Moving the body.

When we arrived at door the afternoon that he died, we were warmly greeted.  When we entered the living room painted in a beautiful sunny yellow I was impressed that the deceased was dressed in khakis, a buttoned down-collared shirt and a red patterned tie elegantly knotted.

He had been lovingly cared for at home by his wife and family. He had died in a place that he loved surrounded by those who loved him and that he had loved so much. His peacefulness filled us all.

He was a large man, 6’3”, and still was considerable heavy, so when his boys offered to help carry him to our vehicle we accepted their offer. When they offered to follow us up the street to the funeral home and help get him out of the van, we again accepted. It was a big help to us (actually it saved my back) but we also realized that it was a big help to them.  They wanted and needed to help with their father.  They were engaging in an old mission, moving the body, the vessel that held the heart, intellect and spirit, of their beloved parent, from the place of death to its final disposition.

The mission was completed today when the four children and a daughter-in-law met us at the funeral home where the sons helped put the corpse, now encased in an “alternative container” which is really a heavy corrugated cardboard box, back into the funeral van and we drove in procession the 25 miles to the crematory. Again they helped move their father into the room with the retort-the oven-like structure in which the cremation takes place.

I read a poem that I thought was appropriate. (I have included a copy at the end.) I gave all present a candle to light from the large candle that I had placed beside the box holding their father. My husband and I stepped outside to give them a final moment before returning to fold the flag, which the oldest son, having been a Boy Scout, helped with.  It was not their choice to stay while the box was put into the crematory, so they departed and we took care of the rest.

I am proud of them and I told them so.  They honored their father, the man who had given them life, by caring for him in death.

Every family that we serve that chooses cremation is asked if they would like to go to the crematory with their loved one.  It is a question on a form that we use.  The majority choose not to.  There are many reasons for that choice one being that they have never even heard of such a thing being done!  For the funeral director and the crematory personnel it is certainly easier when no one goes with us.  There is no scheduling of times.  It only takes one of us to go.  I don’t think many funeral homes encourage families to choose to go to the crematory and I think we, myself included, are wrong when we don’t do so.

When the opportunity is there, I think families should go with their loved one from the place of death to that final disposition be it the grave or the crematory.  It is a way of honoring their loved one and is a very important step in healing the pain that comes with death.

I can’t tell families what to do-I would have certainly liked for this family to have calling hours and a traditional funeral service-but I can take their choices and help guide them in ways that they will always remember.  This is my job.  I love doing it.

Shifting the Sun

When your father dies, say the Irish, you lose your umbrella against bad weather.

May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Welsh, you sink a foot deeper into the earth.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians, you run out of excuses.

May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French, you become your own father.

May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When you father dies, say the Indians, he comes back as the thunder.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians, he takes your childhood with him.

May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English, you join his club you vowed you wouldn’t.

May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians, your sun shifts forever.

And you walk in his light.



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4 Responses to Moving the body.

  1. Bonnie says:

    Now that’s food for thought, never thought about going to the crematory before, but now it sounds more natural. Thank you.

  2. Jonne says:

    Very moving. Thank you. I particularly like the poem. Do you know anything else about it? WHo the author is? What is the Armenian connection? Thank you for sharing

  3. Thanks for sharing this Elizabeth. It’s strange, and maybe it’s because I’m not in the business that I haven’t thought much about it. Your little insights, the small details make it a little more human (I hope you understand what I mean) and everyday, not something to be fearful or foreign to us. I personally like that Irish expression.

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