Showing posts with label Funerals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Funerals. Show all posts

12 October 2017

Fun With Funerals!

by Eve Fisher

I hope many of you watched the series "My Name is Earl" with Jason Lee.  I thought it was hilarious.  One of my favorite episodes was when John Waters did a guest spot as Walter Hamerick, a creative funeral director who liked to put his clients in familiar conditions:  hence the guy in this picture, who'd spent his life as a couch potato is surrounded by all his favorite things.  I watched that, and besides laughing my head off, thought THAT'S the way it's done.  Even if it does look like a spooky Duane Hanson retrospective.

Locally, we have a funeral home that offers a motorcycle hearse (shout out to you, George Boom!) which provides not only one of the best funeral billboards I've seen in years, but makes a whole lot of sense, considering that Sturgis, South Dakota, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world.  (Yes, it's the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.)

NOTE:  You'd be amazed at the performers who've played at Sturgis.  From Bob Dylan to Ozzy Osborne, from Motley Crue to the late, great Tom Petty...  (here's Tom Petty's Set List from Sturgis 2006).

Anyway, back when I was a child, my father drove my mother and me to northern Kentucky every summer, where we spent at least a few weeks, if not the whole summer, with my grandmother.  She lived in a small town of probably 500 people (which was considerable growth from the 40 who were there in 1800), settled in the late 1700s, and everyone knew / knows everyone.  Everyone knew my grandmother, because she taught school there for 40 years.  And my grandfather worked in the bank as a teller until the late 1950s.

Image result for 1858 pennySide storyEvery time someone brought in a very old coin to the bank to deposit, my grandfather would take it and replace it with a modern equivalent from his own pocket.  The result is that I have a modest but authentic old coin collection.

Anyway, another family everyone knew was that of the local morticians.  The Walworths (the names have been changed so as not to embarrass anyone) had been burying everyone in Falmouth since the 1800s, and had / have every intention of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.  Whenever Mother and I went to Falmouth, we stopped and paid our respects.  Mrs. Walworth, the matriarch, gave me lemonade and cookies, and the adults discussed old, literally dead days with great relish.  Mrs. Walworth especially like to reminisce about when she and Mr. Walworth first met.
"We didn't fall in love at first sight.  No, he had to work to get me.  But oh, those were sweet times.  Hand in hand, courting and embalming..."  

She also told the sad story of when her first son died, as a little boy, and having to lay him out and bury him themselves.  And, after the funeral, there was a tremendous rain storm, and she couldn't sleep thinking about how cold and wet it was out there in that grave...  (BTW, both those stories gave me a few nightmares.)

But back to Fun with Funerals.  Maybe.

Fast forward 30 years, and my grandmother died.  I went back up to Kentucky with my parents, in my one black suit, a 1930s linen number that I'd bought at the thrift store and gave my mother something to talk about instead of crying the whole way.  Randy Walworth (who was about my age, and had taken over for his parents a few years back) met us, and we finished making the arrangements:  lilies, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", and cake as well as cookies for the viewing that evening.  Then we went and booked a room for the night at the local motel, because there weren't any living relatives left in town.

I swear to God everyone over 60 came that evening for the viewing.  The three of us went from little old lady to little old man and on to the next until I at least was dizzy.  At one point I stopped by the coffee and looked out on the sea of tinted grey, the chatter like the sea in my ears, and realized I desperately needed a cigarette.  So I stepped back into the office, where Randy was taking a little time off from his duties as well.

"I just need a cigarette," I said.

"No problem.  You want a drink to go with it?"

"Hell, yes."

funeral-humor-old-people-at-weddingsRandy pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured us both a stiff one.  We sipped away, in silence at first, and then Randy started talking.

First about what a good crowd we had, because my grandmother had always been hugely popular.

We reminisced about Falmouth in the old days - we were very close in age - and how we'd run from house to house and race each other over the railroad tracks, which ran right through the middle of town.  Who lived where.  When.  When they died.  Where they were buried (his contribution).

And then Randy started talking about "restoration work" (we were on a multiple of drinks at this point), and how delicate it is, and what wonderful things he'd done for my grandmother, and how he'd done them.  He went into some detail, and I tried very hard to look interested while not hearing one single word of it.

He wound it all up with, "Now I want you to do me a favor."  "What?" I asked.

"Whatever you do, don't ever have an autopsy.  Autopsies just wreak havoc with a person's body, and the funeral director is stuck with the damage.  Please, please, please, whatever you do, make sure you don't ever have an autopsy, because I simply can't guarantee my work if you do."

Well, I promised.  Without pointing out that I'd have nothing to say about whether or not I'd have an autopsy, if the issue ever arose.  And then I went back to the party, because for some reason...

Well, it's interesting to chat with the man who plans to embalm you.  But it isn't really comfortable.  Even with bourbon.




 

06 March 2017

Last Writes

by Steve Liskow            


A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a former colleague. I have to admit that I'm approaching an age where I--and several of my friends--find this happening more often than we like. But it made me stop and think for the first time how many of my own works involve funerals, too. So far, eight of my eleven novels have funeral scenes or scenes in which characters talk about a funeral. So do both my current WIPs and at least one short story.

That made me try to recall "great literary works" that have funerals in them, and I immediately thought of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, The Loved One, Hamlet, As I Lay Dying, and Antigone. There must be dozens of others, especially when you think of all the "great literary works" I've managed to avoid reading.


This makes sense because if a story doesn't have something at stake, the reader will stop reading and the audience will stop watching or listening. The two main issues that put something at stake are love and death because they cause irrevocable change. Love changes everything. Where would Romeo and Juliet be without it? Well, alive, you say. Exactly, I say.

Most of us in the crime writing biz focus on murder, not jaywalking or littering because it has a more profound effect on the people. My funeral scenes remind me--and my readers--that killing someone affects the survivors, too, the ones who have to carry on without that person who has been taken away. The protagonist has to figure out how and why so order can be restored, albeit differently. The friends no longer have that shopping companion or tennis partner. The lover no longer has his or her other half. The child(ren) no longer have that parent. The parent no longer has that child.

I sometimes use the funeral scene to provide a clue to the crime, but more often than not, I focus on the inner life of the characters for whom the landscape has changed. These people have to reinvent themselves in order to go on. We all do that many times in our lives (See Judith Viorst's Necessary Losses and Gail Sheehy's Passages for examples), but we crime writers grapple with it every time we put words on paper.


Maybe that's why I get annoyed when people look down at crime writers or romance writers as "mere genre fiction." Take away love and death, and what do you have left?

26 June 2012

Funeral March

by David Dean

In my last post, which was about weddings, I mentioned that I had just returned from one.  I also said that as I had grown older, sadly, I attended more funerals than weddings.  What I didn't say was that I had attended a funeral on that same day.  To be accurate, I had attended a sea burial--the funeral Masses for my wife's parents having been celebrated long before.  It had been their wish to be cremated and then to have their ashes scattered together at sea.  And that is what we did on a beautiful morning off the coast of Cape May.  My wife led her siblings and our collective children in a prayer known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  This had been an especial devotion of both Bob and Jackie whose day it was, and so we honored them in this way. 

It's a fairly recent development that Catholics are allowed to be cremated.  It was not always thus.  For many, many centuries this practice was forbidden by the Church as a heathen rite.  In the very early days of Christianity many pagans practiced cremation; sometimes in spectacular fashion, e.g. the Viking's long-boat funeral pyres!  Quite the send-off!  Of course, a different view might have been taken by valued servants of the deceased as they were sometimes left on-board for the proceedings.  But, as the Christians believed in the resurrection of both soul and body on the final day, it was deemed inadvisable to burn the remains.  Since those dark times a consensus has been arrived at; that as we believe in a God that created life and promises resurrection, perhaps he can do so with whatever material we leave behind.  Oddly, there is still some controversy over the scattering of ashes.

Unlike weddings, funerals crop up quite frequently in mystery stories.  Not usually as the setting for the crime itself, but often as the end result thereof.  Often there is graveside plotting while the minister/priest/rabbi/imam drones on about the deceased.  Not infrequently we are introduced to the players at graveside.  Sometimes the attendees are carefully scrutinized for signs of guilt.  It was once a custom to expose the accused to the corpse of the murder victim to see if his wounds bled afresh at their presence--a sure sign of guilt!  It is not recorded how efficacious this method was.  As I understand it, at a certain point during decomposition wounds may seep once more. I  suspect timing was of the essence with this method--bad timing in the case of the innocent.  There was also a theory that the victim's retina retained an image of the last thing it witnessed...quite possibly his slayer!  Again, this practice appears to have fallen by the wayside for unexplained reasons.  

Like weddings, funerals are part of every culture and faith.  Even if one has no faith in the hereafter, the dead must be dealt with and that generally entails a funeral of some sort.  I've attended funerals that celebrated the life of the deceased--most often when the person has lived a long, productive life.  On these occasions, there tends to be a good deal of joking and laughter along the sidelines as people share good memories with one another.  But I've also been present at the opposite: funerals that result from accidents and murder, suicides and death at too young an age.  It's hard to celebrate a life that's been cut short, however many good memories they have left behind.  There's always that, "What if...?" left hanging in the air; never to be answered.

Different customs apply, as well, not to mention the last wishes of the deceased.  It was my Grandmother Dean's wish that her six sons dig her grave with shovels and lower her coffin into it themselves.  She did not want a backhoe, or other machinery involved, and her wishes were complied with to the letter.  It seemed very appropriate, that as she had labored to bring each of them into the world, that they should labor to carry her out of it.  There were no complaints amongst them.

We don't do wakes much any more.  It was once a widespread custom that has fallen into disuse.  I think we've grown too fastidious for such things as sitting up all night with the dead.  In Ireland, the local pub sometimes offered their services for such occasions.  The deceased was laid out in a room off the public area and there friends and relatives would come to pay their last respects.  Those waiting could refresh themselves as needed in the saloon.  The term "wake" derives from just what it sounds like...staying awake.  It used to be believed amongst many peoples, that during the short period between death and burial, the soul continued to reside within the corpse.  During this brief span it was vulnerable to dark spirits who might attempt to snare it and carry it away to hell.  Thus the family's duty was to keep watch the night before the burial Mass in order to protect their loved one's soul.  It was important to stay awake or the forces of hell might succeed.  Staying awake was certainly aided by visiting friends and neighbors telling stories and gossiping.  How the whiskey and ale helped remains unclear other than to attract said friends and neighbors.  Perhaps I could enjoy funerals more if, like wedding receptions, there was an open bar.

Ah well, believe it or not, I have another funeral to attend this week--a dear woman who was our court clerk for my entire police career.  She actually worked into her nineties (this after an earlier career in Jersey City) and was only recently considering retirement.  Hers will be one of the 'good' funerals--a celebration of a life well-lived and a woman most loved.  My former department will offer an honor guard and I expect to hear (and tell) some good stories… and even laugh a little.