One Last Funeral

Last Sunday the pastor of one of our churches taught a Sunday school class, preached a sermon and went Christmas caroling.  Monday he said goodbye to his wife with a hug and a kiss as she was baking Christmas cookies and went to meet a friend for lunch.  As he was getting out of his car, he suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead at the emergency room of the nearest hospital.  The pastor was 69 years old and the week before he had been a good report on his annual physical.

Everyone was in shock, his family, his congregation, the entire community.  The pastor and his wife had only been at the church for 18 months but they were very loved.  I had done one funeral with him and I was impressed.  He delivered the word of the Gospel but he didn’t “preach”. I experienced him to be a warm, kind, loving man and looked forward to working with him again at another funeral.  I never expected it to be his funeral.

Ministers don’t make a lot of money.  For that reason and for the reason that this was not the time to make a hasty decision on a final resting place (the family had lived in many places), the family knew that cremation would be best.  Of course a “direct cremation” with an urn for a memorial service would be the least expensive route.  But I could not let that happen.  This man who had spent so many, many Sundays of his life in church deserved to have his body taken to church one last time.  I realize that most Christians believe that at death one is “absent from the body, present with the Lord” but I believe as Thomas Lynch says, “A funeral without the body, is like a wedding without the bride.”

So today, on Sunday, the pastor will return to the church in a “ceremonial casket” for one last funeral.  Tomorrow he will be removed from this casket and sent to the crematory in an alternative container-aka heavy cardboard box.

Today will be a very emotional day for everyone.  There will be a great deal of sadness as his presence was a strong one and will be greatly missed.  Yet he would be the first one to tell us that it should be a day of celebration. His beliefs were pure and he is home with his Lord.

Though I really didn’t know this man, I am grateful to have shared the brief moments that I did with him.  I am very grateful to be able to help his family and our community by taking him to church one last time.

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Grateful and Blessed

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I feed my husband.  No that is not correct.  I prepare almost all the food that my husband consumes is the correct statement.  Except on rare occasions, he doesn’t even put yogurt and fruit in a bowl for breakfast.  Is he capable of doing so?  I am sure he is.  When I go away he does eat yogurt and peanut butter.  Thank goodness for peanut butter!

Sometimes it makes me angry that he doesn’t fix food for himself and for me.  Sometimes I rant and rave about his food preparation inabilities.  I envy couples where the husband does the cooking or even part of it. But I will still keep cooking for my husband and most of the time I love doing so.  I bitch about him and complain about his shortcomings but I love him very much and I know he loves me.  For this I am grateful.

I am meeting with a woman today who was married to her husband for 53 years.  He died yesterday.  For the past year he was bedridden and she completely cared for him, mostly on her own.  He had a nasty disease having to do with nerves and muscles and she watched his decline before they knew what it was that was happening to him.  She had to take over all the responsibilities of their business and their home.  As she said,” I never realized how much he did.”  She has aged 100 years since I last saw her several years ago. 

She is a strong and brave woman.  She could have probably put her beloved husband into a care facility but she chose not to.  She literally did “feed her husband” and bath him and turn him and do a myriad of things that I don’t know if I could do for mine. 

When I get annoyed at my husband, and I know I will, I will think of them and be grateful for every morsel of food I prepare and share with him. I will be grateful and blessed with every minute I have with him, knowing all too well that they are limited no matter who goes first.

 

On Plaid Friday I bought this piece of art from Maria Wulff.  Please let it guide me every day.Image

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The Spirit of Christmas

I don’t like giving gifts at Christmas.  I don’t like giving gifts at Christmas because it is expected of me. Yesterday I was asked on two separate occasions, “Aren’t you giving him/them anything?” I thought for a second and replied “No.” “But he’s your nephew/they are your grandchildren (step).  You should at least give them money.”

Scrooge, I am not.  I am not stingy.  I have been known to literally give the shirt off my back-or at least something I was wearing-when a friend admired it.  I love to share what I have.  I love to give people presents.  But I want to do it when I do it and because I want to do it.  Not because society says the December 25 is a day for giving!

How did Christmas become a day of seeing how much money we can spend?  Retailors are made or broken by how the consumer spends for this “holiday” which was originally a “holy day”.

 It used to be a big thing to go shopping on December 26 to get great bargains.   Now everything is on SALE EVERY DAY.  I heard a comment from someone on the news the other night that you have to be an IDIOT to buy anything at full price.  So perhaps on December 26, if you go shopping for bargains, you will get paid to take the stuff away!

Gifts should come from the heart.  I have a friend who is a wonderful person.  She is truly the most giving person I know. She is not wealthy.  She works hard for every cent she has and she has an envelope in her pocketbook marked “God’s Money”.  In it there are several bills of varying denominations.  When she meets someone that is in need she shares “God’s Money.” She is my hero.  I strive to be more like her.

Do I shop at Christmas—of course.  I do succumb to the lore of the retail- but as I get older, not as much. I have so much stuff and so do most of my friends and family.  I am giving some of my stuff away and I am seeking alternative ways of gifting.    I love to cook and give of my joyful labors.  I enjoy knitting and have made several gifts. ZUM aromatherapy laundry soap is wonderful so I am giving it since everyone needs laundry soap. 

Yes, I will give Christmas gifts—to people I want to give them to and it might not even be on Christmas.

And I will work on giving more of myself and my resources whenever the need arises.

I don’t remember where I found this saying, but I have used it as our Christmas greeting from our funeral home in the local newspaper for many years.  I would like to share it with you:

Care Deeply.  Give Freely.  Think Kindly. And be at peace with the world…

For this is the spirit of Christmas, For this is the spirit of Love.

May the spirit of Christmas remain with you always.

 

ImageGifts from our kitchen–Sour Puss Sauerkraut and Sinful Hot Fudge

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Ode to a Community

 

ImageWhat is this creature?  It’s Katz in a Sheep Mask!

 

Many of my readers have come to me through Jon Katz’s blog-bedlamfarm.com. Jon is my teacher who started me blogging with his Art of the Blog class.  He is my mentor who encourages me to write, telling me that I am creative and helping me to believe it.  He also chastises me when I don’t write.   I think he is funny and warm and kind and I am sometimes amused at his perspective on our small town.  He is a writer, after all, and has a license for hyperbole. He is becoming a friend.

 

Jon and I have an important thing in common.  We love where we live—Cambridge, New York.  Neither of us grew up here.  We choose to live here or perhaps it chose us to live here.  The beauty of the area, as Jon shares in his wonderful photographs, is awe inspiring.  A day does not go by that I don’t thank God for bringing me here.  I have lived here almost 31 years.  Something drew me to it when I was passing through so I found myself a husband and moved in.  For the past 17 years I have been the local undertaker (what Jon started calling me and that I now embrace) and although I am not, and never will be a native, I am certainly part of the community.  Jon and Maria have only lived here a year or so.  When I heard through the grapevine (I was not reading his blog at that time) that they had bought Florence’s house-the house we took her out of at 103 years old-I was surprised.  I knew that Bedlam Farm #1 was much more remote than Florence’s place which is on a main road.  As a “celebrity”, I didn’t think he would like being so exposed. Actually, he and Maria wanted to be nearer a village, which they are, and have still managed to maintain their privacy. Cambridge is that kind of place.  Celebrities can actually hide out here and be left alone.  Years ago, Meryl Streep was filming in the area and lived in the house next to me and I didn’t even know it!  Not that it made a difference, but I could have taken over cookies just to be neighborly.

 

Jon is certainly making Cambridge his community.  His involvement with Batten kill Books has made the sales for this year incredible.  Over 1000 copies of his book Second Chance Dog have been sold through this wonderful, independent bookstore.  Connie and her staff are grateful for the business but also grateful that things will slow down or else she might become my customer and we don’t want that! Through his blog, people all over the world know that there are still small, one-stoplight towns in existence-they are struggling, but still there.

 

I know that the work that my husband and I do for this community is important and I am honored and proud to be doing it.  It is an incredible community where people care about one another; where you walk down the street and greet one another; where many of us don’t lock our doors.  It is my privilege to care for those who die here and for those they leave behind.  I have watched it change in the years that I have been here. The closing of our hospital and the jobs that are gone, make it much harder for locals to find work.  The taxes keep rising and many of the elderly move away to be nearer children who have already left.  Yet there are those who have moved away and in retirement choose to move back, appreciating the kind of life that can be had in this community.

 

Then there are people like Jon Katz, Maria Wolff, and Connie Brooks and so any others, who choose to move here. They see Cambridge from a new perspective.  They bring with them new ideas, new life and new excitement. Yet they appreciate the kind of life we have here and work at maintaining that lifestyle not changing it. I am so thankful to have them.

 

There is a Cambridge in every state in the United States, in every providence in Canada as well as in many other countries including the original Cambridge, England.  I love Cambridge, New York and am grateful to live here.

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Worry

Is it my job to worry?  I have a business to run with bills to pay.  I need to be paid for my services and merchandise.  I now have an official “Payment Policy”.  Yet when someone walks in and says that they have no money what am I to do?  The financial part of this job is the hardest!  I can deal with the pain and sorrow.  I can deal with the inconvenience of dropping whatever I am doing, forgetting about my plans and going to help someone who needs me.  I can deal with families that are feuding.  I can deal with most anything.  What I hate to deal with most is asking people for the money that I need to keep my business running.

Funeral directors, aka undertakers, have often been portrayed as ogres who take advantage of people when they are in their saddest situations.  Jessica Mitford said that we try to sell the grieving family expensive merchandise they don’t really need and make them feel guilty that they aren’t buying “the best” for their loved one. Perhaps this is true in large corporate owned funeral establishments but it is poppycock when it comes to us small independent businesses!  We are part of our communities.  We see the folks that we serve in the grocery store and the bank.  We serve their family multiple times.  We are not here to take advantage of them.

I have been blessed in many, many ways.  I have good health. I have a partner that I have been married to and in business with for many years and I inherited some money from my family.  That money gives me financial security that I would definitely not have if I only had the income from our funeral business.  I am grateful for everything I have. I try to be, and think I am, a generous person.

Yet when someone needs my services and has no money, am I supposed to “give away the store”?  And on top of that I worry about them!  We have a situation this week that breaks my heart.  Not only am I concerned about getting paid, I am worried about what is going to happen to the young woman (18 years old) whose father died.  Where will she and her animals-several cats and a dog- live now that there is no one to pay the rent? How will she survive the trauma of finding her father dead?  Sure, she is not my problem but she is, because I care. I remember being 17 years old and having run away to New York City and somehow surviving.  If I had not had people who cared for me I wouldn’t be here today.

I am grateful that I am here today and that I have the ability to worry.  It made not be part of my job but it is part of my nature and even though it might cost me some sleep, I think it is a good thing.

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Thank you!

Every day I take a moment and thank God for my many blessings.  I am a very, very blessed person in so many ways.

Today, I want to say a special thank you to all of you who take a bit of your precious time to read what I write.  I hope that in some tiny way I make a difference in your life.  You certainly do in mine.

 

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Lessons Learned

Through the years of doing our Service of Remembrance I have learned many lessons.  Here are a few:

  1.  Even if it look like the candles fit perfectly in the holders use the little wax dots for security.  One year I forgot those and the candles started to lean!  We were afraid the church might burn down.
  2. If you want people to join in singing, have the words to the song printed somewhere.  Back in 2005, I forgot to print the words to the “Light a Candle” on the program.  When it came time for everyone to sing no one had the words!  That year it was just a soloist and me singing and I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I make sure the words are always there.
  3. It doesn’t have to be perfect!  I strive for perfection.  I want everything a certain way or at least I used to be that way.  For many years I had to have everything coordinated-the candles, the flowers, the dishes, even what we wore.  This year I am being frugal and using an assortment of leftovers.  I didn’t even buy a new outfit!  Do you think anyone will notice?

It is a special day.  You would think that after 17 years it would be easier.  In some ways it is. Yet it is always emotional.  I am still overwhelmed seeing the faces of the families we have served.  I am always touched that they have taken time to come. I am often surprised by who comes and who doesn’t.  I wish more would come.  A couple of years into this tradition my husband said, “If only one family comes and it is meaningful to them, we will have the service.”  I hope we can continue to do so until we are one of the candles lighted.

 

And I will light a candle for you,

shatter all the darkness

and bless the times we knew.

Like a beacon in the night

the flame will burn bright

and guide us on our way.

Oh today I light a candle for you.

    

 

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