To Do: Find A Funeral Home

Please add Find Funeral Home For When I Die to your “To Do” list. Sound unnecessary? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Does it really matter where my wake will be since – technically – I’ll not even be there?” Think again.

For those of you who live in East Texas, there is a funeral home that resides in a former Taco Bell storefront. As if this isn’t awful enough, the funeral home has a casket on a pole advertising their services. Were the owners of East Texas Funeral Home concerned friends and family of the deceased would get lost en route to their funerals, and having a coffin in the sky would help?

“Stupid Google maps! I don’t see the road anywhere! Wait. Just wait one second! What is that ahead? A casket in the sky? Whew! We’re on the right street.”

And you thought I was exaggerating.

And you thought I was exaggerating.

After paying their condolences at the East Texas Funeral Home, hungry mourning guests may pop in next door to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

“I still can’t believe Harry died! I mean, how old was he? Fifty – oh! Look! A Chinese buffet! I wonder if they have General Tso’s chicken. That’s my favorite.”

Now, I could very well be wrong. Perhaps you find the idea of your body being laid out in a former Taco Bell storefront with a coffin floating overhead appealing. But for those of you who live in East Texas, and don’t care for this decor, I strongly encourage you to find an alternative funeral home and remember to tell your family.

Another funeral home you may want to avoid is the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home (click HERE for this oddity), located in Illinois. Mourners could be visiting your wake on the pretense of offering condolences, but what they are really itching to do is go downstairs and play 9 holes of mini-golf in the funeral home’s miniature golf course. There is also a game room for those of you who love a competitive pinball game. Note, however, the game room is never open during funeral services. (This may be a bit of a downer for some … more so than your death.)

Lastly, consider avoiding Drive Thru Funeral homes. Several are popping up along the country. This is exactly what it sounds like: your coffin is next to a window, and your loved ones can drive up to the window and pay their respects. (Well, sort of. I don’t know about you, but I find the effort of getting out of the car to be an integral component of  “paying respect”.)

Apparently, if you arrive before 6pm, you'll have to go inside. Dang!

Apparently, if you arrive before 6 pm, you’ll have to go inside.

Call me demanding or fussy, but when I exit this earth, I would rather not have my body displayed in a window.

“Well, there she is. Think we should turn down the radio?”

“Why? It’s not like she can hear it.”

“True.”

“So … now what? We just drive forward?”

“I guess so. Hey. Since we’re doing this whole drive-thru thing, can we head over to McDonalds?”

“Sure. Ya know, it’s too bad this isn’t the East Texas Funeral Home. There is an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet next door to that one.”

*Photo credits go to Adam J. Holland, of the Unorthodox Epicure, who braved the East Texas streets in order to provide the Casket On A Stick photograph. (Click HERE to visit his blog.) And Google Images for the Drive-Thru Funeral Home sign.*

I Want To Go Home

Her name was Mary and she was dying. I was the social work intern, fumbling my way through situations I had mistakenly assumed I could handle.

“I want to go home,” Mary told me during our first visit.

She resembled an Auschwitz victim. The cancer had ravaged her body, leaving her nothing more than soft skin hanging from delicate bones. She looked small and vulnerable in the hospital bed. Her frame barely made a dent in the mattress.

I knew Mary could never go home. She wasn’t strong enough to stand unassisted, let alone walk. Plus, there was no one to care for her even if she could return home. The only family she had was a son who lived in the mid-west. She would have to remain in the hospital until the end.

“Tell me about your home,” I said.

Briefly, Mary’s eyes brightened. She spoke of the small brick cape she had worked so hard to save for and buy. In that house she raised her son, alone. Her husband left her early in their marriage for someone else.

“I was a single mom,” she said, the expression on her face pained from the memory of her husband’s betrayal and not the cancer, “It was so hard.”

Her lips twitched into a smile, “But Robert went to medical school. He’s a surgeon now.” Her smile reflected a mother’s pride.

Later that afternoon I attempted to reach Mary’s son. I left messages with the receptionist at his office, and then tried his nurse. When he never returned my calls, I phoned his house. Robert’s wife answered.

“We’re so sad about Mary,” she said.

“Robert needs to see her … soon. She is failing.” I explained.

“But he can’t,” she said, “He is too busy.” She paused briefly before continuing, “And he doesn’t want to see her like that.”

I knew this was a social worker’s golden opportunity. This was my chance to use the questions and tactics I had learned to explore Robert’s fear of seeing his dying mother. I had read countless of pages on avoidant behavior. I should have known exactly how to respond.

But words escaped me. Instead, I grieved for Mary – lying alone in her hospital bed with only the hospital staff and Hospice workers to bring her comfort.

“He may never see her again alive,” I said bluntly.

Robert’s wife promised to relay my message.

The following day a friend of mine and I were walking to class. I spotted an array of colorful autumn leaves covering the ground. I remembered Mary saying she loved the fall and missed the foliage it brought. Her window in the hospital looked out at the concrete of a neighboring building.

Frantically, I started gathering leaves. My friend paused.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“My patient,” I said, “She misses the color of fall.”

“That’s the saddest thing I have ever heard.” My friend began to pick up leaves. “Here. Here is a yellow one. And red. She has to have a red leaf.”

The next morning I brought my armful of leaves to Mary. Her lids were closed and when I whispered her name, she struggled to lift them.

“Mary, look,” I whispered, holding the leaves up, “I brought Autumn to you.”

Slowly, Mary smiled and I took her hand in mine. Together we sat in silence, and looked at the colors of fall.

A Murder or Strange Hair? You Decide.

I confess: I’m a hotel snob. This elitist mentality is not an attribute I admire in myself.  In fact, I envy those who can march into a Days Inn or Motel Six and not be phased by foreign curly hairs in the bottom of the bathtub, or a sticky TV remote. While certainly not life threatening, these aspects of budget hotels coerce me to spend significantly more money on accommodations I know will be pleasant.

Cleanliness isn’t the only quality I require when seeking temporary lodging. I also refuse to step foot in a Bed and Breakfast where murder has occurred. Call me odd, but shutting my eyes in the same room where someone was once hacked to death would not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling as I drift to sleep.

Thus, staying at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (located in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts) is out of the question; since not just one, but two people were murdered in their rooms. Picky of me, I know. Even the picture of the hatchet posted on the B&B’s website did nothing to encourage me to book an overnight stay.

If unfamiliar with Lizzie Borden, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of her life: She was the daughter of rich parents. One hot August day in 1892, Lizzie bludgeoned her mother and father to death with a hatchet while they were taking their afternoon naps. She was accused of murder and found not guilty. The End.

Or one would think. Weirdly enough, there continues to be such fascination with Lizzie Borden that her home – where the murders took place – is now a Bed and Breakfast. That’s right! For approximately $220 a night you can sleep in one of the rooms where hatchet bearing Lizzie and her parents once lived. For those of you who are not faint of heart, you can sleep in the very room where Mrs. Borden’s face was chopped into smithereens (though this will cost you an additional $50.)

Note that while children under five are “loved and welcomed,” they are not loved enough to spend the night. This is perplexing, given that children under five would have no idea where they were sleeping – thus being saved from any potential trauma inflicted on them by staying in a house where two bloody murders occurred. Also, children under five would not understand the annual re-enactment that takes place on the anniversary of the slayings. Children over five years of age, however, are welcome to spend the night and be traumatized by watching the annual re-enacted hackings of Mr. and Mrs. Borden.

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast also hosts a gift shop. For overnight guests (remember, that includes children over five years of age) and daily visitors who partake in the 50 minute guided tour of the house, the gift shop is the perfect place to find disturbing gifts and Lizzie Borden memorabilia. Who wouldn’t want a Lizzie Borden Bobble Head that brandishes a hatchet? Or a coffee mug boasting a picture of the crime scene? Lastly, for all of you bakers, there are ax-shaped cookie cutters.

Am I wimpy? Perhaps. Snobbish? Sure. Though given the choice of staying in a budget hotel versus the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, I would go straight for the budget hotel. While it may not be the cleanest room with the most comfortable mattress, at least no one was clubbed to death with a hatchet in the adjacent room.

(Think I’m joking? Click HERE)

Freeze Drying Dead Pets

CNN recently did a segment on a company in Missouri that will freeze dry your dead pet. You read that right. For pet owners who can’t find it in themselves to say good-bye to their beloved cat or dog, this business will freeze dry them for a mere $850. The Freeze Dryer (or whatever the person who performs this creepy process is called) does about 120 animals a year. That’s not a whole lot, but it’s more than I’m comfortable with.

As I watched this process unfold (it was like a train wreck: I couldn’t look away), one thought kept going through my mind: people are so strange.

Was that harsh? My apologies, but let’s be honest here. If someone prefers to have Max frozen in an awkward position in their living room instead of buried peacefully in the back yard, I think it’s safe to say they’re a little weird. Okay, a lot weird.

If these weird pet owners can’t let go of their dead pet, I am assuming they can’t let go of what their pet did. Meaning, do these people still act as though their pet were alive? Do they put their freeze dried dog next to them in the car and take it on errands? Do they still insist on taking the dog on walks? There is a woman in my neighborhood who jogs every afternoon with her beautiful black lab. What if she decided to have him freeze dried when he dies? Would she run along, dragging the dog behind her?

And what about visits to the veterinarian? “She’s been really quite!” the owner says as she plops her freeze dried cat on the table, “But her fur balls have really improved.”

Many years from now, I wonder if we will start seeing freeze dried animals being sold at garage sales. Seriously! What if these freeze dried pet owners suddenly realize how creepy it is? Or they are finally able to say good-bye and let go. Then what? Now they are stuck with a frozen dog or cat on their hands. Disposing of it in the garbage just isn’t right – it was their pet after all. So they decide to sell it.

Among the chipped china dishes, bread maker, and picture frames is Bubbles, the freeze dried Poodle. The pet owner hopes the dog looks inconspicuous among the various knickknacks that she has for sale.  Bubble’s owner holds her breath every time someone picks Bubbles up, examines her, and then drops her with a squeal. Bubbles isn’t sold and is then donated to Good Will. Because that is just what the poor need: frozen pets.

In addition to finding this freeze drying process disturbing, I also find it puzzling. Why is it okay to freeze dry pets? Why can’t we just say good-bye and bury them like we do to the people we love? Please don’t tell me you think we should start freeze drying dead people. I don’t think I could handle finding someone’s freeze dried grandma at a garage sale.