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December 31, 2012
2012, as they all have been in my life, was one interesting year.
Successes and failures were experienced, as has been the case over my entire life.
I made some new friends, and lost some old friends.
I had days of despair, and days of joy.
My longtime dream of getting my own funeral home once again went up in smoke, but then in short order I landed on solid ground with a great position managing daily funeral service activities, still writing and still doing seminars.
Then of all things right at the end of the year – before the Christmas holiday – Sandy Hook happened.
I have written, spoken, lectured and taught about death and dying for over 40 years now, and while I never ever really thought (I know my limitations) that I had the absolute correct insight concerning these subjects when I learned about Sandy Hook I was brutally reminded once again of two things; first, we probably are not as far ahead of barbarism as we delude ourselves in thinking, and two, the Grim Reaper still possesses the power to bring even the most sophisticated and intelligent of our species to their knees.
The Sandy Hook tragedy also reinforced in my mind the absolute correctness of funeral rituals and ceremonies. In fact it reinforced my agreement with the thinking of the great Erik Erikson who wrote “Communities cannot long survive without rituals and ceremonies.”
When I arrived at work on the Monday following the massacre it was abundantly evident that while our staff was talking nonstop about the tragedy, in the end it was only talk – the people talking needed to act on their feelings. Even though hundreds of miles separated the staff from Connecticut, still grief knows no boundaries, and our people needed to do something.
We decided to take the initiative and plan a memorial service commemorating not only the people slaughtered at Sandy Hook, but here in Memphis we had had a police officer killed in the line of duty the very same week.
I planned the event for the upcoming Friday which translated in that we had basically three full days to prepare for this ritual.
In the end both the mayors of the City of Memphis and of Shelby County showed up and spoke, but the impact of this ritual was the same as every funeral service I have ever been involved with, the ritual accomplished two almost mystical things: first, it gave people a little bit of peace of mind, and second, it gave people a great big piece of feeling as they had done the right thing.
Following our service people came up to me and simply said “Thank You” with tears streaming from their faces. That was all we needed to once again verify the mystical power of the funeral ritual.
Professionally I knew that the great members of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association would help – there are always so many great American funeral directors who show up to help in times like these. I knew that our great and valued vendors and suppliers would step up to the plate with benevolence and generosity – which they did in a big way. I knew that each bereaved family would be well tended to and taken care of by members in our great profession.
As usual the anti-funeral people were silent. Nothing showed up on their web sites, no newspaper reporter sought them out for an “exclusive” to get their “spin” on things and with good reason. It is very difficult to criticize an ancient funeral ritual when the entire globe is involved in the rituals, albeit from far distances, but still involved. Precisely the same thing happened with Jessica Mitford’s book sales after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I find it so interesting that when people are NOT involved intimately with a funeral the criticisms abound, but let that same person become intimately affected by the funeral ceremony and the criticism oddly vanish. Such is life, I guess, or better said might be, such is death anxiety.
2012 was an interesting year. For our great noble profession, once again the tragedies of life thrust funeral professionals not in the limelight, but in the quiet service light, and once again funeral professionals did their jobs with quite diligence, gentle persistence of purpose and of course the six keys in funeral service: respect, dignity, honor, care, concern and compassion.
This is a grand profession, I have always so blessed to be a funeral director, even with all my warts.
Anyway, that’s one old undertaker’s opinion.