Monday and Tuesday I worked my tail off helping the son-I-wish-I-had price stuff for an estate sale he’s conducting this coming weekend. I’m not used to working like that anymore---seven hours on one day, and four and a half the other. The estate belonged to a widower and the consensus in his family is that he died of grief and a broken heart. His wife died 8-10 years ago and after that he lost interest in everything. A man with teenagers still at home, the widower pushed people away and he lost his job because he quit going in. Eventually he started drinking and abusing drugs. Fast forward, his house that was new when his wife passed away got filled up to the berm---hoarder style---of stuff bought off the home shopping channel. I have never seen so many Santa Clauses, angels, dolls, eagles, tin signs, sports collectibles, religious plaques, clocks and garden statues all in one place in my life. There were easily 500 Santa Clauses alone, taking up an entire bay in the garage.. So let that be a cautionary tale for CVQ shoppers with dead spouses. You can fill a house up with junk but that empty place in your heart will still be there. So save yourself the trouble. Just turn the damn channel!
Tuesday I also went on a tour of the back rooms at a mortuary with 49 others from the senior hall. It wasn’t morbid, scary, creepy or any other negative adjective in your bag of words. And we laughed. We started laughing on the bus ride when we speculated on what they’d serve us for lunch. I guessed liver or Rocky Mountain oysters. (If you’ve never seen the latter on a menu they are fried testicles.) And we didn’t stop laughing until after the tour and luncheon was almost over when a woman asked, “When I die in Florida who should I call first?” and before the mortician could answer someone shouted out, “Call 1-800 Hello God.”
We were taken to various rooms at the mortuary in groups of ten for talks given by different people: 1) a man who teaches embalming and is on the state licensing board to certify morticians, 2) a man from a crematorium, 3) a monument company representative, and 4) a funeral director who took us in the casket room. The latter guy showed us how the rental caskets work when transferring a body in and out and what the actually burial box looks like. And did you know you can get a casket built by Saunders/Ikea? That was good for a laugh and I mistook an ashes casket for a speaker’s podium which was good for another laugh.
The guy from a monument company told me how to keep the Snoopy charm on my husband’s marble tombstone. Double faced heavy duty tape, not glue. He also told us about Monu Marks. Have you heard of these little QR codes you can put on tombstones? Neatest things I’ve seen in ages. They allow people to use their smart phones to read whatever you upload to Monu Marks…pictures, the obituary, the eulogy, genealogy, GPS, stories, whatever you want to upload---unlimited. Can you imagine that? The monument company sells them for $50 installed (on a new or old stone) and they will replace them free of charge if they ever get damaged. If you have family coming in from out of town, they can use the GPS app to find the plot in the cemetery.
The guy from the crematorium had photos of the inside of their facility and he walked us through the whole procedure in detail. (Their gas bill is usually $6,000 a month to do two bodies at a time 24/7. In separate chambers in case you're wondering and they never see the body.) One question I had was about getting DNA from ashes and as you might guess, they can’t. But a numbered tag that won't burn goes into the crematorium chamber with the body and it is sifted out later and tied on the plastic bag they put the ashes in.
I had an opportunity to talk to cremation guy and the funeral director without the others from my group in earshot, so I asked about how the unburned twigs and leaves could have gotten in my husband’s box of ashes. They had no explanation and the guy from the crematorium was visibly shaken by the question and he sought me out later on to ask for more details. He shot down my theory that they could have been in the plastic bag before the ashes were added. He says, the bags come inside the ash boxes and are fastened with the metal tag mentioned above. He mentioned another theory about the twigs maybe being broken rush broom bristles instead. Some places use rush brooms during the sifting process but we agreed those two little leaves shoots that theory down. I was mistaken about there only being one crematorium in town. We have four and Don was not cremated at his place. The funeral home I used is not one of his contracts. The bottom line, I’ll never know the answer to my unburned-twigs-and-leaves-in-the-box question but I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will be the talk of the local industry...and who to blame. I shouldn't have even been able to pick out bone fragments.
The embalming room we toured, which looked like a low budget surgical room but just as sterile, white and bright---we even had to wear coverings over our shoes---was the most interesting part of the tour and it was surprising how much we laughed and learned in that room. No two bodies are embalmed the same way. What the person died from, how long they have to keep the body before burial, how long a person was dead before discovery, if the body is going on an airplane where pressure effects the body fluids all factor into which chemicals are used. There are roughly a dozen to choose from. Different limbs can even get different chemicals from one another. There’s a lot of science, tools and filters involved in the process and it’s easier, now, to understand why it cost so much to prepare a body. Did you know some countries use a chemical that makes the body and bones completely disappear after the funeral? Poof. Nothing left, not even the chemical.
I’ve never been to a funeral home that had a banquet room---a concept new to this area. That's where they served us their typical after-the-funeral lunch. (No eating off the caskets and no liver or Rocky Mountain oysters as we had speculated on the way over.) On the bus ride home, there wasn’t a single person, by a show of no hands, who was sorry they took this tour. Quite the opposite. It was a roaring success. I wouldn't recommend it to newly minted widows but a few years out like I am....? Well let's just say the tour left me with an elevated impression of people in the business of dealing with the after death necessities of saying good-bye. ©