Contemporary Urns and Keepsakes with Vintage Sensibility

This earthy, medium-sized  urn with tree finial is gracing the shelves of my Brooklyn show room now! We just had to have it.

This earthy, medium-sized urn with tree finial is gracing the shelves of our Brooklyn show room now! We just had to have it.

Michelle Kaisersatt’s stoneware urns caught my eye a couple of years ago on the website Etsy.com. She’s got an old fashioned, earthy Arts & Crafts sensibility I adore. She writes: “Being an antique lover, interior designer, seamstress, and someone who appreciates the influence of history and family, I love bringing all of these elements full circle in my creations.”

Prices range from $238 to $550. She makes small keepsakes as well as larger urns that hold everything.

Bronze Keepsake

Bronze Keepsake


Go to Etsy.com and search for Keyhole Studio. And check out her latest bronze keepsake urns here.

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Good Funeral Music: “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds”

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Maya Angelou‘s life was steeped in poetry and music, so her memorial service did not disappoint. The biggest gust of gorgeous uplift came from R&B artist Alyson Williams when she sang “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds.” I’m linking to gospel singer Sallie Martin’s interpretation of the hymn for your funeral planning purposes (so you can hear it sort of straight). But you can watch Alyson Williams singing it at last weekend’s service here. And here’s the nicest find of the night: Maya Angelou herself talking about why the song, an African-American spiritual from the 1800s, meant so much to her.

When God shut Noah in the grand old ark,
he put a rainbow in the clouds.
When thunders rolled and the sky was dark
God put a rainbow in the clouds.

God put a rainbow in the clouds,
(God put a rainbow in the clouds)
When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore,
God put a rainbow in the clouds.

Every song, every eulogy delivered at the service has been posted on Youtube.com. You just have to put the individual pieces together.

Green Cemeteries Serving New York City

-4Some people think cremation is “greener” than burial because cremation generally requires no cemetery space. Actually, when you are speaking of one of the green conservation cemeteries within three hours of New York City or upstate, you can be protecting rural property by burying yourself in it. Cemetery laws prohibit highways or shopping malls from coming to land that has deceased people in it, so in using a green cemetery, you are helping to keep gorgeously-wooded, rural properties safe from development. (It may take a moment to bend your mind around this concept.) You can also be buried in a shroud (without a casket) in a green cemetery, something most conventional cemeteries don’t yet allow. No herbicides are used on the grass, as a rule, and the setting of a registered green burial ground is kept much as it was found: wild, natural, frequented by birds, squirrels, and deer.

Folks who bury a family member in a green cemetery are sad a death has occurred, but elated by their participation in an end-of-life ritual that signals a return to the simpler burial practices of 200 years ago. Grave prep is more natural and aesthetically pleasing: no phony Astroturf covers the displaced soil, and evergreen boughs are available to help decorate or fill. Cemetery workers go out of their way to let family members lower the casket and shovel soil if that is their desire. You’ll also never see a grave-worker look harried or check his wristwatch at a green ground. The space is yours and you’ll be given ample graveside time.

Some of my closest friends still exclaim, “Oh God, just cremate me.” But for those who love nature, history, and old-fashioned ritual, and for those whose custom has always been simple and green (Jews, Muslims among others), it’s a no brainer: Green burial in a natural burial ground–without an embalming, metal casket or vault–is a gracious, gorgeous, uplifting way to “go.”

Here is my most complete accounting of every green cemetery and every hybrid ground attached to a conventional cemetery in or near NY state. There are shades of green at play here (two asterisks ** denote a completed registration with The Green Burial Council), but all plots listed here are priced well below the remaining graves in New York City. Some of these cemeteries are a little far afield, but I include them because they may make sense to New York families connected to those necks of the woods.


FULTONVILLE NATURAL BURIAL GROUND
, Upper Mohonk Street, Fultonville, NY 518-265-3136. Single plot $500 residents, $700 non-residents.


GREEN MEADOW CEMETERY
, 1121 Graham Street, Fountain Hill, PA, 18015. info@greenmeadowpa.org 610-868-4840. Plot $1500, open fee $650.

**GREENSPRINGS NATURAL CEMETERY
293 Irish Hill Road, Newfield, NY 14867 (near Rochester) 607 564 7577. Standard lot $1,300; cremains lot $350. Opening fee for standard burial $1,000. Opening fee for cremains burial $225. Antique horse-drawn sleigh available to carry casket in winter.

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HARLEMVILLE RURAL CEMETERY, near Spring Valley Rudolf Steiner School and Hudson, NY. Hybrid green ground attached to conventional country cemetery. Please call Jonitha Hasse at 518-325-7454 to obtain latest, extremely reasonable prices.


**HOLY SEPULCHRE CEMETERY
(Trinity Section) – Natural Burial Ground, 2461 Lake Avenue, Rochester NY 14612. 585-458-4110. $1600 single plot, $600 open.

MARYREST CEMETERY 25 Seminary Road, Mahwah, NJ 07430, 201-327-7011. Single grave $1,400. Opening fee $1,750. Note: the purchaser should be a Catholic (but no one will “card” you). And the decedent need not be Catholic. This is, however, a Catholic cemetery.

MOST HOLY REDEEMER CEMETERY 2501 Troy Schenectady Road, Schenectady, NY 518-374-5319. Single grave $1,500. Opening fee $715. Note: Decedent must be related to a Catholic.

**MT. HOPE CEMETERY’S “GARDEN OF RENEWAL” (Hybrid), 1133 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620, 585-428-7999. Single grave $3,300, $800 open fee, $400 maintenance.

SLEEPY HOLLOW CEMETERY just outside Tarrytown, NY 10591, 914-631-0081. (Historic cemetery with hybrid green burial ground by side of cemetery road, shrouds accepted, cremains accepted). Single grave $3,200. Opening fee for grave $1,737. Cremation grave (fits two urns) $1,500. Opening fee for cremated remains $536.

**STEELMANTOWN CEMETERY 101 Steelmantown Road, Steelmantown, NJ (outside Cape May). 609-628-2297. Single or double plot $2,000. Grave opening fee $1,500. Eight-member family plot $7,000. Opportunities for wooded burial or placement in old Quaker cemetery. One hundred-year-old casket cart meets hearse and family at the gate.

Shovels at graveside

Shovels at graveside


TOWN OF RHINEBECK CEMETERY’S NATURAL BURIAL GROUND
, 3 Mill Road, Rhinebeck, NY 12572, 845-876-3961. Single plot $1300, $900 to open. Plot for cremains $450, $600 to open.

UNION CEMETERY AT MAYS LANDING, 195 Route 50, Mays Landing. NJ, 08330. 609-625-7571. Adult interment $850, interment of cremains $275. One-time regrading fee: $200.

**WHITE HAVEN MEMORIAL PARK 210 Marsh Road, Pittsford, NY (near Rochester) 585-586-5259. Has Jewish area, Islamic area, all-green hybrid ground. $2150 grave, $675 open fee. Cremains in woods $2150, by water $2800, cremains open fee $395.

**WOOSTER CEMETERY, 20 Ellsworth Avenue, Danbury, CT, 06810. 203-748-8529. Lovely historic grounds with green area priced lower than the conventional. $2700 adult plot, $900 open fee. Call office for foundation and maintenance costs.

Marker and foundation fees vary. Most green cemeteries allow engraved, flat, native stones. For a complete listing of green burial grounds in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, follow this link to download a pdf list. Esmerelda Kent of Kinkaraco burial shrouds also maintains a green cemetery list. (Note: All photos are mine, taken last time I brought a family to Steelmantown.)

There Is No Death in Nature

“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not
die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.
Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals
and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the
window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise. Jesus is not
dead; he is very well alive; nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor
Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could
easily tell the names under which they go.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photo by Kevin Russ

Photo by Kevin Russ (P.S. Happy Earth Day!

My ICCFA ‘Best in Show’

The Tranquility Urn from Kelco Supply Company, $450

The Tranquility Urn from Kelco Supply Company


Remember when Elvis sang, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You?” I fell hard for this beautiful, tall wood and porcelain urn which I spied from across the room this past week in the Kelco Supply Company’s booth at the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association‘s annual convention in Las Vegas. It’s on its way to our Brooklyn showroom.

The Home-Decorated Cremation Box

Photos courtesy of Olivia Bareham of Sacred Crossings in Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of Olivia Bareham

People struggle with how to personalize cremation. Death occurs. The funeral director arrives. The deceased is lifted, covered, and rolled away. Then a smooth plastic box containing cremated remains is presented two or three days later. Of course a service is possible with the body before cremation, or with an urn afterwards, but did you know that you could pay your funeral director (or a home funeral guide) to bring the cremation casket to your home so that you and your family members could decorate it? Check out Olivia Bareham’s Sacred Crossings website and see what one California death guide is helping families do in and around Los Angeles. The photographs of children at work with their designs and notes are gorgeous. You’d think a family’s amateur efforts might not be consistently excellent, but miraculously, these home decorated boxes are always terrific and families feel like they’re healing themselves by partaking in efforts so artistic and different. Thanks to Olivia Bareham and The National Home Funeral Alliance for introducing me to this remarkable concept.

Photo by Olivia Bareham

Photo by Olivia Bareham

The “Mountaintop” Speech Was Replayed at MLK Jr.’s Funeral

Sad reminder: The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was buried 46 years ago today. As you will likely remember, King spoke of his own death and funeral on April 3, 1968, one night before he was assassinated. But I never knew that a recording of his famous oration, now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” sermon, was replayed at his funeral six days later at Coretta Scott King’s request. Have a listen, and watch the faces.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

Forever Uplifted, Solid and Safe

Urn by Chris Parow

Buckley’s Urn by Chris Parow


You can see that the urn above is 1.) different and 2.) flat-out gorgeous. It was made for a beloved pet dog, but to my mind, it could work for almost anybody. Made of walnut and gathered drift wood by artist/woodworker Christopher Parow, it now houses the cremated remains of Buckley, a close friend’s Boxer-mix who quite sadly had a fatal heart attack this past Thanksgiving at the age of three. It was only last summer that Buckley had enthusiastically helped to collect this driftwood on a beach in Maine as Parow and Buckley’s owner Emerson (Em) walked alongside him.
Buckley's urn, as seen from the top

Buckley’s urn, as seen from above


Parow writes, “I spent most of my time trying to make the drift wood actually hug and embrace Buckley’s new home…After several hours of working everything together just right, it was complete. It now represented some of the most precious memories of Em and Buckley’s time together.

“Death is never easy,” Parow goes on to say, “With this piece, I aimed to create a truly positive resting place, a comfy nest, where [Buckley] can have little barky doggy dreams of scouring the beach for drift wood. RIP Buckley.”

Buckley on the beach

Buckley on the beach

You can find more of Parow’s amazing woodwork and wood sculptures on his website Trees and Nails.

Shrouds for Burial and Cremation

The rule of simplicity, which works so well in life, works great in death also.

Which brings us to the shroud. The shroud is one of the most significant items rising over the retail horizon of the 12-billion dollar funeral business. Jesus was wrapped in one. Here’s a little snippet of Charlemagne’s shroud (and I think Oscar de la Renta would approve).

Devout Jews and Muslims have much to teach about simple, earth-friendly burial, and they stick with the simplest and purest of shrouds. Here are some pretty fabulous shrouds currently on the market. It is lovely to be bathed, dried, shrouded then casketed in a biodegradable box. Then of course, some people prefer to be dressed in nice street clothes–a suit, tie, etc., dress and shawl for women–but you can still be wrapped in a family quilt or shroud after that, and then casketed if you prefer.

Child's shroud by AFineFarewell.com

Child’s shroud by AFineFarewell.com

Beethoven’s Last March

Beethovan's Funeral, March 29, 1827

Beethoven’s Funeral, March 29, 1827


You pretty much have to take a moment to appreciate this: 187 years ago this week, the vibration and flash of March snowstorm lightning woke the deaf, ailing 56-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven who’d been confined to his bed in Vienna for months. Startled from coma, the composer opened his eyes, raised his fist to rail against the sky, then collapsed back, dead.

Three days later, on March 29th, 1827, at least 10,000 grief-striken Viennese fans and citizens, and every local musician Beethoven had inspired, encouraged or berated, gathered for a funeral march with “simple” casket from the yard outside the Schwarzspanierhaus church to the more wooded area of Wahring, where a professional actor delivered a formal funeral oration written by playwright Franz Grillparzer who I wish could come back to teach us the fine art of obit and eulogy writing. Here’s the whole transcript (you have to plow through an opening graph referring to Germany as the Fatherland), or just savor here the best last bit of testimonial in honor of a pure-hearted, tortured man who gave the world so much.

“No living man enters the halls of immortality. The body must die before the gates are opened. He whom you mourn is now among the greatest men of all time, unassailable forever.

“Return to your homes, then, distressed but composed. And whenever, during your lives, the power of [Beethoven's] works overwhelms you like a coming storm; when your rapture pours out in the midst of a generation yet unborn; then remember this hour and think: we were there when they buried him, and when he died we wept!

Here are two pieces of music that were played at Beethoven’s funeral services, one composed by him, one not: Beethoven’s Equali for four somber trombones, and Luigi Cherubini’s “Requiem in C Minor,” which the discerning LvB admired, and you’ll love too when you listen to it.

What Most People Don’t Know or Can’t Fathom About Cremation

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Cremation does not replace the funeral. You can still have a funeral with the body present before the cremation, or a memorial service with an urn there afterwards.

If a cremation is planned–and a wake, formal funeral or identification of the body is still anticipated– you needn’t be saddled with the costs of a casket. Ask your funeral home about a ceremonial rental casket with cardboard cremation liner.

The lowest cremation price in the phone book or from a Google search is too low. Trust me. Funeral homes charging bottom dollar may be cutting corners to increase their total sales volume (or annual calls).

If time allows and the family is interested, the cremation box can be creatively decorated. Ask your funeral director to charge you extra to bring the cardboard cremation box to your house so that you and the grandkids (for example) can write, paint and draw on grandma’s casket. Sounds potentially strange and disastrous, I know, but like brides on their wedding day, these home decorated sacred vessels are surprisingly gorgeous and engage the family in an activity that is wildly uplifting.

3523091094_bd41b02530For a reasonable sum, a short service with closed casket or pall-draped box can be held at any crematory that has a chapel attached to it. Additionally, the box or casket’s entry into the retort can be witnessed or scheduled for a specific time. Witnessing gives some families peace of mind, and also takes a bit of the mystery out of what happens at the crematory. If you’re not up for this, ask a friend to witness for you.

An unceremonious or “direct” cremation can mean that the deceased will be cremated in a plastic body bag or hospital gown. Most grieving families never think about this in advance and if they did, they’d probably realize that, of course, they’d like the deceased properly dressed.

You can have your deceased relatives bathed and dressed for a quick viewing or just to know they went to the crematory looking as good as they could look. For this, your funeral bill may only go up only $200-$400.

Ash is mostly pulverized bones, inert minerals left in the retort after burning which are then processed by a noisy mill into a grainy powder.

Cremated remains weigh about four pounds and are returned to the family in a boxy, plastic, temporary container. Please don’t let this box sit too long in a hall closet. This is bad Feng Shui, among other things. Buy an urn. Do something with the remains. Move the old energy of loss out as soon as you are ready.

Cremated remains—by themselves when scattered—are not especially good for plants. There’s a product called Let Your Love Grow that, when mixed in, makes the ashes better for growing things.

Cremation takes up less land and might save some money, but here’s the downside with some crematories: it takes a lot of fossil fuel to heat that retort (or oven) to 1800 degrees F and keep it heated for two to three hours. Ask your crematory about how many cremations are performed in the average day since busy crematories are more fuel efficient (as the retort is not constantly being cooled and reheated). Also ask how up-to-date the equipment is (more modern the better). Then perhaps, if you are not satisfied with the answers you’re getting and your family is open to changing plans quite dramatically, consider the new love of my life (sorry Steve)–green burial. Pine box. Or simple shroud. Drive out of the city and convene in a green cemetery. Let your loved one descend into the soil ASAP. This is the way our teachers, Jews and Muslims, have done it all along. And it’s something I’ll post more about later.

Good Irish Funeral Music: “Be Thou My Vision”

I sat up until two forty a.m. this St. Patrick’s Day morn, seeking to find the best in Irish funeral music, but twice the song I thought I’d feature proved to be Scottish.

Irish village funeral

Irish village funeral

This was the case with “The Parting Glass” and “Flowers of the Forest,” both amazing songs to absorb in sad times.

I’ll leave you with “Be Thou My Vision,” a favorite in many churches, said to be adapted from a sixth century Irish monastic text and merged with an Irish folk melody called “Slane” much more recently. I like the following three versions of “Be Thou My Vision” for funeral centering and settling, maybe to be played before the service actually starts. Listen to it this way on piano and cello, and this way, as sung by folk singer Andy Hull. Want it to reverberate throughout the sanctuary? Listen to this interpretation through four-part harmonized flutes. Gorgeous. Have a blessed and safe St. Patrick’s Day, and welcome to the many new readers brought to me by the write-up in the NYTimes. Post a comment if you know of an Irish funeral song I’ve missed.

I know, I know. “Danny Boy” of course, but unless the deceased really was an Irish man named Danny, haven’t we heard that one enough?

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my Wisdom, and thou my true Word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Last Woolen Testament

images-6In 1667, British wool manufacturers were so fearful of the popularity of imported linen that they pushed Parliament for a law requiring every deceased person to be buried in a woolen shroud. Common folk complied with these strict requirements for more than seventy years. Perhaps it seemed like a cozy deal. Who doesn’t like a soft wool blanket? Capitalizing upon the well-publicized natural burial movement in England today, the Hainsworth Company, most famous for dressing Buckingham Palace guards, decided to sell people on the idea of wool burial again. images-5This handsome, biodegradable wool casket with jute handles is fortified with recycled cardboard and can support several hundred pounds. When you see it in person, as I did at the ICCFA convention, you long to crawl into it. (Of course I was tired, since the exposition hall was enormous.) Choose chocolate brown or a eggshell ivory. Casket retail price would be approximately $2400. Hainsworth makes pet caskets and lovely woolen boxes for cremated remains. Ask your funeral director about these products all available through Elliot Urn & Supply.woolen-casket-3_1296065546

Marvin Hamlisch’s “Memories” Magnified Six Hundred Times

Have you ever said to yourself, “If I hear the Marvin Hamlisch song ‘The Way We Were’ one more time, I think I’m gonna die?” The ballad seems haunted by all those “memories” it addresses!

Well, when the prolific Mr. Hamlisch did die in August 2012, funeral planners must have sensed that “The Way We Were” had run its last laps. So they gave Barbra Streisand a break, and assigned the song to a chorus of 600 volunteers. Brilliant. Here’s how the choral version of “The Way We Were” sounded at Hamlisch’s funeral at Congregation Emanu-El in New York. Much enlarged and pretty good, I think.

The Case for Hiring a Professional Funeral Photographer

Photo by Duane Knight

Photo by Duane Knight

When funeral photographer Duane Knight attended the wake of a childhood friend last December, he was relieved to see a man there taking photographs. But when Knight later learned that the photographer was the father of the deceased, he was devastated. “Oh, I felt so sad that he was taking the photos instead of just being present at his own daughter’s funeral.” Knight believes as a matter of principle that every end-of-life service should be photographed by an empathic but distanced professional with the eye of a photo journalist. If we employ such people to shoot weddings, why not funerals?

Photo by Duane Knight

Photo by Duane Knight

Yes, immediate family members may be crying and not looking their best, but Knight isn’t interested in capturing images of their faces in that moment. It’s everybody else there in attendance–friends from the office, relatives who’ve traveled long distances–and all the small loving gestures and tender moments going unnoticed that should be documented, he says. “A good funeral photographer has to learn to be invisible. You have to know where to stand. You can’t use a flash. It’s a very delicate thing.” Two to three weeks later, Knight presents the family with an 8X8″ book of photos he has created. “They look at it and thank me through their tears,” Knight says. “I give them a healing record they can keep and browse through forever.”

As a freelancer photographer for “Gospel Today” magazine, Knight photographed the funerals of numerous famous gospel singers including Bishops Walter Hawkins and G.E. Patterson. Upon taking some particularly excellent photos of his own uncle’s funeral in 2008 and turning them into a book, it occurred to Knight that he had a pretty good business concept. Thus, the Brooklyn-based firm Between-the-Dash Photography was born. Knight has package rates; coverage of a simple wake or viewing starts at $750. For more information, write betweenthedashphotography@gmail.com.

Photo by Duane Knight

Photo by Duane Knight


Funeral and post-mordem photos
were vitally important to the American grieving process from around 1840 through the Victorian period until the late 1920s. Knight strongly feels he is modernizing a tradition that deserves greater respect. Let me know how you feel about this, and what your experiences with funeral photography have been.
Photo by Duane Knight

Photo by Duane Knight

The Walk Out

bfe03Mourners generally struggle to disengage and leave the cemetery after a graveside service. As a funeral director, I too labor to tie everything up. Last week, a wonderful rabbi introduced me to a graveside service conclusion ritual, common to Jewish funerals, that can wrap up any graveside gathering. At the end of the readings, prayers, or final remarks, when soil has been shoveled a little, all the way, or not, friends and more distant family can be asked to line themselves up in two rows extending from the graveside to the road where the cars usually are. It’s the same sort of double line with long aisle down the middle used when wedding guests throw rice at the bride and groom, only in this case, it’s the chief mourners who walk down the friend-lined path, looking tearfully into the loving gaze of what is now a support system, their funeral witnesses or pillars, reliable comrades shouldering the grief. When the immediate family reaches the lower end of the line, the folks at the top loop down through the aisle they created. Soon, everyone is where they need to be–on the way out of the cemetery–feeling perhaps less empty and less sad than they did coming in.

An Unforgettable Home Funeral

1947397_607967775963306_499716301_nLos Angeles certified death midwife Olivia Bareham of Sacred Crossings gives grieving families the necessary support to conduct funerals and vigils in their living rooms, just as they were held a century ago. Yes, that’s right. The deceased never “steps foot” in a funeral home prep room or chapel, and has either died at home or been carefully conveyed there from hospice or hospital. Home vigils can last from just a few hours to several days. The deceased is generally placed on a massage table or bed (decorated with colorful fabrics) or even a hand-decorated cremation casket, and dry ice is sometimes used to keep the body cool.

Bareham is a former board member of the National Home Funeral Alliance, a group with which I am also affiliated. She and other guides in almost every state now are reviving the old-fashioned wake, home vigil or viewing thought by many to endow death–be it sudden or expected– with greater meaning. You see, when death is brought into a residence, the home becomes a memorable venue for this highly sacred undertaking, a savoring of liminal time and space. Wakes like this are slower paced and highly participatory with family members bathing and dressing the deceased, annointing the body with fragrant essential oils, then sitting with the dead all day or night, witnessing, comforting and grieving in a waving natural rhythm until the vigil concludes.

When baby Darrius was born still, Sacred Crossings helped the family bring him home for a vigil and celebration of his ‘life in the womb’ with a loving community of friends and relations. His mother Emma later said “It helped me so much to be able to hold and bathe and dress my baby and show him to all the wonderful people who were looking forward to meeting him. It helped me to come back to reality after a very bad dream.”

Words cannot convey the beauty of these funerals, so I best be quiet for a moment and let you watch. I have to warn you, however, that this little video may well stir strong emotion and probably should not be viewed by anyone who has been close to an infant death recently.

Bareham was trained by renowned home funeral guide Jerrigrace Lyons, friend, mentor and loving sister of anyone engaged in this beautiful work. I will complete Lyons’ Level III this September and bring these perfectly legal home funerals to New York. (Video courtesy of Sacred Crossings.)

Not Every Ex-Wife Gets to Speak…

Here’s Cher’s heartfelt eulogy for Sonny Bono, delivered at his 1998 funeral. The short speech more than meets the first, most important requirement of a good eulogy in that it’s totally selfless, delivered without ego. She’s crying throughout, but her stories are funny, endearing and memorable. Her only flub is in calling her own eulogy “stupid,” when it’s quite brilliant, not stupid at all.

Good Funeral Music: “O God of Loveliness”

“O God of Loveliness” is a colossal hymn of undivided love and devotion. At a funeral, it’s a knock-out when the casket’s on the move. Listen to it below, as sung by a small chorus, to perceive how it might sound in the sanctuary, and here it is, exquisitely employed, at minute 1:50 in this video of John F. Kennedy’s funeral, where it follows the presentation of the casket and a stirring version of “Hail to the Chief.”

O God of loveliness, 0 Lord of heaven above,
How worthy to possess my heart’s devoted love.
So sweet thy countenance, so gracious to behold
That one, one only glance to me were bliss untold.

Thou art blest Three in One, yet undivided still,
Thou art the One alone, whose love my heart can fill.
The heavens and earth below were fashioned by thy Word,
How amiable art Thou, my ever dearest Lord.

To think Thou art my God,–O thought forever blest!
My heart has overflowed with joy within my breast.
My soul so full of bliss, is plunged as in a sea,
Deep in the sweet abyss of holy charity.

O loveliness supreme, and Beauty infinite,
O ever flowing Stream and Ocean of delight,
O Life by which I live, My truest Life above,
To Thee alone I give my undivided love.

Flowers That Communicate

I must share this photograph of a casket spray originally published on the British Good Funeral Guide website.

Goodfuneralguide.co.uk

From the lively website goodfuneralguide.co.uk

The deceased woman being buried loved to knit, so the clever floral designer worked balls of yarn and knitting needles into the colorful arrangement.

Lesson learned: It’s okay to offer ideas to florists, then ask them to think.

Trinkets and Cookbooks Can Be Featured at the Funeral

-11People who come to a funeral love to be offered something small and sentimental like a carefully selected household object that once belonged to the deceased. This is comforting. I recently met a woman who set up a long table at her church and put out a sign encouraging funeral attendees to take home a single porcelain figurine or cookbook (the ones family members had already decided they didn’t want). This was a huge hit (admittedly harder to pull off if the funeral draws more than sixty people). Weeks later, folks were still talking about how good it felt to have a reminder of the deceased and a token of the family’s generousity and sweetness.

Good Funeral Music: Tchaikovsky’s “Andante Cantabile”

Chamber music at the beginning of a funeral or memorial service doesn’t get any better than this: Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile movement from the String Quartet #1 in D Major, Opus 11. “Play this at my funeral,” I always say to my husband. Nothing recorded is as successful at capturing life’s sweetness, the delicacy of our attachments to one another. The piece opens the doors of the heart, exposing its protected corridors. Can’t fail. It’s exquisite. Apparently, Tchaikovsky overheard the sorrowful folk melody being whistled by a house painter at his sister’s home in Kamenka, Russia. When performed for Leo Tolstoy, the mighty, bearded author is said to have wept like a baby. Thanks to savvy reader Susannah Brooks who suggested I also post Bobby McFerrin’s interpretation, which stirs the heart and imagination.

A Fitting Frame for the Humble Prayer Card

Prayer Card Keepsake Booklet

Prayer Card Keepsake Booklet

Of all the gorgeous paper products developed by Forget-Me-Not Memorials, I’ve used the “in memoriam” card holders the most. I give them to my prayer-card-using families as gifts, and they always express their gratitude and delight, asking for more every time (usually to mail to relatives unable to attend services).

In truth, I never understood how vitally important ordinary prayer cards were to some people (Roman Catholics in particular). Prayer cards assume the role of the memorial gift to those in attentance, something small to take home, prop up in the kitchen window sill as a reminder of the person no longer with us. I have started to suggest memorial cards to those who’ve never heard of them since the cards need not be religious, can have a nature scene on them with name, birth/death dates and poem on flip side. The prayer card keepsake booklet shown here ties in a brown silk bow, and keeps the card protected for years. They are inexpensive enough to be given to everyone at the funeral, if desired.

A History of the Holy Card

A history of the holy card is available on Amazon.com


Each card holder measures 4 3/4” x 3“ and is sold for $50 retail in a storage box that holds 25.
Closed card holder on top of its box holding 25

Closed card holder on top of its keepsake box

Good Funeral Music: “Morning Has Broken”

As a director in arrangements conference, I often ask the question “Who in the family can sing?” You don’t have to hire a soloist (though this is certainly a nice idea). You don’t need to cue recorded music from your brother-in-law’s iPhone into the funeral home’s sound system. Members of your family can improve the funeral by singing as simply and as well as they can. In fact, an amateur’s tentative, imperfect voice is often more powerful at the funeral than any professional’s.

Have a listen to this version of “Morning Has Broken” (an old English hymn popularized by Cat Stevens) that I found on YouTube.com. Your family’s version could convey, at the close of the funeral, that a new day is dawning, and that there is clearly, always hope.

Remember that young people want to contribute; they mourn too. Help them find their feelings by including them in the funeral planning and singing, thereby giving them their voice. (Good job, Becky Osmond.)

A Mentor’s Farewell to Marilyn

Monroe's crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery

Monroe’s crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery

Our study of the eulogy brings us to this short piece of perfection delivered by Actors Studio director Lee Strasberg at actress Marilyn Monroe’s funeral in 1962. We are lucky to be able to hear a full recording here.

Strasberg barely got through his own closing paragraphs, which makes them all the more moving. Here’s what he said:
…I am truly sorry that the public who loved her did not have the opportunity to see her as we did, in many of the roles that foreshadowed what she would have become. Without a doubt she would have been one of the really great actresses of the stage. Now it is at an end. I hope her death will stir sympathy and understanding for a sensitive artist and a woman who brought joy and pleasure to the world.

I cannot say goodbye. Marilyn never liked goodbyes, but in the peculiar way she had of turning things around so that they faced reality – I will say au revoire. For the country to which she has gone, we must all someday visit.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
was played as well as a portion of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (scroll to minute seven of this link to hear it). Tchaikovsky’s melodic lament (said to be be a cry of love for his nephew back in 1893) seems an appropriate farewell to a screen goddess, and had been repositioned as a doo-wop tune in 1960 by Little Anthony and the Imperials, placing it in the social atmosphere at the time of Monroe’s death. She was viewable in an open heavy bronze casket, wearing this green Pucci dress, hands grasping pink tea roses from Joe Dimaggio who planned the entire service and didn’t allow any Hollywood stars or hangers-on to attend.

Lutheran Pastor Recalls Productive Life Stolen by Mental Illness

Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini


A Funeral Mass and Service of Holy Communion was held in Brooklyn’s St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church two days before Christmas for the brilliant, NYC-born writer Ned Vizzini, who tragically leapt to his death last Thursday at age 32. Foremost on the mind of every speaker at the gorgeous tribute attended by perhaps four hundred people was the welfare of Vizzini’s devoted teenaged readers, many of whom, like Vizzini himself, have struggled or been hospitalized with depression and mental illness. Reverend David Parsons was quick to clarify: “Ned didn’t commit suicide. Mental illness took his life from him.”

Vizzini’s sister emphasized that it was important to Ned that his fans never lose hope. Ned was able to turn “demons into muses,” she said, when he wrote the critically-acclaimed books “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” and “Be More Chill.” She praised him for his humor and his “emotional honesty.” Vizzini’s brother told charming, funny stories of childhood, described how Vizzini had been loving his Los Angeles screenwriting job, and expressed gratitude for his sibling’s most important legacies–his ability to write about depression with grace and humor, and a toddler son, who didn’t yet know what death was (which is as it should be, he said). Vizzini’s god-mother also spoke, saying “Life is way bigger than any story we can tell about it.” Most moving perhaps was the reading of the following passage (Matthew 6:25-29), which Vizzini once stated was of comfort to him in hard times.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

Also read: This passage from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Psalm 77 and Romans 8:31-35, 37-39.
Hymns selected: Shall We Gather at the River? and Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.

Good Funeral Music: “Pie Jesus”

The “Pie Jesus” section of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem is gorgeously sorrowful and a lovely selection for large church funerals. Requirements: one church organist with one heck of a soprano or a nice church sound system upon which to play a fine recording like this one.


Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.
Dona eis requiem.
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Translation:
Merciful Lord Jesu,
Give them rest.
Give them rest.
Merciful Lord Jesu,
Give them everlasting rest.

Good Funeral Music: “What’ll I Do?”

The funeral for highly-prized, much-beloved journalist Peter Kaplan was held Tuesday in Larchmont, New York. “For a master of words, well crafted and conceived, for the artful literary visionary, the ultimate life editor, what else do we owe but words?” said presiding Rabbi Jeffrey J. Sirkman. Crisp, artful eulogies were delivered, then Kaplan’s daughter Caroline sang Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” which she and her dad had previously agreed was the “best song ever.” Here’s Julie London’s rendition of “What’ll I Do?” (sans video). Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole also recorded it. Harry Nilsson, and Rufus Wainwright did well by it too.

Kaplan's favorite park, where mourners walked  after the service.

Kaplan’s favorite park, where mourners walked after the memorable service.


What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do?
When I am wond’ring who
Is kissing you
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

Sacred Music Composer John Tavener Is Dead

The greatest contemporary composer of sacred music Sir John Tavener died in Southern England yesterday, November 12th. He was best known in the US for writing “Song for Athene,” which was played as a recessional at Lady Diana’s 1997 funeral (see video above). Tavener had amicable relationships with each one of the Beatles and recorded for Apple Records. “The Protecting Veil” for cello and orchestra ranks among his most sorrowful but hope-filled pieces, and is music you might recommend to someone in a state of grief. A student of sacred scales, world religious chants, choral and organ music, Tavener spent many years in delicate health, which he said assisted his creative processs. “I live with the thought of death very much in front of me, and this may well have a bearing on the way I think generally.” Here’s another nice quote from today’s NYTimes obit: “I used to fret over manuscripts and think, ‘What am I going to do?’ Now it’s a question of going very quiet, emptying my mind of preconceived ideas and seeing what happens.” Here’s a lovely, short documentary on this most visionary composer and artist.

Wild for Wicker

Willow This casket from Elliott Urn and Passages International got me excited about entering funeral service. When I saw it on Mark Harris’s excellent green burial blog, I was so touched by its gorgeousness. To die for! It can be decorated by the family at the wake or viewing with fresh or dried flowers. The actress Lynn Redgrave was buried in one. With delivery, the six-foot size retails for about $1900. Numerous smaller sizes are available. Alas, nearly all wicker caskets sold in the U.S. today are made in China. I’m hoping it won’t take long to locate or cultivate a domestic manufacturer.

New half-couch seagrass also available

New half-couch seagrass also available from Passages International

Bagpipes, Brahms, and a Single Poem Complete Heaney Funeral

images-3

The funeral for Nobel poet laureate Seamus Heaney was held Tuesday at Dublin’s Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart. Wildly affectionate eulogies were delivered (one referring to Heaney’s fondness for stating “Blessed are the pacemakers” after he received the device). Heaney’s friend and recording collaborator Liam O’Flynn then played Port na bPucai on the bagpipes. The only poem read at the service, written by the deceased, was The Given Note. The gathering concluded with Johannes Braham’s famous lullaby on cello as Heaney’s two sons and others shouldered the wood and brass casket. Here’s the whole report from Associated Press; thanks to Koshin Paley Ellison for alerting me to it. Heaney’s last words on his deathbed, written to his wife in Latin were “Noli timere” or “Do not be afraid.”

Ties That Bind: How to Make a Memorial Out of Silk from His Closet

Send Jo his ties, and she'll make you the world's most fashionable memorial gift.

Deceased people’s clothes are often donated to Good Will or Salvation Army, and that’s great, of course, but surfing Etsy.com today provided me with fresh thinking on how to reuse the best of the fabrics in the closet. You can cut them up and make a patchwork quilt or afghan throw, or as shown in the photos here, you can turn bits of clothing or a deceased man’s silky neckties into a scarf that will keep his energy close to you for as long as you want.

His ties can be your scarf

Adjust the scarf with elongated piece, then tuck in.


JoMama’s resident designer will take whatever you send her to the “next level” by merging an urge to recycle with her inner-fashionista. She makes eco-cool wearable memorial art, and her prices are reasonable. Then when friends ask where the heck you got your gorgeous cravat, the fact that you’re wearing a vibrant memorial keeps the deceased’s memory available in a nice way. We need to think up new ways to memorialize people. This is one small, sweet solution, but a nifty one, I think.

Necktie scarf, $58

Necktie scarf, $58

JoMama also crafts jewelry and accessories out of salvaged buttons or kitchen pieces, turning family heirlooms into wearable memories. Check out her Etsy.com pages.

Good Funeral Music: “Bring Him Home”

James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini

Tenor Jesse Blumberg sang “Bring Him Home” at actor James Gandolfini’s funeral mass in Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s an especially apt musical choice since the beloved actor’s repatriation to the states from Italy last week was expedited thanks to phone calls from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Americans just wanted their big guy back.

Here is Alfie Boe’s sweet rendition of “Bring Him Home.”
And here’s the same song on piano and cello alone, once again revealing that old standbys are great without the words a lot of the time.

Peace be with you Mr. Gandolfini, a most talented, intuitive and generous man. Here’s HBO’s video tribute to him.

Good Funeral Music: “Smile When Your Heart is Aching”

A young lady sang “Smile” for her deceased grandfather at our funeral home yesterday and people in attendance felt their hearts dissolve. Folks buried their heads in their hands. It was gorgeous.

“Smile” was written in 1936 by Charlie Chaplin, of all people, and the melody was used in the film “Modern Times.” Nat King Cole and Judy Garland recorded it in the 1950s when lyrics were added. There are now two Garland versions online–she sang it differently every time–but what follows is the best to study (despite poor video quality) for funeral use.

“Smile” was Michael Jackson’s favorite song–or so said Brooke Shields in her eulogy to him–and his life’s story (like Judy’s) imbued his recording with extra meaning. Here’s brother Jermaine singing it with great emotion at Jackson’s funeral July 7, 2009, Staples Center, Los Angeles.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by…

If you smile
With your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just…

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just…

Smile.

Female Pall Bearers Carry Father Greeley

Greeley's simple casket leaves church on Chicago's South side yesterday.

Greeley’s simple casket leaves church on Chicago’s South side yesterday.


Mass was celebrated yesterday for sociologist and Roman Catholic best-selling author Father Andrew Greeley at the Chicago church where Greeley had been a parish priest almost sixty years ago.

It’s not surprising that a strong-willed man who wrote about Jesus’s relationships with women, who also supported the ordination of women, and was survived by five nieces and one sister, would have female pall bearers (four of the six), but it is unusual, and a good illustration of how small gestures at the funeral can support the deceased’s point-of-view, paying homage in a big way.

Good Funeral Music: “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” would work beautifully within the middle third of a funeral or memorial service, especially when the deceased was a child of the Sixties. Lots of artists have recorded it with great success–including the song’s author Sandy Denny herself. Nina Simone’s version (above) beats out Judy Collins’ in my humble opinion. Click here to hear male vocalist Jim Carroll give the song a different slant.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go
But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go
So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

–by Sandy Denny

Good Funeral Music: “It is Well With My Soul”

Horatio Spafford

Horatio Spafford

Obviously, the funeral for an elderly person who lived a productive life is different from the service for a young one taken too early, but when a period of suffering was endured before death, there is often, as you know, a sense of relief at the service that can be supported with the right music.

“It is Well With My Soul” is one Christian hymn that expresses faith in God and peace with loss. It’s a predictably terrific number for the funerals or memorial services of people who were ready to die.

This blockbuster, which you’ll probably recognize as soon as you hear it, was written in the late 1800s by a man named Horatio Spafford who’d lost almost everything dear to him. The melody is by Philip Bliss, and said to be his best. I feel that hymns like this one can be adapted and edited to fit the beliefs of any family.

So I spent a good three hours listening to dozens of versions of “It is Well With My Soul” (also called “When Peace Like a River”) on YouTube.com. From Mahalia Jackson to Alison Krauss, I enjoyed every moment, and will present here versions helpful to you in thinking out how many different ways this historic hymn could be performed in your locality. Here is a straightforward version sung by Jodi Campbell with scrolling lyrics, good for starters. Here’s the excellent B4 Quartet’s interpretation. Ashley Carver performed “It is Well” on the violin at the graveside service for Rebecca Dumapias Paular as pall bearers approached the grave with the casket. Want it big? Here’s the Chancel Choir and the Sanctuary Orchestra. And finally, here is my pick for the funeral music connoisseur: Marion Williams singing “It is Well With My Soul” in 1962 at the first gospel concert ever performed in the Netherlands. With your own local talent, you’ll come up with your own transporting version.

Opening lyrics:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Scenes from an Opry Homegoing

Here’s singer Travis Tritt’s poised retelling of a conversation he had with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson on the day Tammy Wynette died, which he shared at last week’s Grand Ole Opry funeral for country legend George Jones (with casket set right in front of the stage). Well-paced delivery, sweet message. Have a listen. And yes, that’s Laura Bush seated next to Jones’ beloved wife Nancy who, like Mrs. Bush, got her George off the bottle.

Joy in the Mourning

You’ve heard about the marching Dixieland Jazz funeral that starts with a walking, mournful dirge down New Orleans’ streets and concludes with a jubilant interpretation of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” or “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This funeral for New Orleans tuba player Kerwin James in 2007 has an elevated casket swing and dance sequence that would give any New York funeral director I know a massive heart attack. Everyone up here thinks “liability.” You’ll be touched by it though. Here also, for your betterment and listening pleasure, is a full, fabulous CD of funeral Dixieland jazz.

Today “Taps” is Mostly Lip-Synced

images-7Here’s a wonderful history of the playing of “Taps,” tracing its roots way back to before 1862 when it became the official final bugle call of every active-duty soldier’s evening. All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh. At most American military cemeteries today, where scores of vets might be buried daily, “Taps” is–believe it or not–automated. Yes, it is faked by a uniformed player holding the bugle to his lips (something akin to Beyonce’s excellent lip-syncing at Barack Obama’s second inauguration.). This isn’t as awful or as disappointing as it would seem. The sound quality is decent, and most of the mourners are staring at the flag-drapped casket anyway as they ponder this awe-inspiring soldier’s lullaby, now recognized as every American soldier’s ballad all around the world.

One tip: Ask all elderly vets in your family where their military discharge papers are because you don’t want to be searching through file cabinets in the hours after their deaths, or having phone conversations with military cemetery personnel that sound like this: “I don’t know his entry date. I’ve looked everywhere. He served in Korea…” Even if you consider yourself a non-militaristic sort of person, do not deprive yourself and your family of the beauty and the substantial savings of military burial. Here’s the official explanation of which vets are eligible. Those who have served since 1980, must have stayed in for at least 24 continuous months.

The Passion of a Musical Farewell

Be kind to musicians. Or just be one. Because musicians can alter their surroundings, and turn pain into inspiration. They also tend to have the most inspired funerals. When Irish music pianist and retired IBM executive Felix Dolan, the father of my friend Phelim, died April 9, 2013, in Scarsdale, NY, at the age of 76, his friends in the Irish music world lamented his passing, and articulated his contributions–online at first, and then at the funeral, two days later, as you’ll see here. As more musicians strode to the front of the sanctuary, tugged off their coats, and sat down to play, the monsignor whispered to the altar boys, “This is one funeral you’ll never forget.”

Fluttering Petals Graveside

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I tried to dry some rose petals recently on my own and they curled up into almost nothing. Clearly, freeze drying is the way to go, but who’s going to do all that in the days prior to a funeral service? FlyBoyNaturals.com supplies an assortment of lilac, peony, hydrangea, and rose petals, all freeze-dried to hold their vivid hues. Sixteen to thirty-four gorgeous tosses for $49.99. They flutter nicely, with a little spin to them, at the grave on a casket, or your funeral director can help you incorporate them into a seaside ash scattering ceremony.

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