I’ve been thinking about the nature of grief this past month & how folks can sometimes put a little judgement on how we grieve or what we grieve about. Pets…some people can’t imagine a life or household without them, others think pet people are crazy to spend time, money and energy so freely on a dog or a cat. After all, it’s “just” a dog! If you are a pet lover, maybe you can relate to the story I am about to share.
My friend Laura had to put her 14 year old wiener dog to sleep this month. Moondog was one constant in Laura’s and her daughter Carolyne’s life for a good long time. He was there when they moved from California to Oregon, there through medical emergency and divorce. He was there for grade school, middle school, holidays, proms and high school graduation. He was just.always.there.
Moonie was a sweet, wiggly escape artist who never failed to make you feel like he was SO glad to see you when you came through the front door.
Laura had noticed some slowing down with Moondog, but he was 14 after all. That’s like 98 in human years…who wouldn’t be a little slow?
Anyway, in the process of about a week, Moonie went from being a pokey old man to what looked to be a stroke victim. Laura said it both scared her and broke her heart to see him that way. As his behavior and physical abilities continued to worsen, Laura had to ask herself some hard questions. “Is he suffering”, “how do I DO this” “When is enough, enough”? Moonie’s condition got to the point where Laura knew it was time to let him go and with some help from her brother John, got a vet appointment for that afternoon.
Moondog was gently eased out of this world and suffering no more. For Laura, the mourning and second guessing was really just beginning. Laura told me she knew that Moonie wouldn’t “last forever” but that thinking that and actually losing him were two different things. She thought “did I do enough”, “did I do it too soon”, “should I have done something else”?
She also hadn’t anticipated how she’d feel when she walked through the door and he didn’t come out of his little “nest” to greet her, how quiet the house was with him gone or how the smell of his blankies would squeeze her heart and start the tears again.
Moonie was more that “just” a dog. He was a companion, an entertainer, a small shoulder to lean on. He was a good snuggler and an excellent foot warmer. He was spoiled, he loved his girls and they loved him.
As a dog owner and lover I know the day is coming for me to have to make those impossibly hard choices concerning my pugs. I dread it.
But that is the thing about loving a pet. Because we last so much longer, we sometimes have to play God. It’s an uneasy fit for most of us. When we take on the joy of loving a dog, cat, horse or whatever, we also take on the responsibility and certain knowledge of their death and our heartbreak.
Still, isn’t it all worth it? With pets, as with people on a much grander scale, eventual loss is a given if you love. I think for almost all of us NOT loving is NOT an option.
So tonight when you get home, give your spouse an extra smooch, your kids a good squeeze and your pet a little extra treat. You love and are loved…..it’s a beautiful thing! Until next time….take care.
Part three from our awsome funeral director Toni!
Congratulations, you’ve graduated with honors (if I can toot my own horn for a minute!)…now what?
Most of my fellow students came from a family of funeral directors or had jobs already lined up either back home or here in Portland. I did not. Luckily the corporate funeral home I had apprenticed at had an opening in the fall. I applied, got it and started in September 1998.
13 years ago Funeral Service was still very much a male dominated “pay your dues” industry. The newbie (me!) got all the grunt work. No jumping in and meeting with families, doing chapel or graveside services…nope….I got to do all the body removals, embalming and repair work on folks who’d committed suicide, been in car wrecks, had drowned or were just generally messy and needed cleaning and fixing. All excellent learning experiences as far as those items went. Yet I still did not know how to conduct an arrangement, help a family plan a meaningful service, write up a statement or all the thousands of other things that need to be done before someone is finally laid to rest. On the plus side, whenever friends or family asked how things were going, I always had interesting conversational material. But still, the part I most looked forward to was the family meetings.
After a year with this particular corporate funeral home, I had met with only one family and that was as an assistant/observer. This was not the “full” funeral service provider experience I had worked so hard for. There was, no doubt, satisfaction and pride in a job well done with my embalming and body/wound repair, but I wanted the whole package.
Feelers were put out; calls to friends and classmates were made. I landed a job at another (different) corporate funeral home. Soon I was meeting with families (and on occasion breaking up family fights in the arrangement room, but that’s another story) conducting graveside & church services, running the crematory…I loved it.
What I DID NOT love was the comprehensive emphasis on selling (or up-selling) every warm body that came through there as much stuff as possible. Whether they needed it or not, could afford it or not. Daily sales “pep” talks for all of us, chats with the manager about how to “get my numbers up”. This was not what I had envisioned when I decided to become a mortician. I lasted a little less than 2 years there before I got fired. The first job I’d EVER been fired from, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I took a break from funeral service and worked for Safeway as a Floral Department Manager for almost 10 years. I met wonderful folks, made new friends and generally enjoyed my time there. But…missed funeral service too. I had paid to keep my licenses current for the last 10 years and thought to myself that it was time to fish or cut bait. I lined up some interviews and then called my old classmate & friend Steve to see “what it was like out there now.” I knew he would give me the straight skinny. Steve asked me to come see him first, which I did. We talked-a lot- about corporation versus independent and serving families. Our philosophy of funeral service was so compatible that when he made me an offer, I was jumping up and down inside. I told Steve I’d need to talk to Ray and would get back to him very soon.
Ray & I talked it all over. My hubby is great at helping me see the pros & cons of things as I am more of a jump right in and “git er dun” type. SOMEBODY needs to pull the reins back on me sometimes!
I called Steve and told him I could start right after Easter once I got my floral department through one last holiday. April 2009 finds me re-entering funeral service with Steve & Shelle at Family Memorial. Everything just seems to flow and I couldn’t be happier where I am right now.
What I do for a living is much more than just a paycheck. I love working at a “mom & pop” establishment. I love the personal contact I have with “my” families..hearing the stories, learning the history behind the person…and I truly love the satisfaction that comes from helping to make a difficult time easier, if only for a little while helping carry a burden no one wants.
Thanks for reading this….as always feedback is appreciated. If there is a topic you would like covered, let us know. Until next time….take care.
Part 2 from our awesome funeral director Toni…
Mortician!? That was an eye opener….for sure! Most people, when they think of a mortician, picture a portly older gentleman in a black suit and shiny wing tip shoes. Well, I might have the “portly” part down, but I’m FAR from a suit and wing tip shoe kind of person!! The only dead person I had actually seen “up close and personal” was my dad in 1988. At that time, I gave no thought as to how he got from the hospital in Kalispell where he had died, to the casket in the viewing room in our little town.
Now, with all those tests I’d taken having opened up an alternate path, I had some thinking to do. So…I “thunk” about it, talked to family, friends and the funeral director who had cared for my dad. I made the decision to go for it…and immediately thought “where do I go to learn this?” I knew positively that there was no school in Montana offering this type of program. I had no computer/internet then (1995) so trekked back down to the college counseling center and started paging through their catalogs. The closest Mortuary Science schools were in California (too far away for me) and Oregon (a possibility). Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon had an excellent 2 year Associates program, was close to home and was more affordable that a private college.
Got an application package sent off to them in November of 1995 and was accepted into the program for the 1996 term. Meanwhile, I’m checking out the course list and about to have a cow!! It was scary…lots of chemistry, biology and anatomy as you might expect. But also Mortuary & Cemetery Law (who knew!?), Embalming Chemistry, Funeral Service Microbiology (eyes starting to glaze over), plus Embalming 1, 2 AND 3!! Not to mention that at the end of our course of study we had to take the National Boards…No pass, No License. Scary and a bit daunting.
Fall 1996 finds me starting all over again, but pretty excited about it overall. The courses were hard, fun and rewarding, some were a revelation. I served an unpaid apprenticeship, was a paid intern at a corporate owned funeral home and was a body removal technician for a privately owned company. Through all this, I found that this type of career did indeed suit me and I was getting the feeling that I might be good at it as well.
We were heading towards graduation and I still had not actually decided if I would stay on Oregon or head home and look for work there. I figured I could worry about that after the National Boards were taken and scored and I knew for certain I had passed and could get licensed.
That was a background worry all through the final semester as it was so very important and from all I’d heard….difficult enough to give you a mini-stroke! But more on that and the end of the story in part 3. Until then, thanks for reading this…take care. Toni
The post this week comes from our awsome funeral director Toni -
Funeral directors, especially female ones, hear that question often. As a culture I really think we are both fascinated and repelled by death. Most of us are “death deniers” and yet we all look at the car wreck as we go by.
Since I get asked just this question by almost everyone I meet for the first time, I thought I’d share how I came to be a mortician.
I’ve had LOTS of different jobs starting in high school with restaurant work. I’ve worked in Yellowstone Park, a Nebraska meat packing plant, had my own small catering company, helped run our family restaurant, taught special ed. and 6th grade; worked in a library……you get the idea. Some of them I did for a short time, some for years. None of them were as satisfying and as varied as I have found Funeral Service to be.
So, one evening in 1994 or 95, I’m standing at the char broiler at our family’s restaurant in Eureka, Montana looking at a 10pm closing and clean up after that… after putting in 6 hours at the grade school. With the same exact line up for the next day…& the next… And I think to myself….I DON’T want to be doing this same exact thing when I’m 60. Even if I do own it…really the business owned me. I didn’t know what exactly I DID want to do, but knew that at 38 I’d better get on the stick and figure out something.
I went to a local community college’s counseling center and took a bunch of aptitude & temperament tests, trying to get an idea of what I might be suited to. Lo & behold a pattern emerged! Not what I thought or expected to be suitable career choices, but really, the ones I had done weren’t doing it for me anyway. So, what kept coming up were: Beautician, social worker and mortician.
Hmmm…mortician. That was nothing that had ever crossed my mind. But after a little investigation, I figured that being a mortician would incorporate the beautician and social worker aspect and be completely different from anything I’d ever done before. Boy was that ever right on! But more on that in part two.
Until then, take care. Toni
Todays blog post comes from our awsome funeral director Toni -
We had a little scare with my mom last month. My little brother calls me at work and (crying a little which freaks me out right off the bat) and says our mom is in the hospital. My stomach drops to my knees and the first words out of my mouth are, “tell me she’s ok”.
As a 54 year old funeral director, you’d think I’d be more “on top of it” or “ready”. My mom is 75 years old, the mayor of my small hometown of Eureka, Montana. She belongs to the VFW auxiliary, is on the board of our electric cooperative, is secretary of the classic car club and has a finger in lots of pies. She is go, go, go all the time and in generally good health, although she smokes and like most of us could stand to lose a few pounds. But, as it turns out, she was ok….this time.
So, as it turns out, I’m NOT “ready”. Which why I thought I’d write a little something about that, as I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in these feelings. Here’s what I’ve taken away from this experience.
Talk to your parent/parents about what they desire as to end of life directives. Do they want “heroic measures”, feeding tubes or nothing done at all.
- Talk about what they want for funeral arrangements. Do they want the full burial with church service? Maybe they want cremation with a celebration at a later date. As hard as this may be to talk about, when the time comes there is real comfort in knowing that you are following your mom or dad’s wishes. Plus it eliminates any chances of arguing or hurt feelings if everyone knows their final wishes.
- Talk about where important papers will be stored. Are there any accounts or safety deposit boxes you are unaware of? Does your parent want to start thinking about appointing someone as Power of Attorney?
- Let your parent know that you will do whatever THEY want. Even if it makes no sense to you, they have their reasons and usually honoring their wishes is not only an easy thing to do, but often the right thing as well.
- NEVER miss an opportunity to tell your mom and/or dad “I love you” or “thanks for being such a great mom”. Call and chit chat on the phone when the mood strikes. Even if you just leave a message, they (and you) know you were thinking of them. If you live near them, drop in & visit, go for coffee or a meal. Time well spent and once that time is gone, there are no “do-over’s”.
- If you have siblings, talk to them about what your parent desires. No surprises =good relationships!
Probably most people my age have given some thought to the above things. Some find it hard to face the fact that our parents will one day die, after all, they have ALWAYS been there. It’s impossible to imagine a time when they will not be around the corner or just a phone call away. When that day comes, I will not be emotionally ready (no one ever is!) but I do believe my brothers and I will have a handle on most of the rest of taking care of my mom’s final wishes. Hope this gives you a jumping off point. Feel free to call us here at Family Memorial for more ideas on talking to your folks about hard issues. We’d love to chat with you.
Take care, Toni
I have been thinking a lot about funerals the past 10 days. That might sound odd since I do this for a living. You would think I get my fill of funerals, but the process of planning and making it meaningful has really been brought home to me since the passing of my nephew. I guess what I’m really talking about is more of a celebration of life, a way to say to my loved one - you were here, you are important to me, I won’t forget.
We have a family for a viewing at the mortuary as I write this. They have transformed the space into memories of their mom; pictures and music and flowers and laughter. The children are running around playing, not afraid to speak loud. Groups of adults are sharing stories and looking at picture boards. Sharing special memories. The food smells good and sets the stage – family gathered to share a meal in honor of their loved one. Just the way I think it should be. A celebration of life.
Do you call it a funeral, memorial or celebration? I think a funeral is more about a religious rite and probably includes clergy and a spiritual message. That said, a funeral can also include, and probably should include, personal stories and anecdotes. Sherry L. Williams in her column, The Gift of Aftercare, speaks of her father and says it this way: “As we said our goodbyes, I learned once again, that I had to make the transition from his presence in my life to a life filled with memories and the funeral helped me begin that process. People witnessed to me about the character of my Dad and added to memories and stories that I already knew and I learned brand new things to add to my memory bank.”
Last Saturday we had a similar Celebration of Life for my nephew, who left us at age 15. We went through his i-pod and played his favorite music. We collected pictures from his youth, family vacations and school achievements, and a kind teacher from his school put them on a video for us. He loved drama and the drama group he belonged to “Little Players” and his drama teachers put on a skit in his honor. We laughed and cried and gave his friends and family a way to tell stories and celebrate the uniqueness of this young man. Just the way it should be.
My husband, Steve, wanted something at the graveside that was special for family, and so he had us sign little “love” notes on the casket in Brandon’s honor. It was quite a moving sight to see people come up with their sharpies and leave a message, just like you might do in a yearbook. He told us that since Brandon would not get one, we should leave these thoughts in its place. This one physical act brought tears to some and smiles to many. I think it is the thing I will remember most because I had the chance to say one last thing to my nephew.
So whatever you call it, funeral, memorial or celebration of life – make it meaningful – just the way it should be!
And remember, the only way to take grief out of death is to take love out of life - Shelle
Imagine you’re house hunting. You’re going through a beautiful home in the countryside. It could include perfect views over a lake; a gorgeous view of Mt Hood’s snow capped peak or lush pastoral fields. A peaceful tranquil setting, just what you’re looking for. Then the seller says: “We love this place. We hate to leave, because grandma is scattered in the backyard overlooking the wonderful view.”
The scattering of cremated remains has become a trend. People choose cremation over burial for a number of reasons, according to the Cremation Association of North America: it costs less, it suits a more mobile society and it’s considered more environmentally friendly, to name a few.
As of 2008 the rate of cremation in Oregon was 67.92%. Just what are 68% of Oregonians doing with the cremated remains of their loved ones and what are the laws?
First a link to the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board (our governing body) for the “official information” http://www.oregon.gov/MortCem/Consumer_Information/Scattering.pdf which states that cremated human remains are a sanitary natural substance and there are no specific statutory restrictions on scattering cremated remains. It’s OK to scatter on your own private property. It would not be a good idea to scatter them on your neighbor’s property without permission. And, though it may be OK to scatter them at the beach, it would not be a good idea to do so at a crowded beach on a windy day!
I recenlty spoke to a customer, “Rachel” who had lost her sister “Sally” to cancer. Sally was not able to travel much in her life so Rachel does it for her. Every time Rachel takes a trip she bring a little bit of Sally with her and scatters as she goes. Since Sally’s death two years ago, she has been for a ride on the Orient Express, visited the pyramids in Eqypt and recently went site seeing at the Washington Monument. For Rachel this a a way to love and honor her sister.
According to Brian Vaszily of intenseexperiences.com , Video cameras at Disneyland are recording an alarming trend: more and more visitors are spreading the cremated remains of their loved ones on the attractions! In November 2007, a woman was caught sprinkling ashes from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But by far the most popular location in Disneyland to spread ashes of loved ones is the Haunted Mansion. To deal with the expanding problem, Disneyland’s custodial department has recently purchased special vacuums with HEPA filters to clean up the scene and I can only assume what they do with the “HEPA clean-up”
Years ago, my father scattered his brothers ashes at the Portland Rose Garden, a beautiful location overlooking the city. He said that Uncle Fred always liked roses.
Here are a few things to think about -
In Public Areas-
Ask for permission and inquire about permits or restrictions. Permission to scatter in parks is somewhat easy to obtain. Yosemite National Park not only allows scattering -with permission- but it keeps a Book of Memories so those who have been scattered in the park are acknowledged and memorialized. Others may be willing to do the same.
On Private Land-
Check with the property owner and get permission – or at lease be discrete!
Whether you choose land, sea, or air to scatter the remains of your loved one, do something that is really them. Pick a place with meaning to both of you, make a ceremony of it and have fun. Look back for future posts on common and uncommon things to do with cremated remains.
And always remember – The only way to take grief out of death, is to take love out of life. Shelle