Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lessons on Death

As a well-spent day brings a happy sleep,
So a life, well used, brings a happy death. (Leonardo DaVinci)

There are only two ways to live your life:
One is as though nothing is a miracle;
The other is as though everything is a miracle! (Albert Einstein)

In the end, it's not the years in your life that counts...
It's the Life in your years. (Abraham Lincoln)

Not being a topic I'd normally write about, a recent article in The Hamilton Spectator captured my attention. The following are excerpts from a true-life article written by Paul Moon and published in the New York Times...titled “A Father's Livelihood.”

Before the age of 12, I had seen about a dozen dead bodies. For me, it was actually a pretty typical childhood because my father was a funeral director. I always thought it was funny that on 'Take Your Child to Work Day' my friends would go to a doctor's office or a police station and I would go to a funeral home to watch my dad work on dead people. I learned early on in my life exactly where the road ends for all of us. My father, James Moon, retired recently and it occurred to me that I had never asked him why he decided to go into the funeral business. When I traveled home to Colorado for the holidays, I decided to find out.
'Twenty-two years ago, I decided that I wanted to reorient my career.
I was a Realtor at the time and just didn't find that selling real estate
and family life worked very well.'
He fell into the funeral business by accident when he responded to a newspaper ad seeking real estate agents, school teachers and insurance salespeople who were interested in a different career path. He was not deterred once he found out what it was. He was in his early 40's and already felt 'over the hill' in the corporate world. In the funeral business, he realized his age would be an advantage.

My dad stated, 'I reflected on my father's death and how that was handled...and it was very much like order-taking. It was very impersonal...there was very little care or compassion...and I felt that there had to be a better approach.' He took a job as an advance planner at a funeral home in Orlando, Florida, helping clients make decisions about funerals for those who had not yet died. 'I saw what the funeral directors did...and that interested me greatly. I resigned and enrolled in the mortuary science program at St. Petersburg College. After graduation I worked as an embalmer for four years before being hired as a full-time funeral director in Orlando. At this time, I became well acquainted with death.'

I remember stopping dead in my tracks at an open door to a visitation room. Across the dimly lit room, seemingly miles away, was a coffin with a man inside. Slowly, I crept toward it, feeling a mixture of fear and curiosity. I looked down on the man's face and thought how odd it was to see a person not breathing. For some reason, I thought he was holding his breath and trying to scare me into thinking he was dead. I inched my face closer to his and at the last second, I turned away and ran. The dead man won the game of chicken. After that, seeing corpses became quite nomal.'

Sometimes, my dad would bring me into work to help him with a funeral service. I would usher, hand out funeral booklets or do whatever odd job he asked me to do. I have been to more funerals for people I don't know than for people I do know. At a young age, I was confronted with total strangers reacting to the death of their loved ones. The reactions can vary; getting to be a part of other people's grief helped me clarify what I wanted to have happen when I die.
I want to be cremated instead of buried...deciding this at about age 11 or 12
after my dad invited me to see a cremation.
Most people don't realize that funerals are for the living, not for those who have died. My dad instilled in me what he felt was important...and it has shaped how I want my death to be handled.
I do fantasize about having a Viking send-off...
where I am pushed out onto a lake in a boat and one of my friends
shoots a flaming arrow at me and the boat goes up in a blaze.
But because that service isn't offered by most funeral homes, I may end up having just a run-of-mill cremation. Death shouldn't be swept under the rug: It's the most certain thing to happen in our lives.”

* * * * *
Funerals??? make me uncomfortable. Even today when an acquaintance has 'passed',
I will attend Visitation at the Funeral Home to express my solace and understanding.

When my father died at age 56, my family and I attended the 'viewing times' at a Funeral Home in Brantford. It was an 'open casket' (which I dislike). Well known in town, the visitation lines were long. Often the comment was, “He looks real...alive...or resting peacefully.” My reaction to these words seemed me, he looked DEAD! Even today, as I reflect upon this 'open casket' my last memory of him was that of DEATH. My preference, by far, would be to remember him as an alive physical man with a vital personality that impacted hundreds of people who knew him.

The greatest innovation by Funeral Homes today, is the “Celebration of Life”...
as experienced and exemplified by the one who passed on to his/her next life.

Those we love can never be more than a thought away...
for as long as there is a memory, they live in our hearts to stay.
(Author Unknown)

From the Quiet Repose of a Loved One:
Child of Earth...(by Pat Helmbergen)

When you are told that I am not believe it!
Walk among the trees and I will speak to you
in the soft mysty song of the wind.
Touch a leaf sprinkled with sunshine
and you will be touching me.
Pick up a smooth worn stone
and throw it far into the sea.
That will help you to understand
that I am no longer here.
Whether I am in your hand or in the sea,
I am a child of the changing earth...
Changed and Free!

Merle Baird-Kerr...written March 27, 2017

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