Monday, March 30, 2015

Sky Burials

High in the mountains of Tibet, where no trees grow and my beautiful dog's ancestors come from, there is a ritual unlike anything we have in the United States.
Take a look at this video and see what you think about this unique way of moving on from this earth.
I would love to read your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Desert Retreat

I stumbled across this a while ago and absolutely love it.
As a designer myself, I feel that a building should reflect the area around it and those that  occupy it. This project by Phillip K Smith in Joshua Tree California truly reflects it's surroundings and encompasses his artistry. Enjoy....

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can I make my own Casket?

Of course you can.

I can't say that we see a lot of this sort of thing. I know that I've seen several people that buy a casket on line or through a discount store like Walmart or Costco. All I can say about those is that you get what you pay for and don't hold it against the funeral director if things are not up to standards set by yourself. Also sometimes delivery of those caskets can take longer than through our sources, so plan your funeral accordingly and leave plenty of time. Death is never convenient.

Do-it-yourself Caskets and Coffins

There is a growing trend in people wanting to be more hands-on when it comes to their loved ones funerals. Just know that there is more to it than most people know. Funeral homes do a lot of work that no one ever sees and in some states, such as Michigan, a funeral director is required by law. You can't just bury grandpa in the field out behind the house anymore. But any director worth dealing with will be happy to customize your funeral as much as you'd like, and not everything comes with a hefty price tag. So go ahead, make your own casket, if you'd like. Or customize one of ours. We don't mind at all. Just keep in mind if you make yours, you'll be looking at it until the day you die.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A New Normal

On every death certificate that we file, it is required that we list a cause of death. If there are multiple reasons that added up to the impending doom, they must be listed in order of how they came to affect the outcome and how long the person had suffered from each ailment. I know that society thinks that these things are important. There are a constant stream of lawyers on daytime television that encourage us to lay blame on someone else and collect money for their negligence. Now, sometimes a bread-winner for the family is taken and the family is left struggling to supply minimum daily requirements. So I can see where such things are necessary. The loss of a loved one can be tragic, I know. It changes your whole life. Everything that you know has a new normal. Nothing will ever be the same.

Recently a friend telephoned me to inform me that his father had died. Devastating news, no doubt. My heart poured out to my friend and his family. It hasn't been that long since my own mother and father passed away and my friend was there for me and my family in our time of change. There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of a parent. In fact, my first response after hanging up, was to call my mother who was friends with my friend's father. You never really get used to them not being there.

My friend is a doctor and had told me that his father had called to say that he was coming in because he wasn't feeling well. Then on the way to the office, was in a car accident and died just a few hours later. While visiting with my friend's mother, she emphatically insisted that he died in a car accident. Let me state that I have not seen the death certificate. But regardless of what it says, I wonder if it matters.

I'm not just talking about this one case either. My friends father was 84 years old. He had lived a great life, giving life to seven wonderful children of his own and many grandchildren. He lived his whole life for those children. He was a kind, loving man that all the neighborhood kids loved. He lived the life that he wanted to live and taught those around him to enjoy their own lives. Why must we place blame on how he died, instead of celebrating that he lived.

We are each given a life to live. We are distributed our challenges to cope with. It is our decisions along the way that build our tomorrows and shape the lives of those that depend upon us. Why isn't it enough that we have lived. My own parents were met with many challenges over their time on earth. It was their choices that got them to where they were. It was their choices that helped to shape me and my brothers and sisters into what we have become. Could they have made different decisions that would have worked out better in one way or another? Of course! But it was their lives to live and I am glad that they made those choices along the way.

Life is going to be different for my friend's mother. Daily life has changed immensely. All I'm saying is to be grateful for all the years that they had. Celebrate what they made together. Know that each moment in the future has been shaped by those moments of the past. Believe whatever you want about the afterlife, just don't forget to enjoy the present life while we have it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

One More For The Road

With a promise of warmer weather, I have mixed feelings.

My business is based on making the funeral homes where I work look good. So it is my responsibility to make sure that every family has a clean funeral coach (hearse) to carry their loved one to the grave. While this sub-zero weather that we've had all during the month of February has been brutal and difficult to cope with at times, at least everything is frozen solid and I can deliver a clean coach to the site of the funeral, provided I can wash it and not have it freeze solid. Now, as the temperatures rise, the snow and ice begin to melt. This causes puddles along the roadways that are a mix of dirty slush and salt. When splashed upon my shiny black coaches makes for a disgusting mess unfit for even the foulest of villain's funerals, let alone a dearly loved mother of four.

That said, the weather report was calling for a warm up. We were to actually see temperatures above the freezing mark for the first time in over a month. Spring is just around the corner they say. But it's difficult to hear when there is a frozen, foot deep crust of snow and ice on everything in sight. The report said that by the evening drive home, temperature would be in the 30's f. But first! Snow! Yes, another 4 inches of snow.

It started snowing about the same time that we pulled the coach out of the garage. Just the day before I had cleaned the Black Pearl, as we call it, and I was proud to send it to service another grieving family. By the time we reached the funeral home 15 miles away, all you could see was white. The farm fields gave way to the sky and the whole thing disguised the road with it's white cloak. We watched as nature buried us deeper and deeper. By the time the service was over and we processed to the cemetery, the snow had changed to freezing rain, coating all that white with a slick gloss. We turned into the cemetery following the director in his van. Twenty SUV's and trucks trailing behind. As the terrain rolled first down and then up, I noticed that the directors van was sliding sideways down the hill into the snow bank. With multiple vehicles still blocking the busy road behind us and nowhere to turn, myself and several family members quickly came to the rescue pushing his van out of the way.

The coach made it up the hill just fine and we placed bets on each vehicle as it rounded the curve and approached the hill. All in all, there were five that got stuck. Many people trudged through the cemetery on foot after leaving their stuck vehicle. Finally, we gathered around the grave and carried the man to his final resting place.

After prayers had been said and flowers placed on the casket as a farewell, we began the process of getting everyone back on the road and headed to the luncheon that had been prepared. Last was the director, still stuck at the back of the cemetery, down the hill. It was a long push up the hill, but we got him to safety. Keep in mind when painting this picture in your head, that the entire time, we are wearing nice black suites and overcoats.

By the next morning, it had been above freezing for most of the night and almost all of yesterdays snow had disappeared. With the Great Melt of 2015 at hand, the roads are a sloppy mess and the rivers are filling to capacity fast. Now I just need to figure out how to get the Black Pearl cleaned for the next service.


January 26, 1837 is the date that Michigan became a state. For anyone living in Europe, that may not seem like long, long ago. But here in Michigan, if you find anything that is from 1850 or before, you've found a treasure. Before statehood, this was a harsh land of few rules or laws. There was an abundance of white pine forest and what seemed like a never ending supply of fur. There was debate as to whether the land belonged to the United States or to Canada. Either way, the Great Lakes made for easy transportation of goods to points West like Chicago. At one point there was an attempt to dig a canal that connected the Clinton River on the East side of the state with the Kalamazoo river on the West side. Such a canal would have made for an express route to Chicago for sure. But it proved to be too much of an undertaking and the idea gave way to the railroad.
Much of the railroad system that criss-crossed the state has now been turned into hiking and biking trails. It seems that the Interstate Highway systems have overtaken the transportation needs of the state.
Just a few miles from my house, one can still find the remains of the now defunct canal that once planned to cut across our state from Lake Michigan to Lake St.Clair. Also right next door to our other home, is the start of one of the many rails-to-trails bike paths. We are very fortunate to be surrounded by so much history. To ride these trails can be a relaxing day in nature as much as a lesson in the history of our great state.

I've written before that Thomas Alva Edison lived his boyhood in Port Huron. Port Huron is one of the great cities that I have the honor of working in a funeral home that was built by a lumber baron in 1850. I love working in the old home with all of it's creaky floors and beautiful windows.

Port Huron sits at the base of Lake Huron and has made a perfect place for centuries to cross the narrow river from Michigan into Ontario, Canada. There is impressive side by side bridges connecting the two as well as a tunnel for train traffic to cross beneath the swift current of the river.

From that train tunnel, one can access Toronto to the East and Detroit and Chicago to the West. When Thomas Edison was only 12 years old, he worked on the train that went from Port Huron to my home town of Mount Clemens, 30 miles away, selling newspapers to the passengers. He was credited for saving the life of another young man when the boy fell and young Tom pulled him to safety from between the moving train cars.

Directly under the bridges that join the two countries in Port Huron is a train station, preserved and commemorating young Tom's boyhood achievements with a statue that was created by a friend and good client of mine, standing outside between the tracks and the shore.

A little more discreet, is a similar train station in Mount Clemens. It is now a registered historic place and houses a museum dedicated to the transportation needs of the state over time.

We decided to go out to lunch at a converted fire house across the street from the train station and were graced with a train to be doing some switching by the station. So we decided to check the place out.

We were surprised at the amount of history that was packed into such a tiny building hidden from view of the daily commuters. We will definitely be back when the weather is more fitting for looking around.

And we look forward to exploring more of the amazing trails that once were hidden from view, only to be seen by rail men and massive train cars. I've heard there are numerous tresses and bridges that decorate the open farm land and wooded forest along the way. Paying homage to the past, respecting nature and reinvigorating the soul to give strength for the future; This is my church.