Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Funeral Parlor and the Widower I Never Met

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. ©


  1. This is one of those 'you had to be there' experiences, because I feel lightheaded and creeped out just reading about it. Then again, I often faint at the sight of blood. But great description. Thanks for going in my place.

    The widower's story is heartbreaking and not unfamiliar. Healing from grief has so many forks in the road, and I guess the best we can do when we know we're going down the wrong fork is cry "Help!" and humbly accept it. Maybe he shut down emotionally, and didn't recognize the pickle he was in. I'm so sorry for his children, who lost both parents.

    1. I should probably put a 'warning' at the top of this post for people like you. LOL

      On the bus we exchanged reactions we'd gotten from people when we told them where we were going. The majority of us got the creeped-out reactions so you are not alone.. Trust me, the tour got a lot more details than I shared here---lots of stuff about medical donations that creeps even me out.

  2. This sounds right up my alley. I love this kind of field trip. We have a lady at our church that arranges field trips for the old congregants. Maybe I'll suggest this to her. She's a phlebotomist so she wouldn't have a problem with it.

    1. This was the first time the tour was offered to senior citizens but I was surprised to learn that high school seniors are offered a tour like this as part of career exploration programs. It was really interesting and being in a group made it more so.

  3. Jean,
    What an interesting post. I love hearing (reading) about your adventures. I'm glad they took your question seriously. I was afraid they would blow it off, but I would think that reputable professionals in any profession would be concerned about something like that. You are right; your question will be THE subject in the industry for a while.

    What a fun group of people you were with. A lot of whistling by the graveyard what. Oh, what did they serve for lunch? Finger sandwiches?

  4. You would have fit in just perfect with your finger sandwiches. I'm surprised none of us thought about that one. LOL

    The lunch was by a well known catering service in the area and the table was a beautifully set buffet with raised pedestal plate and low platters alternating on moss green drapes over white linen. Dark wine cabbage roses were used for accents bouquets.

    They did take my question seriously and even though I didn't get an answer I felt that if I had wanted to report it up the ladder to wherever, they would have helped me. But I am at peace, now, that it was an anonymity, that bodies are treated with respect and that it's time to let it go.

  5. I really like funeral homes and all the science and everything behind the industry. The different colored embalming fluids to add whatever color need to make the dead look nice. Our funeral director is a magician at the make-up artistry. My 92 year old Daddy, looked a good healthy 80 year old. Nothing about it creeps me out--except the crematorium thingie. AND--I think it is a great idea for a funeral home to have a banquet room for the after service meal--sometimes finding a place to handle that can be very difficult and time consuming. Wish I could take a tour like this!.

    1. My husband worked in a funeral home when he was in high school. They liked him so much they wanted to pay his way to school to learn the business, but he didn't want to do it.

      We are just the opposite in our creep-out factors. If any of it creeps me out it would getting my body buried. Oh, and they covered the make up thing too. Did you know you can't use regular make ups because it's formulated to go on warm skin and won't work on the deceased?

    2. No--I did not know that about the make-up!! I have always had a great fear/phobia of fire, so......on the other hand, I will like I will be sleeping, nice and cozy in my satin lined casket, inside my nice concrete vault, LOL. Ew-ww, just writing about all of then right now, just creeped me out!!!!!