Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Shrouded in Mystery No More: How My Sister Lived through her First Home Funeral

Dear Readers,

Let me begin by saying that this whole post is dedicated to my sister, Denni, who managed somehow to get outside of her fear and disgust with all bodily secretions in order that she might help me with Kate's home funeral.  All her life, Denni has avoided the sights and smells of what comes out of our orifices.  I can still see her fanning the air vigorously while changing one of her children's diapers; gagging over the sight of blood when someone got a scrape; running at MACH speed to avoid someone in the process of vomiting.  Me?  I was captivated by it all, and still am.  These are signs of LIFE!

On July 8th, we had been in Hickory, North Carolina all day visiting our father who was declining rapidly.  I absconded for an hour or so to go over and visit with Deloy and Kate, friends who I had been companioning since November when Deloy called me and told me Kate's breast cancer had returned.  "Sara," he said, "I expect I'll be needing a home funeral guide at some point.  Will you help me?"  

Clearly, on this day, eight months after that first phone call, Kate was actively dying.  Deloy had been a vigilant caretaker, and as a physician could often make suggestions to Kate's medical team.  I sometimes wondered if Kate would ever grow tired of the additional radiation and chemotherapy, or the feeding tube, but she never faltered.  Not until the last couple of weeks when the metastases were just hell-bent on having their own way.

I had grown so fond of visiting them both, and it was easy enough to do because their home was only about 15 minutes from Dad's assisted living facility.  So we grew in our comfort and friendship, even when that meant discussing Kate's eventual death and what she wanted to happen.  Kate admitted that the first time she met me she didn't know what to think, because my "energy" was confusing (!).  "Then I realized you just had a big ole' heart and wanted to genuinely help."  Thanks, Kate, for putting your trust in me, and for the gift of your friendship and allowing me to care for you.

Denni and I returned to Winston-Salem, an hour away, after my brief visit with Kate and our visit with Dad.  We decided to go have dinner and unwind, thoroughly relaxing over our fabulous food and wine.  Once back at Denni's house, my phone rang.  I could see it was Deloy calling.  "Sara, Kate just died" he told me.  It was about 7:30pm, and I asked him if he wanted me to come now or wait until the early morning.  "I really want you to come tonight."  So I told him I would be there in a little over an hour.  

"WAIT!  I WILL GO WITH YOU!"  Denni said.  (was I hearing things???)  "You can't go back by yourself so I will go with you!"  Is she serious?  She wanted to accompany me on this home funeral?  My little sister who really isn't quite sure about what I do, but knows enough to stay pretty far away and not ask questions?  

Then I remembered.  I remembered how this is what happens with home funerals.  People come together, work together, love together.   And my sister---the one who can't abide even thinking about bodily fluids (you know...spit, serum, snot and shit)---she was the one who was a force of love that night, even though she had  no idea what to expect.

When we arrived, I hugged the heck out of Deloy and he led me back to their bedroom where I had seen and spoken to Kate just hours before.  I had an immediate epiphany about how to capture in a photograph what I wanted to share with the WORLD.  See, people?  ANYBODY CAN GET READY FOR AND DO A HOME FUNERAL!!!  

Heres what I saw when I arrived, and you can see how easy and simple it was to freeze water in bottles to act like dry ice until you can get some dry ice in the house (or better yet, order some Techni Ice ahead of time).    

And so we began...Kate's loving community:  Deloy, his two sons Cory and Brandon, Celia and her husband Jose, a part of this family for so many years, and neighbors Kim and Martha. 

And there was Denni, all the while at the bedroom door's threshold, taking pictures and videos with her cell phone.  I will include one of my favorites here because it shows Celia reaching out to Deloy as they are anointing the body of their beloved Kate.

Everything else was just as beautiful...family and friends working together in love as we prepared Kate to lay in state for three days so other family and friends could come be with her in a home setting.  There was laughter; there were tears; there was so much love in that house it was palpable.  

And there was my sister, capturing it all, who would tell me later as we drove back home how this had been a life-changing event for her.  

And I think really that's what it's all about.  How we reach out and educate our family and friends, however "gross" they may perceive this work to be, one home funeral at a time.      

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Moving Finger Writes; and...YIPES!

So I remember back in the summer of 2014, when I was plotting how to begin a Death Cafe in our quaint little city, I came across the funniest stories about the use of the name "Death Cafe."  People apparently didn't cotton to it all the time, thinking it cast "doom and gloom" on any social atmosphere. Like, how were you supposed to be convivial and congenial with nomenclature like DEATH defining your surroundings?  Wouldn't it boost attendance if you took the word "death" out of the name?  Or, how about people interpreting this to mean that the particular coffee shop/tea room/diner/eatery where you would be meeting had big health and/or sanitation problems and that people who came in and ate or drank there DIED. Or even (seriously) some asking whether this was a club for people with HEARING problems? (DEAF Cafe!!?)  But the semantics coup de grace was to encounter something so bizarre and so radical that I had to do a double-take and then go back and get a picture!  This was my second time hosting a Death Cafe at a local CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) with a group of really engaging and inquisitive souls, and I am quite sure that it was NOT one of them who reserved our space under the name....(are you ready???)....DEATH SQUAD!!!!! But there it is, on the reservations diary, for all the world to see.  I only wish I had taken the picture before our meeting, and not after, since apparently you get "stricken" to show meeting has already occurred.  Death Squad!!!??  That must be the ultimate in cultural aversion tactics!  Clearly, a lot of work remains to be done as we carry on these conversations and engage in musings on our mortality.  Which reminds me...I am available to come talk to your group/organization/crowd/crew...or dare I say SQUAD whenever you are ready!!!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Who's Taking Out the Trash??!!??

Recently I heard the NICEST married couple proclaim that they were DEAD SET on going out of this world anonymously.  They loved the idea of donating their bodies to medical schools first and foremost.  But if for any reason that would not work out, they were choosing to have a green burial.  And they needed me to make sure that the cemetery they had in mind would bury them without any sort of marker.  "We just want to be thrown in the woods!" Well, as it turns out, said cemetery is happy to oblige.  They *can* be buried without a marker, and the administrative office will always keep information on their plot whereabouts in a file should anybody ever want to go visit. Grave sites are GPS'ed anyway as well.  (that's hi-falutin' talk for Global Positioning System)
But honestly...that declaration of the old marrieds made me SAD.  How could anybody want to leave this world without thinking a little bit about the family and friends they were leaving behind?  What of THEIR needs...to remember, to ritualize, to ramble or rove to a marked location as they work through their grief?  And oh yeah.  Had they thought about generations to come after them? How they might like to visit a marked grave full of familial pride after having done genealogical research on their great great (or even more greats!) grandparents?  And extra credit for anyone knowing what a taphophile is!  How can they enjoy their hobby if you're in an unmarked grave? Just sayin'...
The simple truth is, somebody is left behind with the task of disposing of your body---"taking out the trash," if you will (thanks, Anne Weston for this great line!!),---and just throwing you out to the woods, leaving no trace of your life and legacy, seems a crime.  
My desire is to put one big honkin' angel on my own grave.  She might be weeping (I'm a lot to worry about!!), she might just be standing tall and beautiful, keeping haints away from me and my other cemetery buddies. The point is, I am happy for my family and friends to know exactly where I am so they can throw a shindig at the grave every year on the anniversary of my death.  So my grandchildren and future grandchildren can find "Berry's" final resting place and remember me with peonies and poems.  Lavender and laughter.  Yes, remember me...as I will remember you.

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