A Field Trip for Everyone

Late last year, towards the end of the semester, our program was invited to visit Christy Vault Company in Colma. Christy Vault Company  has been serving funeral, cemetery, and  private families with quality products since 1948.

The infamous vault, the “why do we have to buy that” item.  I often hear people express frustration and disbelief a vault is necessary item in the burial process. I’ve even attended a meeting where a Doctor challenged me in the importance of a burial vault. The vault, a hard sell for many and it’s not really surprising in our culture.

First, you probably don’t want to pay for a vault because in logical terms, the vault will be buried and you’ll never see it. Who wants to buy anything like that?  We like to see the things we buy, we like to enjoy what we buy, use the item for pleasure. So, spending a large amount of money on a vault, no fun for sooo many reasons.

Secondly, we live in a culture already  deeply programmed to believe nothing is  really “necessary” in the  burial process. Most people head into purchasing funeral items with the same thrill of buying a used car. And, ugh! There’s that pesky funeral director to deal with, cough, shyster, right? Why not just take your money and burn it? I mean, getting a root canal seems more fun and worthwhile right?

Well, I’d like you to think about where you got your ideas about funerals,  funeral directors, how much you really know about the whole funeral process,  what a funeral might, or should mean to you. Where did you get your ideas?  When it comes to death and the rituals of death, often our ideas are ones that are still handed down, and we have no idea how or why we believe them.  In fact, often they don’t make sense to use anymore just another what? Family tradition? New Science? God is dead why bother moment? Whatever, your beliefs, your desires, you’ll probably find out, you just accepted the ideas and expectations that were given to you over time and without question. If you look a little closer you might even realize there are some stereotypes and sneaky biases going on. What if these stereotypes are wrong and actually  adding more difficulty to an already difficult process in life?

There are many  good reasons why vaults are necessary and I’m just going to lightly mention a couple cause, well, snooze.  First is safety for all who visit and work at a cemetery. You’re probably thinking, “What?”

The fact is, when you place a casket in the ground, over time, the earth will settle, and that space where you’ve placed your loved one, will settle and without a vault would become a large divot in the ground. This might not sound like a big deal, but think about visiting a cemetery that’s scattered with moderate sink holes all over the place; All those little sink holes, where a loved one is.  I dont’ think that’s very pleasant. Without vaults it would be impossible for you to visit your loved one in a very peaceful and organized way. It would be impossible for the cemetery to maintain the grounds in a respectful and presentable fashion that’s safe for employees, as well as families visiting. Maybe this sounds trivial, but if you’ve ever been in deep grief,  you know the last thing  you need is more chaos, visual chaos or signs no one cares about what they do for you or your loved one. Imagine visiting a cemetery where grass, weeds,  and dirt made it impossible to navigate to find your loved one? It sounds dramatic, I know, but that is the reality of a cemetery without vaults. The burial vault ensures  a visit to your loved one is a safe and comforting.

Secondly, the vault protects your loved one from a lot; Water, soil, and other things you may or may not imagine. Why might this be important? It’s a personal thing I suppose. There are people who want to know their loved one remains protected for as long as possible.

So that’s just a couple of reasons why vaults are necessary.

Christy  Vault did a great job showing us around their business. The information I share here, mine. These are two points why vaults are important most people aren’t aware of.  Vaults are much more complex than my oversimplified explanation.  Christy Vault has  a  genuine care for an item a lot of people are resistant to purchase. They did a great job teaching us why what they do matters and helps all those they serve including their community and employees. They are proud to be made in America.

This is a little slide show I made of our trip. There’s a picture of people holding the lip of the vault to feel how strongly the adhesion is, that’s a Christy specialty. The last picture a group picture.


I should Have Known

So, the internet reminds me how old I am getting. I am a disgrace to my generation when it comes to technology. Of course, life got the best and worst of me the last few months, soooo the blog faced neglect. How does the world of blogging punish the blog neglectors? The powers that be, make changes, so when you return, you must once again, learn to navigate the whole blogging atmosphere.

How do I know I’m getting old? In a word, Change. changes are often the one thing that make me grumpy and want to detroy the world. LOL!! OK, maybe not that extreme. Maybe  I don’t mind  changes so much, but I do mind how they come out of the blue and soak up my time in lessons of re-learning over and over again.

So the semester was insanly intense. No, seriously, intense. I’m pretty sure I learned 500 new words in three months. In the middle of all that, my dog developed cancer. So, I’ve been dealing with a case of impromtu doggy hospice. I’ll save all the thoughts about that for another post. Of course, there was the whole issue of the surviving the Hoildays. Thankfully, I’m just numb to them now.

So this post boils down to this, something I did over the holidays, I watched a movie called the Loved One. I checked it out from my local library. You can find the trailer on Youtube, but I don’t think the official trailer really represents the movie so I’m posting a clip of the movie. The movie is a satire about the funeral business. Liberace plays a funeral director, that should pretty much put  things in perspective about the movie. I like the beginning of the movie, by  the end I’m ready for it to be over, but it’s still worth watching. There are a number of performances that are incredible. Mr. Joyboy is the performance of a lifetime. Love him, but soooo glad I don’t have to ever really know him. 😉

That’s all my rusty blogging fingers can output today. Enjoy the clip, check out the movie.

Priorities of a Brainless Flower

These are the last blooms of the year from my small garden. Each flower pictured has been   extremely tenacious. Two grew from seedlings, one has an expensive pedigree,  one re-homed to me, and one has changed its color entirely to survive, me. Sometimes I look at the flower that changed its color and I’m a little annoyed it’s no longer the color I wanted, but then I think I can’t really say anything because I pretty much forced it to change color. Can plants throw a protest? Maybe.

I used to love my garden; In the last few years, not so much. Despite my neglect, there are plants that have refused to die.  I have pushed some of them to their limits more than once,  they still made a cheerful come back. Sometimes I have looked at these flowers and wondered, are they  stronger than me? Do they understand life better than me?  Are they motivated by death and/or life? I’m always amazed  how they  insist it’s very important they bloom before they fade away. Maybe we should all be so tenacious about blooming?

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Rethinking Warrior

Lately my  life has been a little, painfully magical? Are those the right words? I’m not sure. they are what comes to mind for some reason. I stumble upon things, and I wonder why?

I’m an odd bird, there aren’t too many people who could live my life, and sometimes I’m not even sure I’m the best person for my life. People frequently look at me and think I have a lot, have it easy. All I can say is, I have never been Kim Kardashian. My road, bumpy as hell like everyone else’s road.

Lately, Ive realized there are things I’ve lost and will never get back,  you know, like time. It’s one thing to start life and see hope in the future, it’s another when, at certain age, you realize there are things that aren’t coming back and can no longer be hoped for. How do you keep going? What sustains drive when all the typical reasons, motives, and hopes are slowly disappearing and become gone? Do you reinvent your hopes and dreams? Start living from a blank sheet of paper? Or start a new TO DO list no one has ever seen before? Could that be the scariest TO DO list ever?

So, I came up with this idea yesterday to actively consider death daily. Later in the day I started over thinking it, I was even feeling a little scared about it. I was getting insecure, even thinking maybe this isn’t a healthy thing to do? What if I end up hurting myself more than . . . what? Helping myself? What’s wrong with me. LOL!

I usually go to bed and watch a movie. Last night I watched Blood Brother, directed by  Steve Hoover. I innocently stumbled upon it thanks to Netflix. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it, seemed like the same old story, entitled westerner goes to India to help suffering kids, changes his life, hero,  yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

Well, this movie ripped my heart apart. Grab a tissue! what am I doing with my life kinda movie. It’s true, the movie is about a guy who goes to India to help kids, but the amount of love, bravery, dedication and fierce drive in his heart  is truly what  makes this movie a MUST SEE. The movie shows the striking contrast between his life in the US, and his life in India. Look at the relationships with his blood family, and the family he builds in India.  Poor kids, with nothing but secrets and health issues live, love, and glow more than the most comfortable adults and children in America? Why? Are these kids living through their feelings? Needing feelings to survive? Aren’t these kids suppose to be depressed?  Living with life and death can make you glow from crying and laughing?

This country has incredible issues with health care. We force people to have health care, why? Because it’s too expensive if they don’t? Or because we care and think it’s important they are taken care of? What is our collective consciousness on this? Who is it too expensive too? Tax payers? communities?  A governmental budget? When and why did it become so expensive? How did we decide the priority of expense and care? What is the true illness health care is really trying to solve?

Big Brother, challenges viewers to consider how they love, how they care, what their community, and relationships look like. Many foreigners visit India, leave, this guy moved there to help. The community didn’t always love him, in fact he faces a crisis and his safety is in question at one point from helping. His heart told him to go to India, but his heart didn’t promise a smooth or comfortable road.  He faced huge moments of mind-blowing grief and rejection from the community a few times. The film does an excellent job of sharing how those moments created mental, as well as physical doubts he was doing the right thing with his life and how he overcame his doubts.

The most extraordinary thing about this film is the love and care given and received. There are a number of kids that will touch your heart, but there is one that will just smash your heart to bits for all the right reasons. A child who wasn’t receiving the best of health care, had AIDS, and everyone feared to touch. You will want to step up your care game after you watch how much love, care and dedication this complete stranger gave to this little boy.

We focus so often on warriors that hold guns and kill. I challenge you to watch this movie , if for no other reason than to reconsider what a warrior  looks like to you.  I dare you to tell me Rockyanna isn’t a warrior the world couldn’t use more of. The world, including America, needs more warriors like Rockyanna.



I spent a ton of time writing a post about my Death Cafe experience, and for some reason (GRRRR) it didn’t save on WordPress. Soooooo I’m sorta frustrated and feel like moving on. Long story short, Death Cafe Good, check one out if you can.

This morning saw a video of a guy who jumped into a shark infested ocean to “surf” a dead whale. I wondered, where did he learn so much comfort and acceptance of death? Of fleshy decay? They guy practically sinks his face into a decomposing whale.  At the Death Cafe, I guess I am going to write a little about this, many people seemed frustrated American society seems to have an unspoken ban on talking about death openly. For example, I mentioned I went to a Death Cafe to a few people, they thought it was creepy and too depressing to ever go to one. Ironically, it also happened to be Halloween and half the people I saw– Zombies? We can’t speak of death, but we can play dead? Is this a subliminal message we’re all missing?

What if we felt as comfortable with death? Took it a step further, became comfortable with all the unpleasantness that comes along with death? You know, the emotional pain, the bloat, the stiffening, the smells? Is ignorance truly bliss when it comes to death?  If we think about it, the process of death, of decay, is about as green as you can get. Being green is good, right?  It’s sort of the ultimate homage to going green, but this is the unspoken green? The decomposition of a body is as natural as the composing of a fetus. When we welcome a life we study, prepare, learn and fill many lives with hopes and dreams. When death arrives we scramble, grasp, wonder, and often stress the strongest of relationships with grief and  loss. A palliative care doctor in my group asked, “When did death become such a tragedy in America?”

So, here’s this guy, on the other side of the world, jumping into shark infested water, sinking his face into rotting flesh, floating around, living life to the fullest? Or is he just interested in Building the worlds most unusual bucket list? Was he so over educated in how to be cool, someone forgot to educate him about death? Now, he says he was an “idiot”.  Did he realize ignorance motivated his actions?  If families don’t talk about death, if communities don’t talk about death, aren’t we all capable of surfing a dead whale too?

BTW no, I’m not advocating dead whale surfing and yes, I am rambling a bit.

Funeral For Home

When I got my first iPhone I had no idea home much of my life would change.

Pre-iphone– a clock radio would wake me up. I’d take a shower, make breakfast, turn on the TV, get the news. Now I wake up, reach for the phone and BOOM! CNN, twitter, Skype, MSN, email.

First news of this day– Maya Angelo has died. I didn’t see that coming. I admire her work, no one can’t say she didn’t live a full life filled with love and respect for herself and others.

However, I wonder what her funeral will be like. I wonder who the funeral director is, did she make prior arrangements? I wonder who will be in charge of her funeral? Who will speak? who won’t?  Clinton? Oprah? I wonder if she insisted it remain simple, just a matter of fact, with little time to mourn? Or did she think a funeral should be a unique human expression like so many of her poems? I suspect, her funeral will inspire a lot of ideas about what a funeral looks like. I’m not sure most people will realize this, I doubt she did. How she and her family choose to openly, or privately,  illustrate the need and practice for a funeral will be quietly educating a lot of people about the value and necessity of a funeral, if in fact there is one in our culture.

I have completed my semester of studies. I was surprised how much about funerals I didn’t know legally. It’s very strange how little we know about what we can and can’t do when it comes to a funeral. Who can have the ashes? Who can attend a funeral? Where can a funeral home be located? When can you bury someone on private property?  We spend nine months  preparing physically, mentally and socially for a baby, a sudden death happens and we only have hours or days to prepare. Everything that happens in within time has the potential to be intense, make it or break it moments in relationships.

This week I was surprised to see a program for funerals for homes in Philadelphia. Funeral for homes? Yep, and I think it’s important. We are so blessed in this country. We are so blessed we actually have the luxury to forget how blessed we are; this forgetting is beginning to destroy neighborhoods and even large cities like Detroit and Philadelphia. Have you seen Detroit lately? Just google “detroit” images and see the blocks an blocks of blight in America. Blight in America?  A fifth of Detroit’s properties are considered blight, according to a report by the Blight Removal Task Force. If we can throw away homes, what else are we capable of throwing away? A home, a car, a job, a neighborhood  . . . huge parts of the American dream. Are we forgetting and throwing away the American Dream? Should we have a funeral for Detroit? Or is that just going too far? If so, Why?

How do you have a funeral for a home? I was trying to think how I might have one. At first, I thought this was such a silly idea. However, I realized one of the hardest things I had to do after my grandmothers death was sell her house. Her house was, and still is, the most powerful home I’ve ever had. It’s good to consider the space where you live with those you love the most in this world. look at it the house,  honor what that home gives to you and everyone under its roof. A home is like another member of a family, it offers shelter, requires attention and it can stress you out in a big storm. If you have a home you know you want this home to succeed, you are aware what that home says to others about you. If you really stop to think about it, a home is another member of your family. So, why not give it a funeral? Doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a practice of care that reminds us what matters most and how blessed we are.

Here is info about the program. There are photos of the home in life and death that are really beautiful. I’d put the snowy one on my wall. The site notes, “Every year nearly 600 homes are demolished in the City of Philadelphia.”

Funeral for a Home is a Mantua-based effort designed by local artists Billy Dufala, Steven Dufala, and Jacob Hellman working collaboratively with the Mantua Civic Association, Mount Vernon Manor, Inc.; Mantua Community Improvement Committee, The H.U.B. Coalition, and Peoples’ Emergency Center CDC. Patrick Grossi is Funeral for a Home‘s project manager.

The Funeral-

WHEN May 31, 2014

WHERE 3711 Melon Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104

TIME 11:00 AM

This is a short panel discussion between the artists and the community. They make some great points about the project. However, one  thing I  really admire in the discussion is a small  dialog about the role artists can have beyond simple creator of cool objects for elite collectors. They remind us there can be a greater, larger, and even equal role for artists in a community.



Food for Thought, or Worms

Beginnings are easy. They arrive so easily . . . “I could do that!” 

Then, the middle. I need a this, I need that. What!?! That’s not suppose to happen!  Wtf!!!  Then the, What was I thinking?!? I think I’m going to cry, I’m crying. . .  then the LOL’s. Then madness. The mess.  The clean up, or the walk away.

We rarely see the middle of life.  That picture is too big?  Why? Too close to see? Too slow? Isn’t this where life is lived? Where love is Loving? In the middle?

Who has time for that? skip to the end already!!! ARE WE THERE YET?!!!? Give me the answer to the story. Give me the success or the Failure.

Endings . . . happy, surprise, unwanted, or unjust.

Funerals, I could do that.

I’m posting a video of something I will never say, “I could do that.”

This week, as usual, has been about success and failure. The notion of the human body has been on my mind; does a corpse matter? At least once I week I hear this,  “It’s just a body, throw it away, feed it to the worms.”

My heart slips, my brow tightens, and a small thread of grief threads through my flesh; sadness and and a paper cut somewhere inside a place I never see blood.

Why? Usually I don’t know the person, but somehow the sudden rush to the end of a body, a life, this “toss”  feels a like burning a book that no one ever read or took of the shelf.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I think about my body, what I do, or don’t do with it.  As a person educated in the arts, I instantly think of how do I use my body to communicate? Uh Ohhhh  . . . I can instantly see how a person learns to throw their body away; I do it.  I never use my body as my primary tool of communication, my body isn’t even on my list for consideration. I use my body to help me use other tools to communicate, for example, my fingers use this computer to type. However,  I never use my body, or give my body the opportunity to express my unique human experience, or any of my feelings the way I might use other tools I use to communicate with. I use my face, or hands, but they are usually speaking for my brain or my heart, but not for my body. I ‘m sure my body hasn’t publicly spoken since I was  8 years old.  If I really think at about it, my body has been on lockdown, and told to shut-up for a long time.

For the majority of us, our bodies are work horses, they are practical necessities, they are workhorses. What happens to a workhorse when it can’t pull the wagon anymore?

We rarely stop to thank our bodies, marvel at our bodies for all the hard work they  do for us. These workhorses, these bodies,  often endure  vicious internal voices of endless scrutiny. As a culture of science, who knows exactly what it takes to move a muscle, how can any body be imperfect? How can we toss so much away?

I adore the sweetness of watching my cat stretch. What happens if we never marvel at the beauty of the movement of someone we love? Even if it’s just how they pick up a cup? What if we don’t marvel at the elegance of holding a scarf in the wind, or playfully handing over a flower?  It makes me wonder what part of humanity are we starving to death and throwing away? How easily we give ourselves to the worms from ignorance and silence?

I saw this video and I love it. This expression of love, of being this human and connected to body and environment, to voice. The voice of this human body is not silenced unlike mine.  I admire this voice, I hope I’ll stumble upon it one day in a setting much like this beach.  What if we heard about rouge dancers at the airport delaying flights  because of an over abundance to life, not take it? That’s crazy I could live with. I say, fight crazy with crazy. I like my crazy. 🙂