RIP Queens DA Richard Brown

Inside The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, it was SRO as hundreds of people, including elected officials, judges, prosecutors, court staff, and New Yorkers, attended the funeral service for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. In his lengthy career, the highly respected district attorney successfully prosecuted many cases. The last one was the Karina Vetrano case.

The eulogies, especially those by Brown’s son-in-law, and a lawyer who was a longtime friend and protege of Brown’s, were alternately touching, informative, and humorous. His casket was shouldered out the door of the temple by the NYPD Ceremonial Unit, a helicopter flyover above, to a throng of mourners and dignitaries, including Mayor DeBlasio, Mayor Dinkins, Police Commissioner O’Neill, and acting Queens DA Jack Ryan.

As I always say #funeralsmatter.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is it like to work as a funeral director?

 It would take days for me to fully explain the intricacies of this career. Suffice it to say, this work is not for everyone. It takes enormous commitment and dedication. The hours are long and –contrary to public opinion — the pay is low.

Do you actually embalm bodies?

I have embalmed hundreds, if not thousands of bodies over the course of my career. At present, I primarily arrange funerals with families and guide them through the funeral process. I am there for them throughout the visitation period and with them the day of the funeral. However, I was called out of embalming retirement two years ago, by special request. That was quite a story which I will eventually write about.

Do you ever get squeamish?

Not at this stage in my career. I’ve just about seen it all.

What do you think is the best way to help people at the time of mourning? How can one best help them through it?

Listen to them. I’ve learned that people who have just lost a loved one need to talk about that person and what he or she meant. They often talk about the last experience they had together, as well as the details of the death and sometimes the illness that preceded it. They often tell these stories again and again to work through and try to make sense of what has happened. As funeral directors and friends, we need to be an available and caring ear.

How did you get into the profession? What attracted you?

By accident! I took a job in a funeral home the summer between high school and college. Working there piqued my interest. My plan was to get licensed as a funeral director, but continue with my dream of becoming a writer.

How did you make the transition from funeral director to writer?

As I mentioned, my life plan was always to be a writer and that’s what I was educated for. Still, it was my work as a funeral director and within the industry that gave me so much to write about.

Would you recommend this field to other women?

In good conscience, I would not. That said, I firmly believe that if someone is determined to forge a career in a certain field (even one in which job opportunities are extremely limited), they will find a way.

How can those interested in a career as a funeral director learn more about what to expect?

 In addition to reading my memoir –Grave Undertakings– they can talk to established funeral directors in their area about the job market and what to expect.

Should they also contact the mortuary schools?

 Only to find out the cost of tuition! The schools need to turn a profit in order to operate and so may paint a rosier picture of funeral service than what exists.

“The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician”

This recent piece on Ranker, titled “The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician” was called to my attention. Apart from the redundant terms funeral director/mortician (an antiquated term, as well), the author is on the mark in titling item #1 It’s Hard to Break Into the Death Industry. A couple of my colleagues came up with a list of the closed funeral home sin the NYC/LI area, and there were many. I feel for the young people who spend a considerable sum of money to attend mortuary school, only to learn that jobs are few and far between.

A Funeral for the Ages

I was honored and humbled to be among the thousands of mourners inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning for the funeral Mass of Det. Steven McDonald. The police office, who was paralyzed in a 1986 shooting became a symbol of forgiveness and compassion, inspiring so many.

Joan Rivers’ Memorial Service

Outside Fifth Avenue’s Temple Emanu-El after the memorial service for Joan Rivers. I was there to cover it for Kates-Boylston’s “Funerals of the Famous” series. The experience was rather surreal as we were sitting in the second row, right behind Howard Stern and his beautiful wife, Beth. Howard Stern is not listed on the program, but was a surprise speaker. Donald Trump, along with his wife and family, was three rows behind us. Saw Barbara Walters, who we did not recognize at first. Mostly because she is so tiny in person. She actually came over and asked Tony a question (he looked like part of the security detail in his sunglasses).

I had the privilege of meeting Joan Rivers at a party, in 1988. Five years later, she invited me on her daytime talk show. I noted this in “Grave Undertakings” in a passage which reads in part: “…I received a call from the producers of Joan Rivers’ talk show. I thought it would be a thrill trading quips with the famous comedienne. She was my favorite.” On the show she asked me about my work and, of course, invoked her special brand of humor. I could never have imagined back then that I would one day be attending her memorial service, let along writing about it.

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An Undying Passion

In the August issue of American Funeral Director, my article “An Undying Passion,” chronicles three women and their quest to find employment as funeral directors. Two career coaches weigh in, along with a profile of a fourth woman who has made a successful career for herself as a funeral director in a less traditional way. As the job market in funeral service gets increasingly tighter (how much tighter can it get!?), the timely tips and alternative suggestions may help others as they search for that elusive position of funeral director. These days, so many women seem to be seeking a career in funeral service, only to find out that the opportunities are quite limited.

Funerals Matter

The media is full of hype these days about the changing face of funeral service. While articles about green burials, home funerals or no funerals at all, proliferate, this is not the reality. Funerals matter and this book makes that case. A “must read” for anyone interested in a career as a funeral director. The author cites John F. Kennedy’s funeral, which –for those who remember or have seen the footage–spoke volumes about the need for ceremony. An article about this book appears in the March issue of American Funeral Director. Here’s a link to Amazon.

“I Know Everything About the Funeral Industry” said the novice.

This photo, and its blurb, sparked this blog post. These days, so many newcomers to the funeral industry have declared themselves “experts.” A troubling –and embarrassing development–to true, bonafide industry insiders. They will tell you that the traditional funeral is dead, if you will pardon the pun, and that “green” is the way to go. And some of the more extreme bloggers will even try to convince you that “death is cool” (Seriously!?) I am here to assure you that despite such postings, the traditional funeral –with its comforting rites and rituals–is alive and well.

New York City’s Preeminent Jewish Funeral Director

The March issue of American Funeral Director contains my long and eagerly-awaited profile of Charles S. Salomon. He is a most interesting person whose career as a funeral director has been one that most people only dream about. In his 50 years as a funeral director, he’s handled the funerals of many prominent New Yorkers including Leonard Bernstein, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jacob Javits, Marvin Hamlisch, Lee Strasberg, Jerry Ohrbach, Sol Hurok, General David Sarnoff, William Paley, restaurateur Peter Kriendler, the owner of Manhattan’s ’21’ and Edward I. Koch (my favorite funeral ever). Yet, what impressed me most was his humility and deep commitment to funeral service. He is the sort of director from which we all can learn and aspire to be like

Calvary Cemetery Profile

My profile of historic Calvary Cemetery in Queens County, NY –where folklore has it that 3 million people are buried–is the cover story for June’s American Cemetery. As a funeral director, the figure of 3 million did not sound right. The NY Diocese was happy to provide me with the more appropriate –and still substantial –number of 1.8 million interments. I must tell you, I shot this magnificent monument over and over ….and over during the course of a year, until we got a cover-worthy image.

Cruisin’ Brooklyn With Doris Amen

 

While in Brooklyn to meet up with my friend Doris (a media favorite) and attend the wake of an industry friend, we made an impromptu stop at Green-Wood. “You want to take a walk before we go to the wake?” she asked. “Sure, I have sneakers in my car!” I responded, always up for a walk in G-W. “You don’t need those. I walk in heels,” she said. And, so we did. After which Doris drove us to the wake in her hearse. “I can double park that way,” she explained. We were quite the sight as we made our way in the Brooklyn traffic congestion, arriving at the funeral home as we did. After we paid our respects and talked with some colleagues, I was given a spirited tour of Red Hook (still in the hearse). I must say, Doris makes even going to a wake quite an event!