Conversation and Laughter at a Funeral Home

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The New Comer Funeral Home is in a primarily residential area in Rochester, New York. It is a one story, unassuming building and the only indication that its business is death is the word “funeral.”

We arrived at the funeral home on a bleak and rainy Friday afternoon for an appointment at 1pm. No one had died. There was no funeral on the calendar and there were no frantic, tearful phone calls explaining to relatives far away what had happened. Instead, it was a preplanned appointment to talk about a funeral, to talk about death.

Years ago, a friend of mine made the observation that everyone feels free to talk about sex, but when you bring up the subject of death, for some reason, it isn’t proper. Our family has never been one to live up to the cultural standards of any society we have lived in. Most of us have always lived counter culture, so making an appointment to talk about death not only seemed reasonable, but also wise. My mom and dad are 88 and 90 years old, respectively. For their ages, they are healthy and happy. This is largely due to my mom’s bran muffins, and the care she gives to eating healthy. I also believe it’s due to their general attitude toward life and their belief that life is not really life at all if God is absent. An autopsy would never show that as a factor, but I believe it none the less.

But Mom and Dad will die someday. And the someday will come sooner rather than later. As they have talked and planned with each other, they brought their children into the conversation. This appointment was strategically made to include my brother Tom, who they live with, as well as me while I was visiting them.

As we walked through the door, my dad said “Should we set a date?” “Then we could send out ‘save the date’ cards!” I enthusiastically replied. This casual response to a fate that awaits all of us set the tone for the entire visit.

The conversation ranged from the price of coffins to what the funeral home could provide for the family to how to pay for the funeral. We found out that a one paragraph obituary would cost 300 dollars. We all saw the absurdity of that. “I’m a blogger” I said. “I’ll let people know.” We talked about style of coffins. “Do you have a cheap, steel coffin that looks like wood?” asked my father. The answer was yes – but the cheap price didn’t seem quite so cheap to us.

The man we spoke to was down to earth and frank. “No matter what kind of coffin you get, Mother Nature always wins.” A coffin will not prevent decay – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust – our bodies are our earth clothes, not our eternal garments.

He said they take all kinds of payment – at which I grabbed my brother Tom’s arm and said “Which of the brothers shall we give?” We joked, told stories, and talked seriously. My parents talked about some of the deaths and funerals that they had been a part of in Pakistan, and I told the story about how the first flowers I ever received from my husband were from a colleague whose aunt had died. Turns out, the aunt had been my patient at a hospital 45 minutes away. The difficult conversation was made easier because we made it so.

A movement has begun in the western world called “Let’s have dinner and talk about death.” It is based on a book of the same name. The movement began because this is one of the most important conversations that people in the West never have. We spend so much time and energy on trying to look younger and live longer that we forget the importance of addressing the inevitable. The idea is to engage families in the conversation and provide them with the tools to have a good conversation about end of life care.

I believe that talking about death while we are still alive and well is an unselfish and important conversation. As it says on the web site for “Let’s have dinner and talk about death,” difficult conversations can sometimes be the most liberating.

We left the funeral home in peace with no small amount of laughter. My parents have lived well – and now they plan to die well.

The day will come when we will grieve and cry deep tears over the ones that we love; when the conversation at the funeral home will no longer be theory, but reality. Talking about these things before they happen helps us to know that we can face that day with the certain truth of these words:

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To him be glory for ever. Amen”

10 thoughts on “Conversation and Laughter at a Funeral Home

  1. Thank you…even if we say we should be more open about this we haven’t really discussed or been as practical as you have been. I love your parents and their practical ways. They must be so happy to have you near enough.
    In France there is a rather automatic way, in their traditions around death. When possible they still keep their dear one in the home until the burial. They rather not talk about it, but assume it just happens. Of coure they may be shocked by the financial burden if they don’t inquire ahead of time. Thanks for sharing, as always, Julie

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  2. We talk about death in our family home and always have done. As my father was an undertaker (and sometimes brought his work home with him and parked up our silent visitors in the garage while we had dinner) death has always been part of life for us. I have already declared that when my time comes I want the theme from Loony Tunes played as the curtains close at the crem (that’s all folks!) but no one seems to be taking me seriously on this! I don’t believe that anyone can truly live freely until they have faced the reality of death and their own mortality. Dying well is a gift you give to those who love you. Taking care of those details now before they are necessary surely takes away the edge when you think things are impossible to bear. Bless your beautiful parents for their planning. Bless your heart for sharing something so intimate so beautifully. Love you xxx

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  3. My family has always spoken openly about death and I am so very glad. As believers in Christ, we are convinced that it is not the end, although it is very painful for those left behind in the meantime. My son, age 23, was tragically taken from us a bit over two years ago in an accident. It was hard. I won’t lie. It still is. But the fact that we had never sequestered death to a separate space, that we had talked often and openly about what each of us (even my children at young ages) would want and that we accepted death as part of life made it doable-even in the face of great grief. Thank you for this post-it is a great reminder that none of us gets out of here alive.

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  4. Because my parents were “career missionaries” who spent 30 years in Africa, then moved into a retirement center in the USA, they never owned a home. When we met with a funeral dirctor as Dad was dying of mesothelioma, he joked that the burial plots would be the first property they had owned. We too laughed as we planned, with the assurances of John 14. Jesus’s promise is that He goes before to prepare a place for us. So we can smile as we look back…and look ahead. Thank you, Marilyn.

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  5. Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment with your parents and brother. Wonderful that your parents are still healthy. Yet, prudent to take a proactive step like pre-planning the funerals.

    I’m no longer a hospital chaplain. (I serve a church in the Chicago suburbs now.) However, I am very much aware of how difficult it is to deal with a relative’s sudden or traumatic death, because I attended many deaths in the hospital in the years I served as chaplain. What a loving thing to do for your whole family–giving everyone a renewed awareness of planning to die well. (Great use of humor, too! :-) )

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  6. Very well said, Marilyn. More families should be so pro-active. Our preplanning states direct cremation. We even have our tombstone installed in the cemetery with the date to be engraved when applicable.

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  7. Yes the day will come – and even in the grips of loss, a day of rejoicing that will be. Yes. we grieve; and we do not grieve as those who have no hope. And now you have plans AND hope! It doesn’t get much better.

    Thanks for this post.

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  8. Beautiful and important post, Marilyn! Because my loving, compassionate Mom had been clear about what she hoped we would do as she neared the end of life, the choices we faced were so much more clear and bearable than they would have been. I thank her gentle soul with all my heart and pray I will do as well with my own children.

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