Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Where do I work?

I have found that many people are confused as to what exactly it is that I do or even where I work. So, I'll try to clarify it for all. My life/business partner and I are self employed subcontractors to the funeral business.

The funeral business, like most, is a constantly changing one. If you live in a fairly populated area, you may have noticed that the old funeral homes are disappearing. They are giving way to the mega-funeral factories. With more people than ever on this planet, it only stands to reason that there are more deaths than ever before. And with the way we move about, there is no loyalty to the old place where your great-grandfather went through his transition into the afterlife.
Also budgets seem to dictate to us how much we can spend on the final farewell. The families are left with more debt from hospitals, credit cards and the cost of the funeral itself. There's no doubt where the budget cuts are going to be. We are seeing a drastic increase in cremation rates versus traditional burials. Since people are now allowed to have a detailed receipt of the funeral expenses, they are also able to say "Maybe we don't need this or that". Often what they decide to cut out of the plan is the transportation to the final place of rest(The hearse ride). With fewer people using the hearse, many funeral homes are not able to justify the expense of owning and operating such an expensive vehicle. That is where we come in.

We own and operate the hearse. We are called in only for those "full service" funerals. By not working exclusively for any one place, we are free to fill in the empty days at another place. So, that should answer the question of where we work. It's anywhere. Often it will be at a funeral home and sometimes, at a church.

We do have a few regular accounts that generally keep us busy. We will also fill in where a larger funeral home that has there own hearse, needs another because they are double booked. Additionally, we work with our competitor. If we are overbooked we can call him to fill in and likewise, we will help him out.

Some months we will have twenty or more funerals and other months only five or six. You just never know and there is no set schedule. We typically have only a day or two notice that we need to be somewhere. I love what we do and it can be a very rewarding career in the fact that we are helping people when they are going through a lot of pain. However, five funerals barely pays the bills, let alone ME for a job well done. That is why I work four nights a week as a midnight supervisor at a large well known 24 hour pharmacy. By working at least 30 hours a week, I am afforded the things that most people have in there lives. For example, benefits, vacation, etc...  Without it, there would be no brighter side of the grave. My husband also works a full time midnight job. By working overnights, we  are free in the mornings to run our business without the hassle of having to rush home to go to work. Unfortunately, like many people that work two jobs, sometimes sleeping in the afternoon gets sacrificed. That is why we try to share the responsibilities. Since I work only 4 days, I do most of the funerals. But, credit must be given where it is due. Without him, this business of ours would not exist. He has taught me much of what I know.

When we met, he had a removal business and I ran my family's limousine company. After 9-11, many things changed in my business that led to us closing. We then combined our skills and developed what we now have.

Then just to make my life interesting, I started working at one of the funeral homes that has an account with us in the evenings. So yes, I have a morning job, an evening job and a night job. I try not to work them all in the same day. Although my concept of "day" is a little confused. My morning job is very much like most people having a night job. I wake up, it's one day and come home it's another and then I go to work again. Have I mentioned that I also hold a degree in commercial marketing as well as one in interior design.

That leaves the question of "What do I do?" Well, I think we will leave that for part 2.

Thought for the week

Things that are forced, grow for a while then wither away.

Live in harmony with the world and live forever.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things we could learn from our dogs

I try to be original with my post. However this came to me in an email a while ago and I've held onto it long enough. Now, I'm passing it along to you.

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough.

Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

Be always grateful for each new day

Today, I wish you a day of ordinary miracles: May joy dance in your soul, may love fill your heart and may peace reign in your home

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly

A Race to Mackinac

Saturday morning marked the 86th running of the Port Huron to Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island sailboat race.
In preparation of the big event, the town throws a little party. A party known as Boat Night. Port Huron is located where the St.Clair River begins at the base of Lake Huron. There is also a smaller river that comes into the St.Clair right in the middle of town. This river is the Black River. It is where everyone gathers on Friday night. They set up a carnival, have street vendors and performers. There are two stages with entertainment for just about everyone. Most of the yachts are lining the Black River and it's a great opportunity to see the boats and perhaps meet some of the crews that will be sailing in the morning. There is fun to be had on both sides of the river. However, every time a taller boat goes up or down the river, they have to raise the drawbridges.

As the sailors get their much needed rest, the town goes long into the night. There are private parties for the town elite. There are sold out events at most every bar. And there is refreshments available right out on the street. Many people bring their speed boats down to show them off too and the parties know no boundaries when it comes to land or water.
The weather was amazing despite the threats from the local weatherman of severe storms.
When we had had enough of the festivities, we headed over to the park on the St.Clair River. No more than a mile away and still within range of all the noise, it was rather peaceful. We watched as freighters moved through the narrow river almost silently. The bridge lit up in blue here is the Blue Water Bridge. It has been connecting the States with Canada since 1938. It is actually two bridges as increased traffic led the addition of the second span in 1997. Just beyond the bridge, the blackness that you see is Lake Huron (where the race begins).Racers from all over the world come to speed along the waters of Lake Huron to the Straights of Mackinac. The weather was great on Saturday except the racers would have liked to see a little more wind. They raced all day and all night, finally on Sunday,
at 6:07pm, the first boat crossed the finish line at the sleepy little island that time forgot. With no cars alowed on the island, life seems a little slower there. Even with a race going on.
The winner of the 254 nautical mile race was an 80ft. sailboat from Hong Kong called the Beau Geste with a time of 28 hours 17 minutes and 49 seconds. Who gets to do it all over again this next week, racing this time from Chicago to Mackinac Island through the waters of Lake Michigan.
So, my friend that was racing didn't do so well. But fun was had by the whole crew. Every now and again, we need to stop our busy lives and take a break to enjoy the brighter side of the grave. Summer is short in Michigan!
 We now resume our regular broadcast.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Everyone knows someone who knows someone that used to work in a funeral home or moved the dead soldiers during the war. They all have their stories. What seem to be very credible stories indeed. I believed my uncle when he told me his story from World War 2. Then I started working in this business and started to hear the same story from others. Always tweaked just a bit to fit a situation or time period. But always the same story. You know the story. Here's my uncles....

I was helping to move some of the dead soldiers, shipping them back to their families in the states. I had a young man working with me. After moving several, we heard a noise and as we turned the corpse that we had just set down sat right up with a moan. Well, all you saw after that was the bottoms of that young soldiers shoes as he was running out the door. I never saw him again.

The story sounds familiar doesn't it?

Well, I hate to be a kill joy here, but my uncle was embellishing. Before buying a hearse and getting into the hearse leasing business, we worked for several funeral homes doing a service that they call REMOVALS. They are called that because we  are the ones that they call when they need a person picked up from the place of death and brought to the funeral home. We were "removing" the body from the scene. Other than an autopsy or actually embalming the body, it is a pretty disgusting job indeed. We are usually on the scene within an hour or so of the death and if anything is going to happen. It will be to us. If the person really isn't dead, they are going to come around when we pick them up. And let's just say that ALL your muscles relax when you die. So suddenly there is nothing holding yesterdays turkey sandwich in (either end).

Here's the part of the story that is true. Often when someone is laying dead and we pick them up, a breath will come from their lungs and usually will activate the vocal cords and a moan can be heard. Whatever you do, don't breath in at that point because it is rarely a breath you'd like to smell.

I know what your thinking. This is not the brighter side of the grave. This is disgusting. Death is not a pretty thing. But, every person deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even after they are gone. It takes a certain kind of personality to do what we do. And as gross as it may be, we handle each and every person with care. When something disgusting happens, you simply don't show it. Most often, there is family and friends around. They have just experienced the loss of a loved one. The last thing they need is for you to get freaked out because you got some pooh on your gloved hand.

In my eleven years of doing this, I have yet to see someone sit up or raise their arm. Yes, after a few hours the body gets stiff. That's why it's important for us to get them into a reasonable pose quickly. I loved my uncle and all of his stories. But, this is one story that we have to take for it's entertainment purposes only.

I have many stories of my experiences in the removal business. If you are interested in them, please let me know in the comments section of the blog. For you facebookers, you can leave a message here or click over to the blog at http://brightergrave.blogspot.com/ and leave your comments there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A little sweet tea on a hot day

Another hot one today. Now, having spent the better part of my summers growing up on a farm in Arkansas, I find this weather quite enjoyable. From what I hear, that's not what everyone else in Michigan says. Today, so far it's 93f outside and not a cloud in the sky. From my youth, I know to dress appropriately, don't try to do too much and stay hydrated. So, of course I had a funeral today. I started out in the parking lot directing traffic in my nice black suit then out to the cemetery. Everyone was complaining. I was just thankful that we didn't have snow on the ground and a cold north wind cutting through me. I get enough of those days and still do it with a smile on my face. After the funeral, I came home to some of my favorite flowers of summer in full bloom in the yard. I've always had a thing for daisies. I don't know why.Perhaps it's because after 15 years of trying to grow them, they finally took. This is the second year for these little fellas.
The tiger lilies come from my mother's garden. And like tiger lilies do, they have taken over everywhere. Sometimes we yank them out by the roots just because enough is enough.Then there is these little day lilies. I ordered these from a catalog right after having my house built 16 years ago and mysteriously, they can now be found at most of my neighbors home gardens as well. It's not like I can even notice where they took them from anyway. And I see it as helping to beautify the community.

Even on a day that is over 90 degrees, I love to share my little corner of the universe with everyone. And it just doesn't seem so hot sipping iced tea under the shade of the maple tree that I planted from seed eight years ago and is now over 30 feet tall. Not bad for used up farm land that nothing will grow on.
It's true, it is too hot to do the work that I need to do on the exterior of the house. But, take it from this little half southern boy, "I'll get roundtoit, want yer tea sweet?"

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Here's one that you just don't see every day.
Being that it is the 3rd of July, there are carnivals and celebrations everywhere. As with most of the funeral homes that I work for, today's is located in the heart of a small town. Usually when I work here, we line up cars in the funeral home lot and anyone not wishing to be in the procession can park in the city lot right on the other side of the building. It's also the lot where boaters will park their trucks and boat trailers while they are out on the water since there is a boat launch right across the street. There is a large waterfront park where you can sit and watch the freighters go by.  When I pulled into town, I noticed all of the rented porta-johns lined up in the park like a bunch of green monsters. I knew then that it was going to be a good one. As I approached the funeral home, I noticed the carnival set up in the parking lot next to the funeral home. People were everywhere. The local lions club was shuttling people from a parking lot over at the high school because there simply was no place to park in town. The funeral home lot was barricaded so we at least had that. I really didn't want to send people on the carnival shuttle that weren't going to the cemetery. Fortunately, most everyone wanted to be in the procession because I really had no place to put them otherwise. The church on the other side of the street was having a rummage sale and the carnival kicked off at 10am. Which was exactly the time that the viewing started for the deceased.

So picture all the noise of a carnival with the rides and the games and the music and laughter on one side of the brick wall of the funeral home. And the quiet peace of a funeral on the other side of the wall. Yeah, not so quiet.
Then, when the service was over, we carried the casket out and placed the lady into the funeral coach. And we proceeded to parade down the street with 30 cars tailing behind in the middle of a carnival.
Upon our arrival at the cemetery (a safe distance away from the noise) we encountered a woman that was visiting her mother's grave. The narrow cemetery lanes caused us to block her in. The cemetery workers had warned her that we were coming and she ignored them. Then was upset that she had to be someplace and could not get out. She proceeded to slam her car door repeatedly during the graveside committal part of our service. As soon as it was over, she started yelling at people to move their cars. Of course she was parked facing the opposite direction as we were so even when a few of our cars did move she still couldn't go anywhere.
Eventually, everyone left to go to the luncheon and the woman was able to go. We lowered the casket, sealed the grave, wiped our brows in disbelief of this crazy day and went home to enjoy a beautiful summer day in a lakeside community.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Independance Day Weekened

This Sunday marks the 234th birthday of the Untied States of America and to celebrate this occasion I will provide a brief timeline of the dates and events that have made this country what is is today. May we never forget the past so as not to make the same mistakes in the future.

1763 – British military officers sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to shame the disheveled, disorganized colonial “Yankees” in the French and Indian War. This backfired however when colonists sang it in mockery after defeating the Lobsterbacks in the US revolution. The song was used once again by confederate soldiers during the war of northern aggression.

July 3, 1776 – The draft of the Declaration of Independence was finished.

July 4, 1776 – The Declaration was adopted and signed by the Second Continental Congress as well as Forest Gump’s Great Great Grandfather…Woody Glenn Gump.

1776-1783 – The British invade the newly independent U.S. but are thwarted by Mel Gibson and his tomahawk throwing skills. The French eventually show up after most of the fighting is over and attempt to take credit for defeat of Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown (aka Old York).

1951 – Gene Kelly attempted to enact revenge on the French by serving as a US spy under the guise of a dancing fool named Jerry Mulligan. However, all of Kelly’s spy work was caught on tape and released as a major motion picture titled “An American in Paris.”

December 25, 1896 – John Philip Sousa composed “Stars and Stripes Forever” put to an old English drinking song, which later became the official march of the USA and required memorization in high school band rehearsals everywhere. The march had the power to inject strong emotion in those who heard it therefore paving the way for Rock ‘N Roll and ultimately Mtv.

July 4, 1996 – As President, Bill Pullman recruits the talents of a drunk crop duster to fight against the threat of extermination imposed by an unnamed alien fleet that has invaded earth and is destroying her cities. His inspiring speech is still heard through VHS players everywhere today:....

“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

November 19, 2004 – The Declaration of Independence was stolen by Nicholas Cage using the surname Benjamin Gates in an expansive government conspiracy to prove that the free masons were the good guys.

As you can see, we as Americans have a rich heritage of violence, theft, and loud noises. Be an American this July 4 and celebrate by blowing stuff up with fire and creating booming sounds that jolt the continental shelf.

Have fun.... Be Safe.