October is miscarriage and infant loss month. Today let us take time to remember the women and men who have lost little ones – sometimes before they got a chance to meet them. The grief of those who have lost so very young ones often takes place silently and sometimes behind closed doors. Those of us who have lost very young ones know that we remember them when those around us either do not know of the loss we carry or have forgotten the loss. Today, pause and remember that we live closely with those who have lost pregnancies and very young children not long born. If we allow ourselves a moment to feel what it might be like to anticipate, carry a child only to lose the child before or soon after birth, maybe then perhaps we can begin feel with them – even a little bit- how devastating it might feel. If we can do this, perhaps we can in a small way understand why it might take time to even begin to heal from the loss.
In 2016 82% of people walked into only one funeral home before they chose who would perform the final care of their loved one’s body. A year later the statistic lowers to 74%. While the numbers look better, the number of people who do not bother checking local death care resources one boggles the mind. Funeral planning for someone who we love can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, so we can understand why people do not want to shop around for their end of life needs. When we take into consideration the amount of money at stake, we really should take more care and check out a few local funeral homes before we sit down, make a plan and hand over our hard earned money. Funeral directors know that if you walk through their door you are most likely going to purchase goods and services from them, and not research the local market. For those in the industry, the game is getting people in door in the first place. They need to establish and maintain relationships of their customers because they know that those customers will refer their family and friends to them, and thus their business grows.
Through my training and funeral shopping, I have come across the attitude time and time again that if the service provider would show the consumer the value in the services or goods, then price will not matter to clients. They really believe this. They believe that if they can tell a good story about how lovely the funeral will be you will hire them. They believe that making a sale is all in the way they frame the experience they hope you will buy into. What they do not know is that price does matter to those who have done their research. Researching provides us with the best defense against the sales techniques the death care industry uses, and the public’s tendency to not shop around. We can decide what kind of end of life rite we each want. We can frame our own idea of the funeral we want for ourselves, and find a provider who will work with our idea, and not a worn out idea of the past. To achieve this, we must look into the local market and shop around. We must take a different approach if we intend to achieve a different outcome.
With the hard work of those in the alternative death care industry the numbers of those who do not research local funeral providers have dropped. Our culture is shifting when it comes to death care. People are now more open about the topic of death and are more willing to learn what they can. We are beginning to take back the death rituals from the funeral homes. Sometimes we can follow our tradition. Sometimes we can make up our own. Sometimes we can to do both. Once we start to change the way we do business with the death care industry, they will have to change the way they deal with the consumer. We can do it. We have already begun.
Nine minutes of shooting continued after they received the first 911 call in Las Vegas Sunday night. This does not take into consideration the length of time before the calls were made. It could have been as long as ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time. Ten minutes of people screaming and running for their lives – trapped in the open – being shot like fish in a barrel. If you doubt that sit in silence for ten minutes. Feel the magnitude. How have we come to such a place where someone like him lives in our society and no one thinks anything is wrong until he begins to calculate and bring to fruition an act of such brutality and destruction? People say gun control. Perhaps, but gun control does not change the heart of a human. It only hinders the manner in which he or she can destroy another human being. We have created a society in which this can happen. If each of us cannot look at ourselves individually and say how can I change the world in which I live, we will continue to see loss of lives on a similar scale. Until we value human life, deaths like this will happen. Until we teach our children that we are all the same, and that we are all valuable, we will wake up to another morning of weeping and terror.
This past month many on our continent have faced many natural disasters in one form or another. We have seen wild fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Some of these came with warnings and some did not. We witness a great deal of destruction and great deal of human compassion in the face of tragedy. What I find so fascinating about us humans is that we are at the same time fragile and resilient. In one situation, we can stand in the face of adversity, but in the next breath we just might not be able to endure. We just do not know and we can never know for sure. Sometimes we are caught off guard and our lives are changed forever. Sometimes we can plan everything and our plan goes wrong. I ask that we take a moment and remember those who did not survive this disastrous month of September. Take a moment to think about how fragile our lives are. Take a moment and think about the fact that we are more alike than we are different. What we could change in our world if we just took a moment to remember who we are? What could we do if we just decided to remember what strength we all have within ourselves? Everywhere disasters struck this last month still faces a long uphill battle to restore functioning lives. Take the opportunity to act in any way that presents itself to aid those in need. Remember we are all in this life together.
Halloween time has hit the stores. We are still over a month away, yet when you enter any store you are hit with displays of candy and decorations. I personally love dressing up and carving pumpkins. Our old neighborhood in Hamilton always came together on Halloween night. Houses were decorated and we chatted from porch to porch as trick-or-treaters filed up our walk ways. We could talk about how Halloween helps people deal with the tragedy of death by giving them a chance to make it something easily dealt with by playing with ghosts and skeletons. Perhaps by dressing up and playing with scary things we can learn not to fear death very much. Perhaps this is a good thing. I do not know. But, what has struck me this year is how we seem to embrace death to the point of romanticizing and belittling it. When I see Halloween displays this year, I think that maybe we have lost touch with the deep pain death can cause. By romanticizing death perhaps we have done the same thing as sweeping it under the rug. Maybe going so far one direction by making death fun and entertaining we have still lost touch with the tragedy we face when we lose someone. As our society moves towards a romantic idea of death, we are still so far away from dealing with the reality of death. Maybe while you are hanging your new store bought skeleton this year, take a moment and think about what you are doing.
What a force the conventional death care industry has become! Sometimes looking at the state of the conventional death care industry, we might feel that we can do nothing to change the status quo. Many of us might think that we can do little against such an adversary, but we can make a change. We can all speak to our friends and loved ones about death and our rights, and that is all well and good. However, some of us feel that we can do more and we can. Death Cafes allow local people to meet and discuss all kinds of topics associated with death. You can start your own. Check out their site. They have great resources.
Some might want to work directly with loved ones assisting them with the process of death, preparation of the body and memorials. If this is you, you might be interested in becoming a death doula. It this speaks to you, contact the National Home Funeral Alliance. The internet offers many options for training, but the national office would best direct anyone interested in beginning this work.
Perhaps these two options do not fit what you might feel you want to do. Perhaps you belong to a religious or spiritual community and your traditions fall outside what the conventional death care industry likes to do. For me as an Orthodox Christian living in Illinois where my loved ones must hire a funeral director, I know that having a traditional funeral will be difficult but not impossible. I suggest if you belong to a spiritual community, perhaps you can begin a ministry or task force to help those at the time of death and following. If you are the leader of such a community, I highly suggest you begin looking for people within the community who can do this work.
People every day face the death care industry and have to navigate a way through all the roadblocks set up by the sales people within the industry. Maybe you are not one who can take a step outside the norm and help change the face of death care. Maybe you are. Maybe you have thought about doing something to help change death care in our society. If you are, make a plan and then take small steps forward. You might find that this is the work that fills your heart.
Twenty years ago this week, the world lost two strong and beautiful women – Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. The public memorialization for these two women these last few months strikes me. In no way could I ever fault anyone for having a fascination for Princess Diana. I have found her fascinating since she became engaged to Prince Charles in 1981. For months now however, the media in this country has promoted a wide variety of documentaries about Princess Diana’s life and death. We have been treated to all the glories and tragedies of her life. At the same time, the media falls silent about the other great woman who died twenty years ago this week – Mother Teresa. Where are her documentaries? She took up poverty in order to serve those in poverty. What awesome work she did too! How remarkable I find this conspicuous disparity between two great women. Does this demonstrate our societal interest? Are we more interested in tragic loss of a princess than remembering a great nun? Are we not interested in learning more about the self-sacrificing love of a nun who changed the world? She was not a Princess. She was just a woman who gave her life to loving those who have no one to love them. Do we really not want to look at her life and remember the many wonderful acts of love she committed? Does looking at the life of Mother Teresa make us so uncomfortable? I do not know.
Some of you might remember that I drive a school bus. No one is as surprised as I am at how much I love driving a bus. If I could handle a lock down in a federal prison for women while visiting the general population, I could handle driving a school bus filled with wildly creative children. The truth is I more than just handle the bus, I truly love the adventure every day. From time to time I get to l listen to the narrative play of the younger passengers. Last year, I heard, “And then Jesus comes down and says, ‘You have lied for the last time.’ ” This particular fragment of narrative play might go down as my all-time favourite. Recently, I heard one of my little ones say, “They are all dead and then the principal comes out and says…” I never got to hear what the principal said, but it got me thinking about narrative play when we were kids. Perhaps I have always been a bit creepy, but we played funeral with the neighborhood kids. We’d sing songs like, “Mary is dead now, and no one knows why”. My grandparents found it a bit disturbing, but we had fun. I wonder how many countless times we ended the story with “and he died” because we did not know how to end a story. It seemed a simple and effective way to move on to the next narrative we wanted to explore. As children, my sister and I had experience with death. My grandmother died when I was seven years old. The fact was we did not understand what it meant to die. We did not understand the tragic nature of death and its finality in this world. We played about death, I believe as a way of dealing with death – trying to figure it out. Narrative play dealing with the idea of death helped us understand what death was about. Sure, it might have disturbed the adults who understood all too well what death meant, but I am ever grateful that my sister and I were given the opportunity to explore death as kids and in a kid way.
One of my favourite comedies of all time is “Some Like It Hot”. I just love all the zaniness. During the drinking scene while Sugar chips away at ice lamenting her life she says, “Quarter of a century – makes a girl think.” Well last week I turned fifty. That really does make a girl think. I have been quite reflective about this particular birthday. It was not as difficult as thirty or forty, so perhaps I am growing up after all. I have thought long and hard about what the next part of my life will look like and what steps I can take for better health and longer life. For a few years now, I have been making small, but significant changes to my life for the sake of better health. I have lost a substantial amount of weight. I have a Fitbit, and while it is not perfect, it does help me monitor my activity. I need measurable data to look at and see what is going on. I seemed to have stalled in this particular aspect of my journey, and so on my birthday I joined a gym. Friday I go to make a plan that fits me so that I can make more changes for my better health.
Physical health is not my only concern. I am also concerned about spiritual health and things bring me into a fuller life and more in tuned with my spiritual perspective. I want to let go of things and patters that do not work for me and embrace what I know will bring me closer to what I know will bring me joy and those around me. Sure, when I was single and had no children, I could set more time aside for my spiritual life. Now at fifty, and in the thick of raising children and taking care of my mother, my spiritual life needs strengthening, and that takes effort and creativity. Spirituality also carries with it those things that bring me more alive, that connect me more to who I am. This is not some deep or airy-fairy thing. What I mean is that I need to continue to align my life and make good use of my gifts and talents and nurture that which I have been given.
One of my great joys in life is creating. I love to create all kinds of things. At forty, I realized I was an artist. I knew that as a mom with wee ones I could not continue to work in clay. Clay takes too much time and requires a lot of equipment. I started to photograph. It was portable and in the beginning of the twenty-first century, easy to come by. Throughout that decade I added writer to that list. I had to first allow myself to embrace this aspect of who I am. As a person living with dyslexia, who all throughout my education struggled with academic writing and spelling, who was told over and over again that I could not write – had to finally allow myself to write from the heart. I will continue to write through this decade. I hope to finish this death book and figure out what kind of format this will take. For me, I know this is just another wild adventure. As my dad always told me life is an adventure, not a problem to be solved. I look forward to embracing what comes my way in the future. I hope that living well – with truth and joy – I will leave my part of the world a better place.
The funeral market place is starting to change at least in the Chicagoland area. Funeral homes are seeing a decline in business due to the changing of attitudes of Americans towards death care and the real-estate market. Funeral homes are closing and in some cases consolidating. The desperate move few years back by the industry has done little to stave off the change in the market. By requiring the citizenry to hire them has not helped the death care industry in the Chicagoland area grow or remain steady. Funeral homes are closing. Much like the railroads at the turn of the last century who did not know they were in the transportation industry - the death care industry does not know it is part of the end of life industry. They think they are part of the embalming industry. This changing industry no longer follows the paths set down by the last generation. The larger death care industry has grown to include the return of family lead funerals and the rise of cremation. The current death care industry in this state has not let it sink in that the market can no longer sustain the older model. It can no longer keep raising the price of goods and services for a full embalmed body funeral while not making changes that allow the consumer to choose what he or she wants in an end of life ceremony.
As the US outlook on death changes, the market must change along with it. Change in markets other than the death care industry happens all the time. Service providers make changes to meet the needs and wants of the consumer. The problem with the death care industry is that they have an idea what a “traditional” funeral in the US must look like. These “traditional” funerals met the needs of US citizens who basically bought into the ideal the funeral homes presented. Embalming was king. Funerals handled by people outside the family was thought to be a step forward. Church funerals were the mainstay of the industry. The problem is the industry who views themselves as the professionals in the care of the dead are unwilling to change. They are unwilling to share the market place in states with laws that force families to hire a funeral director. In states that allow citizens to choose their own death care providers, the change to the market place will come organically. In the ten states that require citizens to hire a for-profit funeral director the changes will come painfully. As long as the State requires the citizens to hire one of these funeral directors, a family has no real choice, and the industry as we know it dies.
Chicago Funerals Closing