Friday, March 07, 2014

What’s new in the funeral biz

When I got home the other day after one of an endless string of things to do, I found a package on my doorstep.

Inside I found a cream-colored, nice quality, woven throw that looked an awful lot like this one:

funeral throw

Except, of course, that the one I received had my husband’s name and dates on it.

My initial reaction – after the obligatory WTF exclamation – was to call my sister and shriek.

As anyone who was raised in the world of Irish Catholicism, there is always plenty to laugh about in the wake of the death of someone you love. (As long, I suspect, as that someone is not a child…)

When my Aunt Margaret died, the thing to laugh about was the glow-in-the-dark souvenir whistles that were heaped into baskets on the back of the toilets in the ladies’ room. Believe me, they lost money on us, as Margaret’s daughter, granddaughters, and nieces scooped them up. I believe one of her granddaughters – or was it my cousin MB? – who blew one when, after her funeral, the motorcade left her church in West Newton for the long trip up the Mass Pike to the cemetery outside Worcester where our exceedingly beloved Peg would be buried.

When my grandmother Wolf died, my mother and her sisters laughed over whether to bury “Ma” in her corset, since she never went out without it in real life.

When my cousin MB’s brother died, it was the flowers I sent her home that arrived dead – and in a vase that looked just like a cremation urn. (You couldn’t tell online what the vase looked like, as the live flowers depicted were so abundantly cascading over it.)

So the arrival of this funeral throw will be one of things we will laugh about when we talk about this time.

Before they decided to market to me, I sure wish the funeral home I used to arrange Jim’s cremation and post his obituary had asked me whether I’d like the memorial throw or a donation made in Jim’s name somewhere. Or whether I’d like the memorial throw embroidered with Jim’s name or not, as if it were blank I could have donated it. (It’s machine embroidery, so it’s too difficult to pick out.)

As it stands, it’s just not the sort of thing I’d use.

I guess when it comes to things funerary, I’m just way out of date, but these days it’s all about the marketing.

From the (to me) over the top template that Jim’s obituary was presented in – sail boats, weeping willows, pine cones, candles – to the memorial throw, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the new wave.

But if you Google “funeral afghan” or “memorial throw” there are plenty of options out there.

And it’s not just blankies…

Try “memorial gift” and all sorts of things come up: picture frames, music boxes, angel statues, snow globes.

On the year’s anniversary of my sister-in-law’s death, her husband received a Christmas ornament with her name and birth-death dates on it. His reaction: what am I supposed to do with this? Have our 11 year old hang it on the tree?

Who knew?

When my mother died in 2001, there was nothing like this around. At least nothing like this coming out of O’Connor Brothers in Worcester.

Obviously some people take immense comfort from this sort of merchandise, and I don’t want to poke fun at those who are happy to get this type of gift. If they find it helps them with their grieving, to quote Pope Francis, “What am I to judge?” Whatever gets you through the night.

But all this new requirement didn’t spring up from nowhere, and it looks like memorial gifting is pretty big business. I’m sure there are funeral home conventions where merchandisers display their wares and promote these things as savvy marketing.

The merchandisers also promote them as an alternative to sending flowers. (No thanks.)

It’s just so not for me, and I wish “our” funeral home had an opt out clause on the gift.

Oh, well, just as I’m an oddball in life, I’m apparently an oddball in death, as well.


Meanwhile, another laughable incident. The funeral home having screwed up the birthdate on Jim’s death certificate, I had to bring them Jim’s passport as backup for the affidavit they need to file with the state to get this taken care of. As my sister waited in her car in the driveway, I walked out with the owner. “See you in a couple days,” he said to me. He had not been involved in or arrangements – his sons had – so I explained that we weren’t holding a wake. With a big smile on his face, he hollered “See you in twenty years then.” Kath rolled the window down and hollered back “Make that thirty.”

Now, there are some folks who might have been offended by this seeming lack of judgment on Mr. Funeral’s part.

But Kath and I thought it was pretty funny.

The memorial throw as definitely “off.” But in making a joke, Mr. Funeral had correctly gauged who I am and who Jim was.

Another story we’ll be telling for years…

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