"You should feel blessed that she's being buried where there's good drainage." I gasped. Incredibly, Mary Ellen MacDonald received those words of sympathy forty years ago at the funeral of a loved one. They have stayed with her all this time. Little wonder. Over coffee at Tim Horton's, I concluded that the best words of sympathy are, 'I'm sorry'.
On the way to meet with Mary Ellen, I heard an ad on the radio for a funeral home. December must have a high mortality rate, as it was only the day before that I'd noticed a newspaper ad for an all-inclusive funeral package. To see everything spelled out was disconcerting. One ad included air miles. That shocked me. Perhaps, it shouldn't have.
Mary Ellen MacDonald of New Day Bereavement Counselling was a nurse for forty years. For twenty-eight of those years she worked with the patients in Palliative Care. She kindly agreed to meet with me and discuss among other things, her book 'Grief Til Now', and her approach to guiding people through the grieving process.
Laughter Yoga was something Mary Ellen mentioned a couple of times. Even though she explained it to me and described sessions, I didn't get it – I still don't. Laughter is healthy and it is great medicine, but I still can't imagine standing in a crowd and laughing on demand. Having said that, I know it is popular and people do benefit.
I was more interested in discussing the evolution of funerals. A recent article by David Pattenaude in the Petrolia Topic mentioned online funerals, web cams fastened to caskets, and videos of the service for family members. An eye opener for me.
Photographers may soon be hovering around the mourners to capture candid shots, much as you would expect at weddings. Forget signing the guest book, they've got you covered. Maybe we should go a step further and have attendants outside the funeral home to capture a few words about the deceased from mourners as they arrive.
That was something else Mary Ellen and I discussed. At funerals, the deceased is always a wonderful person. Seriously, don't despicable people die, too? She explained that mourners usually dwell on the good of the person, but since I didn't seem satisfied with that, she suggested that people could write down their true feelings, or some of the terrible things this person did. With that off their chests, they'd be able to mourn the loss of someone they probably loved in spite of the shortcomings.
I suggested depositing these slips of paper in a box at the funeral home and setting them afire at a certain point in the service. They could offer a prayer forgiving the deceased for all heinous behaviour. Just a thought.
We also discussed open versus closed caskets. I prefer closed. It's just bizarre when people view the deceased and remark how good they look. Really? Someone commented that it would be funny to have a recording set up so that each time a person approached the casket, they would hear a voice say, "I look good, don't I?"
Another incident relayed to me was about the woman who approached the casket only to discover that the deceased was wearing the same dress. The name she called the departed was less than kind, and more or less censored for this column.
Mary Ellen and I considered the choice of music at services. Usually it is the deceased's favourite music; whether it's jazz, heavy metal, or swing. Mary Ellen attended a funeral where they played the country tune, Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox if I Die.
Being familiar with the song, I almost spit out my coffee. The departed, whom I assume chose the song, set the tone of the service. The mourners may have shed tears, but at least they were smiling through them.