Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death Cookies and Oprah

Don't want to step on Oliver's glory, but this is kind of funny/sad.  I went to funeral home this morning to make arrangements.  I've got a bit of a stomach thing, so I didn't eat beforehand and after two hours of arrangements and coffin selection, I was hungry.  Thirty minutes later, I was shaky hungry.

Resthaven had several silver trays with home made cookies out, and when I first saw them I thought "who would eat Death Cookies"....and now I knew.  

But here's the thing-I never eat in hospitals, and only in nursing homes when it's to share a meal with a loved one, and I've never been in a funeral home before for any length of time.  Factor in the dead Christmas trees in all the stores making my sinus go haywire, the dry arctic air and a certain amount of upset over the entire gloomy situation-and I wasn't sure that cookie would go down or stay down.

Then I remembered Oprah's show yesterday with OCD people who had the same kinds of issues, only worse, and how the doctor had encouraged them to eat things and hold it down-so I did the same thing and choked down a Death Cookie-the smallest (about 2 inches across) I could find.  The sugar helped and I was able to complete arrangements without puking or otherwise causing a scene by passing out.  Thanks O and Dr. Oz!

Ok, other bizarre (to me) things.  First, I know my family background is informal and I don't want to offend anyone-these things are personal and private and handled for each family differently.  That said, I found the "Funeral and Thank You Note Organizer" just a bit weird.

It is a little notebook and inside the notebook are pages to track who came to the service, who brought food and NUMBERED STICKIES to place on the food so you could cross reference it to the listing page later and thank Auntie Em for the Green Bean Casserole.  I solemnly listened to my instructions and thanked the director, but I know the look on my face said "this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of", and I wonder if it isn't some sort of southern US thing.  We probably keep the Thank You Notes afloat-eventually we'll be sending Thank You for Thank You notes to people.

Now, the Food Thing in general is, well, odd. Casseroles are the typical southern funeral food.  And for a big family, especially one that has just lost the main cook, it might be a thoughtful and good idea.  But, personally, if I am too distraught to cook, I just roll on down to Taco Bell.  And while all the socializing, keeping busy, etc. is said to be healing, wolfing down huge amounts of fat and sugar isn't going to be good for the living.

Picking out the coffin required some time.  On one hand, I knew Uncle John was beyond caring and that all the pressure was in my mind, but on the other hand, I very much wanted to get it right-so that I could report on it to the rest of family and they would draw some peace from knowing he was eternally housed in the correct box.  I prefer wood, but instantly I knew when I saw it, he would want Carbon Steel if he could choose, and I was able to find a Military designed, Carbon Steel, blue, with blue interior.  Blue was his favorite color, and even though there will be no pictures or any evidence of it, I will know he was laid out in suitable Military fashion and according to his design sensibilities (not mine).  And yes, that gave me some comfort.  Better still, it was in his preferred price range, not bottom of the line, not top, firmly in the middle so I don't have to worry about him fuming about it in the afterlife.

Because he is getting a Military Funeral in a National Cemetery, many of the other details are pre-ordained, and that, combined with Oklahoma Laws, are a bit odd.  For instance, embalming is not required, and I am pleased, because I really don't want to pollute the earth with my Uncle John's remains full of formaldehyde.  BUT, the Military provides and insists upon a Vault, as do most other townships and there is no way around it but to go find private land, get permits and yadda yadda.  So, the best we can do is just not do any great damage to the water table.  I finally defaulted to his only instructions "the Military will handle it" and so they will.

It is possible to get memorial jewelry to hold cremains.  Ok, I can almost cope with that.  The "Thumbies" absolutely creeped me out beyond belief.  A gold, silver or white gold replica of the deceased actual thumbprint.  I stared at them, went back, stared again, and came up with the same conclusion-creep city.  Thinking about it now-still creeping me out......ewwwwww.

I will share some information that may or may not help someone.   I asked the funeral director about protocol-when they are preparing and cleaning the remains, does someone look for signs of abuse, etc.?  I told him I was unclear about what to do at the time he died-he was under a blanket, and I held his arm, but I really really did not want to do an inspection, and I didn't know if I was supposed to.  Turns out, that's the job of the medical and funeral attendants so there is no peeking required.  I'm glad I asked, and it was troubling me so now I can report to the family that it has all be handled properly.  (In no way did I suspect abuse, but without a visual verification who would know?)  This paragraph clearly belongs under the heading weird items, but there you have it.


ghost said...


MuseSwings said...

There's nothing like planning a funeral to put you in touch with all of the interesting accessories that are available these days. I hadn't heard of the thumbprint. Hmmm. Sounds like you are doing an admirable job of taking care of your Uncle John. Bless you!

MuseSwings said...

A poem for your Uncle John:

You will have treasure in Heaven. …Come, follow Me. Matthew 19:21

I am no longer bound by gravity
I left behind all the
Indignities and frailties of mortals
I am healthy now
I have no pain

I am in a place beyond your
I see the beginnings and ends of the universe
I hear the exquisite songs of angels
I am attended by those who have gone before me

I stand unaided, straight and strong
In God’s light

It is all and more than He said
It would be

© Cynthia Ann Conciatu

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Funerals these days can be quite the circus. You just have to plow through all those "offerings" and choose what makes you most satisfied.

Debra Kay said...

I had to go back to the funeral home to finish up some details, and while I waited I browsed a book of "private estates" which are essentially marble crypts for single families. No prices were included, but the tonnage of each crypt was. I liked the lines of the buildings and the architecture, and even had the presence of mind not to ask where the Okie version was (one of those metal buildings perhaps?)

I'm a little bit like my bird-I can only take one emotion for so long, even sadness, before I have to switch it up with a giggle.

I'm also good at having two emotions at once-I was very serious and thoughtful about the whole casket selection process, but I also realized what a complete and utter waste it probably is. So, I played the "what would John pick if someone MADE him make a selection game...." and went for something the military would approve of and was representative of his life. Which is just INSANE, as we've already established that the body that will repose in it is no longer him.

Still, I was reading some Jewish texts, the gist of which was that you should still respect the vessel that carried the person for all those years, and that made sense.

And I am going to make up some sort of "care package" to toss in the casket-which my father thought was just complete and utter nonsense. But I do like the Egyptian and other cultures notions of having some supplies or momentos.

Don't worry, I won't set fire to the whole thing ala the vikings.....

kj said...

your wry sense of humor and odd understanding of the ways of the world helps out in times like these, eh? you are quite a spirit, debra kay!


Mim said...

Deb - it is sometimes uncomfortable to have the sense of humor that you (and me)have when involved in these odd rituals. I too have had these sort of out of body experiences where I'm doing something and at the same time realize the oddness of the task. It's usually all I can do NOT to giggle. When my sister in law died she was cremated and the ashes buried. But her mom got...and KEPT...a miniature urn, with some ashes in it. It's on the mantle now and I think it's SO odd, and know that Lucile would think so also.
And I think we rented a casket - because of the cremation - and we had to negotiate the rental time because of the wake. It was just a bizarre thing.
When my friend Isabel died, we didn't do any of that crap. She also was cremated, the day after she died and there was no picking out of the casket etc. It was much more civilized.

I too believe in the final offerings. How can you go to another life without your glasses? To me this is such a strange belief and obsession. I KNOW that it doesn't make any sense, but I would want my closest personal possesions with me at the end. Don't know why, but I just would. Somehow it feels less lonely.

See my post from yesterday on "letting go". A reference to John.