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.

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/

I Want to Watch

An essential component of our role as funeral directors is to maintain the sanctity of our work and protect the privacy of those in our care. Something that continues to trouble me is the prurient interest some have in the most private part of funeral service. “I want to watch. Can I?”  It is an embalming they are asking to watch. In mortuary school we were told that the only non–official who could legally watch was the next of kin. “But why would they want to?” asked out instructor.

Some years back, I was interviewed by a young freelancer for a piece about Green-Wood Cemetery (my book about the cemetery had recently been published). At the conclusion of our interview she asked if she could come to the funeral home to watch an embalming. It was not the first time I had been asked, and, as always, I was taken aback by the question. After telling her that she could not, she spitefully cut me out of her article. Not very professional!

At one time or another many funeral directors have been asked that question by the morbidly curious. Some feign an interest in funeral service as a way to gain entrée.  At other times a funeral director is careless in his/her thinking, and allows a person into the preparation room. But that is always a mistake.

A colleague shared the story of a funeral home owner who allowed a friend to keep him company in the prep room. When the friend’s mother died, he went elsewhere for her funeral. When his funeral director friend asked why, he responded by saying, “I feared you would let someone else in to keep you company, and I didn’t want anyone to watch my mother being embalmed.” The funeral director’s indiscretion  cost him a funeral –and the trust of a friend.

Recently, I overheard a “videographer” working on a potential documentary ask a funeral director if he could watch an embalming. I hope the funeral director will have the good sense to turn him down

It is both morally reprehensible, and illegal, to watch an embalming without being qualified to do so.  Please don’t ask us to break the law. And if those factors don’t deter you, ask yourself this question: Would it be okay for strangers to watch the embalming procedure of someone you love?

Home Funerals

Today I participated in my second home funeral. The visitation was held in a magnificent estate in Greenwich, Connecticut and, as we were getting things ready, a colleague remarked that the setting was grander than most funeral homes. The room where the deceased reposed was bedecked with beautiful flowers, and family photographs. In the entrance way to the home, a table held memorial cards, and memorial folders.

The interesting thing was that the family had not chosen a home funeral because of anything they’d read, or heard in the media, about home funerals. Instead, it was borne of necessity. Funeral homes in their area are still not offering wakes, and a visitation was very important to them, as was a religious service. They were able to have a priest lead them in prayer later in the afternoon. There were also eulogies given by family members.

The first home funeral I was involved in took place two years ago. While the setting was more modest, it held the same beauty and intimacy. Again, the family did not choose a home funeral because of anything they’d read of heard. At the time of the funeral arrangement, the daughter of the deceased commented on how much her mother had loved her home, and that it would be the most fitting place to hold a wake– if only. She had no idea that she could, and was surprised when I told her that some were seeing a return to home funerals. Like the Connecticut family, that wake included a religious service at home.

I’ve been impressed by both these funerals, and am an advocate of home funerals being an option. Naturally, there are practical considerations for having one, and you can discuss this with your funeral director when planning, or pre-planning, a funeral.

God Winks

As deaths from the pandemic have, mercifully, subsided, cemeteries have relaxed a number of their restrictions. One that has yet to do so was the cemetery I was at this morning. The gates are still locked, and to enter one must be a funeral director there to facilitate an interment. No visitors are allowed. As I waited behind the locked gate, trying to get the attention of the guard, a light-colored Prius pulled up behind me. The driver was wearing sunglasses, and I could not make out his face, but I recognized –or thought I did –the car as belonging to the Deacon who would be officiating at this morning’s funeral.  Earlier, the Deacon and I had had a brief conversation as we both drove on the parkway leading to the cemetery, and by his calculation he was “right behind me.” So, when the guard unlocked the gate for me, I told him that the car behind me was with me, and to kindly let him in as well. He did, and I pulled into the waiting area, as the Prius pulled up next to me. The driver opened his window, and I exclaimed in surprise, “You’re not my Deacon.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “No, but thank you for getting me in. It’s my mother’s birthday, and I want to visit her and lay flowers at her grave.”  He went on to tell me how upsetting it had been for families not being able to visit their loved ones, and how he could not understand why cemeteries, with so much acreage (and plenty of room to social distance), would feel the need to lock their gates to visitors. I agreed. When my Deacon did arrive, a minute or two later, I told him the happy car coincidence. “That was no coincidence, it was a God winks moment,” he said with a smile.

So glad that man could have that precious visit on such an important day.

The Art of Giving a Eulogy – Share the Best Stories and Get Personal About It

Over my long career as a funeral director I’ve heard more than my fair share of eulogies. In a sense, eulogies are like taking a scenic drive through a life.

There are times the view seems so familiar, and other times when one may be struck by the beauty in front of them; beauty that they were not expecting to see, or never noticed before.

Such was the case in 2013, when I heard what was to become my favorite eulogy. It was given by the then mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, for the city’s former mayor, Edward I. Koch.

Bloomberg was on top of his game that day as he stood on the bimah of Manhattan’s venerable Temple Emanu-El and addressed a filled-to-capacity crowd with warmth and humor. Bloomberg remembered Koch as New York City’s “quintessential mayor” and spoke of Koch’s extensive career as a public official, his love for the city of New York, and his contributions to its safety and well-being.

The crowd laughed as Bloomberg recounted incidents from Koch’s colorful past, such as the time Koch stood at the entrance ramp to the Queensboro Bridge, recently re-named for him, yelling, “Welcome to my bridge!” to approaching cars.

Koch being Koch, he stood in the freezing cold for another 20 minutes, even after the cameras stopped rolling, shouting out the welcome. Bloomberg also traced Koch’s life as a lawyer, author, and television personality after his three-term mayoralty came to an end.

But the most moving moment came when Bloomberg underscored Koch’s pride in his faith. Bloomberg recited the words that, at Koch’s request, would be etched into his tombstone: My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” They were the last words spoken by slain journalist Daniel Pearl.

Markedly less impressive was the eulogy that followed, presented by former United States President Bill Clinton. To the discomfited looks of many, Clinton shared a correspondence he once had with Koch about Viagra. If, indeed, eulogies are a roadmap for life, Clinton’s comments had many wondering, “How did we get here?”

True Words

The word eulogy derives from classical Greek and means “true words.” In ancient Greece it was customary that men of “approved wisdom and eminent reputation” be selected to eulogize the dead.

Fittingly, it was Pericles, who, in 431 B.C., eulogized the Athenian soldiers who lost their lives in the Peloponnesian War. Today, it is usually a colleague, close friend, or family member who is given the honor.

Eulogies have been the subject of three books by author Cyrus M. Copeland, who was inspired to explore the subject after giving one for his late father, an experience he describes as cathartic.

His first book, Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time, includes the eulogies of such diverse individuals as Martin Luther King, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Karl Marx.

It also contains the eulogy Madonna gave for fashion designer Gianni Versace in 1997. Madonna captured the attention of the audience with her very first words: “I slept in Gianni Versace’s bed.”

Like me, Copeland has a favorite eulogy. It was the one given by the late writer Pat Conroy for his father Colonel Donald Conroy, a.k.a., the movie character “The Great Santini,” and it appears in Copeland’s second book, A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit.

“I’ve read hundreds of farewells and studied the art form. Conroy’s was a master class in remembrance,” said Copeland. “He tells stories, he is honest, he finds the bigger themes of his father’s life, he makes us laugh.”

And laugh is what I and hundreds of others did during the eulogy given last spring at the funeral of Queens County’s longest-serving district attorney, Richard Brown. Brown’s son-in-law, Bruce Foodman, shared a recollection about how intimidated he felt when he first married into the family of the eminent justice.

He was not sure how to address his formidable new father- in-law. Brown, sensing his discomfort, assured him that “Richard is fine.” Puzzled, and thinking someone had been ill, Foodman responded by asking who Richard was.

It’s Not About You

Unlike Foodman’s humorously self-effacing recollection, some speakers can’t help but talk about themselves, instead of focusing on the deceased. We have likely all sat through eulogies listening to speakers share how smart, attractive, accomplished, etc. the deceased thought they were.

Writer Larry Gelbart, who created the iconic television show M*A*S*H, wrote the forward for Copeland’s, A Wonderful Life, cautioning us to resist the temptation to make the eulogy about ourselves:

“A eulogy is not meant to be a vehicle for self-aggrandizement. Try pressing the shift key as little as possible when typing the letter i.

Still, Copeland says that “it’s not a mistake to get personal – just as long as it ties into the themes of the deceased’s life. This is what distinguishes a eulogy from an obit – the personal imprint they left on the person behind the microphone.” 

Getting personal is just what Dominick Yezzo, an administrative judge in New York City, did when he gave a eulogy for his late brother, James, this past January.

“Having been privileged to know him at the beginning and very end of his life, I connected myself to him intimately and removed myself to talk about him,” said Yezzo, who views the giving of eulogies as being “holy” and having a “sacred base.”

Yezzo, speaking on behalf of his large family, wanted to “let everyone know who his brother was.” So, when preparing the eulogy, he was mindful of incorporating aspects of his brother’s life that everyone could understand and relate to, including his Catholic school education and lifelong devotion to the New York Yankees.

Writing a Meaningful Eulogy

“A good eulogy should have at least one good story,” says Copeland. And for maximum impact, Copeland suggests relating a “recognizable truth.” “This,” he writes, “is what binds us together, and connects the eulogized to the dearly departed in a meaningful fashion.”

A stirring example of this was a recent eulogy I heard by a young woman who spoke about her father by telling the mourners, “My father made me feel loved, special, and secure, each and every day of my life.”

In Copeland’s third, and most recent book, Passwords: 7 Steps to Writing a Memorable Eulogy, he shares ideas to serve as the foundation for the making of a great eulogy. He uses Conroy’s eulogy for his father as an example: “… begin memorably, tell stories, tell the truth, get personal, find a big moment, and end strongly.”

Copeland, who often travels around the country to speak at conventions on the art of eulogizing, has a succinct answer to the question of why we need eulogies.

As he put it in Passwords, “A great eulogy assures us that our loved ones will endure in our collective memories. The more specific and real the remembrances, the stronger the bridge.”

Originally published @sixtyandme.com on March 18, 2020

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/

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.


Pinelawn Memorial Park: My Mother’s Death Without Dignity


My mother died two years ago.  While we had been estranged for many years, it saddened me to hear that her health had deteriorated, and that she had become a shell of the formidable person she once was. I found out about her death through my beloved uncle, her brother, and it was after the fact.  By the time he was alerted, by her son (his nephew), she had been dead for several months. Believing her remains were en route from Florida to New York for a traditional funeral, he inquired innocently,  “What about the funeral arrangements?” It was then that he was shocked and horrified to learn that she had been cremated  I say “shocked and horrified” because my mother and her brother are Greek Orthodox. Cremation is not sanctioned by the Greek church, and frankly is a big no-no.  What’s more, my mother abhorred cremation.  Years earlier, she had been dismayed and shocked herself when one of her best friends was cremated.  “Not for me,” she said, soon purchasing graves at Pinelawn Memorial Park on Long Island, New York.

My uncle, 92 years of age at the time, was heartbroken at not getting the chance to say goodbye to his sister, and only remaining sibling. He said it left a hole in his heart. And things were about to get worse. I called the Florida direct disposer, a repugnant and disrespectful title for one who lays the dead to rest. Their website alone made my stomach turn. “Why pay funeral home prices for direct cremation services?” it asks. Those commercial words suggesting a cheap alternative to a real funeral were not consistent with the dignified (sometimes haughty) woman who hewed to tradition and ceremony, and could more than afford the traditional funeral she believed in. I called and spoke to the proprietor, telling her that I am a funeral director (she is not) in New York. I explained that in New York we get everyone on board before such an irreversible act can occur. She told me in strident tones that she had not needed my permission. I also called the Medical Examiner’s office in the county in which my mother had died. They told me she had been found in her bed with a pillow mostly covering her face, having been dead for days. Her son had obviously not bothered to check in with his 86- year- old dementia-addled mother.

My family and I had so many unsettling questions after learning that her son had plundered her considerable financial means for his own personal use, while turning to the cheapest mode of final disposition. It was also about that time that we found out he, the perennial ne’er-do-well son, was a convicted criminal who had done time in a federal prison. We  insisted he bury those cremains; it was the very least he could do.While he lied to us and evaded our requests for the burial of the cremains, we prevailed. But the worst was yet to come. I expressed my concerns to the cemetery about our doubts that my mother’s cremains were actually being buried, and not just some Florida sand going into the grave. I appealed to the cemetery administrator Brendan J. Hickey to let me examine the cremains in advance, as a professional courtesy, so that I could then reassure my uncle. He turned a  deaf ear to my pleas.The morning we buried my mother’s cremains in her grave at Pinelawn Memorial Park, there was nothing “park-like” about the chaotic scene. My uncle, cousins and I watched in horror as backhoes circled (the gravediggers kept apologizing to me, explaining that they were only following Hickey’s orders) and cruel words were hurled at us by my mother’s son and his wife. Throughout the thousands of interments I have been a part of I have never witnessed such a scene.The most shocking moment was when two Suffolk County police officers, summoned by Hickey, approached me. While I conducted myself with the utmost dignity and restraint, as I do at all funeral services, the police were told that Hickey “expected trouble.”

In my long career as a funeral director, I have striven to provide the utmost dignity for the deceased. Yet, for my mother there was none. And that I could not do that for her has caused a ceaseless pain. While I made a complaint to the cemetery board (not only for myself, but to ensure Hickey would never treat another family in such a crass and cruel manner), they never followed up with me. I was approached by reporter friends to tell my story as a cautionary tale, but out of respect to my uncle I declined.  I could not, in good conscience make worse the circus that had been my mother’s funeral. Each and every time I must go to Pinelawn Memorial Park the horror of that day comes back to me.Certainly it is the funeral director in me, and how I hold dear that last wishes are sacrosanct, that made me want to advocate for my mother. It is the last good deed we can do for others. While my mother failed my all the years of my life, I was determined not to fail her in death. Sadly, because of Brendan Hickey, I feel that I did just that.