What would your response be?  ”YES… ABSOLUTELY!!!”, “I don’t know.”, “I’m not sure, maybe?”, ”HELL NO!!!”, “I don’t think so.” “Let me think about that…”


Whatever your response is, it doesn’t negate the fact that organ and tissue donation does help people, it saves lives, and it is the most priceless GIFT there is to give another human being. When the donation is successful, life is grand for the recipient. The surviving family does get some satisfaction knowing that they helped someone else and in some ways keeps the person alive.


James had been suffering from a major organ failure. The only way he could live would be to receive an organ transplant. He was dying…and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He was desperate and very sick. Knowing his name was on the list was terrifying for him, yet he remained hopeful that someday he would get a one last chance, to have a chance at living. Then he got a call…


Faith had been working late all week. She just wanted to get home and spend some time with her fiance. With no plans for the weekend, and not wanting any, she was looking forward to some serious “down time’. She never made it home. Then her parents got a call…


There are a number of different scenarios that determine what or how organ & tissue gifts are given. In Faith’s case, because she was not married, her parents made the decision to donate her organs and tissue. (You can imagine how difficult this situation is for them) James received the donation he so desperately needed to sustain his life. Faith ultimately continued to live on through the life of James. James continued to live his life, because of Faith.


There is a process involved on both sides of the donation. Of course there’s paperwork to do, decisions to be made, emotions to deal with… and just because you say you want to be a donor, doesn’t mean at the time of your passing you will be.  The circumstances of your life at the time of death will ultimately dictate the results whether a person can or can’t a person be a donor.


TIME and timing are of the essence when donations are procured.  Where you die and how long you are deceased when found will also be a deciding factor as well. Your medical condition, history and social behaviors are carefully considered. The final decision basically rests with a person’s individual circumstances.


Organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys cannot be given unless you are on life support and in a hospital setting. Tissues like skin, eyes, cornea, heart valve and ligaments, can be donated for a limited period of time after your death and are procured at a funeral home or hospital.


Having a donor heart symbol on your driver’s license means you are giving your permission to gift or use your organs/tissue. Again, it does not guarantee the outcome.


You can also change your mind either way (before your death of course) about being a donor. Change your license and  make sure whatever you choose, you inform the people in your life that will be notified when you die, so they know how to respond appropriately.


Funeral home care centers are where restoration is done. The main objective for the Mortician is to make the deceased look as natural as possible.  So if someone wants a traditional funeral service where the body is viewed by the public, the public would probably never know the deceased was a donor. Fulfilling the wishes of someone at their death if they chose donation in their life, is comforting for the surviving family, and is also a way to celebrate the deceased’s life.


I write to you today because you really need to consider the question. Hospitals will ask a person’s next of kin to make a decision on behalf of the deceased if they have no previous instructions. That’s a tough deal if no one knows how someone felt about it. Everyone needs to understand fully what it takes to be a donor, and what it takes to receive a donation.


There are countless resources on the internet to educate you about the process. If you have questions about the position your religion or church has regarding Organ or Tissue donation, please check with the appropriate clergy to clear up any concerns you may have.


There are no costs involved for the family of the deceased when a donation has been accepted.  I could go on & on…the Gift of Life is so special and so are the families that choose to give.


I would be remiss if I didn’t give a huge thank you as well for the fine folks who procure the donation from the deceased. Because of the time factor they have to get to the donation very quickly. Sometimes in the middle of the night, jump in their car or fly to a location to get the tissue so that someone can get better. We don’t think about them, or at least you never hear of anyone talking about these soldiers. Without them, the process would not happen.


Be well friend and best to you in the coming year.



PS…Anatomical or full body donation is another subject all together. Please contact me if you would like more information on the process and who to contact.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Dark Side of Sod...6


OMG… (After reading this note) please do me a favor and close your eyes! Imagine that you died 2 weeks ago. Picture your family…how they are dealing with the reality that you will never be around them physically… again, may surprise you! Although we would like to think that we are loved, missed and that our existence here “made a difference” in the lives of others, death can do some whacky things to families. It seems to either strengthen the family unit or tear it apart. Strengthening because the family was solid and had an informed positive outlook about human mortality, understanding that death happens…deal with it. Tear it apart because…money, greed, or existing family dysfunction is the bloody culprit for driving a wedge through the heart of a family. 

Now consider your stuff…your personal things (all of your personal things)…do you realize that at some point, everything you have will be touched by someone else? Your closets…and drawers… the bathroom… the cabinets…on and on, would be opened and sifted through. What are people looking for? They may be looking for your personal information like your social security number, (hopefully) life insurance policy numbers etc., and where’s the will? At death, time is of the essence and the family has been required to answer, address or consider over 130 questions within 48 hours of your passing. Do they have what they need to accomplish this?

At some point everything about you will eventually be exposed. Just thinking about the potential ripple effect in the family as a result of what was found or the frustration in finding it…may be difficult in some cases and cause unnecessary stress. 

What about your house? Where will your family living with you now be living in the future? Does anyone want the house, and can they afford to maintain it? Will it be sold, or abandoned at some point?

There was an estate sale of a person who died. There were items lying on the table that had obviously meant a lot to the deceased at one time. Personal things like Certificates of Achievement, photographs, service medals… the immediate family did not share the same sentiment as the “pickers” that came in to score a deal. The emotion attached to what was once family heritage was gone, as it became just another item on a shelf. Do we ever think about what happens to our stuff after we die? Do we ever think about thinking about it? Most would say..."Um...NO!" Do we really care about it? There is no right or wrong answer...it like everything else, is a personal thing.

Consider where you are with your financial situation now, and after you die, what’s the deal with your money? Who’s responsible for your debts, and can they handle this responsibility? Is there enough money to cover the debts you’ve left behind? What would your family or the Executor of your estate be going through in order to legally satisfy all requirements needed by the State or Federal government (s) when someone dies?
Got pets? If you are a pet parent, what provisions did you make in advance for someone to take and care for this furry child of yours? Making arrangements for animals are just as important. There have been cases where pets have either been euthanized or taken to the shelter because no one could or wanted to assume their care. But that’s another topic in itself, more on that later.

If you're concerned in anyway with the visual you’re getting here, please take whatever steps necessary to make this visual…a good one. You can use this image as a tool to  alleviate any potential problems for your survivors later. By doing this you will help us (on this side) cultivate healthy survivors.
For some, the picture is fine because they don’t care about arrangements or have an opinion about death, indifferently they say things like…”Let the kids take care of it!” The entire responsibility will be placed on their family…just like their parents did. (And the kids weren’t aware of this plan) Others may have imagined that the “fight is on”; as their family argued in life…they continue to argue about everything. Even death would be no exception for them. : ) 

FYI- After your funeral, your family will quickly begin to notice that life goes on… traffic lights continue, the guy sitting in the car next to them is jamming to the radio listening to one of their favorite tunes…the phone rings…some are lost and don’t think they can go on without you…some might be happy...there is usually money concerns as well. Is an inheritance is coming? How are they going to pay off the credit card they used to bury you? The “business” part of your life can literally go on for months…just about the time the grass starts growing on your plot at the cemetery, the books are closed. Depending on what a person has or is involved in, it could take years to close.

I mention this because people don’t typically think past their death and consider what could be happening with the people they care about as a result of their death.

Families are dealing with death and its processes happen every day…just look at the obituaries online or in your local newspaper. Somebody… somewhere, is going through it. If this is not you…you just got lucky this time.

Be well friend. Celebrate the day, your life & do what you can to make a difference…always.



Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Dark Side of Sod...5


I’ve said this a million times…ultimately having a death plan in place is THE BEST form of defense for whenever death actually occurs. But let’s just say in this case…there is no plan. If you are the responsible party to make the funeral arrangements at the time, there is always the nagging question…”What is the right thing to do?” And this question remains the same regardless of how the death occurred and to whom. For example, a wife making arrangements for a her husband who never made it home from work because he was killed in an automobile accident can differ let’s say if a person had an extended illness and the death actually came as a “blessing”. (You know what I mean) We want to make decisions that will result in the best interest of all parties…the person who died (we think we know what they would want), and the surviving family members and close friends. There are steps that absolutely have to be taken when we die. Something HAS to be done with the body. There is no getting around it.  Funeral homes are one of those steps.

Not wanting to deal with death in advance puts us in a terrible position…ALWAYS. Why? Unfortunately some us already “know the drill” about the process. We are in shock, we cannot fully comprehend the scope of the experience we will have when we meet with a Funeral Director at a funeral home. Every person is different, as are each experience. We may not ever understand the experience…some actually forget it all together. 

So we walk in, we are in a total zone unlike any other; we are emotional, exhausted, confused, concerned…so many unanswered questions. We understand that this meeting will result in a financial transaction at some point. We have no idea about how much money will be needed or when the money will be needed. We’ve just heard “it’s expensive”, and that’s terrifying. Not having resources readily available will compound the stress you’ll experience because with the majority of funeral homes, the funeral home bill MUST be paid before their services are rendered. Question:  How many people (who have either made funeral arrangements for someone at death or attended a funeral of someone close to you) would remember what the casket looked like? What color was the outside, or the inside for that matter?  Or was it made of metal or hardwood?

It’s true that there are people who cannot remember the funeral details for some months immediately following death.  Yet decisions were made at that time with such great certainty, we never considered the fact that down the road looking back, it was more than likely emotion that guided those decisions. One perfect example of this decision making would be caskets. When someone chooses burial as final disposition, in an arrangement meeting with a Funeral Director, you should consider this. What type of casket do you want? What type of material is it made of? Hardwood caskets are typically more expensive than metal caskets. Are you looking at the physical casket where you can touch it, or are you looking at a picture in catalog? Sometimes people spend more on a catalog selection when they can’t touch it because it’s not so personal that way. Some want to see the actual casket…again, everyone’s different. Your decisions should be your business…keeping up with the Jones’ should never be a consideration as you make the arrangements. 

If you select a metal casket, does it matter to you how thick is the gauge of steel? Most caskets are 18 or 20 gauge steel. The difference in the two would not be able to be seen with the naked eye. I can assure you however, there is a pretty substantial difference in the cost. Remember the higher the gauge number, the thinner the metal. So a 20 gauge casket would cost less than an 18 gauge casket. Most funeral homes do not display their least expensive casket because they would probably sell a higher number of less expensive caskets.

It would be to your advantage to inquire about less expensive selections as well. Make sure you are presented with all the options available to you. Ask the questions. If you feel you can’t, then make sure someone else goes with you to help with this. You have the right and can ALWAYS shop for a casket online or get a casket from a vendor outside of the funeral home you are working with. Every funeral home has to accept the casket and not charge you any additional fees as a result of buying the casket from another source. They will more than likely ask you to sign a waiver relieving them of responsibility from damage or malfunction that could occur, but you still have the right. If you do decide to purchase a casket outside the funeral home, be sure to check the delivery schedule so that it arrives in time for the services. Most vendors can have caskets delivered within 24 - 48 hours of ordering it. You still will want to definitely check and confirm delivery.


I’m not saying that funeral homes are about selling you a casket to help out the bottom line, but caskets and vaults are major profit centers for them. Resolving your thoughts about what you think is going on with the body after it is buried will help with the decision. If you are of the opinion that it really doesn’t matter… “When you’re dead, your dead”, or “the body’s just a shell”, then consider the least expensive casket.

If you can’t imagine water being on you or “ewww bugs”, then the lined or steel vault along with sealed casket would be something to think about. Of course more you get, the more it cost. There are thousands of other scenarios to talk about but the point is… KNOW THE DEAL. Ask the questions, write them down…research your options ahead of time, shop around.

Whether the arrangements would be for you or someone else, do everything you can to eliminate the questions…Have I done the right thing? And it’s how much, due when? You will be so much better off.

Be well friends and make the best your life every day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Dark Side of Sod...4

I would like for you to meet a friend of mine. She is not like any friend I have ever known. Not because my friends aren’t wonderful people who are all a bit twisted like me…she, by the very nature of her work, is unique. Her sensitivity and passion to help both the living and the dead are what makes her…different. She is calm in nature and has an optimistic approach to human mortality. Some of us just go to work, punch in the time clock, put in a full day and go home. Not my friend…as an embalmer she often works when most of us are sleeping. Unfortunately, she works because someone has lost their life. It is a rarity that people love to embalm the dead, but not for her.  She is open to sharing her feelings about her work as she totally believes that this work is her true calling. (Thank god, not everyone could do what she does) She has told me on countless occasions that her work is the most rewarding and fascinating thing she has ever done in her life. I think there are times when she would rather be working with the dead…aka “her Peeps”, than those living on the green side of sod. She will leave the radio on in the prep room when she leaves so the Peeps aren’t alone. I think that is so sweet, I told her to make sure it was the best of the 80’s…  :)

Some periods are slower than others then all at once, a flurry of funerals may take place. The grim reaper does not have an IPhone with a calendar so scheduling can be challenging. She is always on call and ready to respond when needed, and does not complain about assisting families at a very vulnerable time. She has to have excellent communication skills when dealing with families because the needs vary so drastically. She is always ready to serve…ready to give of herself unselfishly and she is a perfectionist.  I have the deepest respect for her as she changes the face death into a look of peacefulness. She does this by methodically transforming what was once a live human being into a look that is restful. She fully appreciates and honors the fact that that person had a family, friends and life experiences. Who smiled when a great joke was told and cried when touched by a tender moment. These people meant something to somebody. Having someone who takes what is left after life and makes a way for us to view the dead that is acceptable so we can say goodbye is paramount to the overall mission in funeral service as it has been for decades.

She is very much aware how mortified most people are about the subject of death much less actually coming into contact with it. It is unimaginable to some that a person chooses to touch, preserve, shave or dress the dead. The chance that she has already preserved other members of the family that have preceded the newly dearly departed is very high. She treats everyone she comes in contact with as if they were one of her own family members…offering them the  same level of dignity and respect.  I am constantly amazed by her ability to take something that most would consider…”gross as hell” and systematically go through the process much like an artist would do when creating a portrait. Each time the canvas is prepared, and the work begins until the picture is complete. This may sound crazy but some people could possibly look more at peace deceased then they did at the end of their life. This is because extended illnesses can deteriorate the body, many times families witness the death and when the family returns to the funeral home to start the services, they are surprised by how “peaceful, and better” they look from when they last saw them.

I think after a while a person just gets used to the surroundings they are in. There are smells (among other things) associated with work that involves the human body.  Like doctors and nurses in an emergency room they see things and experience horrific tasks to do what they feel is their calling. Working as an embalmer is similar; the only difference is the absence of life.  You can imagine the first day on the job in either scenario…Holy cow! They could be shocked, they may get physically sick, or have trouble removing images from their minds…but they get used to it.

I have had the honor to work beside her and assist her with the preparation of the body for burial. She is masterful with her instruments and can suture like no other. She is top shelf in terms of her abilities regarding restorative art. How someone dies dictates the level of work that needs to be done. The more work that needs to be done the more time it takes to complete the work. Typically an embalming can be done in 1.5 hours. There are times when the process can take several hours. For example taking someone with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and reconstructing the wound area because the family is adamant about seeing them is just one of a million scenarios she may be faced with.

I remember the first time I saw an embalming. Hollywood and the subject of death in general have not done the process any favors that’s for sure. Before my introduction in funeral service, I always thought that folks were strung up by their bootstraps and slit from ear to ear like you would see in a meat packing plant.  NOT!!!!!! I was pleasantly surprised to see that the procedure was very respectful, clean and dignified.  A process I now refer to as “post life surgery”. As she worked (in this case) with this elderly gentleman, I wondered as I watched her work, about what she has seen…the magnitude of what the body looked like after a catastrophic event versus someone who slipped away in their sleep. How would she be affected if a baby came into her prep room or a small child? Could she embalm one of her own family members? Does anyone really realize what goes on behind the scenes when they go into a funeral parlor and the body is nicely dressed adorned in flowers and lying peacefully in the casket? I really don’t think people understand or think about it.

I can’t believe how many people die with their eyes and mouth open. I, like you, have heard horror stories about what happens to you when you die. It really isn’t like that at all. But it is important to remember that in order for the family to see their loved one…they cannot be presented in any other way than with the eyes closed and mouth shut.  Makeup is applied to compliment the restoration process as well. 

She is repulsed by reports in the media or has heard stories about people who are not respectful and had treated the dead body in a fashion that is not acceptable. This by the way is WRONG on every level. Disrespecting the body after life totally pisses her off. She has zero tolerance for such behavior, rightfully so…ticks me off too. There are bad apples in every bunch. But I want to tell you that good upstanding professionals in this line of work do in fact exist. You can take comfort in that.

I tell you this because there are people in our profession that get little credit. Embalmers are truly gifted individuals. They do this in the name of public service.  I am thankful that she is one of many who are just like her.  By the way…her name is Priscilla Miller and I think she is the bomb.