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.

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.



Life Is Messy

Life Is Messy
Puzzle of the day . . .  A Billion $’s
What would you do with a billion $’s if you had it?
Can you imagine how much fun it would be to give out a Billion $’s!!!
Where to Begin I say!!!
Food for the  homeless?
Medical care for veterans?
Money for  schools?
Money for national parks?
Money for animal shelters?
Money for pedicures?
Money for therapeutic massages?
Money for mediation?
after school programs?
treatment for trauma?
meals on wheels?
free cooking classes?
and on
and on
and on . . .
and yet, those with the power only seem to have the unhealthy creativity to spend it on . . .
 bad relationships?
and lies?
I’m trying to become part of an industry that essentially tries to sell “caring”. That’s a bad thing? More often than not, it’s an industry  associated with uncaring greedy shysters, despite the majority of funeral directors working very hard to care about families in need. No one wants to pay for a funeral because it’s too expensive, Suspicious of the funeral director? Might lose some money?
Taxes . . .  it’s a story as old as money.
Loans . . . what’s really being loaned?
interest . . . there’s more than one kind.
questions . . . never hurt an honest soul
answers . . . everyone’s got them.
Voting . . . you do it EVERY SINGLE DAY
What if we have lost the art of productive suspicion? Who do you trust and why? Have they earned your trust? or did you just give it away? How expensive it that?
Life is messy. No thy messes.
I can handle the mess of love and care. I could easily live in a world that complained about being loved too much. Does that sound foreign? Why should it? It doesn’t have to sound silly unless we let it.
Business and Care can clean things up. This guy knows it.

Honor First


Yesterday I  posted  about the temptation to joke about the things we learn in Funeral Service. Funeral  Students/ Funeral Directors are human; We learn, laugh, cry, rant, love, get mad and suck it up.  Eventually we conduct very serious and difficult tasks while being human like everyone else on the planet. Why? Because we care and want to make a difference in life and the communities we live in.

Today there was a story about the Wisconsin National Guard suspending a  full-time funeral honor guard member  who posted a photo which shows a team smiling around a flag-draped casket with the caption, “We put the FUN in funeral.”

Another photo causing a stir on the web shows  a selfie of a soldier with a folded flag in the background with the caption, “It’s so damn cold out. Why have a funeral outside? Somebody’s getting a jacked up flag.”

Military funerals are serious events , those involved with them professionally should not make fun of them in a social setting of any kind.I understand how the general public  feels outrage over these images; However, I can also easily understand how these images happened.

This is a bonded team, and therefore, they have a comfort level like a family. The first picture seems like a moment they just let their hair down, not really realizing the larger ramifications of taking the image and then sharing it over the net. The larger problem, however, is  the caption, Those words . . . ugh! No, No, and No! Not from a military funeral honor guard member. If the word “Honor” is in your job title, need I say more? When you are a professional, as easy or accessible as things are,  YOU just can’t. Honestly, you shouldn’t even want to, but we are human and mistakes happen.

The second picture, again, I can see how this could easily happen. I’m pretty sure this soldier is from an age group that’s no stranger to taking selfless for every possible moment known to man. I bet it didn’t even occur to her there might, or could be a problem. However, the caption, oh the caption!!! Soooo not right.

We live in a time when anything can, and usually is photographed. Technology has grown faster than our intellectual understanding  to comprehend what we capture and share within a split second around the world with others. In this case, however, the larger problem is her written attitude that’s attached to her images. Sadly this soldier didn’t seem to really convey an understanding towards the importance of her responsibility as an honor guard member. How do I know? Because if she had, this wouldn’t have even happened to begin with. Do I think she deserves to lose her position? Overall, no. I think she made large, but correctable mistakes that have the potential  to make her a  stronger funeral honor guard member in the future. I  hope she will  search her heart and decide if this is something she truly wants, or can do. I hope in the future, if families and the military allow her, she will rise to the  professional level of  honor she was always expected to provide in her highly respected position.