Archive for Death Care

IF I DIED TODAY — Obituaries — What Will Yours Say?

Posted in Death, Embalming Room, Eulogy, Funeral, Legacy, Life, Memorialization, Planning Ahead, Remembrance, Tradition, Wisdom with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2014 by Morguie

People who are fully engaged in living their lives tend to overlook their own life story. Think about it…while so many of us are busy doing what we do everyday, we seldom pause to think about what it all means in that ‘big picture.’ We often discount our own achievements, accomplishments, and basic significance in life. Most of us would not be comfortable ‘tooting their own horn.’  I sure was in an awkward spot, recently, when I was asked to provide a brief biography for my editor, to be used for a social media web page they were creating as a companion for the magazine I write for.

I’ve never been arrogant or ego-filled. I tend to have self-esteem issues — been that way all of my life. I typically discount my so-called good qualities; instead I am usually focused on my flaws and short-comings when I try to sum myself up. It took a long time to come up with something acceptable to submit.


Have you ever thought to do this for yourself? I want to gently remind you that death is an inextricable part of life. All things that are born, shall cease living someday. No mortal has gotten out alive and come back to tell about it, unfortunately. It is highly doubtful that you will be that mortal.


Where am I?  HEY!!! Where are my PANTS?

SNAP!!! I never thought THIS would actually happen, to ME!


I spent a good chunk of time last weekend trying to craft a fitting obituary for a peer, who was a long-time funeral home owner. He had reached his mid-eighties, finally succumbing to a long-time decline in health. He’d had lived a long life and done much in his time. It was a task which required a summary of all of those years, stated in the most compact and complete way possible. It needed to fit in a small space. I found the task daunting.




I’d had the privilege to go from being a no-nothing greenhorn who performed house removals and transported bodies to ultimately earning the man’s confidence and trust as a knowledgeable and skilled peer. He was of the old school way…a small town and rural community undertaker. He’d dedicated 60 years to his calling.






He was stubborn about the way he stuck to his traditions— and the younger folks in the business often regarded him as a crotchety old geezer, often missing the gifts of what wisdom they could have taken from knowing and working with him. Some  accused him of being a nit-picker and too demanding.  I considered him a mentor. What he showed me or demanded of me, or shared with me…all of it helped to shape my experience as I endeavored to learn the trade.


He was a nit-picker. He was demanding. Why? Because he wanted to serve his families correctly and with all details properly handled. He was serious about his duty to care for the dead and the grieving. That’s everything in the eyes of a good funeral director. I was truly proud when I’d reached a point that he would ONLY speak directly with me when he needed a particular detail handled. I earned his trust and respect…I delivered what he needed, which was not usually such an easy thing to be able to do. If I told him I would, I did. He especially trusted me with the worst kinds of tasks…traumatic deaths with need for extensive reconstruction and restorative work in order to allow for viewing.








I struggled to understand how a life-long funeral director could have left this world without a basic funeral plan…at least an obituary sketched out or written down.  To be asked the favor of my assistance,  was a compliment. I wrote from the perspective I knew, and the family was pleased. They felt it was an obituary which summarized him, his ethic, and his life as succinctly as an obit could; obits are merely a death notice with a general bio, not full accounts of our lives.


As funeral directors, or traditional undertakers, such as he truly could be termed, who deal with death every day, we understand the importance and responsibility of planning our final affairs. We gently preach, but in this case, did not practice.


Death Valley

What will be said of you, when YOUR journey is through?  (Photo credit: |Dusk|)




I have had my own obituary written and tucked away for quite some time, now. I wanted to make it easier for my girls. I wrote down what I’d like it to say, about what I’d managed to do with my lifetime. They are free to add whatever they’d like, when that time comes.

OTHERWISE,  leaving it to someone else may result in…something like this, which fortunately was written by a daughter who had a sense of humor as she told others of her dad:

…it went viral and is worth a read!




What would you like to see in the snapshot written of your full and significant life? Share the story with a brief written life summary of yourself, then put it away with insurance policies, wills, and other vital papers. Once this task is undertaken, there will be peace that it has been done.


This post is part of my series, ‘IF I DIED TODAY.’ Posts in the series are presented with the hope that we can prepare ourselves for our own eventual end-of-life issues before the end comes; so that we may have peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones may be undistracted by our personal worries. Let’s be allowed to enjoy the final days together, to the fullest.


Such preparation now frees us in many ways, from the very anxiety death creates in us.  Let’s start the conversation and quell our fear.


©2014,Colleen S. Thompson.




C J Talks About: Funeral Service– Part 3

Posted in bereavement, Cemetery, Death, Embalming Room, Eulogy, Friendship, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Grief, Life, Losing A Parent, Loss, Love, Memorialization, Mortuary, Mortuary Management magazine, Mourning, Relationships, Remembrance, Tradition, Wisdom with tags on March 23, 2014 by Morguie


English: Funeral Service of Marie Thérèse Raph...

English: Funeral Service of Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle at the Paris Notre Dame, November 1746 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


As I have mentioned before, funerals are important because they serve the living by honoring a cherished loved one. There is so much beauty and grace in the tribute given to someone who touches our lives in a special way. A meaningful and thoughtfully planned celebration of that person’s life will be shared with family, friends, and others who wish to show respect and sympathy expressed over this loss. It helps to reinforce the reality of the death so that the work of mourning can begin.

A good funeral director knows how to work with a family to achieve this. It is a very personalized service, one which is unique to each family and their loved one.

 I absolutely want to crawl into a hole and stay there when I hear someone tell me of an experience they had that was less than optimum, or that they did not get to have the detail they wished, etc. To me there is just really no excuse for people to be served poorly. EVEN WHEN I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, there is a certain amount of shame and embarrassment one feels when news reaches them that somebody else in the profession treated a family rudely, badly, or anything less than perfectly.

You see, the funny thing about a funeral is, you don’t get a ‘do-over’ and there isn’t a rehearsal. One shot to get it right. PERIOD. So everything is about service.


As many of you know, I no longer actively serve in the capacity of ‘funeral director’ or ‘embalmer’ but I will always be those things in my heart and spirit; I was meant to do that work. I was born to serve others, help comfort others, and at one time, my whole “universe” revolved around establishing myself in funeral service and becoming my very best professional self at it. Everything went to hell when I injured my back, thus ending my hard-earned career status all too soon. Barring that, I’d still be there.

My ethic remains. Deep down I know I still belong to that work. So I serve in a different way today —  in writing about it, helping to educate others about things associated with it, answering their questions about it, and generally befriending folks who are grieving and come by to read a little here. I also write professionally focused articles for Mortuary Management  magazine, a funeral service trade journal, each month, which really is an honor to do.

Today, I thought I might take a moment to explain to you, my readers and regular folks, what funeral service is NOT. (Assuming most are NOT familiar with the finer details of performing the tasks of funeral director or arrangements counselor).

By the way, IF YOU ARE a funeral provider, take special note, if the scenario I describe next fits your style of handling a client-family,  because it means obviously you don’t know what this business is about. 

English: Flower arrangement for funeral Dansk:...


THIS REALLY HAPPENED, an example of which I’ve never witnessed myself (because I never worked with this level of mediocrity or ill-trained staffing in a place), but which had happened to an acquaintance very recently, when she went to arrange her mother’s funeral and burial at a “combo” establishment — cemetery and mortuary all-in-one facility —  and she said she was terribly regretful that she’d gone with that funeral home, in the end. The main reason to do so in the first place was that the mother had begun to look into getting her pre-need plans there and wanted to be buried there as well. The daughter and the family went down to meet with a ‘funeral counselor’ and expressed  their wish to set a service for a certain morning at 10:30 a.m. Turns out, it was a ‘no can do’ situation, which straightaway, in my mind made me think that apparently the place was going to be busy at that time serving another funeral or burial, etc. That would be completely reasonable and understandable and a good reason to decline the family’s request. There are other complexities, possibly for other situations but they did not apply here.

SO what happened?

The DAY was fine, however, according to the funeral counselor,  but the TIME could not be accommodated because…there was a staff meeting set for that time!

Wow! Excuse me? Come again? Did I hear you say, ‘staff meeting?’

WOW! WOW! WOW! Really?


Just to reiterate:

> A funeral service professional is supposed to serve YOU, the family.

> If it would appear that,  by YOUR coming to an establishment and requesting service there is somehow going to be a  conflict with that establishment’s set-in-stone ‘staff meeting time,’ then I would BEG OF YOU, to calmly halt the arrangement, immediately, and excuse yourself. If at all possible, take your business elsewhere.

Go to a place where YOUR NEEDS won’t be such an IMPOSITION; go to a place which makes meeting your needs a PRIORITY of the day, instead.

©2014, C.S. Thompson.












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The ‘Cooling Board,’ Explained

Posted in bereavement, Death, Embalming Room, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Grief, Life, Losing A Parent, Loss, Memorialization, Mortuary, Mourning, Remembrance with tags , , , , , , , on February 3, 2014 by Morguie

Today we thought we would pass along this gem we found a few weeks back. It is an old-fashioned implement, the cooling board, explained beautifully by the town’s funeral director. The gentleman also speaks of his years caring for those bereaved in his community through their darkest hours, his family’s funeral home, and his personal realization that age has become an obstacle that hinders his ability to give his mental or physical best to the work anymore. He gives a candid and thoughtful testament to what it means to serve others as a small town director. We hope you enjoy this selection as much as we did.

Have a beautiful day and thank you for coming by…we hope you’ll have something to say in the comment box before you go.

Hugs,     C J  and  Morguie



C J's- Mortuary College Pic 1999

C J’s- Mortuary College Pic

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Posted in Cemetery, Death, Embalming Room, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Mortuary with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2013 by Morguie


It was a day that appeared to start like most others, with the usual flurry of getting ready for a funeral service. I awoke from my nest, inside the wall of the prep-room, to the clatter of metal instruments on the tray nearby. C J was in her smart black suit and pumps, hurrying about the room, clicking across the tile floor. I peered out and noticed her applying adhesive to Mr. Livingston’s inner lips, as he lay in his baby blue metal casket.

“Damn!” she exclaimed loudly. C J rushed to sink and tried in vain to rinse her hands. I popped out of my hole, scurrying up the cabinet to greet her at the sink. Once again, it appeared she had glued herself in the process of securing the dead man’s mouth closed! She looked at me with a no-nonsense glare. For a second, I was frightened. Mr. Becker would be down any minute…

…meanwhile, she desperately applied the various topicals and solvents she could find to try to undo the glued fingers on not one, but BOTH hands. I began to snicker, which raised her ire again, “Shut up, rodent!” Just then, the door swung open and in walked Mr. B.

“Who are you talking to, CJ?”

“Uh, no one, sir.” she stammered. He looked at her with an odd expression. “Well, let’s get Mr. Livingston loaded up and get over to St. Bart’s then,” he said.

They got the casket loaded somehow, considering C J was still hopelessly glued up. Then they carried the flowers to the flower car and once everything was loaded, Mr. B left to go back upstairs to put his coat on. As the door closed behind him, C J decided she would have to take desperate measures to free up her fingers from the super adhesive’s bond: the scalpel! In one quick sweep, each hand was liberated, but blood now began to ooze where the cleaved fingers had been joined. She quickly grabbed a handful of band-aids from the first-aid kit, and we were out the door.

We got into the funeral coach with Mr. Becker and he looked down to see the assorted bloody paper towels and band-aid wrappers on C J’s lap. “What happened?”

English: The hearse used to transport the body...

English: The hearse used to transport the body of former President Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Nothing, really. I’m good, honest. A little problem with that darned glue, but it’s fine. Looks worse than it is, I promise,” she said in a rush.


 We got to the church and pulled in front of the entrance. The pallbearers and the family were beginning to show up and soon it was time to take the casket into the church, to the vestibule. This is where the monsignor would bless the body and the pall would be placed over the casket before proceeding into the main church. This is the part that always made C J nervous: getting the casket down the aisle, rolling it perfectly straight, as Mr. Becker walked backwards (facing her, as she pushed the head end).

Funeral Services for Fr. Pavlo

Funeral Services for Fr. Pavlo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The morning had already gotten off to a rocky start with the glue incident, she prayed under her breath that she would keep that casket straight and above all: guide Mr. B down the aisle without bumping him into the crucifer! Rumor around the mortuary was that everyone who ever worked with Mr. B at the Catholic Church had made this awful, grievous gaff.


As sure as the sun will shine, it was a prophecy fulfilled.

Not quite a third of the distance down the aisle (see anatomy of church as in the clip above), as she intently stared through the tiny ‘window’ of space ahead through the crook of his bent arm, C J somehow lost track of the candle-bearer’s step. In an instant, she knew she was doomed, as she felt Mr. B’s body run into slight resistance, if just for an instant only. CJ was gripped by panic! Judging from the deepening color moving over Mr. B’s face, I doubt she had any idea the trouble she was in! I crouched low in her pocket, the day was about to worsen.

It was an eternity when we finally made it to the front of the church. CJ and Mr. Becker turned and genuflected before walking back together to the vestibule. As they got to the double doors, Mr. B began to close one side, and C J started to close the other side…but the doors were still open when he launched into a very audible whisper-yell which echoed into the main church.

“GODDAMN YOU!! You just committed a CARDINAL SIN!” he blustered. Several of the mourners actually turned around in the pews to look back. It was a most awkward moment, more so than the casket incident a few minutes earlier had been. The doors crashed closed with a mighty slam.

English: Schwörstadt: Catholic Church Deutsch:...

English: Schwörstadt: Catholic Church Deutsch: Schwörstadt: Katholische Kirche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C J shrank, red-faced, shaking, and tears began to roll down her hot face. She looked like a shamed child. She fought to stifle a sob as he stared her down with a glare that could cut. She knew she had done the unforgiveable, appeared unprofessional. He worked hard at presenting flawless funerals. She would now be banished from working the Catholic services after today.

“Go on back to the mortuary! Send Bill back here, tell him to dress first. He will finish this and do the graveside with me. YOU will come back here for the flowers in 30 minutes and then set them up at the cemetery. After that, go back to the mortuary and wait for me!”

C J nodded, trying to apologize as she choked back the sobs that were stuck in her throat. He looked as if he truly hated her at that moment. We did as he said. After finishing at the cemetery, we came back to her little office to wait.

I felt sorry for her as she cried. She felt just awful. CJ just stayed at her desk in her darkened office for the rest of the day. I never saw her so upset. She cried and cried. The worst part of it all: Mr. Becker never did come down to talk to her, either.

©2013, C.S. Thompson.

*The next time Mr. B and CJ  did happen to be in St. Bart’s again for a service was sadly, not to work a funeral…it was for CJ to attend Mr. B’s farewell, several years later, officiated by none other than the fine Monsignor himself.


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