And So Begins My New Life

Join me as I embark on a new life and new career in Funeral Services.

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Location: Southeast, United States

I'm a Funeral Services graduate embarking on a new career. I graduated high school in 1981, served honorably in the United States Navy from 1982-1986, been married since 1986, and have one son. I've relocated to a new state and have begun working in my chosen profession of Funeral Services, and I've never been happier.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

This Blog Has Served Its Purpose

After ten years and 517 posts, I believe this blog has run its course and served its purpose. I began this blog at a pivotal moment in my life; my transition from a retail career into funeral services. I shared stories and anecdotes from school, practicums, internships, and licensing, and I have enjoyed doing it. However, I believe there is nothing more I can share. My transition is complete.  I will not take it down, but rather leave it up for anyone to peruse who randomly comes across it. As you can tell, my last few posts have been very few and far apart, so rather than keep people wondering if there are any new posts, the answer is no. Thank you to all who followed me. I appreciate all the comments and questions, and I will continue to answer any questions that come my way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Enough is Enough

I apologize for not writing more frequently. I'm very content at my new location, there are no personality conflicts like there were with my old boss, and quite frankly, nothing of much interest seems to be happening to me lately. However, I will talk about the business we've had since my last post. I have had at least half a dozen mothers come in to make arrangements for their sons, many of whom are my age or younger (I'm 51 as of this writing, soon to be 52). I am growing more comfortable in my bookkeeping role, but I still don't know Quickbooks like I should. I have grown as a director since my arrival at my new location. At my previous funeral home, I mostly handled cremations and memorials services, with more experienced staff handling full burials and ship-outs.

We have a married couple working for us, and when they vacation they naturally do it together. It leaves us a little short-handed, but usually we do mostly simple cremations or cremations with a memorial service, so not a lot of stress there. However, a few months ago (end of April, first part of May) they left for a week long cruise. While they were gone, this is what happened:
Monday: Full burial at the National Cemetery
Wednesday: Full burial at a local cemetery, then a viewing and visitation later that day for someone else.
Thursday: Burial from the previous day's viewing, then another viewing and visitation that night for yet another person.
Friday: Burial of the previous night's viewing, another funeral in the chapel later that day, then I had to go to a nearby church for a memorial service that night.

We teased them when they returned about how busy we were and how hard we worked in their absence, jokingly telling them they weren't allowed to go on anymore cruises. They left this past Sunday for another week long trip, and right before they left the husband said, "We need to get busy this month," as up until that point we had only had about 5 calls, all simple cremation and no services.
Not an hour later, we get a call for a full service burial. That was on a Thursday; here's what happened since Thursday at close:
Friday: I met with the family from Thursday. Viewing, visitation, funeral and burial on Sunday.
Later that afternoon a family drops in. Dad's not doing too well and they want to arrange a funeral.
We make some preliminary plans. That night after close we get another call, so I arrange to meet with the family on Saturday. Cremation (no viewing) with a funeral mass with the urn present. As soon as I'm done with that, a woman walks in to shop cremation jewelry. She picks some pieces out of the catalog and I write up the order.
Saturday: The family from Friday calls to tell me Dad passed, so I make an appointment with them for Sunday, after the funeral for the Thursday family. During Sunday's funeral my boss texts me that a friend of his is about to lose her mother-in-law and this will be an embalming and a ship-out. She passes while I am on my way back from the cemetery. I arrange for her to be picked up and then I meet with the family who lost Dad.While we're making plans another family walks in. Mom has died and they want to bury her at the National Cemetery. So I meet with them after my first family, knowing now I will have two bodies to embalm once I'm done. We get both bodies into the prep room and I'm there until 8o'clock that night, making for a 12 and 1/2 hour day.
Monday: We get a call that turns out to be another burial at the National Cemetery.
In summary, since Thursday: 4 embalmings and 5 funerals (one is not embalmed, just a graveside service). Our pay period is two weeks long, and I have 104 hours worked. And tonight, I learn we are getting another call, a ship in from out of state, most likely for burial. I can only hope that service is deferred until Monday, because I am off this weekend and I do not want to go in.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ready Player One and Interactive Fiction

This is not work related, but I felt the need to post. I have just completed my second reading of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I also gave a listen to the audiobook version as read by Wil Wheaton, for a total of three "readings" if you will.  This book is set in the mid 21st century, and involves a treasure hunt for the biggest video game Easter egg prize ever announced. The contest is started when the creator of a 3D virtual reality called OASIS, dies without any heirs and leaves his fortune (in excess of $200 billion dollars) to the person who can find his Easter egg. The creator was a teenager in the nineteen-eighties, and had a huge, huge nostalgia fixation on that era. As a result, egg hunters, or "gunters" spend a lot of time and energy researching this decade.

Now, I was not a teenager in the eighties, but I was still a young man, and I played, saw, listened to and watched, many of the games, movies, music and tv shows mentioned. For me, this book is one giant trip down memory lane. Many things mentioned in the book are not necessarily from that decade, such the tv show Ultraman, Space Giants, and many others, but I also remember watching them in high school. Along the way, our hero competes with other gunters in some of the classic video games, such as Joust. At one point he explores a recreation of the Infocom Interactive Fiction game Zork. For those who may not know, interactive fiction is a form of computer gaming where the story is spelled out on your monitor in prose, with absolutely no graphics of any kind. The computer tells you what you see around you, and you interact with your environment with simple commands you type into the computer, such as GET LANTERN or EXAMINE CABINET. By interacting with your surroundings, you moved through the game, solving puzzles and finding objects to help in your quest to reach the final goal, whatever that may be.

When I got my first computer, a Commodore 64 in the mid-eighties, I was a huge Infocom fan. I played several of their titles, including The Lurking Horror, Enchanter, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. What started my love of this genre of computer gaming, and the reason I am waxing nostalgic over this, is my exposure in high school to my very first text adventure ever. Now, if you search the internet for Interactive Fiction and read up on the origins and history, the articles will invariably mention a game called "Adventure" where characters were in a cave deep underground and had to find their way through a maze of caverns. However, I never saw or heard of that game until I started searching for my fondest memory, the first IF game I ever played, a game accessible through our local community college mainframe computer via a dial-up connection from my high school. That game was called "Letter."  The object of this game was to deliver a letter in your possession to someone named "Garcia." Along the way I encountered locations such as The Grotto, Poet's Corner, and the Hobo Jungle. One puzzle I remember is that at some point in the game I found myself in a house with a couple of musical instruments, minus their strings. I had string which could be used, but on only one instrument. Sometimes I picked one, sometimes the other, but I never did solve that puzzle. In fact, I never finished the game at all, and I've spent the last few years, at various times, searching the internet for a copy of this game that I could download and play to completion. If anybody out there knows about this game, I would love to hear from you, if only to share stories. If you know where I can get a copy, even better! Just click the Email Me link under Squidward.

In the meantime, if you have fond memories of the 1980's and it's pop culture, give Ready Player One a read. It's a fun and nostalgic blast from the past.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No More Days Off For My Boss

I do not like it when my manager has a day off. Usually I end up making arrangements with multiple families, most of which turn out to be difficult or quirky, and last Friday was no exception. First, I had a family walk in to discuss pre-arrangements. I sat down with them and explained all the various options and costs. Then we had a call from the previous day where the family flew in from out of town. I sat down with them and took care of everything. I made an addition error on the contract, which I did not discover until after the fact. I overcharged them by $200. I will be mailing them a check, of course.

Then I had a family come in right at the end of the day. They had called us earlier to inform us of the passing, and we found out they wanted cremation. With cremation, you can have a viewing and a visitation and a funeral service, but instead of going to a cemetery, the body is taken to be cremated. You can also have a memorial service, where the body is not present, but you still have a funeral. You can also wait until the cremation is accomplished, then have a funeral with the ashes present. I explained these options to them, and the one thing they knew for certain was they did not want a viewing. They said some of the family might want to see her. We can arrange that, which is what we call an ID view. No embalming, but the person is made up to be presentable, the family comes in for a little while and sees their loved one. I met with this family on Friday, they want a service with the ashes present. So today we get the approval we need to proceed with cremation. I called the family to tell them we were ready to cremate, were they planning on an ID view? The family tells me they don't know yet, they have to discuss it. What have you been doing all weekend?  I ask them if they had selected a date and time for the service, and they tell me they were arranging that with the priest. I told them that we needed to do that because we had other services to schedule and didn't want a scheduling conflict. So they tell me they are looking at Thursday. So I asked, is that Thursday for a service or for the ID view? They said, and I quote, "Ok Thank You" and hung up!

Before all of this transpired, however, I had some interesting phone calls from the first family. We sent their loved one to the Promised Land (up North), with the understanding the receiving funeral home would set up and schedule the burial with the cemetery of choice. I found out today the family wants a Saturday service, which the cemetery charges extra for. I call them and let them know their are extra costs involved. They tell me they have been in contact with the cemetery and nothing has been done and where's there loved one and what's going on? I call the receiving funeral home to verify what I've been told, make sure they received the body, and verify they were going to set up the cemetery. They received the body and were booking the cemetery as we spoke. I called the family back to let them know their loved one was safe and in the care of the receiving funeral home and the cemetery was being booked that very afternoon. Then they ask about the death certificates, and when I told them the doctor still had not signed, they started yelling at me. In some parts of the Promised Land, death certificates have to be signed and in hand before you can even pick up a body from the place of death. They did not understand that it doesn't work that way down here. One line I tired of hearing these last few months is, "but that's how it's done in New York..." Funny, I didn't realize I lived and worked in New York. I could have sworn I lived in the South.

I told my boss he is no longer allowed to have days off.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Bookkeeping Woes

I don't know if I've mentioned this in any previous posts or not, but when I transferred to my new location, I was appointed bookkeeper. Basically, I pay bills, write checks, enter contracts into Quickbooks, etc. I know nothing about any of this, especially Quickbooks. I had one quarter of basic accounting 10 years ago. When I write checks or enter bills, I code them to what I *think* is the appropriate account. So now where at the end of the year, and the owner's wife, who has overall control of the financial side of the business, starts asking me why this or that particular account has a balance when it should be zero, or why this particular deposit is showing up in a different place. All I can do is tell her, "I don't know." So yesterday she came in to look over everything and try to straighten out some of the snafus, and we're going over all the problems together and she's asking me questions I cannot answer. Finally, I told her, "You know more about embalming than I do about bookkeeping." I think that struck a nerve with her, but not so much that she wants to bring in someone more experienced a couple of times a month just to make sure I'm doing things right. She swears that I'm not doing that bad, but I still feel like I'm lost at sea and fumbling in the dark. Do you really want your "bookkeeper" learning not only how to be a bookkeeper but learn it while fumbling with unfamiliar software On The Job!? I mean, I could seriously screw up the financial picture if I make too drastic a mistake. Alas, I just do the best I can and hope between the owner's wife and their accountant, they can clean up my mess by the end of the year and/or tax time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


First of all, I am so sorry for taking so long to put up a new post. There has not been a whole lot going on to write about. However, today was not the best day for me. I went on a house call the other day, greeted the family, offered my condolences, and asked about what type of arrangements they wanted (cremation, burial, etc...). Today they came in to make the arrangements and mentioned that I seemed a bit too abrupt; I apparently "got right down to business." I am trying to not let it bother me, as it is the first complaint against me, ever, in my career in the funeral industry. My boss chalked it up to the familie's emotional state, which I can understand. In the future, I will have to watch how I approach these situations and avoid a repeat.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Liar Liar, Pants On Fire

This has not been a good week so far. My boss is on vacation, so I've been meeting with all the families, which is not my favorite part of the job. Actually, that's quite ironic since the whole reason I became a director was to help people avoid the kind of stress my family went through when we lost my dad. One of my families this week wants cremation with a gathering at the funeral home with the ashes present, followed by a service the next day, and burial of the ashes at the national cemetery. I met with them on Monday, and was fairly confident I could have everything done by Thursday/Friday. So we set the schedule up accordingly. Come to find out the Medical Examiner wants to get involved, which is throwing a wrench in the works. Today is Wednesday, and unless we get cremation approval tomorrow by lunch, the funeral service will turn into a memorial service with no cremated remains present. Plus, the National Cemetery Scheduling Office is still trying to verify eligibility, despite giving them the veteran's full name, date of birth, social security number and military service number. So even if we had the cremated remains, there is still the possibility we would not be going to the cemetery on Friday. Tomorrow when I get to work I will have to call the family and tell them I failed. I feel like I've let them down, even though logically I know it's not my fault. Under normal circumstance I could have had this done. We had the death certificate to the doctor on Monday, and it was signed the next day and sent to the state for approval. Still, I can't help but feel I've broken a promise.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Back From Vacation

I have returned from vacation well rested. I was actually back this past Sunday. Monday was a holiday, so we didn't work. I reported to work Tuesday to find out we had only had a couple of calls in my absence, but once I returned we started getting calls left and right. It has been a busy week and we have two services on Monday.

I had a great time on vacation. We took an eight day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.  We stopped at St. Maarten, Grand Turk, Torotolo and St. Thomas, where we ziplined. It was a blast. The best zipline experience I've had. At dinner one night in the dining room, I saw something that struck me, and for most of the cruise I was a little bothered by it, and then I had a revelation.

I saw an elderly gentleman, probably late 60's or early 70's, wearing a ponytail. My first reaction, and the one that stayed with me for a majority of the cruise, was this is not something old men need to be wearing. I thought it was perhaps a desperate attempt by this person to hold onto a bit of their youth, and how pathetic it was that people can't age gracefully, and how he was probably a smelly hippie back in the day. And then one day, it occurred to me that I am as guilty of that as he is. No, I don't have a pony tail, I wasn't a beatnik or a hippie (wrong generation), but I still wear my hair the same way I did all those years ago in the Navy. In the past few years, I have also become nostalgic over my youth, collection songs and images that had meaning for me, as well as trying to reach out and find old friends. Sadly, that never works out, as I have repeatedly discovered. You make contact, trade a couple of emails, and then invariably they become fewer and further between until that day you realize you haven't written or they haven't written, and what's the point, anyway?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Ready For Vacation

I am so ready for my vacation. Not only has it been a year since my last one, but things at work these past few weeks have been very stressful. Our other director was out last week with an illness. I covered for him while he was sick, and he finally came back to work on Monday. This morning, my first day off in two weeks, I get a call telling me that he's relapsed and I need to come in and make funeral arrangements. So, on my only day off in two weeks, I get dressed and go to work. I texted him that he was really making me work for this vacation. We are going on our fourth cruise, this time to St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Grand Turk, and Tortolo. I've been to St. Thomas. When I was in the Navy my ship had a liberty call there in 1983. I really enjoyed my time ashore. I'm sure it's changed radically in the last 30 years. My god, 30 years. I feel old.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sorry For The Lack of Content

I just noticed it's been well over a month since my last post. Sorry about that. The weekend of March 14-16 was nuts. From close of business Friday until Monday morning we received 7 calls. Usually we don't get seven calls in one week, let alone over a weekend. They were all cremations, as well, with a cot view, a couple of Masses and National Cemetery thrown in for good measure. The hardest part about a busy weekend like that is trying to make sure that everything is done for every call.
Put all the obits in, post services on our website and answering service, confirm the doctors, make sure the dc gets sent out, make sure we get them back in a timely manner, fax cremation paperwork to the crematory when ready. It is so easy to let things slip through the cracks in these situations. Thankfully this weekend was slightly calmer, with only 3 calls coming in.