What You Need to Know When Considering a Home Funeral

In 1911, when newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer died, he was waked in the library of his Manhattan home. The room was filled with floral tributes and the furniture arranged for the assembly of mourners. Throughout the morning, family, friends, and employees came to pay their respects to the journalistic icon who reposed in a flag-draped casket, clasping a copy of his newspaper in his right hand.

Home Funerals Never Went Away

At the turn of the century, home funerals like that of Pulitzer were the norm. The deceased was embalmed in bed, and the viewing generally took place in the home’s “parlor.” Funeral directors supplied chairs and funeral paraphernalia such as casket biers, lecterns, and casket facial lamps.

Lately, news reports have generated some buzz about the return of home funerals. In fact, they never went away. They remain a little-known option that, if certain conditions are met, can be an intimate way to hold a wake.

An Option During the Pandemic

During the height of the Covid pandemic in New York City (when wakes could not be held) funeral director Nicholas Cassese, of the Walsh & Cassese Funeral Home in Queens, turned to a home arrangement to help a local family.

When the Family Has the Space for It

They told Cassese that not having a visitation was out of the question. Their mom had been a popular woman, and her family and many friends wanted to say goodbye. The woman’s daughter asked Cassese if it were possible to have a visitation in her Connecticut home.

“They told me they had the property to do it,” said Cassese.

On the day of the visitation, Cassese arrived at the daughter’s Greenwich, Connecticut, home with his brother, Anthony, and son, Nicholas Jr., who work with him in the family business. Relatives of the deceased were waiting outside to greet the hearse and to help transfer the casket into the home.

The Family Took Care of the Details

The family had taken great pains to ready their home. In the foyer, a table held a register book and memorial cards. A family member remained there to greet visitors.

The casket was brought into the library of the elegant home where the visitation was to take place. Standing floral pieces flanked the casket, and vases filled with colorful arrangements adorned the tabletops. Chairs were spread out, and photo montages were displayed on easels; a grand piano graced one wall. Natural light streamed in through large picture windows.

Outside, the backyard had been readied for a dual purpose. On one side, chairs were arranged for a religious service; on the other, tables and chairs were set up for the luncheon to follow.

“All the details had been fully thought out by the family,” Cassese noted.

When the visitation ended, the casket was loaded into the hearse with help from family and friends. The final disposition would take place in the morning. As Cassese drove slowly away from the home, mourners walked behind, escorting the hearse to the main road.

“It all worked out nicely,” Cassese remembered with satisfaction.

When the Deceased Wanted a Home Funeral

Funeral director Thomas Boland, who runs the Thomas F. Boland Funeral Parlor in College Point, New York, has handled several home funerals. One family contacted Boland after three other funeral homes turned them down. The daughter of the deceased told Boland that her father had expressed a wish for a home funeral.

“She said she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”

Unlike the spacious area Cassese had to work with, Boland had to accommodate a home viewing in much smaller quarters. The deceased lived on the first floor of a two-family house, above ground level, and the only entryway was narrow.

An Unusual Arrangement

When Boland met with the family to make the funeral arrangements, he measured the doorway and immediately knew a standard-size casket would not fit. “I told them what caskets they could get,” he said. Still, even with a slimmer casket, the deceased and the casket would have to be brought in separately.

On the day of the visitation, Boland and his pallbearers carried the man’s body into the house on a stretcher, and then brought the casket through the door vertically. “The pallbearers did double duty,” he said.

Then they set up the folding chairs and prie-dieu they had brought from the funeral home for the two-day visitation. At night, when the visitation ended, Boland closed the casket, returning in the morning to reopen it.

It All Worked Out, Thanks to Good Planning

To prepare for any possible snag, Boland employed a technique known as “diamond lashing,” which would secure the deceased in the casket should the family insist he not be removed from the casket on the day of the funeral.

“I tied ropes inside in a strategic way on both sides under the mattress in the event we had to move the body inside the casket out of house,” he explained.

On the morning of the funeral, the family agreed that Boland and the pallbearers could remove the deceased and casket separately from the home. The deceased was taken to Boland’s funeral home, where he was placed back into the casket.

When Boland returned with the casketed remains, he lifted the lid in the back of the hearse for people to say their final goodbyes before the procession left for church.

“To give them peace of mind, I reopened the casket inside the back of the hearse so everyone could see to say their final goodbyes, and just so they knew it was really him in that casket,” said Boland.

Shortly after the funeral, the daughter of the deceased left Boland a five-star review on Google, writing in part “…he accomplished my dad’s last wish. I will always be grateful [to him] for making it possible.”

If You Are Thinking of Having a Home Funeral

  • First, and foremost, you will need to contact a funeral director. This is not a do-it-yourself project. There is paperwork to be done and permits to be filed.
  • While most localities permit home funerals, it may not be practical for apartment dwellers or those who live in a condo or co-op.
  • If you live in an urban area, consider where visitors will park.
  • Check to see if the doorway is wide enough to accommodate a casket.
  • Consider whether you will be comfortable in a room that once held a casket.
  • There is a cost savings in not having to pay the funeral home’s room rental charge, but you will have to pay for pallbearers and the use of equipment.
  • While some funeral homes claim to “specialize” in home funerals, the fact is funeral homes do not specialize in a particular service. If the first funeral home you contact declines, try another. Most funeral homes will be willing to arrange the service you want.

Originally published on October 13, 2021 https://sixtyandme.com/home-funerals/

12+ Things You Should Know About Planning a Memorial Service

Two summers ago, my cousin Elizabeth died. Her death was sudden and occurred less than two weeks after the death of her mother. But unlike her mother, who had a traditional funeral, Elizabeth’s wish was to be cremated and to have her cremated remains scattered. In the interim, her two sisters and I put together a memorial service to honor her memory.

Elizabeth’s Memorial Service

In increasing numbers, people are making the same choice: to have a service without the body present. So, on a sunny Saturday morning in early September, Elizabeth’s family and friends gathered at her local Catholic church on Long Island.

I placed the lilac urn that held her cremated remains on a small table in front of the altar along with a framed photo of her taken at a family party a few summers before. A vase, at the base of the table, contained a floral arrangement in shades of purple, a signature family color.

A table, in the rear of the church, held memorial cards, which bore a photo of a lighthouse, a favorite of Elizabeth’s, and a basket filled with packets of purple forget-me-not seeds. Each packet was imprinted with her name and a picture of the flowers, which were to be planted in her memory.

The table also contained a guest book for visitors to sign, and each person was given a program outlining the order of service for the Mass. Her sisters wore the beaded bracelets and necklaces Elizabeth had bought for them just weeks earlier to wear at their mother’s wake. Later, at lunch, her brother-in-law, a police chaplain, led us in prayer before offering a brief eulogy.

Elizabeth’s memorial service was intimate and, in the absence of a funeral, gave family and friends the opportunity to gather together and commemorate her life.

The New Trend: Memorial Services

The rising popularity of memorial services is driven, in part, by the increase in direct cremations, a mode of disposition with no accompanying rituals.

The Covid pandemic has also contributed to the increase. When Covid struck, many churches closed, making it impossible for families to have a funeral Mass for their loved one. Instead, they planned for a memorial Mass at a later date.

“A memorial service acts in the same capacity as a wake, bringing people together, but without the deceased present in their physical form,” says funeral director, Doris Amen, who owns the Jurek-Park Slope Funeral Home in Brooklyn, New York.

No Two Memorial Services Will Be the Same

Memorial services can be religious or non-religious. They can take place in a variety of venues: a funeral home, a house of worship, a park, a garden, or on a beach. They can be simple or elaborate.

Elaborate Memorial

One of the grandest memorial services Amen recalls is the one for the widow of a well-known artist. A few months after her death, a memorial service with the woman’s cremated remains took place at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on New York City’s Park Ave.

A reception followed the religious service on the outdoor terrace of the church, where waiters served cocktails and canapes. Everyone who attended received a print reproduction of one of the woman’s late husband’s nautical-themed paintings as a keepsake.

Amen later shipped the cremains of both the woman and her husband, who had died in 1999, to a cemetery in California for permanent placement.

Services Can Be Simpler

For more modest services, Amen offers her clientele the use of an urn, at no charge, to display the cremated remains. But whether they use hers or their own urn, people often dress it up with flowers.

That was the case for the memorial service of a local Brooklyn merchant. Amen displayed the cremated remains, surrounded by flowers, on a table in the meeting room of her funeral home. Guests dined on food catered by a local restaurant as they watched a video montage and shared reminiscences. Classical and big-band music, the man’s favorites, played in the background.

“It was a party. We had music. It was what the next of kin wanted,” said Amen. “They wanted to have a celebratory situation rather than an in memoriam. Every family is different.”

In fact, the man’s memorial card reflected his party spirit. It depicted him with a broad smile, one hand raising a glass of wine in a toast.

“So many people they did not expect showed up that the family ran out of food,” Amen, who often goes above and beyond for her clientele, said. “In 45 minutes, I made them a full tray of baked ziti.”

Food is often a big part of a memorial service.

“Some people go to restaurants with the ashes. We had one in a local restaurant at which the ashes were on a separate table, with a place setting. We even put a place card for that person,” Amen said.

Memorial Services Can Have All the Elements of a Funeral

In planning a memorial service, families will often draw on the traditions of funerals.

Obituaries can generally be placed in a community newspaper free of charge. They can also be posted on the funeral home’s website or social media sites like Facebook or Instagram.

Memorial prayer cards are often used. They will have a photo on the frontand aprayer, poem, or quote, on the back. The image can be religious or secular, depicting a nature scene, artwork, or a favorite photo of the deceased.

A religious service can be held. Sometimes it will be in a house of worship, or a member of the clergy can officiate at the site of the memorial service. Families should choose meaningful hymns and readings.

Flowers also can be a big part. A vase of flowers in the favorite colors of the deceased lends beauty to the setting. Peace lilies or orchids are popular options.

Photos and videos are important as well. Whether framed, poster-sized, montages, or in the form of slideshows and video tributes, pictures are visual remembrances of one’s life.

Funeral programs will often go beyond outlining the service and include biographical information, photos, poems, and favorite sayings.

Make It Meaningful and Unique

Families shouldn’t forget the small things that can make a difference in a memorial service.

Send invitations through the mail, email, or through social media platforms.

Ask everyone to wear the deceased’s favorite color, even if only as an accent piece.

Play the deceased’s favorite music. In addition to CDs and steaming, perhaps there’s a singer in the group who can offer a special song.

Serve the deceased’s favorite food and/or drink.

Set up a memory table on which to showcase favorite books, crafts, hobbies, sports memorabilia, and more.

Give guests a memento to take home – a charm, a favorite recipe card, a memorial stone, the sky’s the limit. If the deceased was a collector, consider giving guests a piece from that collection.

This article was originally published by sixtyandme.com/memorial-service/on March 22, 2021.

What To Know About Choosing a Cemetery

Recently, I arranged a funeral for the husband of a woman named Arlene. The couple did not have cemetery property. Nor had they discussed where they wanted to be buried.

They were, in other words, like too many others who haven’t thought about the important decision of a final resting place.

Arlene’s husband, Dan, was an honorably discharged veteran, so he was eligible to be buried in a Veteran cemetery.

Calverton National Cemetery, on New York’s Long Island, was their closest option, but it was a good distance from her home, and Arlene feared she would not be able to visit as often as she liked.

Because the couple’s Catholic faith was also an important consideration, Arlene was torn over where to bury her beloved husband. So, she checked out two Catholic cemeteries on Long Island, ultimately deciding upon St. Charles Cemetery in the town of Farmingdale. Dan was buried there with military honors.

Arlene’s struggle is not uncommon. Choosing a final resting place is not an easy decision, especially if the deceased did not express a preference. Bear in mind, it is a choice that will often serve generations to come, for cemeteries are not just places to bury the dead, they are also repositories of a family’s history.

For Arlene, the Catholic connection mattered, as it does for many others. “We are a Catholic cemetery for a reason. It is basically sacred land, and an extension of our church and our faith,” explained Carlos Balcarcel, who is the sales marketing manager for the Brooklyn Diocese in New York.

He added, “When you come to a Catholic cemetery, you see the expressions of your faith. You see the religious significance. You see the areas of repose that are specifically set apart for you to not only grieve, but to trust in your faith.”

Types of Cemeteries

Despite the high rate of cremation these days, in-ground burial and entombment continue to be much-requested modes of final disposition. That may reflect our long-held cultural beliefs about the nature of death. The word “cemetery” is derived from Greek and means sleeping place.

When it comes to selecting a cemetery, there are a number of choices. The differences are important – and often lost on people who wait until the last minute to make a decision.

Veteran Cemeteries

Veteran cemeteries provide a free grave and monument to honorably discharged veterans, their spouse, and dependent minor children. For cremated remains, they provide a niche.

Religious and Churchyard Cemeteries

Jewish Cemeteries, like their Catholic counterparts, are sacred grounds on which religious customs and practices are observed. Churchyards, which are relatively small in size, are usually reserved for members of the congregation, but not always.

Green Cemeteries

A few opt for what’s known as a green or natural “cemetery.” The grounds prohibit embalmed bodies, vaults, and traditional headstones, and require a biodegradable casket.

Traditional Cemeteries

Also known as Rural or Garden Cemeteries, traditional cemeteriesare open to all religious faiths. They generally contain upright monuments, statuary, and mausoleums, in a variety of architectural styles.

Memorial Parks

Memorial parks are cemeteries that contain flat bronze gravestones (also called grave markers, or memorials), rather than upright tombstones, to retain a park-like environment. They are generally non-denominational.

Cemetery Specifics

Many cemeteries are steeped in not only local, but national history. People often like the idea of being part of a cemetery with historic connections.

Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, is one such cemetery. Founded in 1902, the roster of permanent residents is extensive and diverse. It includes Ed Sullivan, Tom Carvel, Joan Crawford, Alan Freed, Oscar Hammerstein II, Cab Calloway, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

The Feel

Designed as a memorial park, the grounds contain not only graves, but also three community mausoleums, niches for cremated remains, and a crematory.

When sales counselor Fred Santos, who has been with Ferncliff for five decades, meets with families, he first narrows down what they are looking for before taking them on a tour of the grounds.

Maintenance

A key consideration should be the comfort and convenience of those who will visit. Santos says that most people are looking for proximity to their home, and heritage plays an important role, too. “With our families, one brings the other. We have many generations here, one after another.”

He also advises that you “check how the older sections of the cemetery are maintained.” If they are not well maintained, that may be indicative of what will happen to newer sections.

Price

Price, too, is a major consideration in purchasing cemetery property. “The main thing that people look for is what’s within their budget,” Balcarcel said, noting that there are options for “all kinds of budgets.”

In fact, St. Charles, like most Catholic cemeteries, has special sections set aside for those with a financial hardship. The cemetery also contains community mausoleums, and niches for cremated remains.

Faith

A key difference between a Catholic and non-sectarian cemetery is that “Masses are said every single day for people who are resting in our cemeteries,” Balcarcel stated. In addition, special Field Masses are celebrated on Memorial Day and All Souls day.

“People are looking for a place that provides a peaceful place away from the world to connect with their loved ones,” noted Balcarel.

No One Wants to Make This Choice

From their long experience as sales counselors, both Balcarcel and Santos know well the reluctance of families to look into the purchase of cemetery property. After all, “no one wants to leave their loved one here,” said Balcarel. But when the time comes, you want that to be with “someone who you trust.”

“It is not something most people want to think about. We don’t think our parents are ever going to die,” Santos said. Still, he believes that it’s best to plan in advance. “You will pay today’s prices when pre-planning. Plus, there may be less availability in the future.”

“The information is out there and it’s important that a conversation is had,” added Balcarcel.

What to Ask

Remember, when you purchase a cemetery plot, you are buying the right of burial, not the land itself. Santos likens it to becoming a shareholder in a co-op. With your contract, you’ll receive a copy of the cemetery’s rules and regulations.

Still, it’s wise to ask the following questions before you sign:

  • What is the charge to “open” the grave, crypt, or niche, at the time of the funeral? The charge is generally not included in the purchase price.
  • Does the cemetery require a vault? Some cemeteries require that the casket be placed in a concrete or steel vault within the grave.
  • What are the requirements and/or restrictions on the types of monuments the cemetery allows?
  • Does the purchase include perpetual care?
  • How many remains will the grave hold? Individual graves generally permit between one and three burials.
  • Are cremated remains counted as burials? How many are permitted in a grave?
  • What are the rules regarding flowers, plantings, and memorabilia being placed at the gravesite?
  • Will the cemetery buy back the grave if it remains unused or you decide to move the deceased elsewhere? At what price?

This article was originally published on https://sixtyandme.com/choosing-cemetery/

Keep the Conversation Going Q & A with Salvatore Stratis and Jeffrey Gaines of Abigal Inc.

It was informative, and fun, to sit down with Sal & Jeff from Abigal Press for an interview about the printing company that has done exemplary work for funeral homes since 1936. The friends, and business partners had a lot to say about the work they’ve done, their unique view of history, and what they see for the future. Just when I thought we knew all there was to know about Abigal, I learned there was so much more (like the work the company does for the NY Yankees & the Catholic Diocese). My favorite story, however, is how the company began. A bit of ingenuity went a long way. Sal & Jeff tell that story and so many more.

You can read it in December’s ‘American Funeral Director’ magazine.

Post Pandemic Funeral Service – Can We Find Some Normalcy?

As the winter of 2020 turned to spring, the death toll from Covid-19 seemed insurmountable. For funeral directors, it was the darkest and most challenging time we’ve ever faced. In an industry built on personal contact and a deep sense of tradition, we could count on neither.

“The idea of not being able to do what we were trained to do was the biggest disappointment, the biggest shock through all this. We could not in any way, shape, or form, operate as we’ve been doing with such immediate and harsh changes,” said Pasquale “Pat” Megaro, who owns Megaro Memorial Home in Belleville, New Jersey.

Now, though, we face a different challenge – how to transition to funerals in a world that is reopening but still not out of danger.

The Current Situation

Depending on state and county regulations, and each state’s recovery phase, funeral homes are able to offer the rites and rituals that were absent during the pandemic. Still, they have to do what they can to keep visitors, and staff, safe.

In late May, John Herzig, the president of Toland-Herzig Funeral Home in Dover, Ohio, started to prepare for that return to normalcy.

“We had the barriers installed in our reception areas and began making plans for new ways of serving food (no buffet style) and as far as the funeral home is concerned, we began addressing changes we needed to make for the safety of our families, visitors, and staff,” he explained.

That preparation paid off. The funeral home was ready when, on June 11, it had it first open-to-the-public funeral since March. The deceased was a member of the local Catholic Church, and her family had made the request.

With social distancing markers on the floors, and hand sanitizers available throughout the building, visitors were encouraged to wear face masks. The funeral home provided them for those who did not have one.

“With all things considered, everything went very smoothly,” said Herzig.

The New Normal

As much as people may hunger for tradition after such an unprecedented situation, the reality is that the post-pandemic funeral is not going to look like the funeral of the past, at least not for a while.

With social distancing still in force, the human contact that has been the comforting hallmark of funeral service is perhaps the biggest casualty of what has become the new normal.

“It truly has been difficult for families who could not get the love and support needed during their loss. Some are planning to celebrate those lives in the future, but it is too soon to know how many will plan something now that things are starting to get back to normal,” said Herzig. 

Funeral directors, too, feel constrained in how we have had to deal with our client families.

“This isn’t what we were intending to do from the beginning, dealing with people over the phone and through the computer, and not having that personal touch,” said Megaro, who, like many other funeral directors, rues not having the freedom to comfort a mourner with a hug.

As New Jersey entered phase two, allowing funeral homes to up the number of visitors from 10 to 25% of a chapel’s maximum capacity, Megaro was also able, for the first time in months, to offer a grieving family the ability to have a full visitation.

The rules had fortuitously changed the night before he was to meet with the family to make arrangements. He was also glad to let them know that 20 people would be permitted at the entombment.

That day marked a turning point for Megaro, who’d struggled with the severe, and sometimes questionable, limitations placed upon funeral homes.

Being the intermediary and having to explain the “harsh and hard rules and regulations” to families about what could and couldn’t be done had been wearing on him.

Embracing Innovations

Danny Jefferson, location leader at Pierce–Jefferson Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Kernersville, North Carolina, has been especially innovative.

In both his funeral home locations, Jefferson is offering families the option of either a drive-through or walk-through visitation, followed by either a chapel or graveside service.

“Most are opting for the graveside service so that they can have more people,” said Jefferson.

With up to 25 people now allowed to gather in the reposing room at one time, walk-through funerals have become a popular option.

“Our staff encourages people to continue to keep walking,” said Jefferson. Calling, or emailing the family at a later time, and leaving online condolences on the funeral home’s website are other suggestions to help keep the line moving smoothly.

Jefferson came up with the idea for a drive-through visitation when in April, at the height of the pandemic, a well-known local volunteer firefighter died, and the funeral director sought a safe way for the community to pay their respects.

The casket was placed on the funeral home’s front porch, with a table in front containing memorabilia. As well as being functional, “the table creates a safe barrier for anyone who would want to get out of a car and walk up to the family,” he noted.

For an hour, scores of locals drove under the building’s portico to say good-bye. Many of those were people who would not ordinarily be able to attend, including a 92-year-old man who was out of quarantine for the first time.

Lessons Learned

Funeral service has been upended in a way we could never have imagined, and as we move forward as an industry, we wonder what, if any, the long lasting repercussions might be.

“We’ve been shown how simple things can be. But you still need that attentiveness whether for a simple funeral or for an elaborate one. You have to put the time and effort into it,” said Megaro.

And while some may look at funerals in a different way, he believes that most are “going to cherish and really embrace getting back to the typical wake, funeral services, and Masses.”

Concerns about health and safety, too, have taken on a renewed importance.

“I think the pandemic has made us focus on the importance of safety and to make sure we do everything in our power to make our families, visitors, and staff safer,” said Herzig, adding that the pandemic “has caused everyone in every business and profession to never take things for granted.”

In an article Jefferson wrote for the June issue of American Funeral Director, a widely-read industry trade magazine, he characterized the pandemic as a tipping point for funeral service. After seeing what the absence of ritual has done emotionally and spiritually to the bereaved, he believes funeral directors should “reinvent our profession.”

Jefferson emphasized: “What Covid is teaching us is that people still want ceremony. They still want others involved. They still want a time and a place that they can share.”

This article was originally published on July 9, 2020 @ https://sixtyandme.com/post-pandemic-funeral-service-can-we-find-some-normalcy/

Fashion To Die For: How To Choose Your Last Outfit or Burial Gown

Have you ever uttered the words, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that outfit!?” Well, you just might be – literally speaking – if you leave it to your family to decide what you’ll wear when the time comes for you to make your final public appearance. Now is the time to consider your final fashion options.

You May Just Get Lucky

Undoubtedly, some families get it right. The family of Salsa Queen Celia Cruz gave it a lot of thought. True to her diva style, she wore more than one outfit at her 2003 funeral, which took place in two cities.

For a public viewing in Miami, Florida’s Freedom Tower, Cruz was dressed in an off-white gown with a feather boa trimmed jacket, while for her wake at Frank E. Campbell’s in New York City, she was clad in a cream-colored gown with a white-sequined overlay.

Custom-made floating wedges with wood bottoms, and a change of wigs, completed both looks.

Funeral director William ‘Bill’ Harley, who accompanied Cruz’s remains to Miami, oversaw the clothing changes and reapplied her cosmetics daily.

Choice Was Not an Option

But few people should expect such expressions of individuality if they have not thought about their clothing options. For a long time, choice was not part of the funeral tradition.

“When I began my career, everyone wore gowns and suits. It’s a formal occasion and people dressed in their Sunday best,” said Harley.

Andrea Basile, the owner of Basile Funeral Home in Brooklyn, New York, concurs:

“When I started, there were only two options in women’s clothes: burial garments and a gown previously worn on a special occasion. It was all evening wear. Caskets were fully open, so clothing had to be full length.”

To fill that need, burial garment companies around the country became the designers to the dead, making their merchandise available for purchase through the funeral home.

Pastel burial gowns, usually made of polyester or nylon, and often adorned with satin and lace, were designed with the deceased in mind.

Taking post-mortem changes into account, necklines were high, sleeves long, and the material ample, easily adjustable for size. The addition of tulle, artfully arranged around the dress, gave an ethereal look.

Responding to that demand, Abigal Press, a New York funeral supply company with roots that go back to 1936, expanded its product line by purchasing a local burial garment company.

The clothing became “a convenience item” for families making funeral arrangements, said company president Jeff Gaines. But as the garments became more popular, they also became pricier, causing families to use the deceased’s own clothes, or to buy new from retail stores.

According to Gaines, burial garments being sold these days are usually for those who die in nursing homes when “mom hasn’t had a dress in years, nothing fits, or her weight has dropped tremendously.” For the most part, they have become “antiquated products.”

Shopping One’s Closet

Unless you make it known how you want to be dressed for the afterlife, it will be decided for you by your survivors.

Poring through a loved one’s closet in search of the outfit that best reflects who the deceased was can be emotionally wrenching. That closet holds a treasure trove of memories. For some, making the choice can be deeply rewarding.

“People may not know why, but when something is right, or better, they respond. They feel better about their dead and proud of themselves,” notes Basile.

For others, though, the choice may be difficult, and funeral directors have an important role to play. Harley believes that “the personal clothing of the deceased works best.” However, he adds, “we [as funeral directors] need to be specific when speaking with families about appropriate clothing for the deceased.”

When Harley meets with families at the arrangement conference, he asks them to provide clothing similar to what the deceased would have worn for a social occasion, including a full set of undergarments.

Stressing the need for a high collar, and long, opaque sleeves, he explains that these attributes will mask arms that are too thin or too heavy, or which have been poked and prodded with medical apparatus.

Being specific is especially important when the deceased is young. Harley is reminded of the funeral of a young woman who died suddenly. Her grief-stricken mother allowed her daughter’s best friend to choose her clothing.

The girl’s choice was a black leather miniskirt and a sleeveless blouse with a plunging neckline. Not an appropriate choice for a fully-autopsied remains, which is generally the case when one is young and death is sudden.

The condition of the remains must be taken into consideration when selecting clothes.

Buying New

Over the years, Basile, who once worked for Pierre Cardin, has put together funeral outfits for both women and men in her care.

“I think women look better in a lightweight jacket, from silk to knitted.” She favors double-breasted jackets on men and a single turn in the tie. “A suit is fine but a navy blazer and charcoal or gray slacks are my favorites,” says Basile.

“I always emphasized the clothes should be appropriate for the person; keeping the deceased still looking like themselves.”

That was certainly true for Basile’s mother, who had purchased a pair of black velvet slacks with a matching bateau-neck tunic for herself not long before she died. With the addition of a sheer black jacket, chosen by Basile, it would serve as her final outfit.

“She looked fabulous,” Basile shares about her 96-year-old mother, whose natural dark brown hair had no more than a streak of gray. “Even though the casket was closed, I was happy she looked so much like herself. Her vanity would not have been frustrated.” 

Being Comfortable

Although most times one’s last outfit is chosen by others, that is not always the case. Harley recalls the preparedness of an elderly lady, who had taken the time to think through her funeral.

“She had set aside a beautiful pink floral nightgown with a satin quilted bathrobe, a matching bracelet, and rosary beads. When she died, she looked beautiful in her pink ensemble which complemented the mahogany casket,” Harley remarks.

The woman was among those who opt for lounging pajamas and slippers, or a negligee, to be comfortably at rest.

When Basile’s own grandmother died at the age of 99, she dressed her in a similar style.

“I went to Bloomingdales and bought this incredible ice blue, silk jacquard nightgown, and matching jacket. All the lace on the bodice and bed jacket was pale beige. It was so appropriate and so beautiful that for years people asked for the same thing as we’d used for my grandmother,” shares Basile.

“Baby boomers have certainly introduced changes to funerals,” says Harley. But he notes that funerals have, for the most part, continued to be formal affairs, as evidenced by “the large percentage of traditional funerals, as well as the protocol of viewing the deceased.”

“Exceptions do exist,” he adds, recalling the funeral of a 50-year-old man who requested beforehand that on the morning of his funeral he be changed out of the suit he had worn for his wake into khaki shorts and a Hawaiian print shirt.

Today, when there are myriad choices, Basile draws the line at message T-shirts. “I think people should use anything personal as long as it is respectful. Exposing the dead requires at least some discretion.”

Funerary Fashion Tips

  • Opt for long sleeves and high necklines.
  • Avoid sheer and clingy fabrics.
  • Sweaters and shawls work wonders for a snug or stained sentimental outfit.
  • If unsure of size, choose the larger option.
  • Keep the deceased’s favorite color in mind.
  • A bright scarf does wonders for both a monochromatic suit and a thin neck.
  • Buying new and on a budget? Consider an off-price store like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Macy’s Last Act.

This article was originally published on October 8, 2019 @ https://sixtyandme.com/fashion-to-die-for-how-to-choose-your-last-outfit-or-burial-gown/

What It’s Like to Work as a Funeral Director

“What’s it like to work as a funeral director?” This is a question I’ve been asked time and again. My response: It’s not easy, given the complex emotions involved. It takes enormous commitment and dedication, along with a compassionate nature and respect for tradition and ceremony.

Funeral directors deal with issues of mortality – our own as well as those of our clients – on a daily basis. We work long and erratic hours, and we are never truly ‘off.’ In fact, I sleep with my cell phone by my bed in case someone needs me in the middle of the night.

The ever-present sense of urgency is a reality of the job. One must be able to adapt to sudden changes because death is unpredictable.

Myths and Realities

Some people think that funeral service is a 24/7 goth fest. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we interact more with the living than with the dead. People who have just lost a loved one need to talk, and we often serve as counselors and confidants.

It’s true that our work can be very physical and sometimes exhausting. Funeral directors remove bodies from their place of death, embalm them, apply cosmetics and then dress the remains. In some cases, we may do reconstructive work as well.

We also arrange the funeral details, supervise the visitation and direct the funeral service. To comply with city, state and federal regulations, we have to deal with a seemingly never-ending mountain of paperwork.

While our work has many demands, the pay, contrary to public perception, is not commensurate with what we do. And not surprisingly, my work wardrobe is primarily black.

The Career Found Me

Death is perhaps one of life’s only certainties, and the mere mention of it often evokes a mix of curiosity and discomfort. It did for me.

Having been orphaned at birth, I often thought about death. But I relegated those thoughts to the back of my mind as I aspired to a career in journalism until an after-school job in a funeral home changed my career path. I began to see funeral service as a viable career option.

Mortuary school followed on the heels of college, as I put my plan of becoming a writer on hold. Many of my classmates were children of funeral directors, less common these days because large corporations have absorbed many of the once family-owned funeral homes.

Getting the Job

After completing mortuary school, I set out to find an apprenticeship, a requirement for licensure. This was not an easy feat in the late 1970s, especially for a woman. To the public, it may appear that jobs are easy to come by, but they are not.

After much pavement pounding, I was hired by a busy family-owned firm in Queens, New York. Immediately, I was thrust into an intense work environment, with my days being spent driving around New York City in the service vehicle, making removals.

I spent many hours in the preparation room embalming body after body, learning the craft. I quickly understood that the emotional quotient of the work could overwhelm and turned to writing as a catharsis.

The result: a published memoir called Grave Undertakings. My experiences as a funeral director became a source of inspiration for my writing. Soon, I was able to meld the two careers.

Job Satisfaction

I have worked as a funeral director for more than 35 years, prepared thousands of remains, and conducted countless services. As I’ve grown older and lost friends, family and colleagues, I’ve understood more acutely what my client families go through.

The most difficult thing for me as a funeral director is looking into the faces of those who have lost a loved one and knowing that it is not in my power to do what they want most: bring them back.

Still, I strive to ease the transition between life and death by providing a service that, in the words of funeral director/author Thomas Lynch, “… gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.” The funeral, as I see it, serves as a metaphorical bridge from this life to the next.

This article originally appeared on https://sixtyandme.com/what-its-like-to-work-as-a-funeral-director/