Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Case I Die...

While on vacation a few weeks ago, I happened to read The Vicar's Daughter (for the seventeen thousandth time...give or take).  As those who have read it might recall, this is the one where both of Margo's parents die unexpectedly in a motor crash.  Margo is left alone, but lucky for her she has already met her RDD who handily takes over making most of the 'arrangements' (there's another book like this- Once for All Time).

Anywho...Dr. van der Stevejinck is on a business trip this week  - South Korea and Japan.  Yea. Japan. The city where he's heading to in Japan had an evacuation warning due to a typhoon (a couple of days ago - it probably will have eased up by the time he gets there).  What else, well, there are those pesky tsunamis, nuclear power plant leaks, earthquakes...but other than that, it's a very pleasant place to go...

I'm not normally a nervous Nelly but, I did have a little conversation with Dr. van der Stevejinck before he went something like this:
Me: Umm, not to be morbid or anything, but if you die - not that you're allowed to - where are the important papers?
Him:  (Lists off our insurance policies)We should sit down and talk about this...
Me: How about you make up a binder with all the important papers so they'll all be in one place? That's what [Betty] Sherri does for her husband. Then we can sit down (and maybe I won't try to chew my leg off from boredom...)

I talked to Betty Keira about it the next morning and she loved the idea of an  In Case I Die Notebook - especially since she has funeral to help organize this week.  Here's a page I might put in it (this one is rather Mormon specific):

Funeral Checklist for the Family
Choose a mortuary
Choose a cemetery
Notify family and friends
Prepare an obituary
Plan a time to dress the body – notify RS president
Choose 2-3 people to help with dressing
Choose a place, day and time for the viewing
Choose a place, day and time for the funeral
Choose a place, day and time for the graveside service
Estimate number of guests for luncheon following the graveside service – report to RS president

Mortuary can help with the following:
Choose a cemetery
Secure a burial plot
Choose a casket
Choose a marker stone
Flowers for the casket, immediate family and pallbearers
Coordinating for viewing, funeral and burial
Get obituary and funeral information to the newspapers

Program related items
Photo – if desired

Choose pall bearers
Choose someone to offer the family prayer in a private meeting before the funeral
Opening Prayer
Closing Prayer
Opening Hymn
Closing Hymn
Musical Numbers
Dedicatory prayer at graveside

Other things that the ward will likely handle
Schedule the building
Building setup and unlocked (chairs, tables for luncheon, etc.)
Relief Society: Luncheon plan
Someone to watch children and family home during services

The funerals in Neeldom are always taken care of with great dispatch - and frankly very little fuss, much like yesterday's fish and chips. I remember my mother's funeral - I was about 25-ish, Betty Keira was probably 8 or 9...instead of everyone wearing 'mourning clothes', we older girls went shopping and bought pretty spring frocks - our mum wouldn't have approved of gloomy clothes - especially in May. A few years later our grandmother passed away - she had been battling cancer for a few years and being the kind of woman she was, she had her funeral all planned out to the last detail.  Part of her plan was to have my father, who is a talented woodworker, make her coffin, she had even purchased the fabric to line it.  I do have to say, we had a rather surreal (and slightly hilarious) moment when my father was kneeling on her coffin (after the viewing), using his cordless Makita drill to attach the lid.


  1. This whole post makes me want to vomit.

  2. I would like to point out that Betty Tia got a gorgeous sleeveless (!) hyacinth blue floral dress while I got a dove gray.

    I'm finding all of this very applicable as I am arranging my first (and last? Let's hope.) funeral this week--just bought the hams and have assigned the Funeral Potatoes. I already know that Nathan needs "Abide With Me" at his funeral and that I demand all seven verses of "How Firm A Foundation".

  3. When I was the spinster aunt in my 20s, I was the guardian for all nine of my underage nieces and nephews (for my three sisters). I instituted "The Royal Rule"--all six parents could not travel together in the same vehicle. I'm down to only one underage nephew now....

    I would make a comment about the macabre coffin-making anecdote, but I was once fascinated watching in the middle of the night while nursing a baby a documentary on a company in Pennsylvania that makes the cloth linings for coffins. Who knew?

  4. I would like to point out that I still have the hot glue gun scar from gluing the lining. I also got roped into transportation duty for the coffin. It's more than a little strange "delivering" a coffin.

  5. You know, we've had more than our share of funerals, tragic and otherwise in our families. My mother in law kept a list of all important policies & documents and had the funerary arrangements laid out to the last detail... we changed stuff. Maybe that's bad, but she had chosen music she remembered from the 1940's before she became deaf... and the mortuary she had chosen had gone under... so, while it was helpful, I'd like to point out that the in case I die binder needs regular updating! As far as making own coffins, my 15 year old nephew was tragically taken from us 7 years ago, and his father made his coffin, and his mother lined it with a quilt. It was strange to me at first, but then, quite beautiful. I love to think of him being sent off with great love like that. Sniff...
    Lots more I could say on the subject of funerals, but I don't want to bore you. :-)

  6. My mother in law and father in law actually did much of their courtship in a mortuary. FIL was a night watchman and she used to bring him dinner!

  7. In going through tons of old photos after my mom died last month, I was struck by the number of casket photos. Is mine the only family that thought " Let's get one last shot of Grammy,(Sr. Ciel, Dad, Uncle Miles) etc. before we shut the lid." I didn't scan any of those to post on Picasa. Should I have?

  8. I don't think so, Betty Mary. Those photos were a part of somebody's grieving process, but not yours. To anybody not grieving, they're just going to be kind of weird.

  9. When my sister died in 1970 it was somehow the "done thing" to take casket photos. Hers was a colored Polaroid and quite morbid, really. I remember seeing several others (in black and white0 of great-grandparents and the like and they weren't nearly as macabre as Jean's seemed to be.

    Unless they were quite well to do families always made their own caskets. I think it's a beautiful thing really.

    We are utterly disorganized although I did have a talk with our son last year about where and what everything is. I really must gather it all - a binder is an excellent idea.

    And finally, my best friend and I have planned her funeral on a series of...well, postcards. More specifically, Mickey Mouse postcards send to her sons from a series of trips we took to Orlando for theology conferences. At one evening service the special music was a gorgeous-voiced tenor singing "How Great Thou Art." Lois told me to be sure this son is sung at her funeral.

    I remarked that I'd probably have nothing to do with her funeral, as she's in Michigan and I'm here in PA. I said she should tell her sons this. She said, "How does one bring that up?" I told her, facetiously, to send them a postcard. I happened to have purchased a handful of cards to send to nieces and nephews and so I grabbed two and handed them to her.

    This started a tradition that we continued until she was satisfied her wishes known. Her elder son and I weren't as well acquainted as her younger son and I were. He and his wife thought Lois was trying to prepare them that she was ill. The younger son and his wife laughed and said, "She's with Cindy." ;-)


  10. I adore the song "How Great Thou Art", we (a group of six-ish)sang it at Grandmother Hellen's (see sidebar picture) funeral. Unfortunately, musical ability runs pretty thin on the ground in our family - so we weren't very in tune (besides which, we only had the evening before to practice). I like to think my grandmother still appreciated the effort - after all, I'm pretty sure we inherited our sad lack of musical ability at least partly from her.

  11. The 18-year-old daughter of the man whose funeral I facilitated today sang 'How Great Thou Art'. Just lovely. I don't know how she kept it together.

  12. When our mother died, my sister Helen sang it at her memorial service. She did extremely well but had to sing it from the choir loft - which is up and behind the congregation in a kind of gallery.

    I read Scripture and made some comments and didn't do nearly as well! :)


  13. Speaking of weird pictures, in the U.S. West history course I used to teach the students were always fascinated by what we always termed "dead baby pictures." One of the seminal works of the westward journey includes quite a few examples of the phenomena of photographing dead babies.

    My students were always freaked out by this, but it certainly brought home the blessings of modern society with its low infant mortality because so many babies/toddlers died without ever having had their pictures taken that if the family was close enough to a town with a photographer they would take the deceased in for a photo in order to record the life for posterity prior to burial.

    A certain amount of gallows humor is necessary to teach history....

  14. "Dead baby picture."...about fifteen years ago I had a brilliant idea for our annual Christmas card. We would dress our six kids up and take a Christmas Nativity picture! It was one of those ideas that should never have been attempted. The only way we could get the baby to be still while we grouped the other 5 kids around (as Mary, Joseph and three wise men) was to do it when he was asleep. If we had had a digital camera back then, we would have known it wasn't working out like we hoped. Instead of a sweet sleeping baby Jesus, we had a slightly macabre scene. Did we send it out anyway? You bet. My siblings have always refered to it as "The Dead Baby Picture".

  15. Inspired by this post, my best friend and I had a lengthy discussion about dead babies the other day. I've never lost a child, at birth or otherwise but it seems to me I'd want some middle ground between the "old" way of whisking the dead child away before the mother could see and be upset by it and the current trend toward having the entire family spend time with the infant corpse.

    We debated it for quite some time, both of us taking up either side and switching our preferences endlessly! We ended up being at about the same place, wanting something in the middle.

    Oh, and her family, in Philadelphia growing up in the 40s, never did the casket photo thing. She found that rather odd. To say the least! :)