Back to the Future

The previous post was all about technology. This time, we’re taking a few steps back in time–before the age of smartphones, before the Internet, before sliced bread.

We’re going back to a time when you couldn’t simply pick up the phone and call the funeral home to ask about a price for cremation or whether or not we have the body of Mr. John Doe.

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Imagine for a moment that you are homesteading in the wilderness and you have nothing to rely on but your neighbors. I don’t know how telegraphs actually worked, but let’s just say those haven’t been invented yet.

You wake up one morning and someone you love, someone you share a house with, has died. The body is stone cold and no matter how hard you cry or how loudly you scream, there is silence.

I’d venture to say panic sets in. What do you do? Who do you turn to? Do you start digging a hole in the dirt in the backyard? Do you bury your loved one and lay flowers on the grave? How are you going to move this body where it needs to go? Shouldn’t you wash and clothe the body before anyone else comes?

Even though many of us are not modern day pioneers, it’s possible you have encountered this feeling before. It may have been with a beloved pet you discovered dead in your home or in your yard. It may have even been an unexpected death of someone in your family. All of a sudden, time stops. You’re frozen in your tracks. Even though nowadays there are numbers to call and plenty of people to turn to, many of us don’t know what to do when we’re staring death in the face. Dialing the number to the ambulance or to a funeral home can take extreme bravery. Many times, it’s hard to articulate just what we need to say. We try to form words around, “Someone has died, come now,” and it comes out more like gibberish.

When the phone rings at the funeral home, there is absolutely no telling who or what is going to be on the other end of the line. It might be a nurse or a coroner or even a pastor calling to notify us of a death. It might be someone who Googled our funeral home to find out about how much it costs to be embalmed. It might be a florist shop calling for funeral arrangements so they’ll know when to deliver flowers. It might be a woman who woke up and found her husband’s body had turned cold in the night.

The person on the other end of the line might say, “How much does it cost to use the chapel? ,” followed by, “My son has died and I want to see about having a funeral.” After some conversation back and forth, we may hear, “I’m not sure where his body is right now.”

 It’s a scary place to be, not knowing what comes next. The funeral industry has been built on this very principle, on being available to help at a time of great need and uncertainty. As time marches on, people become more mobile and less apt to know who to turn to or where to go when a death occurs. Thankfully, many hospice and palliative care programs have been established to help ease the transition for end of life care. You can also rest assured knowing if you need answers, you can call the funeral home and we’ll do our best to help.

Whether we like to admit it or not, none of us are immune to dying. Death reaches us in ways we can’t predict and we are often left startled in its wake. Even in my short time as a funeral director, I’ve often been left speechless as I listen to complete strangers telling the story of the death of a loved one. It’s a truly humbling experience to walk those first few staggering steps into the planning of a funeral.

Think about some of your experiences surrounding the death of a loved one. Looking back, what are some of the surprises you came across? What or who do you recall being helpful? Church families, friends, nurses and doctors, funeral directors; many elements work together to shape the initial moments and days surrounding the loss of a loved one. Is there anything you wish had happened differently? Share these thoughts and stories with your family and friends; if you’re up to it, I’d be honored to hear them too.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Future

  1. Again, a very informative and deep thinking blog. In my case, hospice was a great help. They asked and recorded inpertative information as soon as they came into our home. It would have been hard to have to call the Coroner, funeral home, etc. on your own.

  2. I was surprised at how helpful the family-only viewing was. I was nervous beforehand, and wasn’t sure it was going to be that helpful for me personally, but it actually was! I was surprised by that. It actually helped me a little on the day of the visitation and funeral. It was also important to me to be able to thank the nurses who had helped care for my grandpa at the end of his life. Thankfully, I was able to do that with at least one of them at the funeral. My grandpa was one of the few remaining veterans of WWII, and I wept like a baby when the flag was folded and given to my grandma. That was so painful and final, and yet meant the world to me at the same time. Anyway…I told you…your blog is helping me process all that. :) You are definitely in the right place at the right time for all those random people who call you. So thankful that they get to talk to you!

    1. I remember feeling like private viewing time wouldn’t be helpful as well. Turns out, it’s one of the most vivid memories of the days surrounding my grandpa’s funeral.

      Working at a funeral home, I’ve gotten to watch families who cherish the time before the visitation or the service and it’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes it is quiet and prayerful, other times it’s a joyous family reunion…maybe it’s a glimpse of what’s to come in glory!

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