Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Know You Mean Well, But...

Might I take a moment of your time to discuss with you those well-meaning folks who seem to have lost their tact? 

Let's talk about Funeral Home Etiquette. 

It's perfectly fine for you to walk up to the casket and to spend a moment silently gazing upon the deceased.  It's also perfectly fine if you wish to speak words of consolation to the family.  It is not fine for you to ask a close relative of the deceased, "Is this how she really looked or did the funeral home go overboard?  Sometimes they can get the makeup all wrong." 

If you don't know the person, why are you there?  Are you casing the place to see how they handle the makeup of the deceased so you will know whether you want them doing yours?  Trust me, honey, if they'd gotten the makeup wrong, there are enough people in the family to bring it to some one's attention before you got there. 

The other side of that statement might be taken to mean that you think the makeup is excessive or not "right."  I'm sure you are perfectly nice person, but rest assured that my family is Southern in nature.  They will not tolerate a slight like that.  Someone from my family will just pop in to the funeral home when you are being prepared for the viewing and will convince them that whatever they've done to your face is not enough.  You will look like Bozo the Clown and Tammy Faye Baker rolled into one.  That's not a threat, I'm just telling you what could happen.

A more appropriate thing to say is, "I'm so sorry for your loss.  Please let me know if I can do anything for you or the rest of the family."

While we're still on the topic of funeral home etiquette, please dress appropriately.  Funeral homes are either freezing cold or sweltering hot.  There is no "comfortable" temperature in a funeral home.  You should probably consider dressing in layers. 

In the South, we tend to run on the freezing cold side.  We see you over there.  We know your lips are turning as blue as your hair.  Bring a sweater, a shawl, a jacket, a blanket, or whatever you need to be comfortable.  We won't turn the air down, though.  Here in the more Southern climate, we like to tell people that we've got to get the temperature down low early on so "...we can stay ahead of the heat."  The truth is, it's hotter than blue flaming pits of Hell outside and we've been running around and in and out all day long and the heat was getting to us. 

We also know that if you get cold enough and we don't do anything about it, you'll leave earlier and you won't be as inclined to take extra cookies and put them in your purse. 

If it's hot in a Southern funeral home, it's because somebody failed to get ahead of the heat.  If you dress in layers, you will be ready for that, too.  Just get ready to take the layers off and to fan yourself. 

Finally, please explain to your child (adult, too) that shirts that expose your bellybutton piercing are probably not the best choice for funeral home attire.  Here, in Southern Missouri, we will talk about you unmercifully.

I'm just saying...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

On the Sacredness of Dying

As I type, a dear, sweet woman is slowly dying.  As with many deaths, hers will be one that will bring many, myself included, to tears. 

My sister and brother-in-law, whom I've written about here, along with their daughter and other family members, are waiting.  They are waiting for the inevitable and, I'm sure, it seems as though it will never come.  They are waiting because there is nothing else to do.

It's not that any of them want death to come.  It's just that they all know that the time is here, now.  The long and painful journey of declining health has taken its toll on the dear, sweet woman and on her family.  The pain of illness has been unimaginable.  I know it has been so, because the various and increasing doses of powerful pain-killers and narcotics have done little to relieve her suffering.

In spite of her suffering, she has remained an unwavering example of dignity.  Upon entering the nursing home, it was made clear to all that she wished to leave this earth on her terms.  She left it to her two loving sons to make decisions for her when the time came and they have.  My brother-in-law, being physically closer to his mother's home, has been the primary caregiver.  He, in consultation with his brother, has made some very difficult decisions.  All of them have been based on the idea that they must honor their mother's wishes.  It has been her life and it should be her death.

So often, in movies and on television shows, the act of dying is treated nonchalantly.  It is often portrayed in such graphic and violent detail that we, the watchers, become desensitized to it.  We forget that dying is a sacred act.  It is an act as sacred, if not more so, than birth.  In birth, we leave the heavenly realm and come to earth.  In death, we return to that heavenly realm to live without pain, suffering, agony.  It is the promise of Christ.  It is the reason for the death and resurrection that I believe in. 

The sacredness of dying requires that we, the observers of the dying, must simply watch and wait.  There is nothing we can do.  We are powerless to stop it and we cannot, in good conscience, speed it up.  I believe we have forgotten that it is the role of the living to honor the dying by waiting.  We live in such a fast-paced world and waiting is not tolerated.  It's not acceptable.  So, death, in its own way, forces us to wait.  It forces us to learn that dying should be sacred and should be honored. 

So, tonight, before I go to bed, I will pray.  I will pray that the dear, sweet woman be granted the gift of a soft and gentle passing.  I will pray that my brother-in-law and his brother and my niece will accept the waiting and honor the sacredness of her passing.  I will pray that we all remember that dying is a sacred event and should be treated as such.

I hope you'll join me.

Update:  I received a call from my mother late last night telling me that the dear, sweet woman had passed.  I know that my brother-in-law and his brother and their families are devastated.  The wait is over.