In my other life, as a librarian, I’m reading and reviewing The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia. It’s a fascinating Q&A covering several centuries in the White House. And, perhaps not all that surprising, there is an entire chapter about death, dying, and mourning.
I always find it curious (or “curiouser and curiouser” as Lewis Carroll might say) that the general public is so intensely interested in reading about the deaths of celebrities or historical figures — yet they seem to have a casual fear or even disregard when it comes to their own funerals or funeral planning. (Case in point: There have been tons of online articles recently surrounding the death of Sylvester Stallone’s son — who really is on the fringe of celebrity, by having a famous father; yet avid readers of celebrity sites and gossip simply WANT TO KNOW MORE.)
The death of a celebrity is much easier to death with, perhaps, than the death of a loved one. Sure, we may feel we “know” the person (I, for one, was very distraught at the recent death of my literary icon Maurice Sendak). But there is an element of detachment — WE don’t have to attend the funeral. WE don’t have to plan the memorial.
But in the case of our family — and ourselves — we often do. And, quite frankly, that’s frightening and far too “real” to some. That’s why it’s the job of those in the funeral profession — especially funeral directors and funeral celebrants — to come up with ways to demystify death. More importantly, we must demystify the funeral and memorial process.
Michael Jackson was reportedly laid to rest in a gold casket. Perhaps tens of thousands stayed up all night (myself included) to watch the funeral services for Princess Diana. Those amazingly touching events took a lot of planning. Granted, we may not all be celebrities (or aspire to be), but we should want to have a say in our last hurrah.
Only in realizing HOW today’s public wants to be remembered can we truly be of service in offering that to them. What is your funeral home doing to assess your community’s wants and needs (which aren’t always the same)? What are you doing to target younger audiences — who may have very different ideas about final disposition than their parents?
Okay, now back to a more pressing question — which presidents shared the same pall? According to the aforementioned book, the same black silk cloth was used to cover the coffins of both Abraham Lincoln (in 1865) and James Garfield (in 1881). Both presidents were assassinated. Now, go impress your friends and coworkers!
Freelance writer/editor Sharon Verbeten has written about the funeral profession — in trade journals and online — for more than 20 years. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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