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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Thursday, May 31, 2007

I'm Not "Warm And Fuzzy"

As you may know, I've been covering the phones after-hours while the boss is on his honeymoon. Today, at lunch, when I was all alone in the funeral home, we get a call from a funeral home up north. They need us to pick up a body at the local hospital, perform the embalming, then ship the body to them. They wanted to know what our cost for this service was. Now, prices are my weak point in my training. In the past, whenever I would try to answer pricing questions, my boss would usually criticize me for doing it wrong, or for even doing it when I really wasn't trained to, or whatever. With this in mind, I took the name and the number of the person I was speaking to, and told him the owner would be calling him in just a few minutes. I called the owner on his cell phone and he was able to tell me where to find the price and what to say when I called them back. When he returned from lunch, we sat down and discussed giving prices over the phone. He then made this comment, which was not meant to be mean. He said that while I was very polite and professional on the phone, I wasn't "warm and fuzzy," meaning that I didn't come across as empathetic enough, or caring enough, or however you want to look at it. So I need to work on improvement in that area.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This Was My First

Tonight we had a memorial service. The family was the one I sat with on our very busy Friday. I didn't realize it until I got home and was talking to my wife, but this was my first solo service, start to finish. I sat with the family; there was no pre-need, I made all the arrangements, booked the preacher, sold the urn; everything that needed doing for this service, I took care of. So, even though it wasn't a regular funeral, it was my first service arranged completely by myself.

Monday, May 28, 2007

My First Solo Funeral - Almost

Today, Memorial Day, we had a mass at 10:30am. The family arrives at the funeral home, has some privacy and some time to say goodbye to their loved one. Right in the middle of this, the owner lays out the game plan. There are four of us working; two will handle flowers (take them to church and set them up a few minutes before we arrive). The owner will run ahead and standby to help get things moving when we get to church, then return to the funeral home to cover the phones and set up for next event, a memorial service at 1pm. This leaves me to drive the coach and lead the procession. If you've been following this blog for a couple of months, you may remember I've led processions to the National Cemetery, which is an hour away. So a five minute drive to a nearby church is no big deal, right? Wrong.

You see, in a Catholic Funeral Mass, you must arrive at church just minutes before the scheduled start time. Too early and the family ends up standing around at the rear of the church waiting for the priest, too late and you've ticked off the priest and they're waiting for you, which is not good. Well, it turns out I was a couple of minutes late thanks to some bad timing at a couple of red lights. No big deal, though. It was only 2 or 3 minutes, but I was hoping to make a better showing in front of the owner.

So we arrive at church, and get the casket inside and the priest comes up and blesses it and we process down the aisle to the altar, get the casket positioned and get the family situated. Then the owner leaves, and I'm in charge. Me and my men hang around outside until it's almost over, then we slip inside during communion. After communion comes the incensing of the casket and the dismissal. Me and another employee approach the casket, get it turned around and process to the back of the church, where we fold the pall (a cloth covering the casket). We then load the casket into the coach and we're done. This was a cremation, so instead of taking the body to the cemetery, we simply returned to the funeral home after making certain the family was satisfied with our services and reassuring them we would be in touch when we had the cremation completed, and so forth. So, in a way, I had quite a bit of responsibility on this service, and I think I did fine with it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Working With The Owner

Since we're down one funeral director for the next ten days or so, I anticipate I'll be working closely with the owner. Usually he takes it easy, coming in when he's needed, doing what needs to be done, then leaving. This situation has left me and the other funeral director (my boss-the one who has a talent for sometimes frustrating me) working together quite a bit.

However, now that he's on his honeymoon, the owner will have to step in and take up some slack. I'm hoping he'll be able to see me in action and understand and appreciate how far I believe I've come this past year. As an example, I was helping to embalm one of the bodies we got Friday, and we needed to raise the axillary arteries to inject the arms. I picked up the scalpel, made my incision, and in about 3 minutes I had located and raised the artery. One year ago, when I started, it would have taken me probably 15 minutes or so.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Five Calls In Six Hours-I Got No Sleep Last Night

My boss is getting married this weekend. Effective yesterday at the end of the day, I am covering the phones after-hours until he returns from his honeymoon. All was quiet until about 1:45am. We get a call, a person has died at home. So I call my on-call guy and send him out. A few minutes later I get another call from a hospice house. My guy is already on a house call, so I make this removal myself. We run into each other as we return to the funeral home with our bodies. We both go home, ready to get some more sleep until it's time to come back in at 8am. About an hour after I get home, I get another call. An elderly lady is calling to tell me her husband has just passed away in a nearby hospital. I ask her if the hospital knows they are supposed to call us, and she says yes. I reassure her we will help her through this difficult time, then I call the hospital to make sure they know we are the funeral home of record. The hospital tells me that the local organ/tissue bank has been called, and we will be called when the body is ready. Usually this process takes several hours when the tissue bank is involved, so I wasn't too worried about having to go back out in the early hours. By this time, it's about 4am. I get off the phone with them and slowly start to drift back into sleep when the phone rings again. It's the hospital, the body is ready. I look at the clock and it's 4:45am. I ask them if the body is in the cooler, and can we come get it later this morning? They tell me yes and yes, so I go back to sleep. I finally drift off to sleep, only to be jolted awake about 45 minutes later by my alarm. I hit the snooze button a few times, then roll out, shower, and proceed to the funeral home, where I get in the van and go to the hospital for our latest call.

I get back to the funeral home and have a few cups of coffee while waiting for everyone to come rolling in. Two of the three calls we got called for embalming, so we start getting the bodies ready. A few minutes later the owner comes in and begins helping. About 15 minutes into that process, the secretary comes knocking on the prep room door to tell us we have another call at a different hospital; one without a cooler. Apparently, like my previous phone call, this was the family calling to let us know. So we call the hospital to see if the body is ready for release, and the hospital asks us if we can hold another body until the family is notified of the death. As I said, this hospital has no cooler or morgue, so when they lose a patient, they need someone to pick up the body quickly. We don't mind doing this, because 90% of the time, if we have the body in our possession, the family will let us handle the arrangements.

So I proceed to the hospital, but we have only one stretcher available to us, as our second stretcher is in our van, which was at the airport delivering another body for ship out. I make the first removal, come back to the funeral home and unload, and then make the second removal. So now we've had five calls in about six hours, plus we are scheduled to meet with a family from a call we took two days ago! In addition, one of the dual-hospital calls was also an embalming. All of this and short one funeral director, who is getting ready for tomorrow's nuptials. It was quite a busy day. On top of that, two of our calls wanted to see their loved one that same day. One viewing was without embalming, so we put the body on a table, closed the mouth and eyes, made him look presentable, and gave the family some time alone with him. The other viewing was an embalming, which we did about 11am or so. We got her ready and had her available to the family by around 4pm. In the meantime, we're meeting with all of the families (a total of six), scheduling funeral masses, memorial services, etc. It was the absolute most hectic day on the job since I started.

The good news is I was permitted to sit with one of the families, and everything went very well. I was not nervous at all, I needed no help from my superiors (good thing, too, as they weren't available), and the family was satisfied with the arrangements. The downside to all of this business, however, is for about the fourth weekend in a row (and I'm supposed to be off for this one), I'm having to work. We have a Sunday afternoon/evening visitation. We are officially closed tomorrow for the wedding, which is highly unusual for a funeral home to do. We will be answering the phones and making removals, we just won't be meeting with families after lunchtime, and we did not schedule any services at all for tomorrow. This also solves the problem of our employee who felt like he didn't have to be on call tomorrow night or all day Sunday; there is no way he can get out of his duties now.

To summarize; five calls in about six hours, three embalmings, two same-day viewings, and making arrangements with six families, all while short one funeral director.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wallpaper And Other Issues

We have new wallpaper up in our chapel, and we have most of the restrooms papered, as well. Unfortunately, in each restroom we ran short of paper. So we will have to pick up a few more rolls of each pattern and have the paper-hanger finish them at a later time. We are also installing new fixtures in each restroom. New toilet paper holders and new paper towel holders. I'll be glad when we get them fully finished.

One of our employees is having a bit of an attitude. He has to run errands all day saturday for the boss (not the owner). He told the boss that as of 6pm saturday, he is going home. But, he is still supposed to be on call this weekend. Today he tells me he's not going to be on call at all. I ask why not on Saturday? He tells me it's because he will be running errands all day. I tell him his errands end at 6, and after that he should be back on call. Then I ask him about Sunday, and he tells me he's not going to be around. It sounds to me as if he's just given himself the weekend off call, which is not proper as it is his weekend to be on call. So now, what do I do? Do I tell the owner? Do I tell the boss? Do I just let him have his way? I'm covering the phones for the next few days, and what happens if we get a call? Who am I supposed to call? I'm kind of pissed at being put in this situation. I'll probably end up having to talk to the boss about all of this. I don't like being a snitch, but it's not fair for this person to just lay his responsibilities on my shoulders. After all, this is supposed to be my weekend off, especially since the last weekend I was to be off I had to work a funeral, and then last weekend, when I was on call, I worked a funeral and then some. I worked about 7 hours on Saturday, and 2 hours on Sunday. Anyhow, I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


We've been slowly redecorating the funeral home, as business (or lack of...) permits. Yesterday we stripped all the wallpaper in the men's restroom. Today we stripped the wallpaper in our chapel, as well as the ladies restroom. That one was tough. There was wallpaper under wallpaper, and it was all so old and so very well stuck on that it was a real challenge to remove, even with soaking it down with the special glue-loosening solution. It took two men all day to remove the paper from one small restroom, and there are still bits of paper on one wall. At the end of the day, the owner finds out from his wife that the women's restroom was not being re-papered. Well, it is now!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Feeling Better Today

I'm over Friday's issues, which was the topic of my previous post. We had a very busy weekend, with four calls. One of those is a ship-out to another state, but first we had the visitation and funeral this morning at a local church. The other three calls were direct cremations, no services scheduled with us, although one family is having their own memorial service at home this weekend. We have a ship-in this week, with services on Thursday. That's supposed to be my day off, and I sincerely hope I get to take it, as I had to work on my last Thursday off. Assuming I do get Thursday off, this will be 10 days straight that I will have worked. I'm tired, but I'm very glad to be working in this field, and I wouldn't go back to my old life for all the tea in China.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not One Of My Better Days

I'm feeling kind of down right now because of the way my day played out. Let me start off by saying that the first thing on this morning's agenda was preparing the funeral of a baby. Everything was taking place at church, so we needed to be there by 9am. In addition, we had an afternoon visitation starting at 2pm, so we had to make sure that body was dressed and in the casket before we left for church. So we got that body ready, then I put on my tie (in a hurry) because it was time to go.

We get to church and we have to set up a table in the sanctuary so we have a place to set the casket. Then we bring in all the flowers and get those set up, then the table for the guest book and memorial cards, and finally we bring the casket in to a separate room where the family can have some time with the baby. Some of the flowers we brought in went to the private room; the rest we put into the sanctuary. Right in the middle of setting up flowers in the sanctuary, my boss notices my tie is loose. As I said, I tied it in a hurry. He decides that since this is the second time in three days that my tie has been loose, I don't know how to tie it. (It was loose the other day because I was moving some stuff around and had loosened it around my neck and forgot to neaten it up when I was done.) So he's giving me grief about my tie and telling me I'm forgetting to put in an extra loop or twist or something. Basically, he wants me to tie a full windsor knot, and I prefer a half-windsor.

Well, I know that seems petty, but the fun keeps coming. One of our employees brought the rest of the baby's clothing from the funeral home (the family had given us a couple of outfits to use, depending on how the embalming turned out) as well as the completed death certificate, which needed my boss's signature. So he walks in and asks where the boss is. I told him the boss had stepped out for a minute, so he just hands me all this crap, like I'm supposed to know what to do with it. He could have held on to it for a while. But, I take it and put it somewhere safe. Then the boss comes back and I have him sign everything, then another employee runs it to the health department for filing. I get a call a short while later on my cell phone. There's a problem with certificate, so I pass my phone to my boss. Why they didn't call his phone, I don't know. Maybe he didn't feel it vibrating in his pocket when they did call. Anyhow, he talks on my phone for a couple of minutes, then gets exasperated and says, "let me call you back on my phone." He hands me my phone back and says, "your phone isn't working right." Funny, I never have a problem with it.

Then it's time to get ready for the funeral (we arrived about 2 hours prior to services starting). The plan was to take the rest of the flowers into the sanctuary after the family had been escorted from the private room by the pastor. We go in to take a couple of pieces early, and one of them is blocking the rear exit. So I pick it up so my boss can open the door, and he starts fussing at me, "wait! wait!" Sorry, I was just trying to move it out of your way so you can open the door.
Anyhow, we get a couple of pieces moved out, saving the rest for the start of the funeral. After we got those pieces, the other employee comes back with the certified copy of the death certificate. He shows it to my boss and says, "we've got the copy, but we need a photocopy for our files." So my boss says, "go to the church office and have them make a copy." So the guy just hands the certificate to me, like I'm his little personal secretary.

His excuse was, "I don't go to church so I don't know where the office is." Well, I don't go to that church, either, but I dang well know how to read the signs on the wall that say "Office-->"

By that time I had had enough of everything and everybody, so when the services started I just went into the private room by myself and listened to the services, which were very heart-wrenching. The pastor spoke, and one thing he said that I totally agreed with was how life was unfair sometimes and bad things happen and we don't understand, and don't let people tell you "it's God's will" or "we can learn a lesson from this" and those kind of crappy sentiments people sometimes say at times like these.

Toward the end, each parent got up and read their child one last bedtime story. As you can imagine, the entire audience was in tears by this point. It really affected me, as well, because I'm also a parent, unlike the other three people who were working with me.

I know these incidents sound minor, especially as I sit here and re-read them, but really, I guess it's just my frame of mind, coupled with the long hours this week (close to 50) and being treated like everybody's kicking boy at every turn. I know I'm the new guy and I know I've got a lot to learn, but I also believe I've proved myself and deserve a little more consideration than I was shown today.

That's my gripe, thanks for listening.

P.S. Read this post and then return here:

Ever since I sent the cremated remains away, the husband has been in touch with me at least once a month, hoping to have some word on when the ceremony will be performed. The Navy says it takes from 6 to 9 months for the ceremony to finally occur, and as of last month we were still waiting. Today he passed away. I can't help but wonder if he worried himself to death. He kept telling me he couldn't sleep and how miserable he was not knowing what the Navy was up to, and how much he missed his wife. I contacted the Navy and they said they could perform a double-ceremony, if the family wishes. I'm sorry he died before the Navy took care of his wife.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I'm Afraid There's Not A Whole Lot To Say

I hate to make useless entries about nothing, but at the same time I hate going days and days without posting. Work has been fairly uneventful this past week. We finished the last of our rush of services last Monday night. Today we had a private viewing for a family. The calls have slowed down some, but we do have some services on the horizon. We will be receiving a body from another state on Monday, with services that Wednesday. We've got a service this Friday morning in a nearby church, and tomorrow night is a memorial service for the private viewing family. I'm on call this week, and I know of at least one pending call we will be receiving. One of the members of my church is in the Intensive Care Unit at a nearby hospital. It doesn't look promising, despite our prayers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just How Mundane Are These Lives?

Paris Hilton, whom I view as a complete waste of skin and a useless drain on society, has been sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating the conditions of her DUI probation. A petition has been started in an attempt to get Gov. Schwarznegger to pardon her. This is the opening paragraph:

Paris Whitney Hilton is an American celebrity and socialite. She is an heiress to a share of the Hilton Hotel fortune, as well as to the real estate fortune of her father Richard Hilton. She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives.

I just have a couple of questions. Since when does being related to someone have any bearing on violating the law? How, exactly, does she provide hope for young people all over? Do young girls look at her and think, "gee, she's so pretty and exciting. I wish I could grow up to be a useless spoiled rich brat who has no shame and spends all of her free time in search of the next cheap thrill."

If you have to look to a celebrity for excitement and beauty, instead of trying to create it yourself, then, truly, your life must be mundane indeed.

Monday, May 07, 2007

When It Rains...

The entire time the owner was on vacation, we were very busy. Most of those calls, however, were either direct cremation, or cremation with viewing/visitation. Very few of those calls were full service burials.
This weekend we are making up for that imbalance. We had two calls come in Saturday, both of which call for full service burials. We had two calls come in this morning; both of those will be full service burials. Two of those funerals and burials will occur on Wednesday, about 100 miles apart. Our first funeral Wednesday morning is a mass at church, followed by burial at the National Cemetery. The second funeral, which will occur while we are en route to the cemetery, ends with a burial about 50 miles to the south. (The National Cemetery is about 50 miles north of us.)
This means somebody is going to have to drive our old hearse (1988) further than we really care to. It's so old and worn out, we don't trust it on long trips. However, I think we can get one more trip out of it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

An Eventful Couple Of Days

I've had an interesting couple of days at work this week. Tuesday I arrived at work to find out we had received a call the night before. The owner, who is back from his trip, tells my boss to let me sit with the family. They came in about 11am and I took care of them. Each time I make arrangements (this was about my fourth, I think) I find it to be just a shade easier than the previous time. Of course, what was immensely helpful was that these arrangements had been pre-planned about six months previously, so really all I had to do was verify the information and schedule the service. After the family left I booked the preacher, then I ordered the urn and engraving to go with it.

Wednesday we had a memorial service for a very popular person. We had a very large turnout-standing room only. We had even opened up a small room with a window that looks out into the chapel and put about 18 seats in there. That was SRO, also. After the service I took the cremated remains to the National Cemetery. I had about a dozen cars or so, including the family, of course, following me there. When I arrived, there were another half-dozen cars waiting for us. This service was the largest one I've ever presided over. Everything went well and the family was very pleased with our arrangements.
Today we had a funeral with burial. The deceased had outlived most of his family and friends, so there were very few people there. The wife was not well enough to go to the cemetery, which was about an hour away, so I took the casket there after the visitors had left the funeral home. This time I was all alone; no procession or visitors at all. It was a nice day, good traveling weather, and I had my music with me. After the burial I stopped at Steak 'N Shake for a delicious pepperjack cheese steakburger and a chocolate shake.